Stepwells

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Subterranean Architecture :
Inverted Infrastructural Monuments :
Some areas of the world are accustomed to such polarity. In Western India, for instance, three months of a healthy monsoon is followed by nine continuous months of arid weather. The polarization of weather promotes renewed interest in ancient infrastructures that could mitigate these extremes through sustainable means. In the case of the dry weather in Western India, this was done with Stepwells. Dated to 600 AD, stepwells are essentially inverted ziggurats excavated from the earth, producing an infrastructural monument to water collection.  Like most great inventions, the concept driving a stepwell is surprisingly simple and composed of two parts – a well and access route.  The large well is used to collect monsoon rain, which then percolates through layers of fine silt (to screen particulates), eventually reaching a layer of impermeable clay.  Eroded rock from the Western Himalaya, further refined through several centuries of farming has produced a fine alluvium soil for the wells, which acts as an ideal filter. With larger sediment gathering at the top, the stepwell operates like an underground aquifer. The second component of the stepwell, are the steps or access passages to collect the water.  Unlike traditional wells, stepwells allow one to enter, manage and maintain the well, creating a spatial occupation of the infrastructure.  Some stepwells contain continuous transport infrastructure, such as ramps, to allow cattle to reach and transport water.  More elaborated stepwells host galleries and chambers surrounding the passageways that were ornamentally sculpted.  It is no surprise that these wells that allowed communities to sustain their crops during the arid months, eventually became religious temples dedicated to water.  The functional characteristics of stepwells, soon made them a metaphor for the Ganges – the largest and most divine river in India. What is intriguing about stepwells is...
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