Ephemeral Design: Capturing Time and Ecological Processes along the Elwha River
Janousek, Jennifer M.
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There are many sites undergoing dramatic change as a result of decommissioned infrastructure and industry, or war and natural disaster. These sites, as degraded and disturbed landscapes, are in a state of dynamic flux making more permanent design solutions inappropriate as they would not be sustainable, nor would such an approach foster the transitions necessary to reach a state of ecological health. This does not mean, however, that these sites should be left alone until a more stable state is achieved. In the interim an opportunity exists within this active state, the opportunity to capture time and change through the exposure and interpretation of ecological processes that might otherwise occur so slowly or be so minute as to be invisible to humans. Ephemeral design holds the potential to make the unknown, both perceivable and comprehensible, and can expose and interpret ecological change prompting visitors to question their surrounding environment, to wonder what is happening on the site and what led to the state of the landscape, and to begin to imagine what the future might be. Through an exploration of ephemerality, this thesis challenges one of landscape architecture's normative design practices, that of focusing on and valuing duration and longevity. In a quest for longevity ephemeral design is dismissed as inconceivable and unsustainable, thus an untenable design response. However, there are specific sites and landscapes that can be more richly addressed and considered through ephemeral design. In turn, designing for longevity in such places is insensitive to the site and it processes, as it privileges the desire for an immediate and conclusive design solution over the natural processes and systems in place. This thesis proposes a design response for the former Lake Mills lakebed, adjacent to the recently demolished Glines Canyon Dam along the Elwha River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. This disturbed landscape was the site of Lake Mills reservoir, that formed from the construction of the Glines Canyon Dam in 1927. After three decades of debate, efforts began in 2011 to remove the dam and restore the lake to a more natural ecosystem, including restored access to salmon spawning grounds. As with all dam removal projects, the consequences of such critical changes in the landscape present both anticipated and unanticipated results. In the case of Lake Mills, there was an unprecedented accumulation of sediment that is both gradually and rapidly, moving downstream thereby shifting the horizontal plane as it moves. To make this process of change visible and to suggest that such dynamic change can play a critical role in design, I propose "reforesting" the lakebed with logs once submerged in the lake, thereby adding a vertical element that calls attention to the shifting of the horizontal plane. Through this design proposal ephemerality is explored as a design response applicable for landscapes undergoing rapid, dramatic, and dynamic change. Furthermore, utilizing ephemerality as a guiding design principle affirms how ephemerality can be employed in similar situations to expose and interpret ecological change over time.