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A sustainable future for the Huerta: Kevin Fu (MArch ’18) documents studio trip to Valencia, Spain

The agricultural landscape of the Huerta has been continually cultivated since the 10th-century through an irrigation system brought to the region during Arab rule.

The agricultural landscape of the Huerta has been continually cultivated since the 10th-century through an irrigation system brought to the region during Arab rule.

Led by Aga Khan Design Critic in Landscape Architecture Arancha Muñoz-Criado (MLA ’92), the Spring 2018 option studio “Ecology, Culture and Identity: Revitalizing the Cultural Landscape of the Huerta of Valencia, Spain” explored sustainable solutions for the future of Valencia and its historically-significant agricultural surroundings known as the Huerta. Recent graduate Kevin Fu (MArch ’18) shares photography and thoughts from the studio’s site visit to Spain.

Text and photos by Kevin Fu (MArch '18)

The region known as the Huerta of Valencia bears many layers of history, from Roman occupation to Islamic conquest, during which time its famous, and still functioning, irrigation system was established. Similar to many other agricultural areas around the world, the Spanish landscape faced the threat of urban expansion in the 20th century.  While a recently passed law now forbids further development into the Huerta, our studio argued that legal protection alone does not necessarily guarantee the long-term survival of the region and its culture. We saw this problematic reality firsthand during our studio trip and in our meetings with local stakeholders. Clearly the situation cannot be solved with just one building, or one park; hence the studio took the challenge to intervene systematically in order to preserve the identity of this precious landscape.

Garden River Turia, a sunken public park transformed by the old river with its diversion after a devastating flood back in 1957.
Garden River Turia, a sunken public park transformed by the old river with its diversion after a devastating flood back in 1957.
While financially controversial, the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by Santiago Calatrava, remains one of the most popular tourism spots in Valencia.
While financially controversial, the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by Santiago Calatrava, remains one of the most popular tourism spots in Valencia.
The studio entered the agricultural landscape from the Vía Xurra, one of the few bicycle paths that have access into the Huerta.
The studio entered the agricultural landscape from the Vía Xurra, one of the few bicycle paths that have access into the Huerta.
The Huerta: a collection of irrigated farmlands is both a productive landscape and extremely beautiful.
The Huerta: a collection of irrigated farmlands is both a productive landscape and extremely beautiful.
The irrigation system of the Huerta was introduced into the region of Valencia during a period of Islamic rule and later brought to North and Latin America.
The irrigation system of the Huerta was introduced into the region of Valencia during a period of Islamic rule and later brought to North and Latin America.
Stone plates which farmers lift up during plot irrigation.
Stone plates that farmers lift up during plot irrigation.
Studio instructor Arancha Muñoz-Criado (MLA '92) visiting the South Huerta with students.
Studio instructor Arancha Muñoz-Criado (MLA '92) visiting the South Huerta with students.
Water quality in the region suffers from irrigating channels passing through the urban center of Valencia.
Water quality in the region suffers from irrigating channels passing through the urban center of Valencia.
The South Huerta was split up abruptly by the railway during urban expansion.
The South Huerta was split up abruptly by the railway during urban expansion.
Tribunal de las Aguas (the Water Tribunal), which settles disputes related to irrigation, is held every Thursday in front of Valencia Cathedral.
Tribunal de las Aguas (the Water Tribunal), which settles disputes related to irrigation, is held every Thursday in front of Valencia Cathedral.
The studio talks to a water court lawyer about how the Tribunal system works today.
The studio talks to a water court lawyer about how the Tribunal system works today.