Ganges Water Machine

Designing New India's Ancient River

Anthony Acciavatti


Ganges Water Machine expands the discussion of one of India’s most important natural and cultural resources: the Ganges River. It constructs a robust visual and historic archive of this most elusive watercourse—always articulating how infrastructure forms an aqueous braid between people and the land.


9" x 11.75"
Trade Paper (Flexibound)
Publication date: 
March 15, 2015
Rights world: 

Beyond the dense urbanism of Mumbai (Bombay) or the IT centers of Bangalore and Hyderabad lies the Ganges River basin—today home to over one-quarter of India's billion-plus population—a space historically defined by a mythological constellation of terrestrial sites imbued with celestial significance. Not only is it one of the most densely populated river basins in the world, but it also undergoes dramatic physical changes with the onslaught of the wet monsoon, where over one-meter of rainfall occurs in the span of three months.

This book focuses on the intersection of these two observations. It is an atlas of built and unbuilt projects designed to transform the river into a giant water machine.

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, this mythical watercourse has functioned as a laboratory to test and build a new civilization around the culture of water. Jointly authored by people and nature, the Ganges River is today a monstrous water machine in which the entire basin became a workshop of human-made experience, defined by a hydrological system best described as a super-surface: a surface engineered from the scale of the soil to the scale of the nation. Everything from diffuse urban projects and green revolutions to colossal public works programs and architectural transformations constitute the genesis of the Ganges Water Machine. Whether to thwart massive peasant uprisings or to redirect monsoonal rains to productive ends, never before has a river that inspired the realization of unbelievable architectural and infrastructural projects received as little scrutiny as the Ganges River basin.

Reaching through the very heart of some of India s most densely populated cities, small towns, industrial zones, sacred sites, and mountainous forests, Ganges Water Machine by Anthony Acciavatti, composed of eight years of field and archival research, explores and theorizes the people and infrastructures that shaped this territory. Ganges Water Machine is an atlas of the enterprise to make the Ganges River basin into a highly engineered landscape: it reveals the narratives and explanations that allowed engineers and planners to realize fantasies previously only imaginable on paper or in myth.

"Sumptuous, stark, encyclopedic and prescient, here find an atlas historical and visionary, grounded in serendipitous fieldwork and bold design." -- John R. Stilgoe, Harvard University

"Acciavatti has produced an impressive work of original research—one that should be of keen interest to the Indian government and the World Bank as they embark on their $1.5 billion cleanup of a murky, mystical river that manages to be both India's heart and its soul." -- Architectural Record

"Acciavatti... is part of the tradition of nineteenth century explorers like Alexander von Humboldt who wove together scientific discovery and travel narratives." -- Abitare

"Through the many accounts of this fluid geography, Ganges Water Machine follows in the landscape travelogue tradition of Reyner Banham’s insightful Scenes in American Deserta (1982) and Eric Newby’s madcap Slowly Down the Ganges (1966). Like Banham and Newby, Acciavatti's deep appreciation and critical observations are drawn from both traversing the region and studying its documented history." -- ArchDaily

About the author: 

Anthony Acciavatti, the author and principal investigator, lives in New York and is a founding partner of Somatic Collaborative and Manifest: Journal of American Architecture and Urbanism. He has taught at Columbia University in New York City and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). His work on the Ganges has been made possible through a J. William Fulbright Fellowship as well as fellowships and grants from the Ford Foundation and Harvard University. Portions of Ganges Water Machine have been exhibited in Asia, Europe, as well as North and South America.