Visual Water Biography

Translating Stories in Space and Time





landscape architecture, living water systems, landscape biography, Delft layer approach, Visual Water Biography (VWB), communities of water workers, transformation, spatial analysis, cyclical and circular processes, Sprengen and Brooks system


The supervision of water systems in many countries is centralised and taken over from local water management collectives of ‘water workers’ by governmental or other water management institutions. Communities are literally and figuratively cut-off from ‘their’ water systems, due to the increase of urbanisation and industrialisation. On account of water management, humankind changed from communities of actively engaged water workers into passive users. In so doing, crucial knowledge about how communities created, maintained, and expanded ‘living water systems’, such as rice terraces, low-pasture systems, polders, floating-gardens, brooks-mill, and tidal systems, is rapidly diminishing. Revealing stories (oral accounts)  of water workers generate insights and understanding of forgotten aspects of the landscape. They hold information on how to engage with water in a more holistic way, strategies that might help in facing today’s challenges. The world in general, but planners, spatial designers, and water managers working with water, in particular, have so far taken little account of these stories. Without documenting stories that are about the dynamic interaction between people and landscape, valuable knowledge has disappeared and continues to do so.  To help to overcome this knowledge gap, to learn from the past, the Visual Water Biography (VWB) is developed. The novel method is based on the Delft layer approach in which the spatial relationship of a design and its topography is studied, and developed by many authors from the faculty of landscape architecture at TU Delft  in combination with the landscape biography approach. The Visual Water Biography visualises and maps: 1) knowledge and 2) engagement of water workers by focusing on 3) circular and 4) cyclical processes that are descended in the landscape. The method developed for spatial planners, researchers, and designers explicitly allows for multi-disciplinary engagement with water workers, water professionals, people from other disciplines such as historians and ecologists, and the general public. The added value of the VWB method is shown by the case of the Dutch Sprengen and Brooks system, a water system that is well documented in terms of landscape biography but less understood as a living water system.


How to Cite

Bobbink, I., & Loen, S. (2020). Visual Water Biography: Translating Stories in Space and Time. SPOOL, 7(2), 5–22.




Author Biographies

Inge Bobbink, TU Delft, Architecture and the Built Environment

Dr. Ir. Inge Bobbink has been an associate professor at the Chair of Landscape Architecture since 2007, in the Department of Urbanism at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment of the Technical University Delft in the Netherlands. She holds a postgraduate master’s degree from the Berlage Institute and a PhD. At Delft, in cooperation with others, she wrote, developed, and since 2010 coordinates the educational programme for the master track of Landscape Architecture. She teaches and supervises master and PhD students, lectures internationally, and takes part in different advisory boards. With Suzanne Loen, she initiated the project Circular Water Stories. Moreover, her research focuses on the identification of landscape architectonic and sustainable values in (traditional) water systems worldwide. The goal is to learn from them and to transform the knowledge for today’s challenges. Various book publications and articles, in cooperation with colleagues and students, bear witness to this research agenda:

Suzanne Loen, LILA Living Landscapes

Ir. Suzanne Loen, founder of LILA Living Landscapes, is a landscape researcher and architect with a focus and expertise on historical landscapes, water systems, and healthy green cities and landscapes. She is a part-time lecturer at the Department of Landscape Architecture of the Technical University Delft and a member of committees for spatial quality and heritage, such as the advisory board for the reinforcement of the dikes of the Dutch river IJssel. For the Dutch National Board of Advisors, she conducted design research into the benefits of urban green and led the seminars for the European Interreg project Functional Green. She collaborated on research into an urban green re-development of industrial textile kampungs in Bandung, Indonesia. With Inge Bobbink, she initiated the project Circular Water Stories. She is currently working on her research project Thirsty Cities, an investigation into historical fresh water systems for Adaptive Strategies for Water Heritage.


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