Visual Water Biography: Translating Stories in Space and Time

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The supervision of water systems in many countries is centralised and taken over from local water management collectives of ‘water workers’ by governmental or other water management institutions. Communities are literally and figuratively cut-off from ‘their’ water systems, due to the increase of urbanisation and industrialisation. On account of water management, humankind changed from communities of actively engaged water workers into passive users. In so doing, crucial knowledge about how communities created, maintained, and expanded ‘living water systems’, such as rice terraces, low-pasture systems, polders, floating-gardens, brooks-mill, and tidal systems, is rapidly diminishing. Revealing stories (oral accounts) of water workers generate insights and understanding of forgotten aspects of the landscape. They hold information on how to engage with water in a more holistic way, strategies that might help in facing today’s challenges. The world in general, but planners, spatial designers, and water managers working with water, in particular, have so far taken little account of these stories. Without documenting stories that are about the dynamic interaction between people and landscape, valuable knowledge has disappeared and continues to do so. To help to overcome this knowledge gap, to learn from the past, the Visual Water Biography (VWB) is developed. The novel method is based on the Delft layer approach in which the spatial relationship of a design and its topography is studied, and developed by many authors from the faculty of landscape architecture at TU Delft in combination with the landscape biography approach. The Visual Water Biography visualises and maps: 1) knowledge and 2) engagement of water workers by focusing on 3) circular and 4) cyclical processes that are descended in the landscape. The method developed for spatial planners, researchers, and designers explicitly allows for multi-disciplinary engagement with water workers, water professionals, people from other disciplines such as historians and ecologists, and the general public. The added value of the VWB method is shown by the case of the Dutch Sprengen and Brooks system, a water system that is well documented in terms of landscape biography but less understood as a living water system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-22
Number of pages18
JournalSpool. Journal of Architecture and the Built Environment
Issue number2 #7
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Communities of water workers
  • Cyclical and circular processes
  • Delft layer approach
  • Landscape architecture
  • Landscape biography
  • Living water systems
  • Spatial analysis
  • Sprengen and Brooks system
  • Transformation
  • Visual Water Biography (VWB)


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