• The Spoils of Dust: Reinventing the Lake that Made Los Angeles
    Alexander Robinson
    Applied Research and Design, 2018
    Alexander Robinson

Aerial view of the lake’s dust controls with the Sierra Nevada mountain range and recent landscape architecture installation. Photo: Sam Kweskin.

Once the third largest lake in California and among the world's greatest air polluters, for decades the dried Owens Lake was merely a footnote to the most notorious water grab in modern history. Now, the lake has been reassembled to exceed its lost value without returning all of Los Angeles’s main water supply. In The Spoils of Dust this bargain redemption is the backdrop for investigating shifting relationships between landscape design, engineering, and perception. The new Promethean "lake-like" terrain makes legible the frameworks by which we reinvent landscapes in the Anthropocene. Whether by observations of dust or scenery, the lake is a surprise monument to the embodied ways we measure and know landscapes today. Almost by accident, this has made the production of landscape values the lynchpin for major resource decisions, thrusting landscape architecture into an integral position. Answering the challenge, the book concludes with a speculative atlas and tools to demonstrate an imaginative approach to dry lake design.

Alexander Robinson is an assistant professor in the Master of Landscape Architecture & Urbanism program in the University of Southern California School of Architecture and principal of the Office of Outdoor Research in Los Angeles, California. A landscape architect, researcher, and scholar, he is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design and fellow of the American Academy in Rome. His research advances the design craft of large-scale multi-functional infrastructures through his synthesis of historical analysis, advanced design tools, and public engagement. Recent design research by his Landscape Morphologies Lab on the Los Angeles River and Owens Lake has been featured in press and multiple books and exhibitions. His last book, coauthored with Liat Margolis, Living Systems: Innovative Materials and Technologies for Landscape Architecture (Birkhäuser, 2007), a treatise on landscapes as material performance systems, has been translated into three languages.