UC, Berkeley | Master’s Thesis Project |with advisers René Davids and Raveevarn Choksombatchai | Spring 2012
Within an ecological system, each constituent part plays a distinct and unique role in the “health” of the system. Current movements such as “Landscape Urbanism” and “Ecological Urbanism” set forth new urban models focused on integrating and mimicking these ecological systems, yet produce ambiguous “field conditions” in urban contexts within which these constituent parts are hidden or blended. Although I would agree that these movements are noble and relevant, I believe their insistence on ambiguity of program and form weaken their strength as urban activity generators and cultural stimulants. Many of these projects (Yokohama Port Terminal by Foreign Office Architects, and Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park by WEISS / MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism, for example), also remain fixed entities; not changing. If these projects sought to mimic natural landscapes, one thing they missed is the tendency for landscapes to change. Erosion, growth, shift and decay are all aspects typically present in nature. Therefore, my thesis will depart from and critique these movements in the following ways:
1. Constituent parts (housing, commercial, park, etc.) will be recognizable and programmatically explicit, rather than ambiguous.
2. Landscape will not be applied, but rather integrated and interwoven.
3. Program will be instrumental in generating form, rather than incidental.
4. Relationships between human and built environment will be questioned, opening ideas for new urban programs.
5. Building and ground will be adaptable and not fixed, anticipating change: particularly changing ground.
Los Angeles is one of the largest urban areas in the world. It is a city of many identities including, the “City of Angles”, “La-La Land” and more recently the “Infrastructural City”. Home to the polar extremes of wealth, political and social issues, Los angeles is seen from many perspectives, but, it gained this latter nickname not in vain. After many visits to Los Angeles, the oppressive presence of extremely large and intricate infrastructures is obvious and omnipotent. Infrastructure of all sorts can be seen and felt from any one place in the vast city.
With these economic, social and political issues present, infrastructure in Los Angeles remains constant and constantly growing. Yet, decreased tax revenues leave many of these infrastructures in disrepair, requiring more maintenance than the tax system can absorb. Coupling maintenance with production would begin to relieve this problem. Thus, I assert that all infrastructures should push towards generating more revenue than they demand. With their expansiveness in scale and reach, there is ample opportunity for infrastructures to become a more integrated and productive part of modern society. Therefore, following suit, I propose that Los Angeles’s infrastructures continue to grow, but to do so with increased density and creativity. Infrastructures should be accessible to the public as civic, community and social spaces. The shear lack of open green space in Los Angeles bags for infrastructures to open up and let the public in.
The Los Angeles River has long been a space of contentions in the San Fernando Valley. Known for its beautiful beaches, bays and hills, Los Angeles is rarely associated with it’s river. Seen as both a natural river and a highly engineered flood control structure, the river has long suffered this lack of identity. Some have likened the river to The Golden Gate Bridge, or Yosimite, in it’s power to identify a region, while others have viewed it as a gutter, not worthy of a second glance. In reality, the river is actually both.
These conflicting opinions lead to an uncertain future for the Los Angeles River. The Environmental Protection Agency recently labeled the river a “navigable waterway” with the intention of accessing more funds for riverbed restoration. Simultaneously, the Army Corps of Engineers is left with the constant responsibility of protecting the public from season flood conditions. And more, in his article “Los Angeles River Watershed; Flood Control Freakology”, David Fletcher highlights the many conflicting interest and ownership of the river’s spatial, political, social, natural and infrastructural resources. The river corridor is host to infrastructures including oil refinement, power transmission, agriculture, shipping and rail, sewer treatment and more. These competing forces bring in to question the methods of managing urban natural resources altogether.
The resulting “cultural ecology” of the Los Angeles River condition is anything but natural. Much like Fletcher describes the river as a “freakology”, the same could be said of the cultural ecology. A high rate of crime, poverty, and gang violence are clearly present in the neighborhoods directly adjacent to the river. In addition, higher insurance rates due to extreme natural phenomena like earthquake and flooding. Until recently, the most poverty stricken areas surrounding the river had the highest insurance rates for the EPA required flood protection.
At the mouth of the river is the Los Angeles and Long Beach port districts. These combined, although not the largest by area, comprise the largest annual volume of imported goods in the country. The rich deposits of oil underneath the port demand one of the cities largest oil refineries. All of these resources require large amounts of energy and space. Combined, these infrastructures are responsible for massive amounts of air pollution. This region of the Valley including the ports, West Long Beach and the Chevron Refinery have been coined “the Diesel Death Zone” for the unusually high occurrence of respiratory related afflictions and deaths.
Stemming off of the Los Angeles River are multiple other infrastructures. Rail lines that follow the river’s path, split into multiple directions at the port and towards the north near downtown Los Angeles. Surface drainage and runoff channels near the river drain directly into it, others find their way via main drainage lines. Power Transmission lines also follow the rivers path at times, often diving diagonally into surrounding neighborhoods to reach distribution hubs.
While neighborhoods fight to keep small and contested areas of land for community use, these large strings of continuous infrastructural space can be found throughout Los Angeles urban fabric. These spaces have been adapted for many purposes. In particular, underneath many of the cities largest power lines are a series of nurseries and small urban farms. Each property is parceled and divided for private use. Both perceived threat of radiation and real danger of electrocution keep these properties privatized and divided. Large fences, ditches and sometimes walls separate these plots from public access. The resulting effect on the urban territory is a series of disjointed and isolated neighborhoods.
The initial proposal began as decree that the Los Angeles River must be dammed…literally. The annual output of the river, though considered toxic, is at such a volume that it would provide significant increase in available water as well as reducing the amount of water needed to be imported by nearly 33%. Currently, Singapore Bay is a precedent for such action. The Singapore Bay was dammed in 2010 and has reached full fresh water reservoir status. Singapore now treats 100% of it’s storm water runoff, to be used as potable drinking water. Such a strategy could be imagined for Los Angeles.
Rather than pursue the specific technological implications of such a proposal, I was more interested in exploring the “upstream” effects of damning the mouth of the river. I propose that the city itself could become a reservoir of sorts. If the river could become a rhizomatic network of artificial tributaries and canals, the surface area and storage capacity for water would increase. This new network could in turn provide new means of transportation, agriculture, commerce, community space and micro-climate control.
The final site is a large area of land that separates the Arlington neighborhood from the rest of West Long Beach. The site spans between the Los Angeles River and the smaller Dominguez Channel, presenting an opportunity to connect theses waterway. This site proposal would presumably arise out of the opportunities that damning the river would present.
The West Long Beach neighborhood is one of the most poverty stricken in the city, with a large occurrence of gangs. By routing the river through this neighborhood, new community networks may be formed. Collections of commerce and community developments could naturally collect around the newly accessible river way. Surrounding its banks could be community gardens and agriculture, protected by the shade structure of the new infrastructure
Layers of program will inhabit an infrastructure of aquaponics, power transmission and solar canopy. Conceptually, the overlap of these programs with more typical commercial development would create new hybrid programs. Introducing a new industry of aquaponics at a large neighborhood scale would improve the community by providing jobs. In an attempt to shield this neighborhood from the effects of air pollution, the new agricultural industry would naturally sequester much of the carbon emissions of surrounding industries. Powered exclusively by the solar power it produces, the new infrastructure would require zero demand on the existing power grid. Low impact maintenance and harvesting technologies reduces the need for large engines and exhaust unlike traditional farming strategies.
By lifting infrastructural programs with a lightweight space frame, more civic programs can exist at ground level. The solar space frame will protect inhabitants from electricity and radiation while provide optimal shading from the harsh Los Angeles sunlight.
The monumental surface acts as both industrial infrastructure and public outdoor recreation, garden and farm space. Literally “dotted” with solar panels, the surface produces energy as well as the partial shade that ideal for growing conditions in sunny Los Angeles. Beneath the surface lies the insertion of new canal-scapes which extent through the backyards of the neighboring blocks,creating new means of transportation and public space and direct irrigation for back yard gardening. Within the space of the surface, recreational program such as running tracks and basketball courts. Supporting the entire surface are structural oculi which create urban rooms, void of any discrete program. Hydrological distribution lines extend through the surface, connecting the reservoir to the vertical gardening structures.
The productive tower accommodates urban farming through an organic system of aquaponics. Producing both fish meat and vegetable products in symbiosis, these towers can increase agricultural production by over 300 percent per acre of land. The individual fish tanks are tended within while the planted hydroponic surface is tended from without. Each level of the tower is a closed loop system, retaining system balance and stable living environments for fish. The drums circling the tower rotate once an hour to provide constant daylight to all surfaces of the tower.