Diploma 2017: "(Water Occupation): A Soft Protest for Water and Settlements" by Ling Lee

Tutors: Cristian Stefanescu (APP), Andrea Spreafico (DAV), Harald Røstvik (Sustainability), Sigurdur Gunnarson (TTA)


(Water Occupation): A Soft Protest for Water and Settlements

Location: Sabarmati Riverbank, Ahmedabad City, India


This project is human activity spaces where combine water and social infrastructure. The strategy of it is a combination of water systems and shrines. It aims to bring better quality of water and daily life to the underprivileged people who live in non-legal settlements. A part of the project focuses on the water source and provides spaces for bathing and doing laundry, tries to fulfil the fundamental daily needs. While the other part extends the capacity of water being a meeting point and introduce a communal space and a library for women and children.


While I adopted and implemented throughout the project with two unwritten laws which are sneaking in this special situation. The first one is that the people build shrines to claim and protect the squatted settlements. And the second one is that the building materials for their refuges should be light—if they use reinforces concrete to build, the authority will dismantle it immediately.


The site is in the northwest of Ahmedabad, on the outskirts of the city centre, and located on the left bank of Sabarmati River, India. ( 22°59’20.64”N,  72°32’42.84”E) Ahmedabad is in the area of tropical monsoon climate zone, the average rainfall from June to September can reach approximately 80 mm, 290 mm, 270 mm, and 90 mm each, while the rest of the months have little or no rain. Thus the city is under the risk of flood and drought.


Apart from the overview of geographical fact, the site I’ve chosen is situated behind the Vasna Dam, and the river after the dam almost dries out. Instead, the “irregular settlements” rely on the water from the canal. The canal is built for irrigation, which is supplied by the dam water to neutralise the water discharged from the wastewater treatment plants down stream. The water source, even thought that is not the treated water, can be considered clean. However, it is polluted after it flows through the non registered landfill, construction field, several irregular settlements, and the people use the water to take bathes and do laundry right by the canal. Despite the source from the canal, it also brings the risk of drowning. It has reported several drowning accidents. Most of the victims are children and it happens when they are taking bath in the canal.


The village where I’ve chosen for the intervention has approximately 500 residents. Their dwells are settled in between the farmland and the road / embankment. The men either work in the farmland, in construction fields, as rickshaw drivers, or run their small businesses. While the women in most of cases have to stay at home, collecting water and firewood, doing laundry, washing dishes and preparing foods. Occasionally, they will help out for the work of construction field or farmland, in spite of that, most of the time they are not even allowed to leave their home.


The project faces three actors: the municipality, the non-government organisation, and the underprivileged groups.


The site is nearby several identical slums where the organisation has started to estimate some supportive programmes, such as bank and “child friendly space (CFS)”. The bank aims to help their economy issues with lower funds and spacial system of guarantors. While the CFS is a dispersed programme which goes into construction fields through out the city and creates safe places for the children who have to travel with their migrant worker parents and lose their chance to attend to school.



According to the unwritten laws which leads the first step: to integrate the water system into the shrines and create spaces with a clean water source and shade for people to collect water, gather, hangout, and work. The “shrines” stabilise the area and the water system provides clean water through certain purification.



It is acceptable to use light materials, such as wood, metal sheet, brick, to build their houses. Thus, the materials should be both light and easy to get. I explored the surroundings and used the material which I could find there as main elements. Apart from solving the issues of where the materials come from and who is going to pay for them, the method of materiality also keeps the language fit to the site.


A self-refillable, self-controllable and self-maintainable micro, comparing to the ordinary water supply system, water infrastructure is applied to the site. I use simple physical principles of water and gravity to fetch water into the site, and employ the methods of sand filtration and sun evaporation to create clean water.


Hinduism and Islam are the major groups considering in the underprivileged people in Ahmedabad. After researching the main philosophy of each religion and considering the general religious view in the city, I simplified the form adopting from Hinduism and let the water run the moderate role in both religions.


Following the second step is to extend the social spaces from the shrines and establish an identical gather space for village affairs and a library where the women and the children can play and learn.


The amount of background researching about the historical and modern water supply systems, the religions, the societies, the people’s life in the urban-poor condition, the geographical condition and the context of urban fringe in Ahmedabad are playing an important role in this project. All of them, I edited into several booklets which are categorised into 5 different sections: water (the systems and spaces), faith (Hinduism, Islam, and the comparison), people (the authority, non-government organisation, and underprivileged groups), site (materiality and typology of life) and the basic drawings of the site and designs.


Through the whole process I practiced several practical 1:1 works.

Firstly, the interviewing with several different professions and groups provides most fundamental background for the project. I contacted the NGO based on the city, and accompanied by a person, who grew up in one of the villages, visited the several sites and talked with the people face to face. And I interviewed the professors who are specialised in slum issue and water right, based on the architecture school (CEPT) in Ahmedabad, as well as some civil servants work in one of the water supply stations.


And apart from the actual talks during the site trip, back to Bergen, I paid a visit to the recycling plant, construction fields and so on tried to dig out potential materials from the similar assumption I applied in the Ahmedabad project.


The third 1:1 practice was building a part of the design with the same materials and the same conjunctions I planned in the working drawings.