Water in Istanbul

Location Istanbul

Years 2021-2023

Director Lutgarde Vandeput

Funding The British Academy, ‘Knowledge Frontiers: International Interdisciplinary Research 2021’ Scheme, Scientific Research Projects Department of Istanbul Technical University (no. 43072), SFC GCRF Fund of the University of Edinburgh, BIAA

Research summary

Since foundation, Istanbul has ‘thirsted for water’ – a problem that ruling authorities have wrestled with through time and that contemporary engineers, policy-makers and urban planners are still attempting to address in the context of continuing population growth and rapid climate change.

The ultimate aim of this project is to increase understanding of how past authorities have attempted to respond to the significant water management challenges facing Istanbul at two key periods in the city’s life: (i) the transition from Byzantine to Ottoman rule and (ii) the period of massive population explosion beginning circa 1980 – and then use this new knowledge to inform discussions of contemporary problems and the development of future solutions.

Focusing on the Topkapı area, which presented particular challenges due to its elevation, interdisciplinary collaboration between archaeologists, historians and engineers will for the first time allow the application of present-day hydraulic engineering modelling methods to data from the early Ottoman period with the aim of generating new knowledge and understanding of how the past system functioned and was managed. In parallel, engineers and social scientists will work with the city’s water management experts, policymakers and other local stakeholders to better-understand current needs and explore how past practices can inform solutions to contemporary water-related challenges.

The results of this research, cross-referenced with the design considerations of the modern infrastructure, will be incorporated in a participatory knowledge generation process that will involve academics from UK and Turkish higher education and research institutes as well as those responsible for the city’s current water management infrastructure – including professionals from Istanbul Water and Sewerage Administration (ISKI) and local lay stakeholder bodies such as Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Istanbul Planning Agency – to ensure the involvement of all interest groups in the research and the co-production of responsive solutions to contemporary water challenges.

The learning from this process, as well the innovative methods and interdisciplinary approaches that will be used in this project, will be of high-relevance in other contexts where urban planners and policy makers need fresh perspectives on increasingly urgent water management-related challenges.

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Research Director

Lutgarde Vandeput


James Crow University of Edinburgh

Martin Crapper Northumbria University

Çidem Özkan Aygün Istanbul Technical University

Ender Peker BIAA, Middle East Technical University
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Maria C. Monteleone Northumbria University
Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Özlem Başdoğan BIAA
Cultural Heritage Specialist

Akgün İlhan BIAA
Project Postdoctoral Fellow