Networked Urbanism

design thinking initiatives for a better urban life

Design critics: Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, principals of Ecosistema Urbano
Harvard Design School


This course considers the complexity of the human ecosystem and the interpenetration of natural and artificial elements that are embedded within it. People, nature, and the built environments we have constructed all influence one another in a complex system of reciprocal interaction. Human ingenuity in developing techniques to improve climatic comfort has allowed us to inhabit extreme climate zones, where artificial conditions impose over the natural ones. Adaptation strategies have evolved from the adoption of clothing and the construction of simple shelters to the complex arrangements and technologies that facilitate physical survival and large-scale settlement in cities today.

In this studio course we will focus on the atmospheric conditions of the contemporary city and how they affect the use of public space. Using the city of Manama (Bahrain) as a case study, we will explore the potential of responsive design, where nature and artifice could establish a creative dialogue, to design new environments that can improve social life. We will travel to Manama and analyze the issues affecting the use of public space in this unique cultural and climatic region. During the semester students will design solutions and prototype their ideas. Participants are encouraged to develop strategies within a wide range of scales between public space and industrial design.


























street corners


In Arabian, Bahrain is the dual form of bahr, meaning “two seas”. its rich marine resource has made it the top fishing spot in Gulf Area and a world-famous pearling site.

On land, its underground water system in the north, known as the aquifer, had offered a rare, arable oasis to grow trees, especially date palms. In fact, Bahrain is also known as the home of “a million palm trees”.

This might explain that, as an middle east country, only 25% of their fresh water comes from desalinization plants, while the rest majority from the aquifer.

However, as years passed by, this over exploitation boosted by the rapid oil-revenue development after the 1950s has caused both qualitative and quantitative deterioration of the underground water resource. For instance, sea water intrusion was to blame for the 79% increase of dissolved salt in underground water. And the increasing abstraction is bringing underground water level closer to the sea level annually. As a result, Bahrain’s tradition of palm planting, and its green north, has been withering with its trees.

Our project aims to produce fresh water at low cost and then use it as a media to upgrade the local public space.

In Scheme 1, a modularized canopy will function as a distilling machine to produce fresh water. Each canopy unit has a reflective fabric to concentrate heat thus accelerate the process of sea water distilling. Then the fresh water flows down from the canopy to create water experience on the ground.

In Scheme 2, reverse osmosis technology is introduced to purify the domestic sewage collected from the neighborhood. The water is then used to irrigate the trees in the square nearby. We even have a relatively bigger version, a community park.

In Scheme 3 (final scheme), water treatment plants (like Typhas) are used to replace the Reverse Osmosis system in Scheme 2 to purify black water. The purified water will be used to irrigate the trees and grass on the roof. A staircase located in the atrium will lead people to the roof garden.

The core of this prototype is a well-planned circulation system. Black water is to be pumped into a bio-purification pond, where water plants eat almost all the organics and waste. Then the water filtered and pumped up to the pipes in the roof to irrigate the vegetation. At the same time, it also absorbs and takes away a large portion of the heat of direct sunlight.

Black water, this time, is considered to be a resource rather than waste, so we calculated the daily water consumption of the neighborhood and found that it is more than enough.

Each unit of our proposal will receive black water from its neighborhood and feed back with its public space on the ground level and most importantly an iconic green roof garden.

Zoom out, several units will form a micro urban oasis.

In a larger scale, we envision our proposal to be a network of green oases and a new layer of urban landscape.

This is the journey of our project.

This project proposes what a more robust mass transit system could do for Bahrain, it’s possibility as a systemic urban strategy and how public spaces can be utilized and enhanced in this system. It’s motivation is to provide greater accessibility and efficiency, but its goal is to create a cohesion between the many urban fragments. Our investigation of Muharraq led us to create an architecture that would looped and solidified these fragments. This continuum in space is a bridge that would enhance the daily lives and experiences of Bahrain. It would also reform many lost connections such as the relationship between the sea and city. 

Bahrain is a small country located in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain means two seas and has a history that dates back to over 5000 years. Most of Bahrain’s urban areas are concentrated in the North, while desert covers the interior and south. Bahrain is an island and water plays a vital role in every aspects of its past and present. Land reclamation since the 1960s have changed the coastlines of Bahrain. Historic cores that once bordered the water are now landlocked.

One of the major issue within Bahrain is the fragmentation of its cities. This transpired within the demographic and built environment of the country. Only 46 percent of the country is Bahraini. Migrant workers account for 77% of the workforce while also doing 98% of the low paying jobs. The average wait time for the bus in Bahrain is 40 minutes. Making it impossible to get around by public transportation. Bahrain will need a mass transit infrastructure 4 times larger than today to adequately service the country. Promoting accessibility  and alternative mobility are the keys to Bahrain’s future.

We offer a vision of how an expanded mass transit infrastructure might change Bahrain, with lateral and vertical development that can sustain systemic growth and improve the urban context by making accessible public spaces and more vibrant communities. But the heart of our project connects Manama, the capital and Muharraq, the historic city into a necklace serviced by  shuttles and a transport hub, and with stops at significant social, civic, and commercial areas. The architectural intervention that will link this connection is a bridge that spans from the historic city’s fabric, over a transit hub and highway, and into the sea.

This new bridge serves several purposes. It is made of a lightweight wood and steel construction that allows for it to span great distances. It uses textile to provide climatic comfort, and sustainable technologies to power itself.  It starts at the old Muharraq’s suoq which is accessible from the Pearl Trail, a cultural route with several important historic landmarks, and establishes a covered public space that can be used throughout the day as the new fish market or a gathering place at night. The Muharraq suoq also marked the border of the water in the past, since the suoq were usually situated to meet the ships and their goods. This relationship of the old city to the water has been lost due to land reclamation. The bridge continues over a road and becomes an elevated transit hub for below. Further along the bridge, it crosses over a highway built in the 1960s that further isolate the historic city from the water. The bridge continues all the way into the water and ending with a floating barge that welcomes people to interact with the sea. The end point stitches back the old fabric of the city to the sea, while jumping over several obstacles to be functional as a pedestrian path, transit hub, and public space.



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