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A Plumber’s Guide: Great Architecture Needs Great Infrastructure, Part 2

February 21, 2009 - 4 Comments

Last week we discussed the role of the lowly plumber in building the Dutch country of the Netherlands, reclaiming land masses from the sea, and ensuring that the hardy Dutch traders had a port to call home. It is amazing that infrastructure, designed hundreds of years ago, can still be so valuable today if you have the right architectural vision and scalable engineering approach that turns the vision into a reality.My good friend Silvano Gai commented on this post wanting to discuss the plumbing value that was delivered in the great Roman aqueducts, some built two millennia ago that still serve the city of Roma today! Silvano, a Cisco Fellow and great technology architect, must also be prescient, because today’s installment of this series is about the aqueduct.The Roman aqueducts are certainly the most notable, and aqueducts have been particularly associated with Roman engineering. Aqueducts have been in use for thousands of years – in the 7th century BC the Assyrians built a 50-mile long aqueduct to carry water across a valley to their capital of Nineveh. The ability to carry water, vital for agrarian society, from a source such as a river, well, stream, spring, et cetera to the location where you want to grow a population center created the first utility.City growth was dependent then, and still is today, on available clean water. The cultural shift from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies was amplified by the engineering feat of irrigation, compounded again by the distance you were able to transport this vital resource.In essence the value of a utility is amplified or compounded by the distance you can effectively distribute the resource the utility provides. In the city of Rome the aqueducts totaled over 260 miles and set a standard of engineering that was not surpassed for more than a thousand years. A network of aqueducts built an area of seven hills into a metropolis that was the capital of an empire, and the most cultured city of its time. This network that carried water from its source to the client in Rome enabled Rome to support a population of 1,000,000 people in 44 BC to 120 AD – a number not again seen in Rome until the mid 1930s.Some myopic companies readily dismiss the value of plumbing – but just like the Dutch owe their land to good plumbing – we can all look to the golden age of Rome, and to the acceleration of a shift from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies and thank the lowly plumber for ensuring the world’s first utility was available to create the masses that created the civilizations we know, and many significant cultural, religious, and political icons.dg

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  1. Plumbing is a valuable necessity that we often take for granted in our modern society. There are still some countries out there that still doesn’t have the basic plumbing needs. I’ve been to China recently and boy does it smell over there. Their poor quality plumbing networks just make the cities look dirty and smelly.

  2. If the Romans had paid attention to Archimedes and understood the principle of connected tubes, they would not have had to build any aqueducts. What a waste of effort.

  3. Doug:In Iran there are remains of dry wells in desert areas where robust villages developed highly efficient methods of extracting water (that were ultimately proven to be too effective). The villages eventually exhausted their water supplies, leaving holes in the desert as their only lasting legacy.In those days it was probably easier to move on to the next well than it is today… so we are really stuck if we don’t pay attention to the importance of plumbing.Greg

  4. Doug:I totally agree with you that some myopic companies dismiss the value of plumbing. But, other myopic companies are just stuck on plumbing. A house needs plumbing, electrical wiring, a foundation, walls, insulation, roof…this is called infrastructure or ecosystem. Plain plumbing and pipes are worthless unless you have at the end of the plumbing something useful—a faucet, refrigerator, washer…you get the point. So, just building a California blade server, as Cisco has been reported to, is not good enough. Has Cisco constructed an infrastructure to support this?