Work in progress tracking horizontal light on the Llano Estacado – aerial / image / diagram. Compliments light prompts as part of architecture studio Violet Light on the Llano Estacado and the House of Irreconcilable Forces
Located in East Lubbock and forming Dunbar Historical Lake sits a modest dam patch-worked with graffiti cover paint swatches and weathered by dirt, hail, ice, and sun. This dam is a great example of infrastructure becoming event space. The straight and engineered wall is a striking contrast to the irregular wetland edge bordering most of the lake perimeter and the dam top offers access as well as a refreshing perspective to the water body interior. Often people walk the dam line, fish from one edge, sun bath on the warm concrete surface, race along the slope face, and leap from chute block to chute block making a playground of mere infrastructure.
Views from the dam top reveal the manufactured existence of these Lubbock lakes and appropriately frames the colliding condition of necessity meeting nature as is found around West Texas. Adjacent to this dam and spillway runs Canyon Lake Drive where tire marks reveal the burnout joy of going from 0 to 80 mph launching up an incline. Although evident of age, this concrete landscape is a successful mark in the Lubbock terrain as it provides for people on multiple scales, from people pleasure to infrastructure needs.
It is unfortunate most of our buildings produce solid monolithic shadows to be casted across the land. Shadows are a great way to register a building’s characteristic, or lack there of. A quick pan for articulated shadows of Lubbock’s landscape in google maps revealed most compelling shadows are a result from industry or infrastructure structures. Structures with a combination of space and material, varying geometries, or pronounced building skins casted the best shadows in contrast to the standard house or commercial block that consisted of a single mass and simple shadow profile.
Shadow Cast map
One afternoon earlier this year I set out to discover shadows that recorded three scales of what occurred behind me: micro (of my hair), macro (structures above me), celestial (sunlight as the source). The result was a refreshing mixture of various patterns, density, order and tonality.
At 70 mph and timed right with the setting sun’s golden hour the wind turbine farm along HWY 84 between Lubbock and Dallas performs, and can be appreciated, just as Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field in New Mexico.
Only when placed in repetition, like one sees in wind turbine farms, Dia Art Foundation work, or harbor ports, do I appreciate the obstruction of a pole in the landscape. It is unfortunate then to observe installation of utility lighting as single steel stadium-like poles along the Marsha Sharp highway extension in Lubbock, Texas instead of lights suspended from lattice tower structures. The primary organization of these stadium-like poles is a factor of the road condition, such as highway overpasses increase light needs, instead for example the distance between poles determined as a factor of wind dynamics across turbine blades.
With lattice tower structures you have two opportunities of reading the structure:
one to see the object, and two, to see through the object.
One can not see through a utility pole. Instead you are left with a singular condition, just the object itself. Additionally lattice tower structures are able to use smaller steel members, such as 1.5″ angle iron, to achieve the open airy matrix. Lattice tower structures probably require more labor for assembly but the monolithic poles as objects alone offer no relationship of scaling between the person and environment. We are left with just the object, no space, rather than a relationship or material, space, and landscape.
Science writer Brian Hayes compiled a fantastic guide of utility systems in Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape. It is a perfect resource with detailed information of dimensioned, engineered, and practiced conditions that allow us to better understand, and see, the infrastructure in our environment.
Heading East on US-82 / TX-114 one could easily pass St. Michael’s Park in Ralls, Texas without ever taking notice. This small plot of land south of the interstate bordered by light steel framing simply blends into the horizon. What initially appears as a dumb grouping of metal sticks and corrugated roofing is a successful assemblage of implied rooms, subtle axes and one radical scale change.
Late afternoon with what appeared to be most of the town across the highway at the new ball park cheering on their team St. Michael’s stood silent with a stage, two bleachers and a series of stalls equipped with electricity. Entering, I appreciated the chamfered corner threshold that brought me directing inline with the intersection of two axes, one running parallel with the highway the other perpendicular, created by the repetition of open stalls. A quiet boundary wrapped the park formed only from metal roofing, posts and a few horizontal bars at thirty six inches.
Standing at the top of the bleachers, about 4′ above the Llano Estacado, I was introduced to an intimate yet connected space on this high Texas plain. Noises and wind still reached me and I could see for miles but the roof was close and framing was to my back providing a sense of enclosure I had yet to experience outdoors. I was above the ground while still being a part of land, I was exposed to the elements and sheltered overhead.
Refreshingly the architecture of St. Michael’s park is not visually dense, loud or flashy. This park is a combination of frames and planes, built by convention, accessible to the human and modifiable at will. The scale and orientation is spot on and seasonal character is recorded in the weathering material. Only a few discongruent components exist: terminated edges should be more continuous, the decorated gate is unnecessary, and stage is too isolated. Yet all of those are secondary to the skeleton of St. Michael’s. This is a place I easily imagine weekend markets, local performances, grilling, parties and play. And when the park is not in use the architecture merges back into the horizon offering a reminder of the landscape that West Texans live and work in.
The Llano Estacado is an astonishingly flat terrain and home to playa ecologies as a natural system of water management. Within Lubbock’s city limits there are roughly 144 playas requiring the city water management introduce a system that negotiates between storm water channels and storm water pools. Given the vast amount of built, paved and capped surfaces in Lubbock water channeling is an enormous infrastructural undertaking and one that leaves strong marks in this environment. In any short heavy West Texas rain storm the city roadways become water routes where circulation briefly submerges under spontaneous pools. In contrast the newly constructed future development areas of South and Southwest Lubbock is an example of investment in monumental water infrastructure with channels that range from 1,000 feet to 4,000 feet.
Each water channel offers an alternative perspective back to the city through the recessed space, easily becoming a private area separate from the surrounding context. As written in the earlier post, Shadow Landscape, these depressed channels change the street scale to widths expected to be found in the dense neighborhoods of San Francisco, Seattle or New York. Given each paved water route reaches maximum depths of three to eight feet one can quickly disappear by dropping below the Llano Estacado horizon. This impressive water route infrastructure is a refreshing spatial alternative to the storefront parking lots so often transversed in city environments.