LILA 2022 Special Mention in Infrastructure Projects

Flood control project, Arava valley, Eilat by

2022 Infrastructure / Israel / Built in 2021 /

The trail through the Flood Control Project in Arava valley is about curation and framing the intense power of flash flood events. A footpath guides visitors among strange features that arose from mitigating the force of seasonal waters, namely to protect a local road from being washed away. This surreal »beach« is surrounded by the eye-watering beauty of the Eilat and Edom Mountains. The main infrastructural element is water retention in an otherwise harsh desert with an extraordinary colour palette. The oddity of scale, shape and purpose of landscape structures, such as the tank-shaped soil landforms that were preserved during the excavations in order to sustain the acacia trees, appear inscrutable or at least utterly peculiar. Here the medium determines form, with varying scales of gravel, riprap and sediment shaping the landscape. This landscape infrastructure matches the sublime forces it is meant to contain. The team embraced all the curious spatial phenomena of retaining stormwater in a desert and collected them into a unique experience for the visitors.

- from the award statements

Arava valley is a desert area that extends from the southern shore of the Dead Sea to the northern shore of the Red Sea, a part of the border between Israel and Jordan. It is a hyper arid area, in which rainfall events are rare, yet often result in massive flash floods that have significant effects on the landscape.

Shkhoret quarry, was a quarry that operated within the dry riverbed of Shkhoret wadi, a canyon in Arava valley. The quarry ceased its operation in early 2000’s, following dozens of years in which wadi-soil and sediments were excavated from the ground. The abandoned quarry became a hazardous open space for travels and passersby. 

Yael Bar-Maor Landscape Architecture Studio was engaged by the Quarries Rehabilitation Fund together and Arava Drainage Authority to lead a landscape rehabilitation project that had two main goals: First, to provide water management solutions to moderate the effect of flash-floods that imposed a real threat to life near the quarry, in particular the daily users of Arava Road, the entrance road to the City of Eilat. The second goal was to change the character of the place, from an abandoned quarry, a closed and unwelcoming space, to an accessible open public space that would invite people to travel, walk, observe, and enjoy the attributes of this unique place in the desert. 

As landscape architects, we viewed the hydrological infrastructures and solutions as an integral part of the landscape design. One of our challenges in the project was to find the right way of integrating, neither hiding nor blurring, these hard infrastructures with the soft topography of a desert riverbed which was now subject to our redesign. 

The flood management was achieved by creating two large reservoirs. The western reservoir located up the creek, collects the runoff received from Eilat mountains and is likely to be filled with water every winter. The eastern reservoir, located down the riverbed, is intended to accumulate the excess runoff in major flash-flood events in order to ensure the safety of the road to Eilat. 

A concrete channel connects between the reservoirs. This massive hydrological infrastructure, with its grey and hard surfaces, is followed by a surface of red granite rocks gathered and brought to the site from the surrounding mountains to further reduce the speed of the runoff. 

The design includes two observation points that were located adjacent to the reservoirs, offering the travelers to enjoy the view of Eilat Mountains in the west, and of the mountains of Edom, in the east. Between those two points, a full panoramic view of the desert landscape is revealed, with its unique layers of colors, soils, rocks, and light.

The project proposes an experience of gradual revelation of the different layers of the site. A foot trail leads to the first observation point of the lower reservoir, offering a view of Edom Mountains. There, the story of the quarry and its impact on the landscape is told – with the view of the “Hanging trees” as people called them, in an ironic paraphrase to the hanging gardens of Babylon. By looking at soil polls, some of which are dozens of meters high, with acacia trees at the top of them, one can learn how much soil and sediment surrounding those trees were excavated during the years of operation of the quarry, as the operators were required to preserve the trees and leave them “untouched”. 

The trail continues up the riverbed, revealing the view of the concrete channel, with its heavy infrastructural presence, and the view of the granite rocks that create a dialogue between the site and Eilat mountains seen in the distance. The walking trail then leads to the second observation point where the upper reservoir is seen. This reservoir, which is flooded in the winter and dries up in the summer, proposes a reading of the cycles of nature in the desert, of the changes between seasons. Such as the vegetations that grows and animals that come to the water source in winter, and the aridness of the ground and the extreme hot conditions of the summer.

And so, through modest but very accurate measures, and with acknowledgment and sensitivity to the fragility, and sometimes unforgiving nature of the desert landscape, we have resisted the temptation to “bloom the desert” and preferred to work with the arid nature of the landscape.  

This approach allowed us to explore through the design process, and to offer to the visitors of the site to explore, the composition of contrasting layers of the project: between nature and manmade infrastructures, between natural topography and designed topography, between wet soil and dry soil, between hard infrastructures and soft infrastructures, between granite and limestones, between concrete and water, between mountains and creeks, between the sea and the desert.

Hydrological engineers: Lavi Natif Engineering and Consultants.

Project location Shkhoret river, Arava valley, Eilat, Israel.

Design year: 2011-2019

Year Built: 2019-2021

Photographs: Nimrod Levy, Rami Bar-Maor and YBM – Yael Bar-Maor landscape architecture studio


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