title. 21st Century Qanat, Columbia GSAPP

date. Spring Semester, 2017

city. Amman, Jordan

description. 21st Century Qanat proposes a decentralized sustainable water harvesting network by re-interpreting the Qanat System—a traditional water distribution technology used by the Romans in the region in the 6th Century, which connected, channeled and distributed the underground water through agricultural areas into cities.

team members. Sreyash Dasgupta, Vrinda Sharma and Jiaqi Sun



The project is based on understanding the ground elevation, the movement of water and its relationship with people’s behavior and performance within the community. Through a combination of several scalar operations, like adding a new layer of transportation, renewable energy production and much needed social infrastructures, the project consists in collecting, filtering and distributing grey water, rainwater and street waste water run offs by re-conceptualizing the ground.


We proposed a combination of decentralized sustainable water harvesting systems by reinterpreting the Qanat System; a traditional water distribution technology employed by the Romans in the region in the 6th Century — a set of connections that channeled and distributed the underground water through agricultural areas into cities. The design will be composed by collecting, filtrating and distributing waste water, rain water and street waste water run offs.

The current water distribution system in Jordan consists of large scale infrastructures, causing ecological, social, and economic harm to both the countryside and urban agglomerations, like Amman. As the water supply and water waste infrastructure operates mostly via centralized and energy intensive distribution facilities, like pumping stations, artificially established damns and a centralized wastewater treatment plant, the water is eventually polluted leaked and wasted.


To test our hypothesis, we choose Amman, the biggest urban agglomeration in Jordan. By taking advantage of the natural topography  that would help choreograph water within the city, this project proposes a sustainable combination of underground and on the ground channels of water moving from the higher points of Amman towards the valley or downtown area.


We propose to decentralize As Samra Treatment Plant by introducing the five stages of purification into the urban fabric. We selected Downtown Amman as the specific area where the design proposal will be tested. The actual water conditions in Downtown Amman are the most critical within the city. This specific portion of the city is extremely vulnerable to flood risks, a high percentage of the water is being wasted in Downtown Amman frequently and there is a strong presence of trucks supplying and collecting water from households daily.


The main objective of the project is to address those issues by helping Downtown Amman become permeable and water autonomous by leveraging its existing topographical, cultural and social conditions. The design of each stage of purification will respond to the scale of the urban context where the interventions will be located and to the characteristics of the existing communities. This new network of water distribution and purification will work together with a combination of underground and on the ground systems.


1. The newly introduced system network begins within the community itself. The community collects the grey water from their own neighborhood via a fleed of bikes that have been sponsored by the Ministry of Transportation and the Arab Bank to then transfer the water at strategically located bike stations that functions as Waterbanks. While the bike is being peddled towards the WaterBanks, the water is being filtered for the first time. This would not only create the first step of grey water filtration but also provide a much needed mode of public transportation, which has already been proposed in Amman.

2. The community WaterBanks are located within a distance of one kilometer from each bike station. Each WaterBank is equipped with a reed bed filtration system, providing the second level of water filtration. This is where the water is first injected into the ground. The bikes and shared public transport network exchange the grey water with water credits to be used for personal water needs. It works on a concept opposite to a gas station- injecting back natural resource into the ground. The WaterBank also serves as a community space, funded and developed by community institutions schools located in the near vicinity and can be used as a library, education and lecture halls, soup kitchens, strengthening the idea of getting together and socializing as a community.

3. The third stage of water purification of our intervention revolves around underground reservoirs strategically located at the lowest point of the topography within the hills surrounding the valley in Downtown Amman. These underground reservoirs, called Community Abnars, will collect all the water coming from every WaterBank within the residential neighborhoods in the hills. The water will be filtrated by implementing the UV Ray technique of filtration, using solar energy to harness electricity. At this point, the water will be purified to the level of underground water. Once the Community Abnars are filled up, the water will be released to the next step of purification within the network. This underground infrastructure will be funded by As Samra Company and the Ministry of Health and Mineral Resources and it will have a dual function of producing renewable energy.


4. The Qanats presents the fourth stage of the purification network by implementing the reverse osmosis filtration technique. The Qanats will be located along Downtown Amman´s valley following the footprint of the ancient sale that flowed across the city. The starting point of the Qanat´s system will be on top of the existing underground natural spring in Ras Al Ein Park and will flow towards the East, passing in front of the most important religious and political gathering space in the city, the Al Hussein Mosque. We selected this site to design in detail the reconfiguration of the ground level and its performance in conjunction with the Qanat. This intervention will be funded and developed by large institutions, such as Al Hussein Mosque, by applying the charitable endowment established by the Islamic Law. This could also be combined with support from the Ministry of Transportation and the Amman Great Municipality. The Qanat is the infrastructure within the proposed network that reaches the water table and introduces the groundwater into our water harvesting strategy.

5. Finally, the Abnar Water Treatment is the fifth and last stage of purification of the proposed network and it’s locate at the end of the ancient sale´s footprint, leveraging the big vacant spaces in between highways infrastructures, close to the airport. All the water channeled by the underground connections through the Qanats will go to the Abnar Water Treatment, where the final step of chlorination will take place. Throughout this final filtration occurring in underground reservoirs the water will reach to level of drinking water. As Samra Company together with the Amman Greater Municipality will develop and control this final stage. Once the filtration is over, the water will be recirculated within the city by using the existing system used by the Municipality to distribute the water to the households in Downtown Amman.

Material Pallette

Limestone is the most abundantly found construction material in downtown Amman. The project locally sources different types of limestone blocks to create different grades of porosity within the fabric of downtown Amman, thereby allowing for easy water percolation into the ground.

In conclusion, as it has been mentioned before, the main objective of Amman´s Water Choreography Network is to introduce a new and sustainable water harvesting network in order to implement more efficient and decentralized ways of collecting, purifying and distributing water within the city fabric. Our design is based on the idea of re-conceptualizing the ground, understanding the movement of water and people, and trying to provide solutions to the existing gaps in the social infrastructures in Downtown Amman. With this proposal, we except that by 2050 Amman´s dependency on outside sources of water will decrease at least a 50%, reducing the amount of energy implemented nowadays and reducing the existing ecological, social and economic harms in Jordan.