HYDRO-CITY:Burbank as a case study for retrofit hydrological interventions in the industrial sector

Student:Heath Speakman (MS.Arch)

Instructor: Peter Arnold

Woodbury University

Arid Lands Institute 

Burbank intervention process:

Burbank currently gets water from the State Water Project, Colorado River Aqueduct, Rain, and Groundwater. Of these sources, the State Water Project has the highest embodied energy. Water is pumped 700 miles from Northern California to Burbank. Comprising of 27 pumps, one of which is the largest in the world, the SWP is the largest consumer of energy in California.

Upon arrival to the San Fernando Valley, 20% of SWP water gets put into the aquifer. Due to paving over our cities with asphalt and concrete, water is not able to enter the ground and replenish the aquifer. Of the remaining SWP drinking water to be used for Burbank’s residents, 75% of it gets used for landscaping.

Rainwater is a valuable resource to Burbank. The current stormwater system efficiently removes this natural water source from the city and relocates it into the Pacific Ocean via the Los Angeles River. I propose that impervious surfaces be broken to allow stormwater to percolate back into the aquifer. I also propose that rainwater harvesting techniques be used to capture rainwater to be used for landscaping, thus reducing the need for water with a high carbon footprint.

Hydro-City uses Burbank as a case study to show how an arid city can be retrofit to capture and use the maximum amount of rainwater with the lowest yield investment.













This process starts by locating a specic site for intervention. Hydro-City locates impervious surfaces, the Burbank Redevelopment Agencies target areas of reconstruction and the lowest parcel value per acre, to accupuncturally locate specific sites to start the intervention process. Once a site is found, the building and lot undergo a retrofit process. A framework is set up as a springboard for design that lists different existing contextual conditions that a site might have, and each condition is modified in some way that yields a performative output. One site may have many of these contextual conditions, and in looking at different retrofit opportunities, an informed design can begin.

Part of making Burbank permeable once again involves the removal of asphalt and concrete. This material is ideal for slowing down water in the Los Angeles River. Slow water makes possible the growth of plants and animals. Places in the river that have already slowed down the water contain trees and grasses and over 10 dierent types of bird species. Currently large rocks are purchased and imported into the river as aggregate. The large quantities of hardscape removed from Burbank’s surface can be used opportunistically to slow down roughly 16 miles of the river. With the implementation of the proposed retrofit interventions, Burbank can offset the need for State Water Project water and signicantly reduce the embodied Energy, CO2, GHG’s, and about 5 million dollars per year in imported water.


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