'Fluvial City'—The materiality of groundwater in the Chennai rainwater harvesting programme

Authors: Anthony Powis*,
Topics: Anthropocene, Urban Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Chennai, groundwater, monsoon
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: 8212, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


If the anthropocene ‘profoundly destabilises the grounds of Western political philosophy’ (Grove and Chandler 2017), then this paper seeks to explore the unstable ground itself, as instructive of an approach to design in the anthropocene. This theme is here explored through a study of the fluvial, coastal city of Chennai, as read in and through the transformations within groundwater—a climate register, and a socionatural, hybrid condition, inseparable into its constituent parts. Within this context, the increasingly-unpredictable monsoon cycle brings with it a manifold set of meteorological phenomena that saturate, flush, and cleanse the subsurface ecology of living and non-living things.

This paper explores not groundwater-as-such, but the always hybrid and multiple ways we get at it, and the asymmetry of agency when ‘we do the representing’ (Barad 1996; Connolly 2017). I will trace how hydro(geo)logical concepts and conventions have been borrowed and re-institutionalised within engineering, architecture, and planning, particularly in relation to the ongoing government-led rainwater harvesting programme, and associated surveying, and monitoring operations.

I then use groundwater to explore ways in which architectural research methods, and drawing techniques, rather than be employed in the search of fact, can be put to work as ways of accounting for things without the boundedness and exclusivity of other (textual/visual) types of images. In this way, I will discuss ways of exploring infrastructural questions which go (well) beyond human intentionality and static representation, into worlds of materials and flows, of ‘nothing but change’ (Bergson 1907).

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