The Fabric of Space

The Fabric of Space

Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination

By Matthew Gandy

A study of water at the intersection of landscape and infrastructure in Paris, Berlin, Lagos, Mumbai, Los Angeles, and London.





A study of water at the intersection of landscape and infrastructure in Paris, Berlin, Lagos, Mumbai, Los Angeles, and London.

Water lies at the intersection of landscape and infrastructure, crossing between visible and invisible domains of urban space, in the tanks and buckets of the global South and the vast subterranean technological networks of the global North. In this book, Matthew Gandy considers the cultural and material significance of water through the experiences of six cities: Paris, Berlin, Lagos, Mumbai, Los Angeles, and London. Tracing the evolving relationships among modernity, nature, and the urban imagination, from different vantage points and through different periods, Gandy uses water as a lens through which to observe both the ambiguities and the limits of nature as conventionally understood.

Gandy begins with the Parisian sewers of the nineteenth century, captured in the photographs of Nadar, and the reconstruction of subterranean Paris. He moves on to Weimar-era Berlin and its protection of public access to lakes for swimming, the culmination of efforts to reconnect the city with nature. He considers the threat of malaria in Lagos, where changing geopolitical circumstances led to large-scale swamp drainage in the 1940s. He shows how the dysfunctional water infrastructure of Mumbai offers a vivid expression of persistent social inequality in a postcolonial city. He explores the incongruous concrete landscapes of the Los Angeles River. Finally, Gandy uses the fictional scenario of a partially submerged London as the starting point for an investigation of the actual hydrological threats facing that city.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262028257 368 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 42 figures


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262533720 368 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 42 figures


  • Matthew Gandy has written a new and potentially important examination of place and water, providing evidence and insight into the experiencing, making, and consuming of water in modernity.


  • Urban planners, civil engineers, city designers, governmental and business officials would all benefit from reading this book. It gives an important, comprehensive summary about water needs and water management strategies and the affiliated environmental, social and governance issues related to water infrastructure. At a time when climate change and the influence of water is moving higher up the agenda for many cities and rural areas, this book is a valuable reference for understanding what happened in the past, why it worked or did not, and some possible pathways for managing water more effectively, efficiently and usefully into the future. Highly recommended reading.

    3D Visualization World

  • In addition to valuable information about six distinct urban experiences, the book is an insightful read thanks to Gandy's outstanding talent in managing multiple sources of data to address the modernization process. This skill enables the author to bridge the gaps between different epistemological realms such as public discourse, scientific knowledge, and individual creativity.

    Journal of Political Ecology

  • Modernity is not just a state of mind or a set of material transformations, but a formative concept. That water is introduced as an essential element in the urban transformation process physically, intellectually, socially, and culturally is at the heart of the book. Gandy could have extended his argument beyond cities, and maybe someone will. But the simultaneous clarity of his basic argument and the many complexities of the variety of stories he tells make The Fabric of Space most exceptional. That the book left me with so many questions not only about water is a tribute to its value.

    Journal of Historical Geography


  • This book appears in the thick of the water wave in urban studies and will be sure to remain a major reference. It places the solidities of water and the liquidities of modernity in a single comparative framework and shows how water eludes expert management as well as modernist norms of democracy and of rights to nature.

    Arjun Appadurai

    Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University; author of The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition

  • Gandy takes us on a wonderfully illuminating global and historical journey, exploring the multiple layers of the relationship between water and urban modernity. Following the flow of water in both material and cultural realms, he shows us that its imprint is observable in our social, political, and economic institutions, in our infrastructures and imaginations, and constitutes a vital element of the relationship between the human and the nonhuman. Drawing on a dazzling range of disciplinary knowledge while presenting it with admirable economy, the book is a scholarly tour de force.

    Gyan Prakash

    author of Mumbai Fables

  • Water, says Matthew Gandy, resides at the meeting ground of landscape and infrastructure, cross-cutting the visible and invisible domains of urban space. It is an indispensable element of the material culture of modernity while at the same time it is powerfully inscribed in the realm of imagination. The Fabric of Space is a magisterial set of reflections on the political and cultural economies of the cities of the Global North and South by tracing the flow of water through urban space. Gandy's brilliant theoretical observations and his keen eye for detail and nuance combine to produce a compelling and wholly original account of evolving relations between modernity, nature, and the urban imaginary.

    Michael Watts

    Class of 1963 Professor of Geography and Development Studies, University of California, Berkeley


  • Winner, 2014 Meridian Book Award for Outstanding Scholarly Work in Geography given by the American Association of Geographers.
  • Winner, 2016 IPHS Book Prize for the most innovative book in planning history, sponsored by the International Planning History Society.