Symposium: Water Cycles – COP28 Design Conversations

How can design and the arts help sustain or restart healthy water cycles? How can community-led and co-creative design present solutions to pressing hydrologic challenges brought about by climate change?

This afternoon symposium brings together thinkers from architecture, social practice and the arts to explore how design-focused and arts-driven practices can shape the understanding and health of water cycles across different geographies. Within the COP28 framing of December 9, 2023 as the Nature, Land Use, and Oceans Day, this event at the Jameel Arts Centre will host speakers from the Netherlands, India, Kuwait, and Bahrain. They will discuss ground-up regenerative approaches to tackling the hydrological impacts of the climate crisis. Each speaker is engaged with (re)designing thought frameworks and pedagogies that support community-led forms of action and to co-create new water imaginaries. 

The hydrologic cycle is being rapidly altered by climate change on a global scale.  West and South Asia are particularly water-stressed, with unsustainable groundwater-based agriculture coupled with increasing groundwater salinity and year-round temperature irregularities. In turn, the Netherlands, as one of the most densely populated coastal lands, is dealing with changing, and unpredictable precipitation patterns. Salinity intrusion endangers Dutch groundwater security, while subsiding peatlands and sea level rise place pressure on decisions regarding urban planning and infrastructure design.

Treating water as a more than human commons, the presentations and panel discussion are anchored around  four key questions:

  • How are designers, architects, planners and artists bringing capacities of design research and locally grounded adaptation techniques together to enable water cycle -centric human habitats?
  • How can this be done in a way that empowers local communities and civil society who need the most support in regions affected by water-related disasters?   
  • How can the long-term participation of communities and governance partners be ensured thereby influencing socially responsible governance, policies and connected resources?
  • What kinds of policies and city-plans enable an approach attuned to restoring the hydrologic cycle? What are the entry points for citizens and public discourse?

Speakers are: Professor Dr. Carola Hein (Delft University of Technology) and Architect John Hanna (Delft University of Technology); researchers Ain Contractor (IHE Delft Institute for Water Education) and Anjali (Yugma Collective); as well as artist Aziz Motawa (Akkaz Collective). 


16:00 – Welcome and introduction by Nora Razian, Art Jameel Deputy Director and Head of Exhibitions, and Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director of the Nieuwe Instituut

16:15 – Fluid Pedagogies: Teaching with and for Water | John Hanna and Carola Hein, Delft University of Technology – Netherlands

16:35 – Fight with Care: Water, Gender and Resistance | Anjali, Yugma Collective – India, and Ain Contractor, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education – Netherlands

16:55 – Mud Flats and Outfalls | Aziz Motawa, director of Akkaz Collective – Kuwait and Bahrain

17:15 – Panel discussion and Q&A  moderated by Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director of Nieuwe Instituut

17:55 – Conclusion & Closing Statement 

Refreshments will be available throughout the duration of the symposium.

Free to attend. Limited seats are available, RSVP required 

This Symposium is organised by Nieuwe Instituut (Rotterdam) and Art Jameel (Dubai – Jeddah), with support from the Netherlands missions to the UAE in tandem with the network of Global Green Growth Institute (Seoul).

John Hanna is an architect, lecturer and researcher. His research addresses the spatiality of urban conflicts with a focus on Paris and Beirut. John’s wider research interests include Mediterranean and Red Sea port and coastal cities, quarantine spaces, architecture and literature, and urban histor(ies) of Africa and the Middle East, particularly in relation to colonialism and nationalism. Hanna is a member of Leiden Delft Erasmus Center of PortCityFuture, contributing to various educational programs and research projects.

Carola Hein is full professor and chair of History of Architecture and Urban Planning at Delft University of Technology. Her research interests include the transmission of architectural and urban ideas, focusing specifically on port cities and the global architecture of oil. She leads the PortCityFutures research program that focuses on evolving socio-spatial conditions, use and design of port city regions, in particular exploring areas where port and city activities occur simultaneously and sometimes conflict. Among other major grants, Hein received a Guggenheim fellowship for her research on global networks of petroleum, an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship to explore port city relationships, and Volkswagen Foundation grants for mixed method digital humanities projects. She is a published author and Chair of the UNESCO Water, Ports and Historic Cities platform established by the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus university consortium.

Ain Contractor‘s research highlights environmental care practices of indigenous fisherwomen living in the Ennore-Pulicat wetlands, located north of the port-city Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Working with a network of solidarity groups in Chennai, fisherwomen host seafood festivals to bring attention to the richness of their wetland’s ecology, and their cultural ties to it. 

Anjali is an Indian activist who learns from and supports forest, coastal and labour movements through backend legal research, financial and policy activism, filmmaking, journalism, and capacity building. She works in Central and Western India as part of the Yugma Collective, and is researching at the intersection of caste, extractive industries, environmental policy, livelihoods, and language.

Aziz Motawa is a visual artist based between Kuwait and Bahrain working with the mediums of photography, video, installations, and sound. At the core of his practice, he examines the social and ecological implications of urban development and state building on its peripheral ecologies. He is also the director and co-founder of Akkaz Collective.


Nieuwe Instituut (Rotterdam, the Netherlands) is the Dutch national museum and institute for architecture, design and digital culture, based in Rotterdam. Through its exhibitions, public programs, research and wide-reaching national and international initiatives, the institute engages thinkers, designers, makers and diverse audiences to critically reflect on the urgent issues confronting the past, present and future. Nieuwe Instituut is committed to supporting design research and questions and urgencies. With public events and exhibitions held locally, regionally, and internationally, Nieuwe Instituut aims to contribute to social and spatial urgencies and a better future.

Art Jameel supports artists and creative communities. Founded and supported by the Jameel family philanthropies, the independent organisation is headquartered in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and works globally. Art Jameel’s programmes – across exhibitions, commissions, research, learning and community-building – are grounded in a dynamic understanding of the arts as fundamental to life and accessible to all. 

Supporting Partner:

The Kingdom of the Netherlands (represented by the Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate-General in Dubai), in cooperation with Nieuwe Instituut, the Dutch national museum and institute for architecture, design and digital culture, and The Global Green Growth Institute wishes to apply for an interactive water related roundtable session within COP28’s programming. The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General in Dubai, represent, support and protects the interests of the Dutch government in the United Arab Emirates. 

Network Partner:

Global Green Growth Institute (Headquartered in South Korea, 30 offices worldwide) has been working to support Governments around the world to adapt to climate change, through planning tools such as the National Adaptation Plans or Climate Smart Agriculture. The organisation is currently supporting the UAE government to develop its National Adaptation Plan and works across the Middle East. GGGI is a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging economies.