Sublime Infrastructures Mid-Review

My 4th year BSLA studio LA402L, will be screening our student generated videos about the sublime infrastructure of Northeast San Fernando Valley on Wednesday, February 1st at 3pm in the atrium of Building 7 at Cal Poly Pomona. Hope you can join us for my first attempt at using video as a design tool in a studio setting.

Está Muerto

by Jonathan Alarcon, Yorvin Moreno, and Rene Orta

Está Muerto explores the relationship between pollution and foreclosures.

effected movement, integrated infrastructure

by Rico Molden, Carly McNeil, and Garret Reger

Traces the flows of people, water, and electricity.

The other videos look at the urban-wildland interface, and how high-speed rail may impact Sylmar.

Chris Burden’s Metropolis II

photo by Alissa Walker

Was hoping to write a review of Chris Burden‘s latest installation at LACMA, but I’m just too busy right now.

Burden (who was once called the ‘most dangerous artist’) has moved from performance art, to earth art, to installations, where each evolution of his oeuvre retains vital aspects of his previous genre. So Metropolis II is as much a performance piece, as it is a work of earth art too. It is also ‘infrastructural art’ in that urban transportation systems are the main subject of the piece.

Wonder if there are any VW Beatles whizzing around Metropolis II?

photo by Alissa Walker

Three ½ hp DC motors with motor controllers, 1100 custom manufactured die-cast cars, 13 HO-scale train sets with controllers and tracks, steel, aluminum, shielded copper wire, copper sheet, brass, various plastics, assorted woods and manufactured wood products, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Dado Cubes, glass, ceramic and natural stone tiles, acrylic and oil-base paints, rubber, sundry adhesives. 9 feet, 9 inches (H) x 28 feet, 3 inches (W) x 19 feet, 2 inches (D). Image: © Chris Burden. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography by E. Koyama. Courtesy of the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Foundation.

Video directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, filmed in 2011 at the Burden’s studio in Topanga, CA.

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Climate Change Infographic of the Day

Instead of fighting carbon emissions that threaten to undermine our economy, a group of scientists have looked at the benefits of curbing ozone precursors and black carbon.

image caption:

National benefits of the CH4 plus BC measures versus the reference scenario. Circle areas are proportional to values for (A and B) climate change, (C and D) human health (values for population over age 30), and (E and F) agriculture. Surface temperature changes are from the GISS-E2-S simulation. Health, agriculture, and atmospheric forcing impacts are based on the average of GISS and ECHAM concentration changes and are for 2030 and beyond. Uncertainties are ~60% for global mean temperatures, with national scale uncertainties likely greater, ~60% for atmospheric forcing, ~70% for health, and roughly –70%/+100% for crops [see (7) for factors included in uncertainties, most of which are systematic for atmospheric forcing, health, and agriculture so that much smaller differences between regions are still significant]. Interactive versions providing values for each country are at, whereas alternate presentations of these data are in fig. S5 and table S5.

The benefits of controlling methane and soot emissions turned out to be considerable. Largely thanks to reduced methane emissions, global warming by 2050 would be reduced by about half a degree; global warming so far has amounted to about 0.8°C. The additional controls also ensure that the low-carbon scenario holds warming below the danger level of 2°C of warming, at least for the next 60 years. Methane controls would also keep ozone low enough to avoid annual crop losses of 30 million to 135 million metric tons in 2030

The drop in outdoor air pollution, due largely to soot emission reductions, would avoid 700,000 to 4.7 million premature deaths each year. Indoors, more than one-third of a million lives would be saved annually in India and China alone. A total of at least a million lives saved a year compares with the 600,000 premature deaths from tuberculosis expected in 2030 or the 2.1 million deaths due to traffic accidents. – from Richard A. Kerr discussing Shindell et al…


Shindell, Drew, et al.2012. Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security, Science January 2012: Vol. 335 no. 6065 pp. 183-189 DOI: 10.1126/science.1210026

Via the NYtimes, see also for the editorial analysis.

See also

Jungle Gyms of the Past

Playgrounds have lost a sense of imagination since the lawyers got involved, resulting in boredom and lack of use (plus their style can be best described as a pastiche mixed together by a committee). There is a burgeoning renaissance of high-design returning to playgrounds (such as recent parks by Van Valkenburg in NYC or the ‘Rollercoaster Walkway’ in Germany – though these seem more for adults than kids).

Jungle Gyms date back to 1923 and were a feature of progressive k-12 education. Now most risky play activities has been regulated out of existence for younger children – so there is a documented loss of self-assurance and an increased fear of heights. Risky play is essential for development per  Dr. Sandseter:

  • exploring heights,
  • experiencing high speed,
  • handling dangerous tools,
  • being near dangerous elements (like water or fire),
  • rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and
  • wandering alone away from adult supervision.

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.” 

… “There is no clear evidence that playground safety measures have lowered the average risk on playgrounds,” said David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University in London. He noted that the risk of some injuries, like long fractures of the arm, actually increased after the introduction of softer surfaces on playgrounds in Britain and Australia.

“This sounds counterintuitive, but it shouldn’t, because it is a common phenomenon,” Dr. Ball said. “If children and parents believe they are in an environment which is safer than it actually is, they will take more risks. An argument against softer surfacing is that children think it is safe, but because they don’t understand its properties, they overrate its performance.” – nytimes

As the father of a 3 1/2 y.o., I wish he could experience the playgrounds of the ’70s that formed the core of my childhood. I’m willing to trade a few bumps, bruises, and perhaps a broken bone or two to help build his character and physical development – especially since most of these play structures required imagination to use.  The rest of this post is a few of the cool play structures worthy of celebration and having in your neighborhood!

Swiss cheese

OH Newton Falls - Playground

[anybody know who designed these pre-cast concrete pieces?]


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Richard Saul Wurman at Cal Poly Pomona

Richard Saul Wurman (RSW) the founder of the TED conferences (and former dean of the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly) is about to give gave a rare public appearance at Cal Poly Pomona this evening (tweeted as #RSW_ENV).  I’m going to live blog his talk.   This post is a (mildly) edited live transcription of his talk.

Richard Saul Wurman – information architect

RSW: Lovely to be back in a place that rescued me from bankruptcy, had the job for a year then was fired. Loved all the students, the president was terribly gracious. Taught one class that was open to all students  – ‘Passion in Pomona’ what his friends were passionate about. Francis Crick, Frank O. Gehry, a kite maker – the collection of odd people was a continuation of my curiosities – I’m not very bright, but shallow, and broad looking into lots of connections. Didn’t want hyperbolic introduction.

Dean Micheal Woo:  Tonight we’re having a dialog between me and Mr. Wurman, then open it to audience questions. [Continued on verbatim repeat of the email sent out about the event]:

I first learned about Mr. Wurman in the early 1970s, when he published a series of books which attempt to explain the physical environment and explore the ways in which people understand how cities and designed environments work [Our Man-Made Environment — Book Seven (1970); Making the City Observable (1971); The Nature of Recreation: A handbook in honor of Frederick Law Olmsted, using examples From his work (1972); Yellow Pages of Learning Resources (1972)]. He was educated as an architect at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked with Louis Kahn and later co-edited The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis Kahn (1973).

This is like interviewing Charlie Parker or Robert Johnson for a music lover.  [ Gave away a book to a student that rsvp’d via facebook]

RSW: I write about things that I don’t know about. As a 76 y.o. I needed to know about the medical system so I wrote about it. Wrote about children cause I have several… Singular passion to learn about what he doesn’t know and wants to learn about. Sold TED it in 2002. Reinventing several conferences about innovation. Defining innovation differently – need to do more than that. Incremental change – nobody invented a car – it was a bunch of additions and combinations. TED was subtractions: got rid of suits, panels, long speeches, silos around disciplines… like Passion at Pomona.

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Sylmar Landscape Tour 2012

On Friday (1/13), I’m taking my 4th year BSLA studio on a tour of the infrastructure of the Northeastern San Fernando Valley.  This is a region of overlapping infrastructures, forgotten demographics, and industrial blight. But it also has amazing potential for regeneration because of the confluence of water/power/transportation, and large tracts ripe for redevelopment.

From my syllabus:

At the northern end of the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles Aqueduct tumbles down a hillside to quench the thirst of the sprawling metropolis.  Nearby, high-tension lines imports electricity from the Pacific Northwest, freeways traffic roars down freeways across overpasses that collapsed in the Northridge, trains rumble through a historic tunnel connecting LA to points north, giant warehouse sit anonymously, solar panels cover a reservoir, satellite dishes connect to the world, garbage molders under the sun, and the city meets the wilderness.

Sylmar is as much the birthplace of modern Los Angeles as Olvera Street is for the historic European city, being the terminus for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the umbilical cord to the snowmelt from the Eastern Sierra that nurtured the metropolitan sprawl.  It is also a community with significant socio-economic challenges, institutionalized environmental discrimination, and some of the hottest temperatures in Los Angeles County outside of the Mojave Desert.  Sylmar sits just north of the City of San Fernando, founded in 1874, but with European history extending back to the 1797 founding of the Mission San Fernando Rey de España.

The Los Angeles Aqueduct opened in 1913 with the memorable speech by William Mulholland when he said ‘There it is, take it.”  The Aqueduct is one of the marvels of the 20th Century and was the largest civil engineering projects to date.  Of course, the diversion of water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles wasn’t without economic and ecological impacts to Owens Valley – but that is a topic for another studio.

The Owensmouth Cascades are the official terminus of the Aqueduct and the only visible icon for the importation of water within the city boundaries of Los Angeles – all other surface expression of our sources of water are out in the desert or buried underground.  Yes, there is the ‘Mulholland Fountain’ in Griffith Park, but that is a world away from the actual infrastructure – so part of why I choose the location for the studio is to find a way to better celebrate the life sustainable water. Continue reading

map of the day – US Routes system

by (c) Cameron Booth, an earlier version of just the interstates is here.

I have to say that without a doubt, this is the most complex network that I have yet attempted. Not only are there far more numbered routes than in the Interstate system, but there are also historical extensions and branches of many routes to consider. In some cases, numbers that were used once were reused in different parts of the country (see U.S. 48, which has been used for three completely separate roads!). I have attempted to show these historical roads as thinner route lines “behind” the main network, including the most famous U.S. highway of all – Route 66, which gets special treatment, being solid black in colour.

 Originally spotted by Quilian Riano in the Economist

Condors versus Wind Turbines

Forbes Magazine, not a very pro-environmental or pro-renewable energy publication, seems to take great glee in the suggested collision between the California Condor and wind turbines being built in the Tehachapi Mountains.  But what the author fails to mention is that Bird/Wind Turbine Collisions account for a miniscule number of avian fatalities each year and brings up a new electrical transmission corridor as a benign part of the landscape (bird/electrical line collisions are the 2nd highest cause of avian deaths) per the US Forest Service.  The article admits that no condors have been killed – yet. So, it ends up reading  like a hatchet job against renewable energy wrapped up in faux concern for the condor.  What’s next – an article about birds being cooked by reflected sun light at solar thermal power plants in the Mojave?

Altamont is the first generation of wind farms, and historically has a significantly higher level of avian kills than all other wind power sites. Continue reading