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Metropolises in the Mud Innovation in Delta Building Technology in Europe and China in the pre-Industrial Age (URBAN-DELTA)

Deltas are among the most urbanised and wealthiest regions of the world. Today, their very existence is threatened by climate change. Innovative solutions are urgently needed, and delta cities around the globe have joined forces to confront the climate crisis. The dependence on innovation for their survival is however not a recent phenomenon but has a longer history. Surprisingly, little is known about the specialised skills and knowledge shown by earlier civilisations in constructing and protecting these cities.
URBAN-DELTA hypothesizes that major advances in the history of water-related engineering were not random but occurred at specific places and times. Several pioneering hotspots in the pre-industrial age seem to have existed. Therefore, the aim of URBAN-DELTA is to attain an entirely new, multidisciplinary understanding of technological innovations by tracing and explaining their historical emergence in the production of the built environment in Eurasian deltas before 1800.

This project is the first in-depth comparative study of construction techniques for marshy conditions. It examines three key deltas in Europe and China and questions how builders overcame technological limitations. Did innovation occur incrementally or were there spurts at specific times and places? What were the dynamics of these processes and what factors stimulated innovation?

URBAN-DELTA’s methodological innovation is to study the built environment from a comparative perspective, combining approaches from Engineering, Economic and Architectural History. It tests hypotheses central to the debate on the conditions for innovation by looking at a vital industry, hitherto ignored in scholarship. This will result in a fundamental rethinking of how architecture comes into being and provides an entirely new explanatory framework for future research. In addition, it generates new knowledge that is urgently needed for the preservation of heritage threatened by climate change.

Date:1 Sep 2024 →  Today
Keywords:history of technology
Disciplines:Architectural history and theory