Photograph of p22 mountain lion by Steve Winter
P22 mountain lion, Steve Winter

The 5th Ecology

Los Angeles, United States, 2020

In 1971 architecture critic Reyner Banham wrote the now famous book ‘Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies’. The four ecologies of LA referenced in the title were the beaches, the flatlands, the hills, and the freeways but Banham never explains what he means by ‘ecology’ nor does he attempt any kind of ecological analysis of the city, rather, Banham’s so-called ecologies were simply organizational devices for what is in essence a survey of the city’s sprawling infrastructure and architecture. This case study began with ‘P22’ a mountain lion who somehow has made his way through the sprawl and traffic of LA to take up residence in Griffith Park. Griffith Park is an urban wilderness, some 4,210 acres of degraded chaparral in the heart of Los Angeles, in the midst of the Californian Floristic Province hotspot. Attractions in the park include the Griffith Observatory, the old and new Los Angeles zoos and most famously, the Hollywood sign.

After his photo was taken in 2013 by National Geographic photographer Steve Winter (replete with the Hollywood sign in the background) P22 became a superstar, so much so that the city declared October 24th annual P22 day. The outpouring of interest in and concern for P22 and the fact that he is effectively stranded in the park alone—not to mention his poor health due to rodenticide working its way up the food chain— makes him a fitting allegory of contemporary human-animal relations. The question this studio asked was not only how we could apply design to improve P22’s life, but how we could do so for the other endangered and far less charismatic species in the park?1 Could Griffith Park become an incubator of species related to the broader geography of the Californian Floristic Province, and if so, how?

To begin each student adopted one or two client species (either endangered and/or important to the region’s ecosystem, and mapped their ideal habitat zones on to the park. There are then two parts to the design method; the first concerns a scientific and artistic exploration of the relationship between the designer and their client/animal and the second concerns the scientific and artistic problem of planning a large-scale urban landscape in a semi-deterministic manner. Each species was researched in terms of its current status and lifecycle in the city and the broader Californian Floristic province hotspot but in addition to this, students were also asked to attempt to become their client through several visual studies. First, students were asked to represent the site from the animal’s perspective -to literally see and feel it through the animal’s body; second, to merge their body with that of the animal to create a new hybrid; and thirdly, to represent how the species might evolve into the future given certain environmental pressures. (Figure 1)

To redesign the park as an incubator for biodiversity the ideal habitat zones for 18 species were located on the site. These were then amalgamated to provide a species zoning plan for the park. (Figure 2) Although each patch is in principle devoted primarily to one species the patches are not fenced as in a zoo and in many cases overlap with one another. Students then designed a small research and public interface building (‘animarks’ ) for each patch so as to facilitate scientific field work related to the species and to also educate the public. (Figure 3) The management —design if you will— of each species patch and how it relates to its adjacencies is more or less left to the respective research teams to determine and negotiate over time. In this sense the park is not so much master planned top-down design as it is a scientific experiment bottom up. The researchers take custodial responsibility for the future of the park’s ecological well-being and the public is involved through citizen science and related arts programming. A specific patch for mountain lions was not considered appropriate to the park however connectivity for P22 (and others) could be achieved by bridging from Griffith Park across highway 101 to the broader Santa Monica National Recreational Area, presumably from where he originated. (Figures 5,6,7).

Acknowledgements

This case study (design studio) was led by Richard Weller in partnership with Rebecca Popowsky. The students were Christine Chung, Zuzanna Drozdz, Yang Du, Sara Harmon, Yushan Li, Alexandra Lillehei, Jingbin Wu, Byungdoo Youn, Lujian Zhang, Chenhao Zhu. Special thanks to Sophie Parker, ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. For further information about biodiversity in Los Angeles see The Nature Conservancy Science Blog Post about the BAILA project.


[1] Upon the advice of Sophie Parker, ecologist at The Nature Conservancy, the studio focused on the following species:

  • California Quail (Callipepla californica)
  • Wrentit (Chamaea fasciata)
  • California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum)
  • Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
  • Baja California Treefrog (Pseudacris hypochondriaca hypochondriaca)
  • California Kingsnake (Lampropeltis californiae)
  • Blainville's Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii)
  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
  • California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi)
  • Acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
  • Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata)
  • Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)
  • Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana)
  • Slender salamanders – Genus Batrachoseps
  • Marine blue butterfly (Leptotes marina)
  • Southern Shoulderband Snail (Helminthoglyopta ludiculata)
  • Mason bee (Osmia)
  • A native harvester ant species (Pogonomyrmex califonrnicus)