Anthropogenic landscapes : Owens Lake, CA
Author(s)Kao, Alice (Alice Hsuan-jung)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Architecture.
James L. Wescoat Jr.
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In the Age of the Anthropocene, human activities have greatly altered and transformed all aspects of the geological environment, typically extracting what is considered valuable and leaving behind degraded landscapes. Often existing in between the city and wilderness nature, these landscapes are largely forgotten and assumed to always have been like that. How can we re-engage with these landscapes and can they become a meaningful part of our culture? A prime example is Owens Lake in eastern California. It has a rich history: earliest agricultural domestication, silver and salt mining, death by a greedy neighbor far south, worst particulate matter pollution, and a surprising resurrection. Starting in the early 2000s, Owens Lake was carved up into 'cells' and a new infrastructure of pipes, roads, sensors, and dust monitoring equipment was overlaid. Each cell was re-tilled, re-watered, re-planted, or re-paved, resulting in a strange yet fascinating ecology where multiple "natures" (wild, artificial, and reconstructed) co-exist uncannily. As state-owned land, public engagement was a required part of the dust mitigation efforts. Architecture, an important contributor to anthropogenic change, offers the opportunity to re-engage with the site. Stan Allen writes that "any work of architecture is (first) a transformation of the landscape."  Inevitably, architecture sits on and interacts with land, is composed of materials extracted from the land, and most importantly, reorders the landscape through artificial constructs. Here, a network of architectural interventions draw people, whether casual passerby, adventure seekers, or scientific researchers, to key areas around Owens Lake to discover the human and non-human dynamics that shape this particular place and whose presence re-shape the landscape they are situated in.
Thesis: M. Arch., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture, 2017.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 107-108).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Architecture.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology