This article first appeared in ARCHITECT.
In Southern California, sea level rise is only one cause for concern. The region’s increasingly disastrous cycle of drought, fires, and floods is another, with each phase bringing immediate dangers. Collectively, they contribute to catastrophic mudslides and erosion, particularly in the steep hillsides and canyons that run just north of Los Angeles.
The conventional response of situating enormous catch basins at the foot of each canyon to catch debris is inefficient, environmentally unfriendly, and at the end of their 50-year life. Rather than rebuild them, Los Angeles–based Rios Clementi Hale Studios has proposed a different approach: Slide, a series of chevron-shaped, steel-frame gabion cages that anchor into hillsides. When the chevrons point uphill, the cages, filled with rubble for ballast, deflect and slow debris; when they point down, they act as miniature catch basins, slowly filling with dirt and rock.
An array of these cages on a hillside creates “a game of Plinko,” says firm principal and architecture studio director Gregory Kochanowski, AIA. “It works like a system, steering debris down the hill.” While some debris will invariably make it to the bottom, the cages will at least interrupt the destructive snowballing of material—and change the shape of hills themselves. Over time, debris caught in the Slide basins will level out the steep topography, creating terraces from which vegetation will sprout and ultimately stabilize the eroding hillside. The terraces, Kochanowski notes, can also provide respite for firefighters struggling up the canyons’ steep slopes to reach wildfires.
Though still only a proposal, Slide is ingeniously simple, which appealed to the jury. “It’s incredibly functional,” says juror Carrie Strickland, FAIA. “It doesn’t seem like something that is cost-prohibitive, and it will be attractive.” And with climate change already reshaping the world, rapidly deployable countermeasures—even in the concept phase—are welcomed.
Architect: Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Los Angeles . Mark Rios, FAIA (creative director); Gregory Kochanowski, AIA (project lead); Brent Jacobsen, Jennifer Schab, AIA, Chris Torres, Catherine Schy-Reibel (project team)
Landscape Architect: Rios Clementi Hale Studios . Brent Jacobsen
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