Image Collage: credits for photos are as shown in this post.

This is the second part of my coverage of Perceptions of the Los Angeles River, which is a photography exhibition by AHBE colleagues and friends. See part one for an introduction and a selection of photographs from the collection. I chose another set for this week and share the story behind each work, as told by the individual photographer.

credit: “James” by Andrea Klein

photo by Calvin R. Abe

Title of Work: “James”
Photographer: Andrea Klein (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  James is a plein air painter who I met while visiting the Los Angeles River in Glendale Narrows. He was focused on a landscape scene on the opposite bank of the river. Although people, like myself, stopped to chat with him, he remained single minded in capturing the view on his canvas. As I looked over his shoulder, I realized my attention was not focused on his painting but on his act of interpreting the context of the river. I took my photo at that moment of realization. I removed the image’s color component to draw the focus away from his canvas and underscore the moment of observation and perception.

 

credit: “Emergence” by Jessica Roberts

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Emergence”
Photographer: Jessica Roberts (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  I wrote at length about “Emergence” in an earlier post and share my thoughts again in this synopsis. By dividing the picture plane evenly in two, I hope viewers will focus on the horizon line and interpret its meaning in relationship to everything else they observe. The horizon line is a visual component that gives perspective to a landscape, and its quality is arguably the most defining element of a place.

Being in the LA River reminds me of being out in the middle of a desert, except sunken down further into the earth. The experience is different from the layered nature of a forest or the density of buildings in a city. The sensation can feel as disorienting and isolating as standing in the middle of a prairie, without even the sway of the grasses to distract attention. It is an uncommon urban experience.

credit: “iAguas!” by Darren Shirai

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “iAguas!”
Photographer: Darren Shirai (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  The word aguas can mean different things in Mexican Spanish. It can mean ‘waters’, as seen flowing in the river channel on the right side of my photo or used as a warning in situations like the scene depicted on the left, where its meaning in American English is “Watch it!” or “Heads up!”.

Like the word aguas, this photo has a double meaning that conveys my perception of the Los Angeles River. I captured this “LA moment” along a stretch of the river in the Glendale Narrows. It represents the promise of an optimistic future where the river corridor and the landscape along it banks revitalize and reconnect people and communities – spiritually, socially, ecologically and economically. However, this scene also reminds me of the need for vigilance when our profession assesses the broader contextual impacts of a proposed landscape design, and the integrity required to creatively overcome impending design challenges in equitable and meaningful ways. iAguas!

credit: “Weedy Foreground” by Jenni Zell

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Weedy Foreground”
Photographer: Jenni Zell (shown at right) 
Artist’s Statement:  I took this photo in the channel of the Los Angeles River and was initially captivated by the audacity of this species to set up life in such a hostile place. Positioning my camera with plants in the foreground and middle ground creates the illusion of a future takeover of vegetative growth in the channel of the Los Angeles River. Takeover is unlikely, and the species pictured in the foreground is Plantago lanceolate, a noxious invasive plant. At closer inspection, Weedy Foreground crushes any dreamy vision of a restored native riparian landscape and instead predicts a future where only the most noxious and invasive species survive.

 

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River features the works of: Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jenni Zell. You may recognize some of the names as regular contributors to AHBE Lab. The LA River is a subject of ongoing research and exploration for our staff, many of whom share their thoughts and discoveries through AHBE Lab.

Image by AHBE Landscape Architects

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is a group exhibition featuring photographs by Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jennifer Zell. On view at AHBE’s design studio, the collection conveys our photographers’ multiple points of view about the Los Angeles River’s identity and sense of place. Through their work, they challenge viewers to think about the LA River in ways they did not imagine.

Landscape architect, Wendy Chan, came up with the exhibition’s concept theme and curated the show. As she describes,

“Each participant was asked to submit a photo representing his or her perception of the L.A. River. As we started to lay out the photos in our gallery space, we were fascinated by the range and diversity of the images. A few photographers captured the river as a beautiful art piece. Some people focused on the river’s wildlife and habitats. Others explored its urban context and role as urban infrastructure. Interactions between people and animals resulted in a surprising scene of disruption in one work and peaceful serenity in another. Overall, the collection truly represents how the L.A. River inspires beauty, dreams, and possibilities for Angelenos.” – Wendy Chan

A selection of images from the exhibition are presented here.

 

Title of Work: “Layers”
Photographer: Wendy Chan 
Artist’s Statement:  My photograph was taken at the North Broadway Bridge, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. When I was a child, I would cross the North Broadway Bridge frequently on my way to Chinatown and observed the river’s seasonal transformations from a trickling stream to a powerful torrent. Although the river was visually close from where I stood, getting to it was difficult. I felt the river was a world away. My photograph represents the multiple layers of roadway, fencing, railroad tracks, and walls blocking my access to nature within my city.

 

Title of Work:  “Do you feel the river tonight?”
Photographer: Chuan Ding 
Artist’s Statement:   

Nobody knows Los Angeles without knowing its river.” – Joan Didion

However, nobody truly knows the LA River without seeing it at night. When the sun goes down and the last light of day gives way to the night, the river and city take on an amazing filtered quality. Walking along the 7th Street Bridge on a winter night in 2017, I paused to admire the scene. In my mind’s eye, night turns down the city’s heat, chaos, and noise. Layers of railroad tracks were lined up in front of me; empty trains moved back and forth as tracks and rail cars were tested after-hours. Ahead, the glory of downtown shined and then faded away. Time seemed frozen. All I felt at that moment was the night, myself and the LA River, which became the witness to my love story.

 

Title of Work:  “Break”
Photographer: Clarence Lacy 
Artist’s Statement: As I traveled all along the lower portion of the Los Angeles River, I discovered spaces created by various planes of concrete. The multiple grounds are perfect settings for observing the play of light and shadows. At one point, I remember feeling as if I was in a middle ground, standing one plane above the base of the river but below the surrounding city. I was inspired by the overwhelming scale and its beauty.

BREAKby Clarence Lacy

This river does not feel urban.
I look up, I don’t see a city;
a blue expanse disorients me.

Where am I?

An altered state of urbanity,
strolling on foot,
along the river bottom.

A break in the expanse;
a hint of a city around.

I feel enclosed, not trapped.
This is only a short break.

 

Featured photographers (left to right, above): Chuan Ding, Clarence Lacy, Wendy Chan. Photos by Linda Daley.

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is on view, for a limited time, inside the AHBE studio.

 

 

Image: prepared by Gary Lai for his presentation at the Net Zero Conference.

Water conservation is an ongoing topic of discussion and exploration here at AHBE. From simple water-saving tips to broader statewide drought-related issues, our staff and AHBE Lab contributors have advocated for smart water habits and policies.

Net Zero Water is the next step for water conservation supporters and serves as a concept and framework for water self-sufficiency. Simply put, Net Zero Water practices could help us achieve independence from the water grid and get all the water we use from nature and treated greywater.

In Southern California, achieving Net Zero Water is very difficult unless you have a huge parcel of land with a tiny house. A building-by-building solution is impractical. A household would have to implement the equivalent of a wastewater treatment plant in its garage, which is not economical for most people. Water independence through Net Zero Water strategies is possible for Californians if we think about them in terms of a collective achievement at the neighborhood, city, or county level.

I have become fascinated with the thousands of man-made lakes we built in our state in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Although they are lovely private and public amenities, these lakes were being supplied by millions of gallons of expensive imported water from the Owens Valley and Northern Sierra Nevada. At one point, the make-up water from private man-made lakes ranked number one for water usage in our state. Consider the impact on our water supply if the lakes were taken off the grid and used instead to supply treated drinking water to a whole community or eco-district.

Graphic by Los Angeles County Dept. of Public Works for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.

I am currently working on a project in the South Los Angeles area. The project calls for improvements to an existing park called Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park which serves LA’s Willowbrook community. Among the new and improved park amenities, we are taking the 8-acre south lake off its current domestic water source and replacing it with treated recycled stormwater. We will then use the lake water to irrigate the remaining 120 acres of the park. Consider the following:  how much more effort would it really take for the next step toward Net Zero Water at an eco-district scale? The recycled irrigation water we are generating is almost at drinking water quality now. What if we treat the lake water for drinking quality and use it to supply the neighborhood?

California’s population is projected to grow to 50-60 million by 2050 and, according to the most recent climate models coming out of Lawrence Livermore Labs, the state will have 10-15% less water. We must explore options that will allow us to live, grow, and prosper with these challenges.

If you are interested in learning more about Net Zero Water, please join me at the 2018 Net Zero Conference on September 13. I have more to share on this subject and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Rendering by AHBE Landscape Architects for Magic Johnson Park Phase 1A project.

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All Photos Courtesy of AHBE Landscape Architects

The sharp ting! from my phone penetrated the silence of the early morning. I was expecting news any day but was not prepared when it finally arrived. Kiku Kurahashi, my friend and colleague, succumbed to cancer and passed away on July 19. She was 57 years old.

Kiku’s sister, Aki, requested a selection of pictures for her memorial service. Kiku started with AHBE in 1999, a year after I joined. So I had nearly two decades of photos to sort through in my own and the firm’s archives.

I experienced an avalanche of emotions at first as I observed her life captured in so many moments. The search turned into a healing process for me. Kiku and I spent a lot of time together over the years – during working hours and at occasional social events, garden tours, and other gatherings. I found comfort in reminiscing about her and feel lucky to have known her.

Team AHBE spells K-I-K-U after a game.

When news of Kiku’s passing spread, many people who knew her expressed their sorrow over the loss of this gentle soul and talented designer. They also shared their stories about how she touched their lives in positive ways.

I end my tribute with a special story Aki shared about her sister. It says so much about Kiku’s passion for our profession and her stand in the world. During a 1989 trip to Paris, Aki and Kiku visited the Luxembourg Gardens and stayed for hours. The visit was a breakthrough for Kiku and, according to Aki, her baptism into landscape architecture. While they sat on a bench in the garden, Kiku said to her :

“This is what I want to create for the rest of my life. A garden that lasts forever for people.”

Arigato, my friend. Rest in peace.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

 

Photos by Gary Lai

To many in the public and the A/E industry, the aesthetics of our infrastructure is considered an extraneous consideration. According to this pragmatic point-of-view, a bridge’s purpose is solely to move people from one side to the other, with innovation being defined by improvements in the speed and/or cost in which it’s built. A “beautiful” bridge is too subjective and not quantifiable, making the measure of success too tricky to gauge, and therefore too risky of a decision to make.

In the mid-2000’s, officials and engineers tried to use this argument for the replacement of the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, proposing a simple freeway-type overpass replacement. The ensuing firestorm from the public caused an almost decade-long delay costing millions of dollars for studies.

The eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, May 29, 2008. Photo by Brewdog (CC BY-SA 3.0)

People do value aesthetics, so much they are willing to spend money and consume products in pursuit of achieving some semblance of what they consider beautiful. Billions of dollars are spent on paint, paneling, and plants. Aesthetics are important because people think it’s important, and every project we do is for the betterment of people. It is really that simple.

From a landscape perspective, turf is the number one irrigated crop in the United States, even though it has no intrinsic practical value other than sports. I remember overhearing two engineers lamenting how they could never give up their lawns, even though they knew they were wasting water, while waiting for a conference call to start. Even though they intellectually knew the Northern European pastoral landscape imported into the US in the late 19th century is not sustainable here in California, they still could not bring themselves to deviate from the cultural and aesthetic norm. The English pastoral landscape motif is a deeply ingrained cultural and mental construct representing the wealth and success of the English ruling class that we’ve long admired. But, taking a step back, one must recognize it is a ridiculous idea: Californians wrapping Downton Abbey-ish landscapes around our high-tech, energy efficient, 21st century buildings and homes. Why don’t we create our own Californian 21st century aesthetic?

According to the National Resource Defense Council and the Pacific Institute,  commercial, municipal, and residential landscapes combined represent 41% of all urban water use in California. That amounts to roughly 4 million acre feet a year, or 1,303,405,708,000 gallons total. The EPA estimates 50% of all water wasted in the US is due to poorly managed and maintained irrigation systems. My back-of-the-napkin math calculates the wasted amount could service as many as 10 million more people in California, meeting the projected population growth of the next 15 years. In other words, simple adjustments to our irrigation controllers by knowledgeable professionals could save enough water to serve our growing population for the next 15 years without any improvements to our storage or infrastructure. Talk about low-hanging fruit.

What can each of us do?
1. Communicate to your design professionals the importance of the landscape as an integral aspect of your house or project.
2. Reconsider the turf aesthetic and replace it with California-friendly plants.
3. Value the expertise of a knowledgeable landscape maintenance professional, or become self-sufficiently knowledgeable with irrigation controllers and put improvements into practice.

Our population is expected to grow somewhere between 50 to 60 million people by 2050. Current climate models show a 10-15% decrease in the amount of rain California will receive. Now is the time for us to pick the low-hanging fruit.

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