Anthropogenic Objects

Year: Winter 2024
Course: Advanced Topics Studio
Instructor: Jason Payne
Team: NA

Owens Lake is an endorheic basin that has become one of the most engineered, measured, and observed landscapes in the world. Its primary source of inlet water having been diverted to Los Angeles via the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the lake has become a managed landscape with various control measures implemented by LADWP engineers and technicians that are designed to keep carcinogenic dust from the lakebed from forming into highly mobile dust clouds. This new landscape of the anthropocene is an amalgam of specifically organized controlled flooding, gravel and brine fields, managed vegetation, and tilled earth arranged in polygonal forms determined in phases through empirical observation.

The result of these efforts is a complex synthetic nature that is governed by engineered techniques that are responsive to political and environmental policy negotiated by state and local officials, LADWP, and Tribal Representatives. This condition establishes new aesthetic conditions with tenuous connections to traditional landscape ideas of the picturesque and the sublime. At Owens Lake, satellite and aerial imagery is required to understand the realities of the lake’s various macrolandscapes in relation to the microlandscapes that are perceptible on the ground. This multitude of conditions offers opportunities for the variegated saline, groundcover, and water sources to become habitats for a diversity of lifeforms from brine shrimp to migrating plovers. The concept of tending, rather than remediating or reinstating, becomes critical to understanding Owens Lake. The conditions that caused the lake to dry and the processes employed to keep the dust from becoming airborne are neither benign nor reversible, but the resulting landscape has its own specific and rich character.

The new visitor center and operations facility extracts its diagram and organizational logic from the processes of measurement and labor associated with converting the polygon T2-1 Addition from dry lakebed into a mitigated landscape with sprinkler shallow flooding controls. The organization and formal characteristics of the building further amplify the creation of new microlandscapes while maintaining significant portions of the existing landscape that has become wildlife habitat. The facilities themselves allow for specific forms of vision and perception of the landscape in this environment with its highly varied seasonal particularities as a means of exposing knowledge associated with its maintenance, its forms, and the species that inhabit it.