Jack Bai
urban design & landscape architecture
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Columbia GSAPP, M.S Architecture & Urban Design
Instructors: Kate Orff, Nora Akawi, Ziad Jamaleddine, Petra Kempf, Laura Kurgan
Spring Studio 2018
Project Location: Jordan
In Collaboration with Betsy Daniel, Ken Piyawut  and Janki Shah


What if wadis are redefined as a new pattern of urbanization driven by logic of water, local values and programmatic landscape ?

A wadi is an Arabic word for a valley or water channel. It is an ephemeral watercourse in arid regions transecting from mountains and foothills pushing water through channels to the lowest points that defines the catchment. Rainfall plays a significant role in the formation and occurrence of catchments and the groundwater reservoirs are replenished through infiltration. They are a vital water source for Jordan leading the water into the Jordan Rift Valley. 

Migratory changes have caused a large influx of population into Amman, the largest city in Jordan, from 1994 onwards leading to a geographic expansion of the city. This rapid urbanization, population growth, and concretization of the wadi system have created challenges to the efficient use of the renewable source of water harnessed from the wadi itself. 

Thus wadi [re]urbanization redefines new patterns of urbanization driven by logics of water instead of economic drivers. It uses systems of water retention and collection through ancient water harvesting techniques that rely on earthwork techniques that depend on the existing topography of the wadi.


20th Century Water Infrastructure

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The creation of water infrastructures in the 20th century is fueled by political and economic threats. They are funded by international means that respond to a global scale and methods of development rather than local scale. The total water usage is 902 million cubic meter, however according to the Ministry of Water and Irrigation of Jordan an addition of 498 million cubic meters needed with most of the water going to irrigation.

In order to meet this demand, groundwater is pumped from both legal and illegal wells depleting groundwater basins with more than half of these basins to a negative recharge rate, including the nonrenewable Disi basin. Water is being lost through extremely high evaporation at the dams of the water infrastructure, through leakage in pipes, illegal wells and also during transportation through trucks . The government response to these issues is the heavy investment into the Red to Dead Sea Pipeline or the Jordan Red Sea Project. However this pipelines carrying water thousands of miles to urban centers like Amman, fight against the topography of the existing landscape. They serve as a armature for future development like these to pop up along it.

The new development promote international investment for tourism activity and are in response to economic and political factors rather than environmental and economic values of Jordan. Prior to these concretized infrastructures, cities and villages were mostly ephemeral settlements comprising local communities. Their dependency on natural springs, intimate understanding of the water and wadi cycle omitted the need of distanced water supply. The Jordan Rift Valley promote groundwater recharge due to sedimentation created by influx of smaller wadi and also because of the higher annual rainfall along the highlands.

The sites along the valley are re imagined as potential infrastructure to revive water cycle and sustain local system.


Sen, Z. (2008). Wadi Hydrology. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Ababsa, Myriam, ed. Atlas of Jordan : History, Territories and Society. Beyrouth : Presses de l’Ifpo, 2013. Web. <http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/4560>.


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Cities and future development proposals in Jordan depend on highways and roads that dictate city growth and urban pattern. Wadi urbanization concretizes its surface through this highway. For our proposal we looked at the town Rashidiyah, situated near Aqaba in Wadi Yutum, as a prototype for the potential and possibility of Wadi [Re]urbanization. Aqaba is rapidly urbanizing through an economic and road based system under ASEZA, at the outlet of Wadi Yutum. Several smaller towns and communities dot the landscape of Wadi Yutum similar to the other wadis in Jordan. 

The town of Rashidiyah is located north to the entrance gate of Wadi Rum, a national park popular with tourist. The approximate area of town is one sq km housing 3424 people. The water is supplied from disi aquifer to a distant location that is then transferred through trucks. Historically, the town of Rashidiyah was intended as a temporary settlement. It provided large areas of farmland to the nomadic Bedouin community. After the construction of houses by the King of Jordan, new migrant farmers occupied the land to find work in the nearby large scale graze farmlands. The dead sea highway runs along the town, and cuts across the existing wadi flow. Hence, our project aims to address existing farmlands and tourist activity in order to be integrated with our wadi development project.        



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The proposal integrates micro catchment, rammed earth construction technique and bio-swales to create a module for water retention, collection and redistribution system. A micro catchment is a specially contoured area with slopes and berms designed to increase runoff from rain and concentrate it in a planting basin where it infiltrates and is effectively “stored” in the soil profile. The water is available to plants but protected from evaporation. They are simple and inexpensive to construct and can be built rapidly using local materials and manpower. The micro catchment are attached with a water core using construction material obtained from earth to collect rainwater. The core acts as Persian windcatcher to control microclimate in a desert region. The entire system attached to the bioswale creates an integrated water cycle system.
This module/system can be integrated with public space, community living, and new form of agriculture in varied scales.
Source:  Microcatchment Water Harvesting for Desert Revegetation. (n.d.). Soil Ecology and Restoration Group, (5).


Design Rationale


The existing water and wadi flows were identified by finding the lowest points along the topography. The landform is a highland of the surrounding mountains of the town is manipulated through earthworks to retain water.  Catchment areas are clearly defined for the purpose of capturing water for the existing town. This water is dispersed through water channels and bio-swales along the existing street network to water centers in the lower level to reintroduce and imitate natural water flow.

New farm typology, specifically olive farms, crop field and gazing, are fed by treated greywater from households in the existing towns through natural filtration and treatment ponds along the highway. New farming typology is created to maximize growth through irrigation from this treated greywater to create a new urban network for tourism economy. The lodging and market area along the highway are ancillary building to accommodate the growth of tourism.

New housing on the north side of the existing town are formed within this water holding landscape. The density is dictated by the capacity of the delineated catchment area that is behind the new housing. Our prototype proposes a water-based density of 1,453 people per sq.km.

Therefore, the proposal transects through three sections of the site addressing specific site conditions and speculating their future growth pattern.



The design proposals extend to time-based development integrating population influx, economic activity, and seasonality.

Phase 1 – Existing town grid

In the existing city grid, the water collected from the catchment area behind the town is distributed through bio-swales feeding into the existing town fabric. The vacant lots in the city grid are converted into points of collective water centers. These water center transforms into new social space varying in scales and functions for the community.  They accommodate programs like markets, playgrounds or a training center in order to learn how to deploy these earthwork techniques. In essence, the existing city of Rashidiyah becomes a reservoir. When it rain, these water centers or underground reservoirs, become activated, storing water for the future of the town.  

The water centers in the existing town perform as a decentralized water distribution network. The water center creates a platform for learning, economic activity and a new way of living.  
The water center is a new infrastructural system deployed to existing fabric that will revive the wadi as a resource.


Phase 2 – Agro tourism

Zooming into the intersection of the existing town, the highway and the land adjacent to the highway, this area provides an opportunity to promote agro tourism based on tourists taking part in agricultural production, such as olive oil production and processing, which is a growing enterprise in Jordan. The buffer alongside the highway, serviced through a combination of stone, gravel, and sand filters takes the greywater from the existing town and pipes it into the new agriculture patterns. 

The agro tourism is a growing enterprise in Jordan, it will not only be a place for tourist for staying and visiting, but will also generate long term economic benefits from olive oil producing and processing. It will be an additional destination for the tourist visiting Wadi Rum. The harvest season will also be addition to the incoming tourist influx.  

The field of agricultural patterns are transcribed based on how much water each crop needs, with the crops needing the most amount of water, such as cabbage, planted closer to the filtration ponds. Olive harvesting as part of this agro tourism takes place from November onwards offsetting the tourist season of the adjacent Wadi Rum in the early spring and fall.


Phase 3 – New town

The north side of the town is envisioned to accommodate a growing population. The ground is prepared before in order to provide areas for holding and catching the water.  The manipulation of the earth is to provide pockets for housing that integrate the behavior of water through the use of gabion diversion walls and the water core. The new housing typology sits within the ground itself providing the benefit of passive cooling through the earth itself. Water is also diverted into the new housing cluster through its proximate water catchment area and water center. The integrated water core also serves as a wind tower, modeled after ancient Persian wind catchers that use the coolness of the underground water to chill the dwelling. These new housing typologies, are also constructed through the sustainable technique of rammed earth construction. These techniques can be taught to the local residents themselves so that the process can be created. 

Wadi [re]urbanization is an infrastructural system that can propose urban patterns that work with and grow alongside the existing wadi. It is an experiment in understanding alternative ways in which cities and urban areas can grow and change.


Final Board

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Documentary + Animation