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| Saturday, May 26, 2012

Architect's rendering of the completed Interpretive Center at Vasquez Rocks.
Further Reading: Agua Dulce Man Preserves Tataviam Past (10-2-2000)


Vasquez Rocks County Park is getting a much-needed facelift. Existing facilities are being modernized, the historic ranger station is being restored, and a new, state-of-the-art Interpretive Center is on the way.

“The County is committed to taking an active leadership role in conserving natural resources and protecting the environment,” said Mohamed Sultan of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. “Because of the environmental sensitivity of the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area and the educational opportunities provided through the programs offered to the public, this project is intended to serve as demonstration project for sustainable design.”

Established and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED, or “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” is a voluntary rating system that recognizes building projects which “optimize energy and water use efficiency, enhance the sustainability of the project site, improve indoor environmental quality, and maximize the use and reuse of sustainable and local resources,”  Sultan said.

There are four levels of LEED status: certified, silver, gold and platinum.

The Interpretive Center, L.A. County’s first LEED Platinum building, is scheduled to be completed by September. According to Sultan, it will feature “solar photovoltaic panels on the roof for on-site renewable energy; a high-performance and energy efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system; thermopane glass windows to minimize thermal heat gain and lower energy usage; energy-efficient lighting; low-volatile organic compound paints and floor coatings to improve indoor environmental quality; water-efficient plumbing fixtures; sustainable and recycled construction materials; decomposed granite in the parking lot and paver system in the plaza area to limit disruption of natural hydrology; drought-tolerant landscaping and water-efficient irrigation system; and bicycle racks for alternative transportation.”


Multi-year Process

It has been a long and winding road for the Interpretive Center project to get to this stage. First proposed nearly 40 years ago, it took another 20 years to get the county’s backing. Community politics and money hurdles delayed it until about 2002 when the funds from Proposition A finally put the plan into action.

Linda Therrien has worked at Vasquez Rocks as a recurrent recreation services leader for more than 12 years. “As long as I have worked there, I have heard about an Interpretive Center in the works,” she said.

Construction is underway this year on the Interpretive Center.

In 2006, Pasadena-based Sapphos Environmental Inc. prepared the environmental documents and the Agua Dulce Town Council held an open house to gather public input.

“A full-blown environmental impact report had to be prepared for the project,” Sultan said, “due to the sensitive environmental issues and historical and cultural resources associated with the Vasquez Natural Area. The EIR took time to prepare, and had to be reviewed by the public and jurisdictional agencies, and then adopted by the County Board of Supervisors before the project could move forward.”

County Chief Executive William T. Fujioka sent the final Sapphos EIR to the Board of Supervisors for approval in December 2010. Fujioka asked the board to sign off on a $9.7 million total budget, including a $4.9 million for design and construction of the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park Interpretive Center.

The design-build contract went to PCL Construction Services Inc. in December 2010. Construction on the new Interpretive Center began in May 2011.

Construction is never an exact science, but the current estimate for completion is September of this year. While an actual opening day is yet to be established, Sultan said the county Parks Department will be working with 5th District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich to schedule a grand opening ceremony for “sometime in October 2012.”


Time Capsule Art

Meanwhile, the artists contracted by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission are planning something special for the park, with the community’s participation: there will be a free “rammed earth” artmaking workshop this Saturday, May 26, in Altadena, repeating in mid-June at Vasquez Rocks.

Didier Hess is the collaboration of artists Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess, who became involved with the Arts Commission’s Vasquez Rocks project when they responded to a call for qualified artists.

“We won the commission after giving a presentation of our work and an overview of our approach to creating public art,” Didier said. “The panel really liked our attention to natural processes and expertise in community engagement.

“I founded a nonprofit 10 years ago as an extension of my practice called Materials & Applications. Oliver joined me a few years later, and over the years, we have produced many award-wining projects led by pioneering designers and architects who come to work with us and create projects for courtyards or other sites.”

In the three-day Comprehensive Rammed Earth Workshop Series, “participants will learn what applications are appropriate for rammed earth, how to test soil to see if it is feasible for use in construction, how to amend soil, build forms, and tamp soil into load-bearing walls and benches in the production of a permanent public artwork to be built on-site at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area.”

Didier Hess and the principals’ nonprofit Materials and Applications emphasize large-scale installations that encourage public particpiation and interaction with the environment.

Day 1, this Saturday at Scrubjay Studios in Altadena, will feature artist Andreas Hessing, a native landscape designer who teaches at the Theodore Payne Foundation and was a faculty member for the National Park Service Program, “Your Town.” Workshop participants will learn basic techniques of rammed earth design and construction, and Hessing will demonstrate soil testing, review form construction and participants design their own time capsules – which they can take home.

Days 2 and 3, both at Vasquez Rocks on June 16 and 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will “encourage participants to learn and master a good foundation for rammed earth construction,” Didier said. The workshop will focus on the construction of a rammed earth sculpture that will later serve as a time capsule.

“The way I like to work is to share expertise and enhance participation in the creative act by creating structured – and sometimes non-structured – access to the work while it is in production,” Didier said.

Hess and Didier will offer “a hands-on series, teaching start-to-finish of this ancient sustainable building technology.”

Participants should bring a sack lunch. Experts on Vasquez Rocks’ prehistory, ancient rock art and geology will lecture at lunchtime.

Participants should also bring an object to encapsulate in the sculpture.

“Food Pyramid” by Didier Hess at LACMA in 2010.

“Artifacts can include anything golf ball-sized or smaller,” Didier said, “including coins, toys, plastic doohickeys, locks of hair, false teeth, baby teeth, golf balls and metal charms.”

“Bear in mind that the objects will be getting smashed repeatedly into the rammed earth construction, so if it is important to you that the object is not crushed beyond recognition, then find an object that is durable.”

Workshops are free of charge, but pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, email jenna@emanate.org.

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