Designing the Ganges

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Designing the Ganges

March 07, 2016

The Ganges River Basin is a fertile alluvial basin of 1.1 million square kilometers in area, which is today home to over one-third of India’s billion-plus population.  While most of the basin sits within India, it extends into present day Bangladesh, Nepal, and Tibet.  Not only is the area one of the most densely populated river basins in the world but every year it also undergoes radical physical changes.  Although the Ganges has become the highly publicized focus of government reform and investment, there was no systematic and comprehensive mapping and analysis of the infrastructural transformation of the Ganges River basin.

In the summer of 2005, with only a camera and hand-held GPS unit, Anthony Acciavatti, now an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning, arrived in India as a Fulbright Fellow to map the most densely populated river basin in the world. During his increasingly long expeditions into the mountains and plains, he began to obsessively record the cycles of the Ganges River, the iconic watercourse of India that reached everywhere. For nearly a decade, Acciavatti crisscrossed the Ganges River by foot and boat, deploying new methods of mapping cities and towns as well as the rhythms of the monsoon. His book, Ganges Water Machine: Designing New India’s Ancient River (awarded the John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize for 2016), is a dynamic atlas of the Ganges River basin—the first such comprehensive atlas in half a century.  

The South Asia Institute and the Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai jointly organized a talk and exhibition based on selections from Anthony Acciavatti’s visual archive. Dr. Upmanu Lall, Professor and Director of the Columbia Water Center, was the discussant. The exhibition was well received at the East Gallery at Maison Française.  It will travel to major Indian cities in the summer.