Author : Michael Carmello Piscitello

University : Southern California Institute of Architecture

Status : BArch, 2012

Title : Salt Flat Hybrid

Located on the San Andreas fault line and peripheral to core societies such as Los Angeles and San Diego; the site of the Salton Sea is relied heavily upon for its geothermal energy resources as well as a geological research site.

Over the next 70 years more than half of the sea will disappear revealing a salt flat basin. Currently existing is the need to harvest the region’s resources amidst worsening political battles brought on by the decay of the environment. These conditions have created the opportunity for architecture to question the way it exists on the periphery and engage in a dialogue with the the decay of its surroundings. Through the reconstitution of existing technology and form at both the industrial and residential scale – the architecture expresses its relationship and this dialogue with the changing landscape over time.

This thesis proposes a hybrid building that will, over the next 70 years, take on new program of living and research, while performing primarily as a geothermal power plant in the Salton Sea. As the surface of the sea declines in elevation exposing increasingly more mass, the geometries allow for the perceived reorientation of the building over time. With the passage of time new spatial qualities will emerge, points of entry will change, spaces once submerged and devoid of light will be revealed.

This thesis asks how architecture can suggest alternative modes of inhabiting decayed regions of the earth that simultaneously reflect their tragic history while offering a sense of hope inherent in that tragedy and region. I look at the first work as an exploration of the existing technologies and character of the site.

This translated into collage studies composed of nothing but things found at the site, reorganized and composed into images that projected future programmatic relationships and spatial organizations while expressing the tragic character of the existing conditions.

The drawing create a dimensionalising of the character and relationships developed in the collages and are aimed at physically spacializing the hopeful qualities latent in the tragic state of the site, that of the new, ruin as a beginning. In this phase I struggled with the idea of a more unitized plug-in style architecture in which units would plug into the cooling tower and then be removed once the sea had dried up.

While this approach afford individual spaces that could be aggregated throughout the basin it also, in this way reflected the style of development that had failed the region time and time again. The thesis grew to resist such methods of conventional habitation and began to look for the essence of the motives for activating this region. Industry, dependence of core society, infrastructure. The geometries key off of forms found in industrial circulation systems that, when raised above ground, will architecturally create a dialogue with the decaying environment. These winding vertical geometries effectively allow for the perceived reorientation of the base of the building over time due to it’s location relative to the decline sea surface. These moves are largely about turning the normative conditions of these industrial elements on their head. Burying a power plant and pulling subterranean circulation ramps out of the ground in order to protect one relationship and express the other. These serial sections are aimed at conveying a sense environmental change over time and the activation of certain portions of the building as they are reviled by the declining sea. Elements in these drawings will hopefully speak to the different scales the building as a whole is operating on, that of a local relationship with the site and its immediate surroundings on a more human scale. And that of a remote piece of infrastructure playing a role in the cyclical yet progressive dialogue between core societies and their decayed periphery; this is where an expression of how architecture’s relation to time and place and it’s ever changing context might be made