7 Examples of Centuries-Old Design That Combat Climate Change

The Khasi tribe of Northern India have developed living bridges and ladders in their villages. Growing rubber fig trees are guided across ravines, and the resulting bridges are able to withstand the force of the area’s monsoons. Watson notes that because these bridges are living, they grow stronger over time, unlike artificial infrastructure that degrades.

Subak rice terraces in Bali are one of the world’s oldest socioecological systems. The system has transformed the volcanic landscape into terraced surfaces for agriculture. Self-governing associations of farmers coordinate planting schedules and share water. Complex arrangements of tunnels and canals form irrigation systems that are optimized to support many subaks

Waru Waru raised terraces and canals are used by the Incan people near Lake Titicaca in Peru. They were created between 500 BCE and 500 CE for astronomical and devotional practices, and from 300 to 1500 CE they were converted into raised beds for crops. The canals are used for irrigation and fishing, and the system has reduced the impact of the area’s extreme conditions.

In the early years of the first millennium BCE, the people of Persia (modern-day Iran) began constructing qanats, man-made underground streams. The qanats redistribute water from mountain aquifers to farmers’ fields and low-lying cities. Spoil craters, seen here, top the qanat’s vertical shafts and keep debris from entering the water system.

The city of Ganvie in Benin, Africa, was settled by the Tofinu tribe, who built bamboo and teak stilted houses on Lake Nokoué. The city is made up of 11 villages, which are surrounded by an artificial reef of 12,000 fish paddocks. The system attracts fish typically found in other areas and increases biodiversity and fish production.

In the southern wetlands of Iraq, an area known as Iraq’s Garden of Eden and the Mesopotamian Venice, the Ma’dan people live on man-made floating islands, or al halif, and tuhul, natural free-floating islands. The villages, called al tahla, feature structures made using locally harvested qasab reeds and formed without wood, nails, or glass.

One type of Ma’dan building is the mudhif, which is made up of a series of arches typically oriented toward Mecca. Dried qasab reeds form columns, crossbeams, ropes and mats for walls and floors, and because the reeds are the only building materials, the structures can be taken down and reassembled in a day.