Water is the one element on earth which has been always imperative for life and the genesis of settlement. Water being the most essential part of everyone’s life and throughout history, it has been the most influential in human life. Traditionally, the role of water defines strategic defense, but the protective capacity of this ambiguous element must be balanced against its inherent danger. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine another element in the world that is so central and so vital both to basic life and to a diverse range of aesthetic and recreational pleasure. According to Charles Moore, every drop of water in nature is connected to some smaller or larger global cycle, and thus, the presence of water is inseparable from other natural elements. Adhesion and cohesion modify the horizontal surface of the water. Billions of molecules join to form a tension that always creates as small a surface as possible, for a body of still water.

Architectural response to Land-Water-Interface in Indian Culture - Sheet1
©Jhanavi Parikh

Charles Moore in his book “Water and Architecture” mentioned that the key to understanding the water of architecture is to understand the architecture of water – What physical law governs its behavior, how liquid acts and reacts with our senses, and most of all how its symbolism relates to us as human beings. The nature of water can be termed as a fundamental soft element which is a sculptural medium unsurpassed in its potential to make the most of its form, transparency, reflectivity, sound, movement, refractivity, and color.

Waterfronts are termed as those areas, which are located in an urban context having direct contact with the Water or adjoining lake, river, or harbor. Various activities are prevailing on the Waterfront which keeps the interface active. These activities can be classified into various types such as mixed-use, recreational, working activities, historic, cultural, environmental, residential, etc. It is said that Waterfronts provide a city level place for public enjoyment and engagement. These waterfronts provide an ample amount of visual and physical access. Cities do want a waterfront that serves multiple purposes such as a place to work, to live, to relax, etc. Therefore, Waterfronts contribute to aspects like Social, Cultural, and Economical. Further on the typologies, waterfront consists of typologies such as Seafronts, Riverfronts, and Lakefronts, etc. Before the development of these waterfronts, they were natural edges having nature’s elements like vegetation, aquatic life, natural edge, etc.

Architectural response to Land-Water-Interface in Indian Culture - Sheet2
©Jhanavi Parikh

Waterfronts are perceived very differently in the Indian context and have a diverse context. During ancient times, waterfronts in the Indian context were never celebrated as a recreational public place. Waterfront is not very well emphasized in the Indian culture if compared to the western concept of such waterfronts. Water and religion are intricately woven in the pattern of lifestyle of Indians. Along with that due to the subtropical climate, the preference to the waterfronts is more on the socio-cultural aspects such as the bathing rituals. In India, many cities have flourished on the banks of waterfronts i.e. seafront, riverfront, and lakefronts which are marked in the map. All these cities have their own identity achieved due to the dominance of water as a core element. So, it can also be said that the city structure as a whole responds to the waterbody in a certain manner whereas, on a micro-level, the elements which are physically related to water have also evolved in the Indian context. In the Indian context, it is believed that rivers are sacred, the kunds and step-wells have shrines and idols of God, lakes were used to offer prayers and worship water as God. Therefore, layers of activities along with built form typologies and their architectural responses exist altogether with the current era.

The main feature of the waterfront can be said as the physical accessibility to water that also leads to a specific response to the water edge. Therefore, the particular architectural elements such as Ghats, Ovara (a gateway to access the water body), step-wells, and bathing pavilions can be said as the evolution of built form with architectural conceptions along the water edge. So, it can be said that the water edge also reflects the evolution pattern respecting all the socio-cultural aspects.

Architectural response to Land-Water-Interface in Indian Culture - Sheet3
©Jhanavi Parikh

Water in Indian Architecture was never meant to be responded to in the majority of Indian cities. The cities like Banaras, Ujjain, Nasik, Pushkar, etc. have Ghats as an architectural response but with a religious purpose. Other than these cities which have flourished on waterfronts like Ahmedabad on river Sabarmati is not responding to the water in a physical sense because the city is not oriented to the river to respond. Traditionally, these cities were away from the edge. In the case of Udaipur, the city flourished with a conscious decision to create a city having the Palace placed at the lake edge on the highest ridge considering the security purpose. Further, various settlements settled on the lake edge forming the identity of the city of Udaipur.

Architectural response to Land-Water-Interface in Indian Culture - Sheet4
Ganguar Ghat, Udaipur ©Jhanavi Parikh

There are three distinct features –the water body, some built form responding to the water body, and the interface. This interface plays the role of public space, private space, open space, soft edge, hard edge, etc. The Architectural response to water is not only limited to the physical built form but it is also interlinked with the psychological response. Hence, the responses are in both ways where one is interrelated to the other. Further, the Architectural response can be manifested in many ways like Physical, Spatial, Visual, and Sensorial. It can be classified that these responses are tangible and intangible.

Architectural response to Land-Water-Interface in Indian Culture - Sheet5
Amet Haveli, Udaipur ©Jhanavi Parikh
Architectural response to Land-Water-Interface in Indian Culture - Sheet6
Ambrai Ghat, Udaipur ©Jhanavi Parikh

If we look at the emergence of a certain type of architecture, there is no direct answer that one has emerged after another but there surely lies an interrelationship that depends upon the building use. E.g. If a public domain is designed, it has to ensure the security of the people along with recreational purposes, and therefore, in most cases water is made accessible physically and visually through the medium of Ghats. Similarly, if private property is developed then the architecture would be more inclined towards providing privacy. Hence, it can be said that the change in the type of edge on the water leads to the change like space and vice versa. The building on the water edge not only responds to water from the edge but it also responds from inside the building.

Architectural response to Land-Water-Interface in Indian Culture - Sheet7
©Jhanavi Parikh

Jhanavi is an architecture graduate from Nirma University in 2019 with the best awarded Research Thesis on Architectural Response to Waterfronts. Jhanavi is an Associate Architect at JCE, Ahmedabad and also recipient of research grant for the research of “Women in Architecture” from EDRC. She is a keen observer, who loves to translate the minute details into words.