PennDesign reframes the image of water

The concept behind PennDesign’s upcoming two-day symposium called “In The Terrain of Water” is simple but deep: Water is everywhere. In the ground. In the sky. In oceans and rivers. It is transient and uncertain. It is ubiquitous and it is scarce.

PennDesign reframes the image of water

PennDesign reframes the image of water

For centuries, says Anuradha Mathur, associate professor of landscape architecture in the School of Design, humans have worked to control, contain and confine water. But, she says, perhaps it is time to change our relationship with water, to “re-visualize” how buildings, urban infrastructures, landscapes and artwork deal with the natural resource.

Mathur, who shaped the symposium, is co-author of the book “SOAK: Mumbai in an Estuary” that calls for a similar re-thinking of India’s largest city as a monsoon and estuarine landscape.

“We are at a moment in which how we imagine water can be changed,” Mathur says. “We have the ability to radically re-imagine how we think about water as we go forward.”

Most of society’s designs, she explains, are land-centric. “We think of land, and then we think where can we put water? Water is either in the river between two lines, or it is in a water body that has boundaries.”

But, she says, the symposium—which will be held at Meyerson Hall on April 1 and April 2—will encourage landscape architects, urban planners, artists, architects and others to consider how their work might change if water was moved to the forefront of their thought and design.

Speakers scheduled to attend include: Teng Chye Khoo, executive director of the Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore; filmmaker Peter Hutton; Diébédo Francis Kéré, winner of the 2009 Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, and John Todd, an international leader in ecological design named a “Hero for the Planet” by TIME Magazine in 1999. Admission for Penn faculty and staff is free. To register and to get more information, visit

Originally published on March 3, 2011