Productive Water

The River Limmat as a Place of Production Through Time

The River Limmat as a Place of Production Through Time

TYPE Water commons
STATUS Ongoing
KEYWORDS Electricity Production, Fishery, Water Wheels
PERIOD 9th Century
USE Fishery, workshop, water supply, public space, power station
COMMONERS citizens
REGULATORS The fishing license plan (Fischenzenplan)
Xue Jingfan

This research focuses on how the water from the River Limmat was used as a common productive resource in the city of Zurich. Since time immemorial, water has been crucial for food supply, daily energy production, and later also for the modernization of the city Zurich. By studying four different cases throughout history, from the early Middle Ages until today, the subject is discussed in its technical, spatial, and social aspects. The four cases are the fishing architecture on the Limmat, the mill piers (Mühlesteg) and water wheels on the Limmat, the power station Letten (Kraftwerk Letten) as well as the power station Höngg (Kraftwerk Höngg). River infrastructure is not only understood through technical artefacts, but also as a form of architecture that interacts with the urban context and related social activities. Except for the fishers or workers earning their life through the productive use of the water, the citizens are also benefited from this common resource. On the one hand, they are supplied with the daily food and water, later also with the electricity produced from it. On the other hand, they also utilize the public spaces created by these river infrastructure. In the meantime, regulations are created to control the use of water in an orderly and sustainable way, for example, the fishing license plan (Fischenzenplan) since the late Middle Ages, and the ecological certification of the power station nowadays. Through these case studies, this historical research also provides insight into how collective use and access to water as a productive resource can be integrated today in broader ecological concerns and the future development of Zurich.


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Urs Amacher. Zürcher Fischerei im Spätmittelalter: Realienkunde, Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Fischerei im Zürcher Gebiet. Zürich, Verlag Hans Rohr, 1996.

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Ursula Fortuna. Industriegeschichte des Limmattals. Luzern, publisher unknown, 1978.

Elektrizitätswerk der Stadt Zürich. Licht-Kraft-Wärme: 100 Jahre Zürcher Elektrizitätswerk Letten 1892-1992. Zürich, Elektrizitätswerk der Stadt Zürich, 1992.


Image 1 –
the Untere Mühlesteg

Xue Jingfan, 2020, ETH Zürich

The Waterworks Letten: Turbine- and Pump House J.J.Hofer, 1878

Baugeschichtliches Archiv der Stadt Zürich

Fish Stairs

Xue Jingfan, 2020, ETH Zürich