In collaboration with Eric J. Battin and Yoon Choi.
Given the MACROPSCOPE project brief topic assignment of infrastructure, our group started by using the chapter headings from Brian Hayes' formative 2005 work Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape to organize our approach. This left us with nine loose categories of infrastructure: raw material; food and farming; power production and distribution; water distribution and treatment; information communication and logistics; transportation; trade distribution; waste and recycling; and military development and defense. Some focused potential field sites included the Salton Sea in the Coachella Valley, the San Gorgonio wind farms along I–10 past Cabazon, and Edwards Air Force Base and Dryden Flight Research Center in the Antelope Valley.
In the course of discussion we started to focus on the city of Irwindale, particularly prompted by an article written by Matthew Coolidge for Kazys Varnelis' 2008 work The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles. Coolidge writes about Irwindale as "largely a hodgepodge of margins, nonplaces and the land not wanted by its neighboring cities." Literally "it's boundaries were made-up by the existing limits of the surrounding cities." Irwindale, according to the city's own Web site, was once "a barren waste of rocks, sand and jack rabbits" — no wonder why no other city bothered to stake a claim.
But by the early 1950s, when President Eisenhower championed the Interstate Highway System, the threat of annexation from neighboring cities was significant and drove residents to incorporate. The city formed on Tuesday, August 6th, 1957 – only 13 months after Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law. The city's form and its existence is directly related to the development of highway infrastructure – rarely is this relationship so overtly manifested in a community's development.
Through the 1960s and '70s the city prospered on the fine gravel that was created over millennia in the alluvial fans of the San Gabriel Mountains – 15 quarries operated in Irwindale, supplying the aggregate for many of the tunnels, bridges and roads upon which we drive daily. Whether you've ever actually been to Irwindale, you've been on a piece of Irwindale if you've ever driven in Southern California. Today, more of the city's nine-and-a-half square miles are below grade than are at grade. Only four quarries are still in use for excavation. The city struggles to find a means to productively convert the remaining pits — whether by enticing N.F.L. teams to build a stadium, as it did in the late-1980s with the Raider Crater, or by filling-in the pit and converting to a different mobile of automobile operation, as is the case with the Toyota Speedway.
Our group was interested in investigating these places as voids — sacrificial pits, physically distributed and made coherent across the infrastructural network of the greater Los Angeles region. But while the highways have become a primary facet of identity and networked society, the pits still remain — staggering reminders, slowly amassing demolition debris as landfills for the construction trades, others now overgrown, fenced-off, unproductive and empty. We were interested in collective memory and how it can affix to a void — so we visited "Raider Crater", officially the Vulcan Material Company's Reliance II Landfill.
Given the constraints and propensities of the "Raider Crater" as a site, we felt strongly that methods of extrapolating and interpreting, rather than simply recording and interpolating data, would be much more promising and relevant for the contexts of the quarry.
On our first site visit to the periphery of the Vulvan Material Company Reliance II Landfill, and the surrounding quarries of Irwindale, we were most interested in the pits as repositories of collective civic memory; the Raider Crater as a void in the earth, but also as a void in the enduring promise of what the city could have been, both culturally and economically, if the Raider football stadium project had come to fruition there.
The implications within the context of the L.A. myth seemed especially rich; the site itself evoked distinct impressions of erasure, the imaginary, and the collapse that inevitably follows the rush of hollow boosterism. Raider Crater is the inversion of the Bunker Hill scenario – a richly historical landmass wiped-away to suit the promise of post-war urban renewal – whereas Irwindale was a blank, place-less expanse, dug-out to suit the mobility and sprawl of Southern California.
Our initial research and investigative techniques involved recording visually and acoustically, the qualities of the void, and attempting to translate those values into a physical manifestation of what we interpreted as significant feelings of emptiness and regret around the conflicts that arise over issues of land use and the arbitrary nature of geologic good fortune – the fallout of land speculation.
But it feels as though the most promising strides that our group made were achieved in the final week of the project period. We were encouraged to turn our approach in the opposite direction – to look, as it were, the opposite way through the telescope. The field work that gave form to the group's final output is the result of having attempted to project reality into the quarries, as a means to pull something meaningful out of them; prior to this, we were only doing the latter.
So we created a set of specimens; a series of imagined manifestations in three categories closely bound to Irwindale's development: transportation (the I-110 and I-101 interchange just east of downtown Los Angeles – the first four-stack interchange in the world; the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters at 1st and Main Streets in downtown Los Angeles; and a Los Angeles Metro bus); Irwindale populace (a representation of an average Irwindale family; a home currently for sale at the median listed home price on Irwindale Avenue; and the Sanctuary of the Virgina de la Luz in Salvatierra, Mexico, Irwindale's only sister city); and boosterism iconoclasts (the Disney Concert Hall; a menagerie of international landmarks; and Farmers Field, planned for completion in downtown Los Angeles in 2016).
[Photo by Eric J. Battin]
Our process then involved documenting our feelings, sense of enfranchisement, likelihood and timescale in which these imagined specimen scenarios could actually manifest into reality. It seemed to us that the most interesting results emerged from the gaping disparities that this process was able to draw-out. Comparing subjective data sets of imagined scenarios could tell us each a great deal about how each of the three of us independently, as data collection devices, perceives reality.
By narrowly categorizing our perceptions of each imagined scenario, we were able to reveal patterns of understanding and feeling from our site visits, the relationship of which was visually depicted in the organization of completed survey forms as they were presented.
Elvis Costello sings that "Imagination is a Powerful Deceiver," but our results suggest that, when channeled and systematized, the imagined can also be a powerful means to examine and interrogate the perception and valuation of the real characteristics that a site conveys — the imaginary as a powerful means of long-range sensing. And potentially, with appropriate further development, this technique could be harnessed to create a space for discourse around land use and public involvement in the emergence of a civic identity.
[Photo by María del Carmen Lamadrid Zamora]
Class: MDP–529 Authoring Critical Media, MDP–543 People Knowing
Instruction: Prof. Anne Burdick, Prof. Tim Durfee, Prof. Ben Hooker, Prof. Luke Johnson
Term: Fall, 2012
Media Design Practices | Lab 2014
Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, CA