The Granada Visiting School is an architectural design workshop to develop alternative water regulatory solutions for the local agricultural communities of the Alpujarras. This speculative and collective learning course works with distinct sites of local ‘producers’ and land owners, on farming situations that present individual water dissipation and containment issues.


Hydroponic Community Dam by Sarah Le Gresley


In September 2016 the Architectural Association will assemble amongst the unique mountainous terrain of southern Spain to inspire students to experiment, design and speculate on a future vision for water conservation for this European nation. Within an intensively socialised environment and set behind an outstanding backdrop, we will embed ourselves deep in the high Alpujarras, studying varying farms between 500-2000m in altitude.


Students will be encouraged and inspired to imagine, create and realise their designs by working closely with immediate communities to address individual needs whilst being immersed into hands- on experimentation of naturally, locally grown materials and exploring the potential of leading building information modelling technology and design software capabilities.


The Granada Visiting School aims to build on these skills informing a resilience amongst the community, to prepare inhabitants for an uncertain future with less available resources, through implementation and adaptation of new strategies, ideas and intervention centred on changing climates.



The Granada Visiting School opens a platform for both local and international students to work, live, eat, swim, drink, question, explore and interact with water in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
This agenda raises awareness of the consequence that climate change brings to the local community and the repercussions which can be felt with limited water and food resources throughout Europe. We will be starting a dialogue amongst designers, architects, biologists, horticulturists and scientists, to discover alternative methods of water catchment and management architectures, for implementation by current and future generations.
The Sierra Nevada, Unesco Biosphere Reserve, Natural and National Parks encompass 80km of mountainous terrain that constitute areas of outstanding scenic and ecological values and a water system that is of utmost importance. This natural and historical region of Andalusia includes the two highest mountains in mainland Spain; the Mulhacen and the Veleta, feeding an area of 2,000km2. These precious landmarks, covered with snow, melt throughout the year to facilitate the journey of water into eagerly awaiting livelihoods downstream, however the drained water resources are estimated at 750hm3/year.
Carried by a dozen wild mountain rivers arising in borreguiles and glacial lakes this valuable and fragile source travels from the Peninsula’s highest peaks at 3,482m giving life to everything and everyone it encounters, whilst accommodating an annual thriving agricultural economy for the region.
The Arabs from the Moroccan Berber-Muslim dynasty, the true architects of water regulation in these mountains, understood the function of the water cycle and worked conscientiously to improve and adapt it for community needs. These structures are still in use today, creating a population dependant on these ancient infrastructures to divide the waters of the Alpujarras in a multitude of sources to satisfy new agricultural risks. Among the labyrinthine streets, neighbourhoods and farms, with inseparable troughs, sinks and acequias, water remains are collected in pools, ponds and albercas, using irrigation methods reliant on gravity, presenting losses by leakage and the presence of further springs downstream.


The Granada Visiting School is an architectural design workshop to develop alternative water regulatory solutions for the local agricultural communities of the Alpujarras. This speculative and collective learning course works with distinct sites of local ‘producers’ and land owners, on farming situations that present individual water dissipation and containment issues.
Today, agriculture in the Alpujarras is practically disappearing, the causes of this neglect lie in insufficient resources, a dramatically reduced labour force and profitability of traditional farming, reinforced by a lack of commitment by a younger generation who are attracted to urban vocations and are abandoning the rural landscape. This presents a great threat to the agricultural community, the economy and the maintenance/use of these imperative architectural water infrastructures, affecting the abundance of water which not only facilitates food production for the region but is distributed internationally to feed populations across Europe (including the supermarkets of the UK).
The traditional farming methods used in the mountains consist of repetitive ploughing and diminishing of rich top soils, leaving little room for competition with modern intensive horticulture on the flat planes of the coast, where fertilisers and mono-crop farming is common practice. Both methods are under attack by the dissipating population and the reduction of water resources. However the Alpujarras has seen a surge in permaculture farming methods introduced by its recent diverse population of international inhabitants from all over the globe, who are beginning to share their knowledge for alternative agricultural methods. These practices highlight the desperate need for innovative knowledge and intervention in water management to play a key role in climate mitigation and adaptation, both locally and nationally.
The requirement for manageable and durable alternatives is paramount for this population to mitigate its present state of flux; mirroring the dissipation of farming occupations and communities that is dramatically occurring across the globe.


70% of our planet is covered in water, however the freshwater we use to drink, bathe in and irrigate our farm fields is incredibly rare. Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water with two-thirds concealed in frozen glaciers and other immediately unavailable locations.
As a result, some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Many of the water systems that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population have become stressed. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming over polluted whilst more than half the world’s wetlands have disappeared. Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies and traditional farming methods. Climate change is altering weather patterns and water distribution around the world, resulting in water shortages, droughts and floods.
At the current consumption rate, this situation will only get worse. By 2025 (less than 10 years), two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages whilst ecosystems around the world will suffer even further.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced reports assessing scientific literature on the impact of climate change, projecting that southern Europe’s crop productivity will radically reduce due to dramatic water shortages.
Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s accessible freshwater, but some 60% of this is wasted due to leaky irrigation systems, inefficient application methods coupled with the cultivation of thirsty crops that are too water intensive for their environment. This wasteful use of water is resulting in dried out rivers, lakes and underground aquifers. This is a global issue with countries such as; India, China, Australia, Spain and the United States being close to capacity. Intensifying this situation is the fact that agriculture also generates considerable freshwater pollution – both through fertilizers as well as pesticides – all of which affect both humans and neighbouring species.
The Granada Visiting School sees architecture as a tool to question these issues and assess existing water management systems in an open dialogue. The historical water management of the Sierra Nevada mountain range responds to a dynamic, living system and, above all, extremely fragile, it is necessary to retain it as current local, regional and international needs evolve and outgrow that of the existing infrastructure. This engagement will embrace innovation in policy, institution and culture, advising students to adopt these ethics and apply their principle designs into a manageable routine for the custodians of the land.

For further information on the schedule or course details please click the following link to the Course Guide