LA Defined: An Investigation Into Water Infrastructure and Public Architectures in the Mediterranean City

Thesis Student: Cesia Lopez-Angel (MS.Arch)

Instructor: Jennifer Bonner

Woodbury University

Arid Lands Institute 

View Drylands Competition Entry

Pershing Square in Los Angeles California becomes a manifesto of appropriated intersections of water infrastructures.


This project is a critique of Los Angeles bifurcating approach towards its civic space and its water infrastructure, and consequently its effect on the resulting civic-infrastructure architectural relationships.The alienation of water, a very public, political and powerful resource, has resulted in a public architecture that is dissociated from context, disparate in program, and forbidding in its relationship to public space. The integration of water into the public space demands a redefinition of infrastructure; it advocates for a public architecture that is temporal, relational, and adaptive. By establishing a sequence device, banal architectural typologies are isolated from their applied connotations and uses and are restructured to become a new urban typology of civic infrastructures. This is the redefinition of infrastructure in Los Angeles.

The representation of these objects can be used to draw emphasis on major themes and can be the means of deciphering otherwise unperceived conditions. By using drawing as a method of uncovering and the means of generating design, a series of techniques were explored as ways of documenting existing conditions and projecting a new condition into the urban form. By borrowing from Rodolfo Lanciani’s technique of color coding his Forma Urbis Romae (1893-1901), a color palette has been adopted to represent the complex layers being interrogated.

Similar to Lanciani’s, the drawing follows the following color definitions:
• Black = existing
• Red = ancient
• Blue = water and future projection of space

What are the design implications of ALIENATING WATER from a public architecture?

Typology:  Stadium

    Rome                                     Istanbul                               Los Angeles


(N-1) The Stadium – is the ultimate manifestation of public space. It is the contemporary monolith, it is the detached space shunned from the rest of the urban fabric, it is elevated, reconciled, and glorified. It is the empty container. Large crowds inundate the typology in a matter of time, it facilitates “event” and then it’s abandoned and soon enough forgotten.

Typology:  Landmark 

     Rome                                               Istanbul                               Los Angeles

(N-2) The Landmark – is the point of reference that facilitates navigation through the city network. It is the object that is meant to be seen from long distances, and yet it is isolated from the context it is nestled in because of its monumentality. People are fascinated with the historic marker even though it is limited to how it is perceived; once it becomes an object to be inhabited it becomes ordinary.

Typology:  Plaza

  Rome                                               Istanbul                               Los Angeles

(N-3) The Plaza – is the point of convergence. Undefined intersections between streets and the built form create urban pockets that can be dichotomously characterized as intentional or accidental. Urban areas are defined through the plaza’s amorphous characteristics that lend itself to its reinterpretation and reuse.  Improvisational and impulsive activities are indiscriminately carried out in the arena of the public square.

What are the design implications of INTEGRATING WATER into a public architecture?

Infrastructures of Zones: Dodger Stadium

(S-1) The Overflow – projects the familiar scene embedded in Los Angeles historic flood control infrastructure. The dispersed concrete networks channeling heavy rain fall become obsolete as an unprecedented flood (o-3)sweeps over LA’s major infrastructural spine known as Los AngelesRiver (o-2). Within the path of the river lies the vulnerable community of Elysian Park.

This drastic scenario depicts the state of the existing water infrastructure as deficient. The need to uncover and appropriate a new system is emphasized through the designation of unlikely protagonists. Among them is the monolithic Dodger Stadium (o-1). No longer in use, the stadium is retrofitted to become a figural reservoir that superimposes the use of a familiar civic space that advocates for harvesting the use and storing of water.

Catalogue of Zones of Infrastructures in Los Angeles

Dodger Stadium as a Reservoir

Infrastructures of Flows: Los Angeles Cascades, Aqueduct Terminal

(S-2) The Distribution- challenges the established norm of the linear non-interrupted pathway (d-3) of flows and movement. This inquiry is focused on the Los Angeles aqueduct (d-1) applied engineering which channels water from long distances through isolated conduits. The aqueduct’s separatist nature defines it as a prohibiting symbol of a publicly own resource privatized by those responsible of maintaining it. Wire fences enclose it and often hold signs that read: “no trespassing”.

This scene advocates for the reappropriation of a repressed landmark as the mostra of the LA water. The act of taking over will bleed through the isolated terminus as new civic spaces are created with emphasis on water as spectacle. This approach also considers how neighboring infrastructures deal with movement, such as freeways (d-2), as collaborators for major distribution and civic engagement.

Catalogue of Flows of Infrastructures in Los Angeles

The LA Cascades becomes a public spectacle of water distribution

Infrastructures of Intersections: Pershing Square

(S-3) The Revealing- deals with a densely embedded subterranean infrastructure system located in downtown Los Angeles. It is a hidden network of flows juxtaposed over the commonalities of the downtown.On the surface there are no visual traces of pipes, valves, or underground passages (r-3) that contribute to the efficiency of an impenetrable city that sits oblivious to its infrastructure. In the core of these scenarios, lies the utilitarian plaza known as Pershing Square.

This scene will begin by looking at Pershing Square (r-1) as the epicenter of capturing a seasonal indicator associated to the abrupt conditions that result from the absence of water, the presence of a limited amount of water, and affluence of water. By tapping into and uncovering the hidden layers of infrastructural flows (r-2) new spaces will be revealed and infrastructure will be reconfigured with programmatic agendas.

Catalogue of Intersections of Infrastructures in Los Angeles

Pershing Square in Los Angeles California becomes a manifesto of appropriated intersections of water infrastructures.


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