University of Nottingham

Liquid city: water, landscape and social formation in twenty-first century Mumbai

Project outline

This project explored the material and metaphorical dimensions to water and landscape in the city of Mumbai. The project combined in-depth analysis of the flow of water through the city with the making of a documentary film in collaboration with the innovative non-governmental organisation PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research)

The project had four principal research themes: 1) The role of water in creating urban landscapes; 2) The development of sharply differentiated cultures of water consumption; 3) The use of water as both metaphor and analytical tool to explore the multiple modernities that characterize contemporary Mumbai; 4) The visual cultures of water.

liquid city mumbai


A documentary film entitled Liquid City  (2007) has been produced and shown at various conferences and exhibitions in the UK, India and the United States. It explores the complexity of water politics in Mumbai ranging from the engineering challenge of transferring nearly 3,000 million litres of water a day to the city from the jungles, lakes and mountains of the state of Maharashtra to debates over flooding, privatization and social conflict. The film combines in-depth interviews with activists, engineers, local residents and other voices to paint a unique picture of this vibrant and fast changing city. The joint London-Mumbai dynamic to the post-production phase of the film was an important international outcome and critical to the project's success.

Both the research programme and the outputs have been genuinely interdisciplinary, combining ideas from the humanities and social sciences. The use of water as both metaphor and analytical tool has served to illustrate the pervasive co-existence of radically different social, cultural and topographic forms in the city ranging from ceremonial tanks to slums and speculative real estate dvelopments. This marks a significant elaboration of urban political ecology in a different context where new insights into the political economy and symbolic resonance of urban nature require urgent intellectual attention.

The film is free for educational use and is available directly from Matthew Gandy at

Ongoing influence

The film Liquid City continues to play a valuable role in stimulating discussion and debate both inside and outside of the academy.

Project team member Andrew Harris has secured an ESRC grant to carry out further work in Mumbai in collaboration with PUKAR. The success of the project has also been critical in the UCL Urban Laboratory gaining three years of further funding from the Provost's Strategic Development Fund.

Matthew Gandy is continuing with his research on urban landscapes in India through a major new project from the European Research Council’s Advanced Grant Scheme entitled Rethinking Urban Nature, starting in May 2014, that will use the city of Chennai as one of its case studies.

Award details

Duration: October 2006 - September 2007 (12 months)

Principal Investigator:
Professor Matthew Gandy

Higher Education Institution:
Department of Geography, University College London

Selected publications

Gandy, M. (2014) The fabric of space: water, modernity, and the urban imagination (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press).

Gandy, M. (2009). Liquid city: reflections on making a film. Cultural Geographies. 16(3):403-408.

Gandy, M. (2008). Landscapes of disaster: water, modernity, and urban fragmentation in Mumbai. Environment and Planning A. 40:108-130.  

Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071