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.
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.
This studio is part of a series of investigations that aim to redefine the infrastructure and places that influenced the growth of Los Angeles from the LA River, silver mines of Cerro Gordo (1860-1890s), the Los Angeles Aqueduct (1900-1920), Wilmington Oil Fields (1930-1960s), aerospace (1940-1990), and the port of Los Angeles (1950-current). My fall 2011 studio already covered the Oil Fields and Port of Los Angeles. I am working with a team of MLA students on developing a project in the Owens Valley for their 606 studio capstone project. Stay tuned for what I’ll be teaching in the Spring (2nd year and 4th year BSLA studios – but I have less say in the topics and sites for these as I’m co-teaching them).
The complete google map of our tour is here: http://g.co/maps/556zw. Drop me a note if you want to join the tour.