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The Ballona Theory Project : speculative urban architecture at Ballona Wetlands, Los Angeles

The Ballona Theory Project is a design theory project initiated and advanced by Terry Hargrave in collaboration with media artist Christina McPhee and a group of students in third year undergraduate architectural design studio at California Polytechnic in the winter quarter 2007.
model/mikaela spielman/ballona theory project/ hargrave+mcphee studio 2007: ballona theory project 2007model/mikaela spielman/ballona theory project/ hargrave+mcphee studio 2007: ballona theory project 2007

The remit was to address the famous question of Lenin, "what is to be done?" from the point of view of technological crisis in the face of global climate change.

site study ballona: bathroom: ian slover 2007site study ballona: bathroom: ian slover 2007



Ian Slover : Ballona / bathroom


The creek is gone, it is now concrete. The marsh holds yachts and
strip malls where we park are cars. What then is nature? Humans
are not unnatural beings. We are made of the same elements as
everything else. But there is a dialogue between what we can define
as nature and what we have then created in that. And it is in this dialogue
that we can ask what is to be done.

The Ballona wetlands are absolutely beautiful. They speak of man’s
struggle to survive; the implications of the built environment and the
decisions of men. A wetland area is created when rivers flow to the
sea, and that water collects and saturates a portion of land. The
army corps of engineers built a concrete flood channel for the Ballona
Creek, so that it could efficiently drain the urbanscape. At this point
the wetlands were no longer necessary. The water does not collect.
It drains directly into the sea. So what is to be done about this land?

secton study ballona bath: ian slover 2007secton study ballona bath: ian slover 2007


I was asked to design a forum on this site, to address “What is to be done about the Ballona wetlands.”

This site, in its current state, as the exact process of its making, can
serve that function, when the correct person experiences the site and
begins to ask questions. I do not believe that architecture can deliberately
make a person think or feel to achieve a calculated response.
It seems a futile game to preconceive experiences to cater to an

elevation/ ballona/ bath: ian slover 2007elevation/ ballona/ bath: ian slover 2007


So I recognize the power of the site itself to communicate.
I connect the bike path and the site with a restroom. A place to stop,
sit and be still. The restroom is composed as such that the occupant
can begin to understand that there is something more. A twelve foot
stall with a circular toilet in the center, and two doors. Privacy is an
issue. Grates for flooring and no roof above. Vertically transparent,
and horizontally translucent, the occupant must secure themselves in
the stall by considering a second entry. The toilet paper sits six feet
in front of where you are, and six feet behind. Somehow this symmetry
is perplexing, or maybe not. Maybe he is so hurried in his pursuit
to excrete and be back on his bike that he pays no attention.
Either way it makes no difference, because when the person who
questions comes along they will notice and they will venture and
then they will step into the site, and this is for them. And they will
also see how others did not, and now my greatest problem has been
passed on to another.

site model / ballona / bath: ian slover 2007site model / ballona / bath: ian slover 2007

The site visit

I stood first in a parking lot of a strip mall. A place that refers to
imaginary ideals of human purpose, those things we think we need [a
restaurant, a grocery store, a boat store, a salon, a dishware store,
dry cleaners]. Across the street there is soil. Land. And I realize it
is there and it is something much different from the structures that
have been built by men. It is unresolved. By this I mean, man in the
broad sense does not understand his position in relation to this and
this is the problem I am interested in. I have not resolved the problem
of existence, but I can look at the built environment and then the
parts of existence not created by man and see a dialogue.

section sculpture / ballona / bath: ian slover 2007section sculpture / ballona / bath: ian slover 2007

Then I think of knowledge. That is how we have technology and architecture. Because we must first toil from the ground to live and we have made tools to do this, now our tools and knowledge have compiled
and we have this complex system. So we look at a wetlands site
that can no longer function as it could before we built our system and
we can ask what is to be done. Well, at the moment the greatest
thing I can do is ask this question, as an individual. And hopefully in
time those who ask will come together in a forum, and then an action
can take place. What is to be done is a great question but first I ask
where to begin.

plan sculpture / ballona / bath: ian slover 2007plan sculpture / ballona / bath: ian slover 2007sculpture_bath_.jpg

endings and beginnings

In response to the program, I designed a restroom. The site itself speaks clearly of the problematic at hand. The boundary conditions with the encroaching built environment creates a dialogue asking what is nature?... and what is unnatural? The restroom creates the opportunity for joggers and cyclists to enter the site and become active in this discourse. It is not the architecture that provokes the response, but the individual who asks a question and then the architecture that provides the opportunity for inquiry.

The structure serves as a bridge to the questioning individual and the
bathroom aspect puts that person on the bridge. The toilets are designed
to let the occupant know that there is more than a bathroom
here, if they are willing to venture. Two fourteen by six foot stalls,
each with a circular toilet in the center and each having two entry
doors. The floor is an open grate and there is no ceiling. Vertically
the structure is transparent, permeable by wind, weather, and waste.
While horizontally the occupant has to consider their privacy, locking
two doors east to west and deciding if they will step into the site on
the north south axis.

The waste is collected below the structure in a composting toilet.
When the chamber is full, it is pushed out into the site on a track and
then dumped at a sculptural element as fertilizer. In this act
the bathroom structure relates to an abstract piece in the site
allowing the occupant the opportunity to ask the question of
its existence and then to venture into the site.

A bathroom has a fundamental humanity to it. We must eat
and we must create waste in that process. If an individual is
willing to question that process, then this site can facilitate. It
is a sublime portrait of our relationship to what can be defined
as the natural environment. It is plain to see that we have
taken our knowledge and technology and built a world that is
much different from what you experience when standing in an
empty field. How far removed is a dense city and utopian conceived
developments from the biological processes of life. They are necessary though. We must toil from the earth for sustenance and technology aids us in that. What is to be done then? Humans are not unnatural beings;
we are biological beings with great creative and inventive capacity.

We have been able to create environments that facilitate
lives and wonderful inventions that revolutionize the way
we think. In this I believe that something is being lost though,
a fundamental understanding of the concept of nature. This is
a problem that the individual must deal with. It is in the private
realm that the individual must choose to ask questions
and seek understanding, and what I have designed is for such
an individual. To allow them the opportunity to experience
this site and understand the implications of what is happening

Ian Slover

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