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Winners Announced: Architectural Essay Writing, 5th Cycle: ‘Water and the Evolution of Cities’



Theme described for the Competition was ‘Water and the Evolution of Cities’ Brief


Water, the lifeblood of civilizations, has been an integral part of communities throughout history, shaping the very fabric of urban life. In this contest, we want you to explore two fascinating macro ideas that revolve around water's role in urban development. Picture this — 'Cities' thriving with the abundance of water, but also facing the challenges of water scarcity and climate change. How do we ensure water conservation and sustainability amidst rapid urban growth? Can architectural ingenuity and urban planning play a role in preserving this precious resource while creating vibrant, eco-friendly living spaces? Delve into the historical tapestry of cities and their water-related heritage. From ancient civilizations to modern-day metropolises, water bodies like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs have left their mark on the development of urban centers. It is time to discover how cities are bridging the gap between preserving their water-related heritage and embracing progress.


That's not all! Water has been more than just a life-giving resource; it's been a catalyst for trade, commerce, and cultural exchange among cities. Rivers, canals, and ports have connected communities, fostering economic prosperity and enriching the tapestry of urban life. Let your imagination flow as a meandering river as you explore the transformative power of water in cities. Dive deep into research, share insightful analysis, and propose creative solutions. Show us how water has shaped the built environment and contributed to the dynamic growth and sustainability of cities.


The 'Citation Award' goes to Mihir Kabani, KPMG Mumbai, India.


“Coastal Code Clash: Mumbai's fast paced battle for identity”


What is Bombay without its waves? A city that never sleeps, now potentially lulled into slumber by the relentless hum of traffic sounds? The Arabian Sea's melodious serenades, forever intertwined with the soul of Mumbai, are at risk of being overridden by the disruptive machinery of the Coastal Road Project—an imposing spectre in the city's ever-evolving and infinitely accommodating skyline.


This narrative, far from ordinary, embodies a saga profoundly infused with Mumbai's essence. This metropolis of dreams, bustling with ceaseless aspirations, now takes center stage in a new act—the Coastal Road Project. This contemporary bargain tantalizes the city with the alluring promise of progress, swifter commutes, economic prosperity, and the dream of becoming a global tourist destination. An enthusiastic standing ovation resonates among investors and politicians, casting an anticipatory spotlight on Mumbai's forthcoming transformation.


"Everyone in Mumbai treats the ocean as a big dustbin, including the government and the people. Never in my life did I hear that the sea is nice," laments 47-year-old Zoru Bhathena, a true Mumbaikar born and raised in this bustling metropolis. His words reflect a common sentiment among many residents who have witnessed the evolution of their beloved city. The construction of the Coastal Road represents a transformative chapter, reshaping Mumbai's coastline for the first time since the 1970s. Yet, this story is multi-layered, akin to intricate lines of code. The drama unfolds on the Urban Planning front, where the project's proponents lock horns with advocates of a more sustainable path. The critics raise their voices, lamenting the focus on road-based infrastructure while overlooking almost everything. In this clash of ideologies, a burning question emerges—can Mumbai afford to sever its deep-rooted connection with the sea, trading it for a concrete utopia?

In the ongoing execution of the Coastal Road Project, the city's path is akin to a complex line of code, a branching decision structure not unlike the dilemmas faced by programmers. Here, two core variables, progress and preservation, engage in a binary struggle for the very essence of Mumbai's codebase. The central inquiry perseveres: Can the city effectively execute an algorithm that balances its aspirations for development with the mandate to safeguard its historical identity?


The resolution to this query won't be found within a standalone function. Instead, it will manifest through a collaborative effort across the city's extensive codebase, a network sustained by its inherent resilience. Mumbai, like a never-ending loop, must confront the paradox of code evolution while preserving its rich historical legacy. Within the vast domain of urban development, the Coastal Road Project is but one subroutine, and the city's narrative is far from reaching its terminal execution.


The 'Special Mention Award_1’ goes to Shifa Hussain, Rizvi College of Architecture, Mumbai, India.


“Hydrology to the Polis”


Cities have evolved from water and despite their water challenges, within their geo-climatic regions, and in the midst of natural calamities and disasters. Every sector of a city's development flourishes because of the likelihood of water availability in that city. The decline of most river valley civilizations like the Indus Valley, Mayan, and Khmer civilizations was due to water inadequacy.


At various historic sites of these civilizations, archaeology has revealed the existence of indigenous water harvesting and management systems, technologies, and practices that supported sustainable localized agriculture, and the household requirements of the community. The traditional technologies were constructed to suit their local surroundings and were also simple to construct.


Water management systems used by the ancient civilizations across the world include:


· Canal irrigation- The canal irrigation network effectively diverted water across large agricultural fields. It has been found in several civilizations including Indus Valley and Mesopotamia.

· Qanat- The water system was developed in ancient Iran by the Persians during the last millennium BC. It consists of a deep-settled water channel that conveys underground water to the consumption areas without excess loss of water due to evaporation. The Qanat water system spread to other countries along the Silk Route and from the expansion of the Arab empire. Variations of the Qanat water system can be seen in China where it was known as the Turpan water system.

· Terrace irrigation- The Incans cultivated on terraced hill slopes with water channels supplying each individual terrace with water from the hill lakes.

· Dams- The ancient Mesopotamians were the first to construct dams. Dams in ancient times were required for flood management, agricultural irrigation, domestic water supply, and navigation for water transport.

· Reservoirs and wells- The Indus Valley civilization had a sophisticated water storage and withdrawal system for domestic, irrigation, and ceremonial purposes.

As cities progressed, urbanized, and stratified, these methods became industrialized to serve the built environment. The field of hydraulic engineering in modern times determines the construction of a city's agricultural irrigation systems, domestic water distribution systems, firefighting and sprinkler systems, drainage systems, sewage

treatment systems, storm water management systems, rainwater harvesting systems, ground-water recharge systems, dams, and embankments.


According to the International Water Association, in the 21st century, 50% of the total world population lives in cities and towns, overcrowding urban centers. By 2050, 70% of the world's population is estimated to live in urban areas. This has led to the growth of informal settlements and settlements in peri-urban areas. The government water supply schemes cannot adequately meet the water requirements of these households. The affordability of clean and safe water for these settlers also constitutes a larger urban problem. Urban planning mechanisms can be optimized to ensure sustainable utilization of resources by the citizens. The 'new urban agenda' is towards the transfer of planning policies towards transitional holistic methodologies incorporating several other disciplines of urban life and the involvement of a range of stakeholders. The components of the planning would include- basic services and infrastructure, green buildings, transportation systems, water, and sanitation.


Simultaneously, by the year 2050, 90% of the world's major cities built around water edges are expected to be affected by sea-level rise and flooding. Regenerative city planning is a type of risk-resilient city planning approach adopted in several places. The construction of sea walls in Shanghai, the elevation of buildings above the surrounding road level on mounds, and storm-water gardens in Hammarby were taken up as preventive measures. Neiderhafen riverfrontl promenade, constructed above the flood barrier along the Elbe River in Hamburg and the Dryline Project of New York are instances of public waterfront design integrated with the city's flood protection systems. The integration of energy production and wastewater treatment into eco-friendly urban landscapes in Sydney and the starting of the Rotterdam Innovative Nutrients, Energy, and Water Management project are steps towards sustainability.


The emergence of the floating cities concept for countries of Maldives, Busan, South Korea, Polynesia, etc. has remodelled the notions of city life from living on land to living on water. The aspiration for organic, detached, and replaceable cities has also brought about technological advances in the ability to utilize water effectively. Oceanix is one such city concept. The city would consist of repeating modules for better management. Each neighbourhood unit consists of around seven stories of high structures, individual services and amenities, and customized functional edges. The electrolytic properties of seawater minerals will be utilized to create anchors for the floating platforms. Hydroelectric plants, wind turbines, and solar panels will be harnessed together with ocean thermal energy converters to produce renewable energy for these cities. However, this would limit the energy utilization by the citizens to a certain extent.


The growth of cities, the threats due to climate change, the lack of technology, and city regulations will continue to cause distress and inequalities among several citizens. At the same time, small-scale and large-scale architectural interventions will affect the built environment through their processes.



The 'Special Mention Award_2’ goes to Sofia Advani, Oberoi International School, Mumbai, India.


“Water: The Architectural Muse to Urban Cities”

Is there a single force more potent in shaping the physical and cultural landscapes of our cities than water? As we now stand on the precipice of a new era, in which cities are grappling with the consequences of climate change and burgeoning populations, the evident role of water in architectural design and urban city planning and development has never been more critical. Water has been an integral part of city planning throughout history. It is both a life-sustaining source and a timeless muse for architects. Water bodies have shaped urban development in revolutionary ways, ranging from places like ancient Mesopotamia to modern-day Singapore, water has acted as a catalyst for which architects adapt their designs.


Ancient Water Engineering

Architectural marvels of the past, such as ancient civilisations like Mesopotamians and Egyptians had taken inspiration from water and incorporated bodies of water into their design, and stand as testaments to the relationship between water and human settlement. The Mesopotamians, for instance, were able to incorporate their rivers into their irrigation systems, ensuring not only the survival of their civilisation but laying the foundation for modern urban city planning. Similarly, the Egyptians’ mastery of the Nile’s seasonal floods gave them a chance to create sustainable agricultural systems.


Modern Cities and Water Scarcity

In modern day and the contemporary era, however, the relationship between cities and water has taken a different turn. Water scarcity poses a significant threat to modern urban cities. Los Angeles, Cape Town, and Chennai are just a few of the cities facing these challenges. Case studies show that these cities, however, were able to respond with various measures to conserve water and ensure sustainable access for their populations. Responses like these emphasise the need for sustainable water management in urban city planning.


Venice: a city on water

Venice, a city like no other, is a prime example of a unique urban development born from its aquatic environment. Built on a lagoon, Venice's architectural and urban planning thoroughly reflect the interaction between water and their civilisation. Its canals, bridges, and well-known palazzos are testaments to Venice’s fusion of culture with its scenic landscape. However, Venice also faces an existential threat due to the rising of sea levels. The city is adapting to their circumstances by implementing innovative solutions, such as the ‘MOSE project’, which involves the construction of movable flood barriers to protect the city.


Sustainable Urban Planning

One critical aspect of urban planning in response to water-related challenges is the incorporation of sustainable design principles. Cities like Singapore have demonstrated remarkable success by integrating green spaces, parks, and sustainable landscaping to mitigate the heat-island effect of the city and enhance water retention. This year, I myself had the chance to visit the city's famous ‘Spectra: Light and Water Show’, which is set against the backdrop of the Marina Bay Sands resort. The show set on the bay showcases how architectural ingenuity can transform a body of water into a city-staple tourist attraction without disrupting the surrounding environment. Spectra’s stunning visual display is a testament to the power of sustainable and ethical urban city design to both celebrate the natural body of water and incorporate it into the city's man-made architecture.


"The history of a city can be told by the stories of its rivers and the bridges that cross them."

-Anthony T. Hincks


The architectural journey through the ages reveals the profound impact of water on the development of urban cities and urban spaces. From the ancient engineers of Mesopotamia to the modern challenges of water scarcity and climate change, city architects have continuously adapted to utilise water in preserving environmental sustainability, whilst also forming beautiful architectural structures and paying respect to its natural beauty and already existing structures. Venice stands as a living example of a city living in harmony with its aquatic surroundings, and modern cities like Singapore showcase innovative solutions to integrate water into architectural structures and convert existing bodies of water into stunning tourist hotspots without eliminating them altogether.


As we look to the future, the history of architecture and civilisations, and the current efforts of cities worldwide, we are reminded of the need for sustainable urban design. By embracing water conservation and attempting to create innovative approaches to nature-friendly architecture, we can ensure that this life-giving resource remains at the heart of eco-friendly living spaces. Water, as the architectural muse, continues to inspire architects world-wide to build cities and structures that reflect our connection to the natural world, even as we grapple and struggle to deal with the challenges of our modern age.


‘Certificate of Appreciation_1’ goes to Rudy Kundu


Walking down a grueling path with no company to amuse one, having exhausted all water and food supplies, and the journey seeming too strenuous to continue, what would a person do if she stumbled upon a civilization by the river? A civilization that started with the blessings of the river goddess, a civilization the existence of which is incomplete without the water source that initiated its construction. This abstract paints a comprehensive picture of the way history perceived water and its adjoining cities. A safe haven for travelers and a pleasant domicile for its inhabitants, these cities evolved and later found their way into the history books of modern times. But what started as riverine civilizations later transfigured into examples that set into motion practices of water conservation, evolving, and slowly turning into the most habitable cities of its times.


Why is water considered to be an engineer of cities? Why is the evolution of a city and its architecture heavily dependent on this resource?

The basic form of origination in terms of a city or a human establishment is a source of water, upon which depended the lives of the entire city and its inhabitants. However slowly and steadily it turned into a method of transportation with the formation of ports, an aesthetic perspective on architecture with the construction of elements like aqueducts and stepwells, a means of survival in the hot and unforgiving climates, and so much more. From the earliest establishments like the Harrapan civilization or the Roman empire, the role that water played in its continuance cannot be overlooked, not one bit. When we go around ancient ruins and cities in India, the most consistent form of water architecture is the step wells, and their history alone can take a few centuries to be deciphered completely. Urban cities or places are centers of growth and assimilation where water is one of the key drivers for survival and resource-saving for posterity. However, due to extreme pressure on resources like water as a result of the growing population and urban infrastructure, sustainable solutions are being looked into. The concept of sustainability too cannot be assessed without the presence of water. From practices like greywater reuse, rainwater harvesting, or just basic water conservation, this is a commodity and a necessity at the same time, something that has defined water as a resource for more than a hundred years.

In the Indian context, water was not only an architectural element but a ritualistic component as well. The presence of water for cultural and social rituals signifies its importance and the strength it exhibits in its hold on people. The majestic river bodies in our country are true manifestations of the almighty for us Indians and the fact that people even in today’s world worship rivers like Ganga and Yamuna due to their sanctity as described in the holy texts of India, is an astonishing feat.


The coming years ascertain the intensification of floods and droughts, and the only way to alleviate this issue is water management. The steps to practice water management must be closely bonded with the prevention of water scarcity and the economic impacts altogether. It is a matter of a few years before the water culture of our society will lead to catastrophic results if not surveyed. It is in our efficiency as a society that lies the subtle nod to the justification of water conservation. We as a society must challenge the problems we created and take accountability to manage and circumvent the prevalent issues of water scarcity and conservation, to create a more humane and sustainable environment.


Evolution has made a huge contribution to mankind and its components, and it is only a matter of time before we introduce and inculcate this evolving attitude in us to envisage a future with justified distribution and usage. From reviving old practices like katta, sand bores, johads, bawdi, and bamboo drip irrigation systems to more awareness created in this domain, all such acts and processes will yield a connection established between water as a resource and the people on a societal level with sensible and responsible activities gaining ground as well.


‘Certificate of Appreciation_2’ goes to Shailesh Kunwar


Water, as an elemental force, wields the potential from Cultivation to Calamity, it profoundly influences the course of humanity's journey. It is an indispensable agent in the life of a city, playing its role in the natural world where it permeates and transpires into every structure of the urban jungle, much like it sustains plants and trees. As a ubiquitous force, water is essential for ecosystem health, soil fertility, crop cultivation, and supporting marine life that caters to the populations of thriving cities. Its presence also attracts birds, enriching the cityscape with its vibrant inhabitants.


Urban settlements often emerge in areas with abundant resources, and water stands as a paramount example. The origins of water bodies come in diverse forms, ranging from timeless, ever-flowing sources that have nurtured life over eons to seasonal watercourses that gifts their precious liquid resource. Water in all its states is a cherished asset, deserving of our respect and care. Water, regardless of its form, is an energy generator, breathing vitality into the urban landscape and fostering the growth of life.


The duality of water's character is manifest in the urban context. It is both a life-giver and a potential of calamity. Water's life-sustaining virtues are evident in its capacity to nurture the urban populace through freshwater sources and aquatic habitats. These resources are integral for agriculture, fulfilling the nourishment of cities. They also serve as a natural haven for diverse ecosystems, where creatures find refuge, adding to the City's biodiversity.

Conversely, water's destructive potential should not be underestimated. Its periodic deluges can bring floods and devastation to cities unprepared for it. Nevertheless, these challenges, rather than deterring the growth of cities, act as opportunities of adaptation and resilience, forging urban communities with innovative spaces, coexistence and harmony. It is a constant reminder that in our quest for urban progress, we must remain ever vigilant, recognizing the vital importance of water, both as a nurturing force and as a challenge that, when understood and harnessed, leads to more resilient and sustainable cities.


Water due to its kinetic nature brings in movement which can be harnessed by humans. It has always been by human ingenuity in various ways. One of the prominent techniques for tapping into water's kinetic potential is through the generation of hydroelectric energy. This method, employed by humans for a considerable span of time, underscores our capacity to leverage natural forces for the benefit of urban development and sustainability.

In the same breath, humans have also displayed remarkable prowess in the preservation and restoration of water bodies. They've implemented a diverse array of techniques to safeguard these essential resources. For instance, the practice of constructing artificial wetlands stands as an exemplary method to foster water purification and ecological balance within urban landscapes. Similarly, sustainable urban planning, which prioritizes green infrastructure and riverfront restoration, embodies the collective human endeavour to coexist harmoniously with water resources.


Throughout history, the preservation of water bodies in urban environments has been a critical challenge, as these sources of life and sustenance are often threatened by pollution, overuse, and urban expansion.


Early urban civilizations, such as the Romans and Greeks, were masters of aqueducts and canals. They engineered sophisticated systems to transport fresh water from distant sources to urban centers, ensuring a reliable supply for both consumption and sanitation.

The advent of modern sewer systems in the 19th century, as seen in London and Paris, transformed urban hygiene. Proper disposal of wastewater prevented the contamination of water bodies and helped control the spread of diseases like cholera. Modern cities utilize storm water management systems to control rainwater runoff. Techniques include permeable pavements, green roofs, and retention ponds that mitigate flooding and protect natural water bodies.


The human attitude toward water bodies profoundly influences their life cycles. Poets have immortalized these tales and turns in verses, recognizing their harmonious coexistence with nature. Amid this delicate dance, the holiest of rivers, the Ganga, bears witness to humanity's contrasting behaviours. Some revere its sanctity, while others exploit it for greed, resulting in neglect that undermines its vitality.


In our attitude, we find the power to shape water bodies' destiny, be it through respect, which preserves their splendour. In the connection between water and cities, we see that water is important for our urban areas. It can help our cities grow, but it can also cause problems like floods. We need to take care of our water to make sure our cities stay healthy. We can use water to make energy, and we can also protect it by creating places like wetlands and taking care of our rivers. The way we treat water, whether with care and respect or by being greedy and neglectful, affects our cities' future. So, we need to be mindful of water to keep our cities thriving and resilient.


Jury Panel for the Competition comprised of:


- Ian Banerjee, Lecturer and Researcher at TU Vienna, Germany

- Ritu Mohanty-Padora, Architect, Urban Designer & Planner, AICP, LEED AP, Mumbai, India

- Pappal Suneja, Ph.D. Scholar, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany

- Twinkle Kataria, Architect & Artist, Mumbai, India

- Arti Daga, Architect & Academician, IGBC AP, GRIHA Evaluator & GEM CP, Mumbai, India

- Minaz Ansari, Architect, Academician & Urban Researcher, Mumbai, India


For more updates, visit the Instagram handle of the Organisation.


Competition Poster © Twinkle Kataria, AJC Associate, Mumbai


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