Traditional Water Systems

Traditional Water Systems can be read as comprehensive systems closely connected to the landscape and its people.

The transformation of the water system asked for precise reading of the landscape and the necessity to find a new balance between water and land, permeable and impermeable surfaces. These systems are developed over a long period by trial and error and because of this store knowledge, especially on adaptation to an ever-changing context.

The illustrative method is used as a starting point to analyze the rationality of water management, its spatial appearance as part of the landscape and the way people constructed and used the water systems over time. Within this framework, there is freedom for the students to develop their hand-writing. Each analysis consists of drawings which illustrate:context (a short introduction and description of the project); catchment area (the water system on the regional scale combined with the topography map); climate (a diagram of climate zone combined with precipitation over the year); transformation (a sequence of the system showing its development over a more extended period); stories (photos of the past and/or today in which actions with water are indicated); water system (a technical water management drawing); circular (sections and diagrams in which the interaction between water system, people and ecology are explained related to time aspect); details (to understand more about the making of the traditional water system); conclusions (a list of values and lessons to be learned). The analyses on the values are based on heritage values of the PhD work of G. Rivero-Lamela (2020) and altered by I. Bobbink:

Traditional Water Systems.

Landscape values

Natural landscapes are transformed into cultural landscapes; by doing so, the natural landscape is architectonically pronounced.

Strategic values

Smart use of the site to achieve maximum profitability with the minimum resources and infrastructures by taking advantage of natural elements, topographic changes, slopes, river bends…

Functional values

Water systems are constructions with simple formal and practical solutions.

Material and tangible values

Water elements and waterworks are a source of knowledge of construction techniques, materials from the surrounding area are used to adapt to climate and lithology and to express rituals.

Values of sustainability

Using regional materials (nonpolluting materials) to make for examples a waterwork, maintaining and repairing it whenever needed. The water stays as long as possible in the subsystem and is used for different purposes. Clean water is released into the natural system.

Ethnographic and identity values

To encompass the knowledge of what was the main activities of the region.

Lessons to learn

The CWS Graduation Lab focuses on the spatial, ecological and interactivity of human-made water systems. The outcome of the research is a source of knowledge and inspiration for future design.


Aboriginal Eel Aquaculture (Australia), Angkor Hydraulic City (Cambodia), Canal du Midi (France), Chinampas Agriculture and Settlement Patterns (Mexico), Delhi Sultanate Waterworks (India), Farm Pond Irrigation System (Taiwan), Fishing Valleys Aquaculture (Italy), Harnam Water Meadows (United Kingdom), Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (China), Kampung Naga (Indonesia), Ksôkong Tsùn Irrigation System (Taiwan), Kuttanad Kayalnilam Agrosystem (India), Sea Salt Fields in Hainan (China), Stepwells of Jaipur (India), The New Dutch Waterline (Netherlands), The Roman Aqueducts (Italy), Turpan Karez System (China), Water Mills of Sierra de Cadiz (Spain), Xinghua Duotian Agrosystem (China).