وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ ٢١:٣٠ | And We have made from water every thing alive 21:30


100 • Cycles

Volume 10, Issue 01
February 23, 2024

وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ
And We have made from water every thing alive


Hayat, ihya, yahya
Life, relife, revive

Of the many charms of the Arabic language, its use of a (sometimes four-letter) root /جذر, is one of my favorites. Simply put, it is a consonant base representing a core meaning within a word. It grounds words with a shared meaning yet offers the ability to convey multiple sensory and metaphoric depths unique to the language’s playfulness.

Through an etymological and spatial exploration of unfolding hayat, ihyaa, yahya, rooted in hayy, we take a journey to draw from the cycles of rituals and the mundanes of the quotidian a generative tool to re-envision Iraq’s Ma’dan landscape practices. The Ma’dan, who have lived at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates for thousands of years, have experienced an ever-changing landscape ranging from lush marshes to urban encroachment. Within these gradients of wetness lies the potential to shape alternative movement flows in the landscape, positioning indigenous Ma’dan philosophies within new, hybridized infrastructures. These delicate arrangements distill contemporary landscape knowledge into a practice that more closely aligns with the symbiotic nature of indigenous wisdom.


(اسم) محسوس، يقظ، ناشط / (فعل) أقْبِلْ، هَلُمَّ
(n) felt, awake, vivid / (v) pounce, be present

To define a landscape that is hayy / alive, we are describing a being that is dynamic and acted upon by various constituents. In the context of the Mesopotamian Marshes, being hayy extends to the ability to adapt different meanings of stewardship, pushing forward a broadened sense of cultural significance. And so we ask, what does it take for the relics of a unique and highly vulnerable water-based culture to be hayy / alive?


Hayat | Life

For the Ma’dan, contemporary landscape practice is far from the pristine painterly myths that perpetuate the idea of an unchanged past. Instead, it is a balancing act between the dichotomies of living in indiscriminate urban settlements and desiccating marshes. On one hand, pressures of climate change, economic strain, and an ecological imbalance, and on the other, ancestral knowledge interwoven with cultural pride, identity, and belonging. In both cases, the absence of the Ma’dan’s autonomy on their landscape identity and evolving practice creates a chasm in confronting these challenges.

Ihya | Relife

تُولِجُ اللَّيْلَ فِي النَّهَارِ وَتُولِجُ النَّهَارَ فِي اللَّيْلِ وَتُخْرِجُ الْحَيَّ مِنَ الْمَيِّتِ وَتُخْرِجُ الْمَيِّتَ مِنَ الْحَيِّ
[آل عمران: 27]

He makes the night enter into the day and makes the day to enter into the night and brings forth the living from the dead and brings forth the dead from the living

Here, we define ihya / relife, not only by its innate qualities that uphold the meaning of hayy / being alive, but by extension, its natural successive flow of re-existing, re-appearing, re-forming. Through this etymological tracing, we can uncover informant indigenous wisdom that is designed with constant influxes. Seasons, migration, and daily movements across the landscape are elements of a larger orchestrated synergy and organizational structure. This notion permeates the design to inform the approach used, which integrates the existing cyclical rhythms to recalibrate the outcomes of the landscape.

Yahya | Revive

The design overlays an agricultural network anchored in micro-topography where water tables are high and land depressions exist to connect marsh and urban dwellings. These conditions become opportunities for unique microenvironments to shape the ground for soil remediation and plant distribution as regenerative infrastructures. Urban pastures and island infrastructures are woven through a network of buffalo corridors where the daily practice of herding embeds new cultural qualities. Circulating, pausing, and meandering across both conditions becomes methodically integrated with hybridized saaqyia, hawsh, and tahla - channels, pastures, and marsh islands.

As autumn marks the lowest water levels, tahlas are built using traditional biodegradable island construction technology. This process encloses a stretch of tightly packed living reeds with dried fences as the island foundation. Later, woven reed mats are layered with dredged mud from the surroundings. As erosion of the island edges and sinking occurs over time, maintenance to strengthen the ground is needed. The craft that emanates from this building and rebuilding process becomes a temporal overlay of different functions, which in turn drives the physical expression of the mounds. The sectional qualities determined by the functional characteristics of the islands create landscape patches, where substrate heterogeneity, natural disturbance, and human activities occur.1 The design uses cultural keystone species, such as common reeds, for their nitrogen-fixing roots to remediate pollutants and halophytes for their salt absorption abilities. The relationship between plant biomass, transpiration, and nutrient accumulation informs the spatial distribution of the mounds across the marsh. Through this scale-dependent loop, the design becomes a reflection of the regional hydraulic gradients as it mimics wetland morphology over time.

The design echoes the shift in landscape theory that acknowledges animals as active agents in shaping landscapes.2 Here, we see native and migratory birds, domesticated water buffaloes, and fish as participants in the design process. Positioning indigenous knowledge as an instrument for planning allows the Ma’dan to modulate the rate of change and anticipate the returns of their landscape. It recognizes the constituents of the site not as historical remnants but as active custodians, creating and curating their surroundings. In doing so, the design redefines the landscape as a living system, rendered in unbound gestures of transformation, tension, and spontaneity.

  1. Land Mosaics, ed. Richard T. T. Forman (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 44 ↩︎
  2. Kevan Klosterwill, ‘The Shifting Position of Animals in Landscape Theory’, Landscape Journal: Design, Planning, and Management of the Land, 38.1(2019), 129-146 (p.140) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/760566 ↩︎