PODCAST: Stepwells of Ahmedabad

Stories from the Ground
January 07, 2021
Credit: Priyanka Sheth

BBB's Priyanka Sheth talks about her research and the exhibition Stepwells of Ahmedabad, uncovering the history of subterranean water structures and the future of urban water infrastructure in India.

Priyanka Sheth, an Architectural Designer from Studio B in BBB's New York office, is one of the lead researchers and co-curators for Stepwells of Ahmedabad, a collaborative research initiative focusing on historic subterranean water structures called stepwells that are found extensively in the semi-arid regions of India. This research is on display in an online exhibition hosted by the Cooper Union and presents insights compiled over five years in the form of thematic essays, drawings, maps, photographs, and videos.

Silent footage of Ahmedabad stepwells by Priyanka Sheth mentioned in the Soundcloud podcast

In this new podcast, Priyanka Sheth speaks with Ana Bozicevic about the lengthy collaborative process of gathering this extraordinary archive with her collaborators Tanvi Jain and Aashini Sheth; the historic role of stepwells as sites of social encounter and vital tools of survival; their unique architectural vocabulary; as well as the lessons that traditional systems like stepwells can teach urban architects, as they consider the future of urban water infrastructures in light of climate change.

An old man in the neighborhood has chosen an unusual spot for his daily siesta—he mounts his wood frame bed precariously atop the spiral staircase shaft of the Ashapura maata vaav, where cool, subterranean air flows fom the well. -from Stepwells of Ahmedabad at the Cooper Union


Priyanka also tells the story of her favorite stepwell and the evolution of its use over time:

There is a stepwell with a fascinating story behind it…that an informal community has come around. This old man is resting on the staircase that goes underneath, into the well. I've been to this stepwell a number of times, and he's always there. He says this is his siesta spot for the last fifty years. That was an important lesson as to what we as architects might perceive preservation is, versus what it means to the people who live around. The stepwell is still part of their routine. It is still their space.

Listen now for more stories from the ground.