Posts by Jenni Zell

Image Credit: Jenni Zell

AHBE interns, W. Zhou (left), Y. Tian. Image credit: Linda Daley

This past summer we had the pleasure of working with our interns to develop a speculative proposal to advance the Rio Hondo Confluence, which is a signature strategy identified in the Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan (LLARRP). The LLARRP is an important document that will guide the transformation of the Lower Los Angeles River for decades. Our independent speculative project, outlined below, integrates strategies providing green infrastructure, ecological habitat, recreational and cultural use.

We selected one opportunity area identified in the LLARRP, the confluence of the Lower Los Angeles River and the Rio Hondo in the city of South Gate, as the focus of our separate investigation and developed a proposal which we entitled River Commons. The Rio Hondo Confluence is a place that presents significant possibilities to transform into both a cultural and ecological asset for the community.

Credit: Regional context and other graphics in post are by AHBE.

The 254-acre site has a complex history. In addition to hydrologic flows converging at this location, transportation and energy flows converge along the 710 Freeway and Imperial Highway. Although it is within a 30-minute walk of several cities including Compton, Lynwood, and Paramount, the flows of traffic, power and water have isolated people and adjacent communities from one another and from the natural resource of the Los Angeles River.

Image Credit: Calvin R. Abe

Located in a landscape where grizzly bears once fished for steelhead trout, the seasonally riparian and upper terrace upland habitat of the Rio Hondo Confluence provided critical habitat functions of the Los Angeles River ecosystem. Our River Commons proposal outlines building blocks to re-connect people and nature by interweaving cultural and natural systems. In addition, the proposal prioritizes the establishment of physical connections, habitat connections and ecological functions to the site while also providing support for wildlife species, stormwater capture and cleaning and new recreational amenities.

The concrete lined river channel has provided flood protection for decades and adjacent freeways have sped up the transportation of people and goods, but the benefits come at the tremendous cost of dividing communities, destroying significant habitats, and breaking ties of the surrounding people to the historic cultural and natural resource of the waterway for food, leisure and health. River Commons tackles the seemingly intractable problem of choosing between flood protection and economic progress and ecological and community health and vitality. Transforming what is currently a single purpose flood control channel into a civic asset, River Commons proposes to advance a signature strategy identified in the LLARRP.

Building Blocks Approach

The building blocks we explored in River Commons can be tested at the Rio Hondo confluence site and adapted and applied to other Los Angeles River and adjacent sites. We identified four key building blocks in our proposal.

  • Temporary and seasonal in-channel recreation is the first building block, which will build momentum for future projects. It will increase awareness of the river channel as a community resource and provides unique experiences not currently available in nearby parks.

  • Levee terracing will provide seasonal access to the river channel during dry weather and new in-channel habitat spaces.

  • Low-flow channel modifications: Creating meandering and multiple crossings of the low-flow channel create water movement and attraction to the water’s edge. Installing ecological concrete and widening the channel enhances biological value by supporting the growth of organisms including targeted fish species.

  • Bridge crossings to connect pedestrian, equestrians and bicyclists: Multi-modal channel crossings provide much needed connections of communities to one another, the river and river adjacent regional trail systems, along with viewing opportunities of local mud swallows.

Site Specific Design Strategies

Charles S. Dwyer, USACE. Credit: Linda Daley

Hydrological modeling and engineering principles were integrated into the analysis and design phase for our selected area through collaborations with local civil engineers and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). We acknowledge and thank USACE’s Charles S. Dwyer (shown at right) and Reuben Sasaki for giving generously to our investigation in terms of their time, LA River knowledge, and technical review and feedback.

By closely collaborating with hydraulic and civil engineers, we received feedback on the draft building blocks to determine the feasibility of our proposals. This collaboration was critical in identifying and evaluating potential design strategies, a few of which we share below.

  • Treating stormwater before it enters the river is key to improving water quality in the river and ocean. River adjacent properties can be utilized to collect and filter runoff while also increasing habitat and at some sites, recharging underlying aquifers.

  • Expanding the river channel to the bend in the 710 freeway presents a unique opportunity for adding substantial new habitat areas hydrologically connected to the LA River ecosystem. This area would flood during design storm events, but regenerate naturally.

  • Taking advantage of the water collected by a downstream rubber dam and utilizing control gates and drainage lines through the levee, river adjacent fisheries can be created to move water and create a hydraulic connection to the river.

  • Horse Camp at the Hollydale Park expansion builds on the rich equestrian culture in the area and provides a revenue source and river trail rides, connecting people and nature to one another and their river.

In developing our design solutions, we were guided by cultural investigations which foster an interconnectedness between the surrounding community’s citizens, environment, and cultural resources. By linking public health, air quality improvements, energy and water demands and supply, accessibility and mobility improvements with sound green infrastructure strategies, the River Commons proposal is an additional resource for community members and agencies to help visualize and build support for future projects.

Image credits: Wendy Chan (above left) and Jenni Zell (right)

 

All photos: Jenni Zell

By developing a biodiversity report of my home (Zell_2018 Biodiversity Report_Part 2), I have made the following observations and conclusions.

1. Generalist species like the honey bee, squirrel and raven, thrive in my garden.
2. Plants from all the world’s continents except Antarctica, live in my garden.
3. My garden contains plants I selected and cultivated for one or more of the following reasons: beauty (to my eye), fragrance (to my nose), food production (for me, my family and neighbors), ease of maintenance, or to feed my curiosity.
4. My garden is anthropocentric.

What I have missed in cultivating a garden is how it supports life other than mine. The orchids did not evolve their exquisite fragrance for my olfactory pleasure, but to lure a pollinator likely thousands of miles away. I have been a good student of Aristotle and Linnaeus and can name, classify and sort living things, but I have learned and applied less of the lessons taught by teachers and philosophers of the Pre-Socratic and Romanic periods. It is time to discover the invisible (to me) interrelationships between non-human organisms. “Then approach nature, then try like the first human being to say what you see and experience and live and lose.” Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

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These orchids in bloom smell like warm honey. (All photo: Jenni Zell)

Did you know the city of Los Angeles lies within a global biodiversity hotspot? I did not, at least until Australian landscape architect and academic Richard Weller presented his Atlas for the End of the World at USC in 2016. Weller’s presentation – combined with the call to action embedded in the books, The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humbolt’s New World and The Sixth Extinction an Unnatural History – challenged me to reevaluate my concept of nature. The presentation and books also helped aid my understanding of the richness of species and endemism of the place I’ve practiced landscape architecture and called home for most of my life.

Click here to see my entire 2018 Biodiversity Report (PDF).

Last month, the city of Los Angeles published their 2018 Biodiversity Report, which makes LA the first city in the United States to measure biodiversity using the Singapore Index. The report represents an important first step toward protecting and enhancing biodiversity, establishing a baseline measurement to compare change over time. The body of the report also establishes a framework for building a customized Los Angeles Index, pointing the way forward in the utilization of published academic journals about biodiversity to help develop, fund, and implement both policies and projects.

Landscape architects share responsibility for the homogenization and dramatic reduction of native biodiversity in developed areas, and in turn, play a substantial role in restoring and strengthening biodiversity in urban, suburban, and agricultural areas, both in the role of policy development and its implementation.

This convergence of conviction and new acquired knowledge inspired me to create a biodiversity report of my own home. The first step in the scientific method is observation, so what better way to gain a more complete understanding and appreciation of the value of biodiversity reports than applying it to the world immediately around me.

 


 

Awaiting these ripening figs to be gathered soon for breakfast.

Epiphyte hanging by my front door

Dyckias and cobweb hena and chicks.

Native California verbena and dudleya.

An annual poppy being visited by a honey bee.

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All photos: Jenni Zell

What I like the most about the teaching, work, and writing of Robert Irwin is their effects upon the way I see and experience the world. Last month I viewed the exhibition, “Robert Irwin: Site Determined” at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach. The exhibit focused on the artist’s luminous and arresting drawings and architectural models. In fact, I have never seen drafting as beautiful and precise as Irwin’s. It is not for want of looking. Last weekend I saw Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cubes and a few of LeWitt’s wall drawings at SFMOMA. The works felt like formal and conceptual warm-up exercises to Irwin’s site determined works. Creating art that exists outside the domain of a frame and the walls of a gallery and instead in the perceptions of a viewer, is the legacy of Irwin’s body of work.

What I like the most about the teaching, work, and writing of Robert Irwin is how his art continues to develop along a trajectory he set out for himself early in his career, one grounded in the philosophy of phenomenology. At 89, Irwin continues to create influential new works. His installation at The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas was completed in 2015. At my ripening age his example motivates me to push myself – not toward some predetermined outcome or achievement, but to follow my own inquiry.

What I like the most about the teaching, work, and writing of Robert Irwin is how it informs and guides my work as a landscape architect. Several years ago I had the good fortune to deep dive into Irwin’s body of work. I read the books, visited all the installations and exhibits, spent a week (wearing white cotton gloves) reading and looking through the Robert Irwin Papers at the Getty Research Institute. I have interviewed Irwin, and listened to and transcribed these conservations. He is a warm, approachable, and generous teacher.

One particular conservation with Irwin I transcribed took place at the University of Alabama on March 29, 2007 and remains particularly memorable and representative of what I like most about the teaching, work, and writing of Robert Irwin:

“What I am trying to test, or the game I am playing doing a garden and being an architect and all that is … what I try and do in that situation is make what I do respond to all those things which are existing cues and I do not invent or design anything. I pay attention to those existing cues and finally assemble them… the thing I am really involved with is not just changing or making a garden, but changing the whole process of how we make it a garden, conceptually to make things different in the world, and that is where I am going.”

Image: AHBE Landscape Architects

Graphic: AHBE Landscape Architects

This month Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Los Angeles will be joining the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, revealing our first citywide Resilience Strategy. In addition, the mayor signed an executive directive to create Chief Resilience Officers, new positions for leading the way in taking steps to make Los Angeles a more resilient and stronger city. The Rockefeller Foundation has been taking charge in supporting governments, residents, agencies and designers to reimagine solutions to the complex problems facing our cities today.

By joining the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, the city of Los Angeles taps into the momentum of other places sharing common problems and solutions. After Hurricane Katrina, a strong partnership was forged between engineers, designers, and policy makers from the Netherlands to address water disaster issues and to plan in Louisiana. Similarly, The Bay Area Resilient By Design is forging new knowledge and solutions to strengthen the region’s resilience to sea level rise, severe storms, flooding and earthquakes. AHBE submitted a proposal with Tetra Tech, Restoration Design Group, and Professor Barry Lehrman of Cal Poly Pomona (view our video here), working together to create small-scale implementable, testable, and scalable strategies for sea level rise.

A still from Resilient By Design Bay Area Challenge by Evan Mather for AHBE Landscape Architects.

Southern California can learn from the research and site-specific design proposal generated by the Bay Area Resilient By Design initiative. These privately funded efforts and partnerships with local research universities are a force in creating a vision for mitigation and adaptation challenges facing our communities. We hope to see similar collaborations between the scientific and design communities addressing the issues specific to Los Angeles and Southern California coastal cities.

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