Arid Lands Institute


Location: Los Angeles, California

The one constant about our eco-system is its inconsistency; it is ever-changing. Since the beginning of our existence, humankind has attempted to use the earth’s resources as a vehicle for prosperity while the earth continued to cycle through natural ecological changes. As humankind has become more successful in building civilizations and increasing our populations, our standard way of manipulating and controlling our built and natural environment has had adverse and unintended consequences, diminishing vital resources.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently stated that society can no longer rely on mitigating climate change; rather, we must adapt to it. Although “smart” facades are the technology of today, buildings for tomorrow will need to respond to ever-increasing climatic extremes.

Fittingly, the Arid Land Institute responds to present day water-health challenges while proactively addressing long-term realities by flexibly adapting to future extremes. In its natural “open” position—cantilevered over the river— the building filters the polluted waters of the Los Angeles River and stores collected water for future droughts through mechanical baleen, similar to a whale’s teeth. Converting the inflexible, existing concrete river walls to a soft border of bioswales and wetlands further promotes filtration while also maximizing public park space.

The building rotates to a “closed” position of conservation during periods of scarcity, reducing solar exposure and surface area. Moreover, this adaptability enables the building to gain favorable exposure to the prevailing northeasterly Santa Ana winds. The water conservation measures enacted during periods of abundance allow for the creation of a mini-oasis during periods of drought.

Regardless of whether the building is “open” or “closed”, it continually fulfills its educational goals. Between the strong indoor-outdoor connection of the field research station and classrooms to the visible nature of the water purification system and applied research lab, the building promotes active and passive ecological learning.  Most importantly, the fundamental responsive adaptability enables the building to serve as a barometer for citizens of Los Angeles and a prime example for communities around the globe.

By being able to survive hell and high water, the new Arid Lands Institute serves as an adaptive barometer for citizens of Los Angeles and a prime example for future communities around the globe.