Architecture Prof. leads Students on "A Path to Water"

-Victor Tzen, Assistant Professor of Architecture 

During the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to travel with Emera Bridger Wilson and 13 enthusiastic students to Rajasthan and Gujarat as faculty sponsor of an SU Abroad short term program. This program focused on the multifaceted role of the step well and stepped pond in the Indian landscape. Following the closing of the wells during the British Raj and the subsequent introduction of piped water, the wells have been largely forgotten as a relic of the past by both locals and academics. The course sought to study both these water systems and their context, both past and present, in order to unpack the knowledge, history and perspective they offer for a world facing ever growing water needs. Emera and I structured the program around thematic student-led research projects at four case study wells in Amer, Bundi, Ahmedabad and Patan. Students worked in interdisciplinary teams to investigate the topics of space, urbanism, health and community as related to the wells. The students, who came from diverse academic backgrounds, were encouraged to leverage their particular expertise in gathering data. Techniques ranging from interviews to mapping were utilized at each site to analyze the wells and the communities around them. The results of these studies were regularly recalibrated through group conversations, guest lectures and time spent in and around the wells to better understand the role of the wells in contemporary India.The Syracuse University team sitting on the step well steps

The visits we made to artisan workshops, universities, religious spaces, private homes and tourist attractions between research periods provided additional insight into the world around these wells. Using the wells as a common point of reference during these excursions, we started to recognize the web of connections extending out from these subterranean spaces into the lives and spaces of the surrounding landscape. With the assistance of Bhoju Ram Gujar and Sarosh Anklesaria, we were able to access a diverse and rich cross section of the cultures and spaces in this arid landscape building a foundation ripe for future inquiry. Building on the success of this trip, I hope to return to India with another group to continue the work and research on these fascinating spaces in the near future.