Unlocking the potential of Water Architecture in urban realm of Delhi, India

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The paper aims to analyse the trajectories of urban planning of Delhi from the lens of its historic water architecture since 12th C. AD till the present. The expected outcome of the study is to bring to fore the illegibility of a robust system which shows the city has been historically water- conscious as opposed to water- scarce as of today. The study positions the role of historic water architecture in the city in terms of its spatiality, associations with community and possible way forward to strengthen the ‘local’ with respect to response of the built environment. The capital city of India with expanding population puts pressure on water infrastructure. Delhi is rife with issues like scarcity, inequity, poor water quality and exploitation of ground water, making it one of the cities closer to running out of its ground water by 2020 (NITI Aayog, 2018). Delhi has been an imperial capital during a major part of its history. Historical studies have documented the various cities of Delhi. The historic water architecture of Delhi, wherein every historical layer added and enhanced the existing system. This system is currently not understood as a whole in the built environment. A cultural reading of this water-built network influences the way we understand, analyse and provide solutions for conflicts around water in built environment. The nadis (tributaries of Yamuna) of the historic city of Delhi were strong determinants of the urban growth through the ages. The knowledge and wisdom of finding, tapping, harvesting, conveyance as well as managing water defined the subsequent cities of historic Delhi since 12th century AD. As Wescoat (2019) elucidates, the change of perception of nadi to nallah (drain) from the British period onwards indicates a paradigmatic shift towards urban water, which eventually left out the historic water architecture from conscious urban planning of the city. As the post-Independence planning of Delhi dealt with the dichotomies of order and disorder (Wengoborski & Singh, 2013), the historic water architecture; which constituted meaningful urban spaces as nodes of the nature-built-culture nexus; were not recognized as a part formal urban water system. A case in point is of Hauz Shamsi in Mehrauli, which was the water reservoir of early city Dihli-i-Kuhna (Kumar,2007) which tapped the one of the nadis flowing from the Aravalli ridge. Along its whole network, many typologies of water structures came up, defining the water architecture as well as positioning the cultural water network in the core of the city planning. The study uses archival research, mapping, layering, site studies and community perception to understand this complex settlement of Mehrauli. The emphasis is on turning the focus on water to understand the built environment instead of the other way round. The study endaevours to analyse lost linkages, impact of planning processes in post- Independence India and come up with way forward on integration and innovation of water architecture in Mehrauli. Kumar, S., 2007. The emergence of the Delhi Sultanate, 1192-1286. Permanent Black. NITI Aayog., 2018. Composite Water Management Index: Performance of States. New Delhi: NITI Aayog. Wengoborski, Sonja and Singh, Jaspal 2013. Creating the city of Delhi: stories of strong women and weak walls. In: Petersen, Hans-Christian ed. Spaces of the Poor: Perspectives of Cultural Sciences on Urban Slum Areas and their Inhabitants, Mainz Historical Cultural Sciences, Bielefeld: Transcript, pp. 147-168. Wescoat, James L. 2019. From nallah to nadi, stream to sewer to stream: Urban waterscape research in India and the United States. In: Ray, Sugata & Maddipati, Venugopal ed. Water Histories of South Asia, India: Routledge, pp. 135-157.
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5: Uniqueness and connectivity. Al-Baraha: unlocking urban futures
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PhD Candidate and Assistant Professor
School of Art and Architecture, Sushant University, India

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