One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery. - Wallace Stegner
California has never had enough water. Yet over the course of the 20th Century California has attracted and supported a very large population and a robust economy. Creating modern California – the abundant, prosperous and cool California – has required a substantial and sustained feat of generational-scale geo-engineering. A vast network of dams, reservoirs, pumping stations, treatment plants and aqueducts transport water from the Sierra Nevadas, through the California Delta, to the productive farmland of the Central Valley and to the arid urban centers of southern California. The success of this network of feats-of-engineering has produced a confluence of ecological, environmental, political and economic ails spun off from this unwitting, century-long war with nature.
Developed for the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, our proposal is a manifold response to a confluence of crises – societal and environmental - becoming increasingly visible in the California Delta region. The proposal is an atomized electricity storage apparatus, land reclamation device and instrument of recreation. Water is used as a medium for defining new experiments in urbanism and energy, new mutable architectures and new symbols of 21st Century environmentalism. Slippages and overages within California’s power grid and water management networks are identified and leveraged to catalyze speculative lifestyles that fluidly blend the public and natural realms in a performative and distributed architecture.
Forty-five percent of all electricity produced in the United States is immediately grounded – a waste. There is no current technology to store power at a grid-scale with practical economic metrics causing power plants to maintain a consistent buffer between energy production and demand to avoid systemic failure and black out. Ramping up or down power production at a regional scale is a multi-day undertaking; further exacerbating the energy waste on seasonal cycles to ensure demand is met. The towers work within systemic electrical grid anomalies to produce overall reductions in energy waste by expending otherwise grounded off-peak energy to pump water up into the tank then draining the water through a turbine during peak consumption times to offset production demand. The effect is small, but multiplies as the towers aggregate. The towers exist within regional electrical infrastructure while defining a new framework for existing and imagined local recreational programs.
The proposal is equally environmental remedy and social catalyst. New methods of inhabiting this landscape emerge by making visible the regional energy production cycles, water purification and land reclamation processes at work. The delta levee system is reimagined as a thick and permeable boundary where slow phytoremediation and UV filtration relieve the water of its agriculturally induced toxicity. These thick levees cause the islands to be intentionally flooded on occasion to revive the subsiding agricultural land with new sediment and nutrients. Within this new, more environmentally sensitive landscape, the towers become attractors where recreational programs, boat culture gatherings, farmers markets, glamping facilities and temporary housing scenarios grow around the towers in ad hoc communities.
Collaboration with Daniel Kidd.