VITTHALA PRECINCT WATER CONSERVATION, HAMPI

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[one_half_last][alert-success]Architect: Mohan Rao [/alert-success]

Hampi – the ruins of erstwhile Vijayanagara is a World Heritage Site, marking the remains of a 15thcentury capital city. The city of Vijayanagara, founded over existing ancient settlements during the 13thcentury, peaked in terms of scale & maturity during the 15th -16th century before being ransacked by an invading army. The region was abandoned following the attack and is now a prime archaeological site, with buried structures and settlements spread over 130 Sq. km.

The main thrust of the conservation programme was revival of the ‘Pushkarani’, the ritual stepped-tank along the bazaar axis of Vittalapura. This was critical since the population of the day depended mainly on effective management of rainwater including harvesting, routing & storage. The series of wells and tanks extant in the landscape certainly served more than a ceremonial function. With this background, once the physical restoration of the tank was completed, the rejuvenation of the water system was addressed.

Exploratory excavations in the surrounding hillside revealed several detention ponds and trench channels, silted over with time. These were restored to activate the water systems. It is seen that these embedded structures have been designed and placed in a manner that channelize surface run-off through a system of infiltration, percolation and recharge ; ultimately leading the water to the Pushkarani. After only one season, the Pushkarani now holds water through out the year in an area that is perpetually drought prone.

The exercise effectively combined issues of heritage conservation, hydro-geology, ecological planning and tourism infrastructure. The fact that it is a living heritage site created a different set of challenges, demanding interventions that were sensitive to the current social and cultural milieu. It has led us to a better understanding of sustainable urban systems with great contemporary relevance. This understanding of integration of the territorial landscape characteristics as a structuring element of urban form continue to be extrapolated in the analysis and design development of contemporary settlements being undertaken by the firm.

The critical issue that underpinned the entire process of site interpretation and landscape conservation is natural resource management. Seemingly contradictory issues for preservation of the physical environment, preservation of the cultural & visual landscape and restoration of authentic setting of the site needed to be addressed in an equitable and balanced manner. However, once the deeper exploration of the site was undertaken, the contradictions resolved themselves almost seamlessly, to blend into a single, sustainable solution.

The deeper understanding of the conceptual framework of such landscape systems positions to clarify the integral nature of sustainable settlement planning. The learning from such an ancient settlement can be judiciously applied in contemporary settings to address present day needs for a sustainable and equitable development. A holistic approach determined by the frameworks of landscape urbanism encourages an ongoing discussion on the process of effectively structuring space and ordering land based on perceived urban needs, visual characteristics, demands of the end user and the territorial landscape.

The model of study not only serves us to address the sensitivity of approach that needs to be undertaken in contemporary times but also the arrangement of the city infrastructure for performing in a cohesive manner beyond contemporary models and notions of urban planning,  which tend to be far more program-driven rather than potentially achieved through terrain intelligence.

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