Rising above surface

Comparative Review of Xinghua Duotian and Chinampas Water Systems


  • Rapa Surajaras OKRA landschapsarchitecten
  • Catalina Rey Wageningen University, Department Environmental Sciences, Water Resources Management Group




Traditional water system, irrigation, drainage, floating farmland, circularity, sustainable living, agriculture


The present research aims to explore a method of landscape reading and analysis through traditional water systems. Throughout the collection of local knowledge about water management in two opposite parts of the world it  is possible to learn how natural resources have been used in local communities for hundreds of years to generate resilient, circular and multi-functional water and land management. In order to create a base knowledge to provide lessons for today’s urban challenges, we have analyzed two traditional water systems: The Xinghua Duotian agro system in China and the Chinampas floating gardens in Mexico. Through a systematic collection of data and generation of comparative drawings, maps and diagrams, we were able to understand the logic behind the water management and to extrapolate possible design and strategic principles to be applied in present landscape and urban design. To achieve the proposed objectives, the ‘illustrative method’ (Bobbink and Ruy, 2017) was used. The illustrative method is based on the form-layer method (Steenbergen et al. 2008), which is used as an analytical tool to comprehend the relation between landscape interventions and its site based in 4 basic layers: basic form, program form, image form, and special form (Bobbink, 2019). During the research process, the method was adapted in order to analyze the specific cultural landscapes used as case studies (Xinghua Duotian and Chinampas). Because the form-layer method has been developed for landscape architectonic design we found it necessary to extend the analysis in further layers to reveal other landscape values such as use, maintenance and the circularity of human made traditional water systems (Bobbink, 2019). From the analysis of both water systems, we could extract two main lessons that can help us to design and plan more resilient and sustainable cities. Firstly, the possibility of designing a method of settlement and urban expansion based on natural principles where circularity is a key element to generate a sustainable way of extraction and restoration of natural resources. And secondly, that specific landscape identities, such as wetland and lakes, can be a provider of multi-functional development for cities where agriculture, economy, urban expansion and ecology are part of the similar network. Using these principles that are the basis of the analyzed water systems, we can come back to a more sustainable, circular and multi-functional way of using our natural resources.


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Chinampas | Chinampas agricultural system