Runoff Landscapes: A critical study of ancient and contemporary water catchment strategies in the Negev

Alexia Friend (MLA II)

Project Overview

The Negev covers more than half of Israel’s land area and for thousands of years people have developed strategies to subsist in the desert.  During the Byzantine period, agricultural production with minimal water resources afforded local populations with food and shade.  Today, innovative Israeli water irrigation mechanisms support farms and vineyards in this arid landscape.  The Negev is importantly positioned as the State’s growth depends on the settling of this region.  However, its harsh aesthetic renders it uninviting to potential residents.

This research addresses an afforestation strategy of planting bays, called “limans,” in the Negev as a reflection of Israeli landscape architectural practice and Zionist landscape ideals.  Limans are a component of the Jewish National Fund’s three-pronged approach to limiting desertification, which also includes establishing terraced hillside plantings, and planting and stabilizing ravines.  Physically, these afforestation techniques control erosion and provide shade from the desert heat.  Culturally, they express yearnings to invigorate barren land.  Further, the technical mechanisms supporting limans, designed by Shlomo Aronson Architects, are derived from ancient runoff farming, illustrating Israeli landscape architecture’s strong ties to agriculture.  On-the ground investigation explored the use of limans as visual and physical respites from the desert aesthetic and heat, and their utilization by local populations.  The investigation also includes a study of the Negev’s ecological and historical conditions that inform contemporary intervention.