Posts tagged Silver Lake

Photo: Materials & Applications

Photo by Materials & Applications

I first came across photos of the construction of ‘The Kid Gets Out of the Picture’ on display at Materials & Applications – a “non-profit organization dedicated to building a public culture of experimental architecture in Los Angeles” – on social media and was instantly intrigued.

The undulating forms of unidentifiable draped textiles, minimal stacks of CMUs, and corrugated tubing scaled up to dwarf a passing human caught my attention. If it were a physical model on the desk of an architecture student’s work station, I would have stopped and inquired. If it was a 3D model on a computer screen, I would have reached for the mouse and panned around in wonder. But alas, this thing was real! Big and wild, simple and complex, and covered in people. It also just happened to be in my neighborhood.


Photos by Erik Schmahl

Photos by Erik Schmahl

The static image in an infinite scroll of static images got me excited about architecture again. The installation itself is compelling, but I was initially even more intrigued by the context and culture that brought this exhibition into existence.

M&A describes their project as such:

“A contemporary update on the aesthetic principles of early 19th century English landscape architecture. By the early-nineteenth century, practitioners of the English picturesque had invented a catalog of objects (follys, ha-has, viewpoints) that worked to produce the pictorial effects of landscape painting within real space. Lumps, clumps, and masses made it possible, in a sense, to occupy the picture. 

‘The Kid Gets Out of the Picture’ is a three-month long exhibition that returns to the catalog of nouns developed by the picturesque to ask how these tactics can be deployed in reverse, extracting the qualities of images and literalizing them in the real world.” 

Photo by Erik Schmahl

Photo by Erik Schmahl

I finally visited M&A last weekend and was pleasantly surprised to be as excited by the physical space as I was by its virtual representations. The forms are incredibly common, especially to those of us who spend any amount of time around landscape architectural modeling, but the presentation is completely fresh.

The pink draping clumps are reminiscent of insulation foam, but the structure is grounded by its physical weight. It looks soft, but upon closer inspection it is very much rigid. The materials express themselves explicitly, but allude to the visual library of landscape: mounding, sloping, draping. Almost every element is a surprise, but the beauty of the piece is that it invites visitors in to explore its underbelly where you can get up close to its innards. You can see the router bit marks on plywood alluding to CNC machines and parametric modeling. The cinder blocks are bare and repeating, accentuating the beauty in their conventional design. Site furnishings are playfully bizarre and functional, situated in places that encourage you to climb on top of the structure.





Photos by Erik Schmahl

The entire piece is a giant folly, but once you’ve become comfortable within its weirdness a new meta-folly appears on top of the roof: a glossy obsidian-looking boulder, perched out of reach, undescribed and smooth and alien in its materiality. I don’t know what is going on exactly, but whatever it is, I’m into it. I would encourage everyone to take some time with this space and see what happens. Here are a few of my little mediations/thoughts inspired by my visit:

  1. Techniques and technology exist to allow for the design and construction of complex forms and if these design exercises are followed through to construction the result can powerfully ratify the process. Making it real, not only makes the object real (which is cool in itself), but it also realizes the process validating the exercise as something real.
  2. The visual impact of bewilderment is powerful and stimulating. Not knowing what something is, why it is, and how it is demands inquiry and inquiry results in an active experience of exploration. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. But if the water is the color of Pepto-Bismol, the reflection of a raised equine brow in the purple puddle is worth the price of admission.
  3. Designers design for the public, but exhibitions offer an opportunity for designers to design for other designers, as well as the public. This piece makes me uncomfortable because I can’t instantly understand it, but that too challenges me as a designer to try to figure it out – to spend time in critical confusion, resulting a quite pleasurable experience of growth. Stretching my mind a bit. We need more room to play, and it is exciting to see time, energy, and resources put into alternative spaces.
  4. Finally, the participatory nature of the exhibit is on point. It is a private space, made public. There seems to be little to no surveillance. The sign reads,  “Enter at your own risk”. The exhibition could be easily compromised by long list of “DON’TS” directed at unruly users, but instead it is blank. The site respects the user, and in return, this seems to lead to user respecting the site. It is shockingly idealistic and inspiring to me as a designer interested in space. It doesn’t make sense in our landscape, but it exists, which is optimistic and hopeful.
Photo by Erik Schmahl

Photo by Erik Schmahl

‘The Kid Gets Out of the Picture’ – Up until January 8th, 2017; open for public viewing from 10am – 10pm at the Materials & Applications courtyard in Silver Lake (1619 Silver Lake Blvd. LA CA 90026). The collaborative installation is the work of M&A, LADG, First Office, Laurel Broughton / Andrew Kovacs, and Hirsuta partially funded by the Graham Foundation.


It is always a pleasure to read my fellow AHBE Lab contributor’s entries. I always learn something new. I am a Silver Lake resident myself, so Gary’s recent post about the Silver Lake Reservoir of course caught my interest. I had no idea that the Reservoir was drained to bypass the drinking water system post 9-11. I also did not know that the plan was to refill the neighborhood’s token reservoir as it once was – this would be in fact no small feat.

I have to disagree with Gary on one point however. The reservoir is something different than a large empty hole. It has become a place of contingency, and that is not necessarily uninteresting.

Of course, there is potential for greatness, but what about the present? Is there a way to transition to the Reservoir’s next stage? How can we act now? The perimeter of the park is alive and shockingly green, extremely well used by residents and visitors alike. Looking beyond the fence, the Reservoir can be quite beautiful even without water, just not accessible.


As Gary points out “The Silver Lake Reservoir is much larger than Echo Park Lake, and urban runoff alone would not be able to maintain the necessary volume for Silver Lake’s capacity”. Seeing the reservoir as less of a construction site and more of a place for experimentation could create a flexible landscape that could start performing now. This kind of experimental landscape could also buy some time for constituency and funding for perhaps a better Silver Lake Reservoir. Could we strategically propagate vegetation now to mitigate storm water, take toxins out of the soil, and provide habitat to urban wildlife?

During a community meeting on June 30th the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power committed once more to refill the iconic body of water. But when? According to CD4 Neighborhood Advocate Adam Miller, LADWP will be providing updates at a meeting to discuss specific options for restoring water to the Silver Lake Reservoir on September 20th. An additional meeting would be held after to discuss improvement plans after the Reservoir is filled. This proposed order – fill now…and then what do we do? – seems endlessly problematic. What can we do now to improve the conditions of the Reservoir and is filling it up just as it was really our best option? See you next Tuesday.

Silver Lake Reservoir Community Meeting Tuesday, September 20 
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 
John Marshall High School Auditorium
3939 Tracy Street, Los Angeles, CA 90027
For more information, please contact SLNC.

Photo: Gary Lai

Photos: Gary Lai

At the moment the Silver Lake Reservoir is a large empty hole. Located 4 1/2 miles northwest of Downtown Los Angeles, Silver Lake was once a working reservoir of emergency drinking water for the city. The body of water was also the signature feature that helped create one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

Now it’s empty.

After 9/11 – in order to protect our water infrastructure – new federal standards required all open-air reservoirs to be concrete capped or be disconnected from the water system. At the time, the decision seemed a no-brainer. But of course, the neighborhood wants to keep the lake a lake! So we’re here at an impasse, multiple parties trying to determine the future of a manmade body of water in a time of drought.

The initial proposed project was fairly simple: drain the lake, bypass the drinking water system, and then refill the reservoir. Unfortunately, by the time the project was ready to go in the summer of 2015, Los Angeles and the rest of the state were in the midst of one of the worst droughts in a millennia. Filling the reservoir back up was no longer a simple decision. Is it prudent for us to fill up an urban reservoir with potable water that is not meant as a part of the city’s water supply simply for non-essential use?

Even if we fill up the reservoir once, how would we maintain the level for following years? With more potable water? The Silver Lake Reservoir is too deep to be truly efficient for recreation and its concrete sides does not present a natural lake setting. There have been a few competing proposals to refill the lake; the most notable, one reimagines the 96 acres as a public park. There’s a consensus that the 400 to 800 million gallons of water required to maintain the Silver Lake Reservoir’s water levels annually would be a questionable use of drinkable water as a primary source.

But I still believe Silver Lake can become a great urban park. Echo Park Lake, located nearby down on Glendale Boulevard, offers a proof-of-concept of a reservoir redesigned and repurposed as a sustainable outdoor space. Echo Park Lake was once a dilapidated urban park, but with planning and funding it was reconfigured to treat urban runoff with planted integrated wetlands before entering the manmade lake.

Echo Park picture 3 Echo Park picture 2

All of the proposals for the Silver Lake Reservoir suggest some form of bio-filtration to handle urban runoff. But even so, there’s a problem…a big problem. The Silver Lake Reservoir is much larger than Echo Park Lake, and urban runoff alone would not be able to maintain the necessary volume for Silver Lake’s capacity.

However, the Silver Lake Reservoir might provide an opportunity for Los Angeles  to create an Eco-District for water – or in sustainability parlance, create an area of “Net-Zero Water”. An “Eco-District of Net-Zero Water” is designed to recapture and reuse any rainfall or pumped water brought into a neighborhood (or district).

The organization Silver Lake Forward envisions the Silver Lake Reservoir as a public space celebrating access, native flora and fauna, and conservation. Image via Silver Lake Forward

The organization Silver Lake Forward envisions the Silver Lake Reservoir as a public space celebrating access, native flora and fauna, and conservation. Image via Silver Lake Forward.

This has been particularly difficult to do because most urban neighborhoods do not have the area required to treat water from beginning to end. Silver Lake does not have this problem. As a self-sufficient water district, the neighborhood could use many of the most current technologies to create a great urban recreation area, while underneath and around the lake, a system could be designed to treat water from urban stormwater, reclaimed waste water, recycled water from treatment plants, and any additional runoff water from surrounding residential properties. Clean water from the Silver Lake Reservoir could in turn be used to irrigate expanded recreation facilities around the lake’s perimeter, and perhaps in the future, be polished to fully potable status.

Echo Park picture 1

In the end urban parks provide a great service to the surrounding community. Many Southern California parks use water as their centerpiece feature [see: MacArthur Park and Magic Johnson Park]. But even so, we need to remember these large artificial bodies are filled with potable water that must be maintained, serviced, and refilled. Echo Park Lake proved these bodies of water can be used to do work other than just providing a naturalistic backdrop. With a little imagination, the Silver Lake Reservoir could become more “lake” than “reservoir” for generations to come, and perhaps in time simply be known as Silver Lake.

Hell's Grannies

I have nothing personal against skunks.  I actually think they are kind of cute in a “oh-god-please-don’t-spray-me” way.  However, like the rest of the mammalian kingdom, I do have a problem with the way they smell. But, you have to admire them. They are a true testament of brains…or, er…stink over brawn.

Living in a neighborhood with a wide variety of wild critters, it is the skunk that stands atop of the neighborhood hierarchy. I’ve dubbed them the “Hell’s Grannies” of Silver Lake. Humans cross the street to avoid them when they saunter down the middle of the sidewalk. Possums hiss at them defiantly before making a hasty retreat. And even predatory coyotes avoid them at all cost. The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) is one of the most successful urban wildlife species. They don’t care about no stink’n loss of habitat.  They adapt.

Silver Lake's neighbor, Los Feliz, is also known for their urban community of skunks.

Silver Lake’s neighbor, Los Feliz, is also known for their urban community of skunks.

When we first moved into our house, a female skunk had claimed our yard as her own. Blissfully ignorant of California land ownership laws – or perhaps willfully defiant – this female skunk set up camp in various places around the yard. Skunks are nocturnal, so during daylight hours we came to an unspoken understanding: I would not mess with her sleep and she would not mess with me. This uneasy truce was broken in the first couple of weeks when she decided that the crawl space under our house looked like an excellent place to hang out at night. I still would have been okay with this arrangement if she didn’t resort to using her spray to notify all other critters that this new hidey-hole was hers to claim. Obviously, chemical warfare treaties do not apply to our gal.

The house was almost un-liveable after she sprayed. Most odors over a long period of time fade in pungency due to “nose-blindness”, a process in which the nose acclimates to the smell and the brain eventually ignores it. Nose-blindness does not apply to skunk spray in close quarters. In fact, skunk spray imprints a kind of “smell memory”, an unshakable sense the smell is lingering. I swore to my wife I could still smell the skunk spray even after it had dissipated from the house. I spent the entire day at work asking my coworkers to sniff me.

Obviously, this cheeky critter needed to be taught a lesson.

First, we mounted chicken wire across all the crawl space openings. I smiled in satisfaction as I heard the frustrated chattering of my nemesis as she pushed against the newly erected barriers. Check.

Second, I did what most humans do when faced with a crisis of knowledge: I consulted Google. The internet advised reverse chemical warfare. And so I installed mothballs across the frontiers of my kingdom. Coffee grinds were also collected from work, then spread around the perimeter of the house and in the planter beds. Check.

After two weeks of relative calm, I was ready to claim victory.  Check and mate!

But I spoke too soon. Mothballs lose their potency pretty quickly outdoors, and replacing them regularly is relatively expensive. We mounted them in nylon stocking bags on the front gate and perimeter fence, making our yard look a little bit like a scene from the Blair Witch Project. This tactic turned out to be not necessarily the most labor-free solution.

By the end of the month, it was obvious our she-skunk had brushed off the initial shock and awe. She was back happily going about her business at night. By then the only reliable solution was the endless (and free) supply of used coffee grounds I used to spread around the house, like a levee holding back the tide. Amazingly, this resulted in a second great truce. The skunk stayed away from the house, while we didn’t go out into the yard at night. Sure there was the occasional spray of a nosey dog or an aggressive coyote. But I could live with the residual smell of skunk spray from afar versus the unforgettable trauma of spray inside our home.

Then one summer evening at dusk, my wife was doing the dishes with the back door open when she noticed one large black and white tail followed by two smaller ones. Our skunk had given birth to a litter. With the mother as the head of a matriarchy, her babies (called “kits”) would stay with her for about a year. Great.

Fortunately, young skunks do not fully develop spray glands until adulthood, so they are relatively stink-less. We watched the siblings wrestle and frolic in the yard, then run away when the neighbor’s dog barked. One came over to check me out while I was watering the porch plants. I immediately dropped the hose and backed away slowly. This little guy/gal was learning who was boss, and it obviously wasn’t me.

It was pretty early on when one sibling disappeared. Mother and child went about business as usual until Mom came back alone one evening. Urban wildlife is still very much wild.

For the next year, the truce held.

There is comfort in habit. Pour out coffee grinds around the house on Sunday, take out the garbage on Wednesday. There were occasional violations of the treaty, like the time I opened the front door to see our skunk lounging on the front porch. She nodded at me as if to say, “Sup, dude” (she was a native Angeleno after all). I hastily, but gently closed the door. Whatever I needed to do outside, I could do it later.

That season, our skunk had a litter of four kits. My nephew raved about how cute these baby skunks were (he really wanted a dog at the time), but his tune changed when he and his father were trapped in the house while the family of five spread out across the front yard digging for grubs. We ended up lobbing “coffee grind bombs” (scoops of coffee grounds wrapped in paper towels) around the yard, opening up an avenue of egress after the ensuing chaos. Shortly thereafter, the kits started to disappear one by one. In just a few weeks, they were all gone. We suspected the desperate coyotes affected by the drought had turned to them as a food source. The coyotes were getting bolder in the neighborhood, and without their olfactory weaponry, kits can’t really defend themselves. But, who knows, cars are as likely a suspect when it comes to urban wildlife deaths.

One early morning, we could smell our skunk come back from her nightly hunting/foraging trip. We knew right away something was wrong. Usually, even if she had just sprayed, we could smell her just for a few minutes as she returned to her backyard den. This time, the smell lingered but didn’t dissipate. She was hanging around. As the night continued into the early morn, we finally got up to see what was going on. We could just catch a glimpse of her white tail stripe in the bamboo grove. We believe she had barely survived the fight of her life, and she couldn’t quite make it back to the den. By the afternoon, the smell and the tail had disappeared, and our skunk problem was solved.

I wouldn’t say I miss her. Her departure was more like having an annoying neighbor move away. But even with an annoying neighbor, you form a weird sense of care for them, however superficially and fleetingly. It was interesting to see the life cycle of an animal forced to adapt to our environment. My only conclusion is that the streets of Los Angeles are not an easy place to live – even for a Hell’s Granny.