Inhabiting Pits and Craters in Los Angeles

Matthew Coolidge describes Irwindale as a place so full of holes that more of the land in the city is a pit than not. With relatively few residents, Irwindale consists mostly of rock quarries, which are the major revenue source for the city. Its landscape was dominated by 19 gravel pits. Coolidge explains:

Of the seventeen major pits in the Irwindale area only four are being mined at the moment. Many of the others are idle, having already been mined to their permitted depth of 200 feet, and having met their limitations in size by running up to the edges of adjacent properties and roadways. In many cases the material extends to a thousand feet deep and the quarries are trying to get permits to go deeper.

An example of these great mining quarries is the Durbin Pit, a maze of engineered plateaus, causeways, ordered mounds of material and extraction machinery. As the rock aggregate mined in Irwindale is such a big bussiness, this specific landscapes of extraction [as our friends at mammoth refers to it] is a provocative excuse to speculate on new ways to use the craters as a result of rock extraction.


Reliance Pit. Google Earth caption.


Peck Road Quarry. Google Earth caption.

In a post we wrote in March, we were proposing to use craters as a field for creating architecture. Can we use these hostile and unfavorable landscapes and transform them to create new urban spaces?

Seems like this is not a new idea. In 1972 Archigram proposed the Crater City, a speculative proposals for ‘extreme suburbs’, as they said:

This whole city is a circular crater and the outside of the circle is earth-banked up like a prehistoric mound with a ring of trees planted on the top. Nothing would be seen except this hill with trees.


Archigram’s Crater City

And Robert Smithson worked in 1973 on his proposal Bingham Copper Mining Pit—Utah, Reclamation Project.

In the largest open-pit copper mine in the world, Smithson proposed the construction of a huge revolving disk at the pit’s base, from which to survey nature’s gradual and inevitable reclamation of man’s invasive enterprise —a primary theme of the picturesque tradition with which the artist was engaged.


Right: Robert Smithson’s Bingham Copper Mining Pit, Utah. Reclamation Project. Left: Bingham Copper Mining Pit

Coming back from the 70s, we were reading the text wrote by David Nguyen for Maindfold Magazine Forms of time where he pointed that as Deleuzian-Guattarian preoccupations seep in to architecture, practices now are emerging which pose philosophical questions for the process of form-making, yet still have not confronted the largely static nature of the built environment. And then, he asks Is it possible to re-conceive the discipline of architecture entirely as an art of temporal, rather than spatial, organization?

In the Irwindale case, time counts. Most of these pits are closed as they reached their permitted depth and time is not coming back to fill them again, that’s why we’re thinking about new ways to update the utopian visions of the avant-garde and focus on current proposals with the goal to transform Irwindale’s landscape, but using what is already there [or not, depending on how we visualize the pits]. We can mention here the workshop Evil Architecture where students propose the evolution of urban fabric that will take place in the same place as the excavation, and that’s exactly how we imagine the new Irwindale:

Therefore, all the elements will support each other: they will form an architectural complex; technically, issues of stability, access, circulation and servicing are organized collectively together with the whole mining process that creates this new city; urbanistically, the entire building becomes an urban quarter of a new kind, which contrasts with a virgin environment, close to the new business development and conjunction of important industry infrastructures.

From one side, Coolidge pointed that near the Durbin Pit is the Hanson Spancrete Complex, headquarters for California’s largest manufacturer of prestressed precast concrete structural members. On the other side, architect Aristide Antonas proposes the concrete beds project, prefabricated beds of reinforced concrete to be planted in a rocky seaside landscape, in such a way that they look like scattered caves. Maybe we can think that Antonas project can take advantage of the proximity of Spancrete and realize together the first housing project in one of Irwindale’s pits:


Durbin Pit. Google Earth caption.


Concrete beds by Aristide Antonas

Another interesting proposal for the Irwindale area is the case of the Raider Crater. The professional football team called the Raiders entered into a deal with the city of Irwindale to build a stadium inside the pit. As we can read at the CLUI website, negotiations fell apart, and the Raiders left with $10million of the City’s incentive money, eventually becaming the Oakland Raiders. Representatives from United Rock Products Corp. describes the dispute as a “battle between the development expectations of the city and reality.” In 1992, United Rock tried to negotiate a settlement with the city. A plan was drafted under which United Rock would transfer Pit No. 1 aka the Raider Crater to the city, plus pay for various infrastructure improvements in the area. In exchange, United Rock would receive approval to dig deeper in Pits No. 2 and 3. The plan was approved by the city’s Planning Commission, but the decision was overturned by the city council.

What would have been the result of start developing more human and relational projects all over the abandoned pits? Just imagine the Raider Crater with a sport complex, the Reliance Pit as a housing project, the Peck Road Quarry with a food production network and the Durbin Pit with social and communitarian services such as school, parks and pedestrian areas in a city where nearly all of the time is spent on concrete or asphalt. Sounds good, isn’t it?

We think that these kind of projects should be done or at least, dreamed. As the Braga Stadium in Portugal, which was placed in a specific location in order to avoid building a dam along the water’s edge in the valley, we can imagine the future and feel that there will be a kind of poetic and radical sense when looking at the new Irwindale zone and find out that now, the Peck Road Quarry is full of utopic structures that became part of its new nature, as the crane rooms designed by Antonas or the Lebbeusian High Houses:


Peck Road Quarry. Google Earth caption.


Crane Rooms by Aristide Antonas


High Houses by Lebbeus Woods

As Gwendolyn Wrigth once said: Real cities cannot be categorized or even planned so easily, they are dynamic, elusive and mercurial. And we add, infrastructural?

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This post is part of The Infrastructural City blogiscussion, now reading Margins in our Midst. Gravel by Matthew Coolidge.

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