Unveiling Milan’s Navigli and Underground Water Heritage through Integrated Urban (Water) Design


  • Carlien Donkor Delft University of Technology, UNESCO Chair Water, Ports and Historic Cities
  • Agnese Bavuso Marone Politecnico di Milano
  • Allegra Aprea EssilorLuxottica





Navigli, Milan, urbanization, floods, sustainable drainage systems (SUDs)


Historic water systems have become iconic features of cities like Venice and Amsterdam. The Navigli of Milan were constructed to channel groundwater for various purposes and a consequence was the desiccation of the surrounding marshy land. As the city faced new water challenges amid imminent water needs, its water identity was affected by the covering up of the historic water system. Climate change poses new challenges to preservation and planning in this historical water city. This article highlights the importance of history and water heritage for future interventions, by evoking the Navigli vistas that were once the cityscape of Milan. It discusses the current challenges of the hydrographic network, including more frequent and severe floods, and proposes the daylighting of the canals to inspire and adapt modern and future water systems to climate impact. The goal is to reclaim Milan’s identity as a “city of water” through a deliberate design methodology informed by the city’s history.

How to Cite

Donkor, C., Bavuso Marone, A., & Aprea, A. (2024). Unveiling Milan’s Navigli and Underground Water Heritage through Integrated Urban (Water) Design. Blue Papers, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.58981/bluepapers.2024.1.14





methodologies and case studies

Author Biographies

Carlien Donkor, Delft University of Technology, UNESCO Chair Water, Ports and Historic Cities

Carlien Donkor is a researcher at Delft University of Technology. She is affiliated with the LDE PortCityFutures Center and the UNESCO Chair for Water, Ports and Historic Cities. As an architect, she combines her experience in research, design, construction and project management for climate-resilient and context-sensitive solutions. She is particularly interested in traditional ingenuity and historical practices of living on and with water. Her master’s thesis focused on integrated urban water design and how factors such as climate change and rapid urbanization pose a risk to the future design and planning of historical water cities like Milan. Other interests include volunteer humanitarian work.

Agnese Bavuso Marone, Politecnico di Milano

Agnese Bavuso Marone is a project manager specializing in diverse-scale retail construction projects. She works as an interior designer focusing on the renovation of existing residences with an energy-efficient approach. Her passion for sustainable practices was sparked during her master’s studies, where she explored integrated urban water design as a tool to combat climate change effects on an urban scale. This academic endeavor kindled a profound interest in delving deeper into the sociological, economic and environmental dimensions of climate change through professional and academic courses to expand her knowledge and expertise on the subject. Recently she has been exploring a new passion as a clay designer.

Allegra Aprea, EssilorLuxottica

Allegra Aprea graduated in environmental architecture from the Politecnico di Milano, Piacenza campus, where she developed a project for the redevelopment of Ilva, a disused industrial area of Taranto. For her master’s thesis, a “disturbing” element such as Milan’s railway belt rediscovers its ancient water function, bringing to light the historic nature of the city while merging with new urban needs. Such degraded areas constitute interesting urban and landscape elements rich in history. Allegra is in charge of sustainable research and development at the retail design department of EssilorLuxottica. She is passionate about hiking, climbing and “analogic” travel, moving mainly by foot or gravel bike.


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