The first theme of our Water Futures Program was “Harvesting the Sky.” We began this season with an in-depth presentation and discussion with Professor Morna Livingston, author of Steps to Water: The Ancient Stepwells of India.

From the 5th to the 19th centuries, the people of western India built stone cisterns to collect the water of the monsoon rains and keep it accessible for the remaining dry months of the year. These magnificent structures, known as stepwells or stepped ponds, are much more than utilitarian reservoirs. For the past 500 years, stepwells have been an integral part of western Indian communities as sites for drinking, washing, and bathing, as well as for colorful festivals and sacred rituals.

By reflecting on their current use, preservation, and place in Indian communities, Professor Livingston lead a conversation examining how we might harness this knowledge to create accessible reservoirs of drinking water and better integrate ancient rituals into our current landscaping practice.


Morna Livingston is Professor Emerita of The College of Architecture & the Built Environment at Jefferson University. A photographer specializing in ancient and medieval gravity water systems, gardens and terraced landscapes, her books include Steps to Water: the Ancient Stepwells of India, PA Press, 2002; La Foce: A Garden and Landscape in Tuscany, with Benedetta Origo, Laurie Olin, and John Dixon Hunt, Penn Press, 2001; and she was the photographer for Václav Cílek’s To Breathe with Birds: A Book of Landscapes, Penn Press 2015.

Water Futures is a yearlong research program by A/D/O - curated by Jane Withers - that asks the question, "can designers solve the global drinking water crisis?" Learn more about Water Futures here.