The Spoils of Dust


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Once the third largest lake in California, and among the world’s greatest air pollution offenders, the deadened Owens Lake was for decades merely a catastrophic footnote to the most notorious water grab in modern history. Now, the lake has been re-assembled to exceed the value of what was lost – without refilling its shores and depriving Los Angeles of its water supply. In The Spoils of Dust, the lake’s peculiar redemption is the backdrop for investigating contemporary relationships between landscape design, control, and perception. The lake-like terrain is our most intimate display of modern technocratic vision and exposes the limits of our invention and control of infrastructural ecologies. Whether by observations of dust or scenery, it is as much the product of how we perceive and value landscape today. Answering its analysis, The Spoils of Dust concludes with a visual atlas and proposal to induce more imaginative outcomes and perceptions.

SpecificationsSKU: 90698Size: 7″ x 10″ Portrait Pages: 256pp Binding: Softbound with flaps Publication Date: Fall 2018 ISBN: 978-1-940743-48-6 Rights World: Available

Once the third-largest lake in California and among the world’s greatest sources of dust, for decades the dried Owens Lake was merely a footnote to the most notorious water grab in modern history. Now, the desert lake has undergone an ingenious “redemption” that tenuously preserves Los Angeles’s main water supply and controls the dust. In The Spoils of Dust this “bargain” redemption and its conjuring of an ecologically rich “lake-like” landscape is the backdrop for investigating contemporary relationships between landscape architecture, engineering, and perception. Assembled atop a barren waste, the Promethean lake reveals the frameworks we use to reinvent nature in the Anthropocene. Whether by dust “drawings” or birding fieldwork, the new, water-wise lake is an awkward and beguiling monument to the prismatic ways we know and value landscapes today. Unexpectedly, this has made its imaginative design the linchpin for critical water resource decisions, thrusting landscape architecture into a consequential position. The book concludes with a landscape atlas and robotic interface for a playful and integrated approach to landscape infrastructure design.

Alexander Robinson is an Assistant Professor in the Landscape Architecture & Urbanism program in the University of Southern California School of Architecture, and principal of the Office of Outdoor Research/LMLab in Los Angeles, California. A landscape architect, researcher, and scholar, he is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and a lifelong explorer of the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierras. His research advances the design craft of large-scale, multifunctional infrastructures through a synthesis of historical analysis, advanced design tools, and public engagement. His last book, coauthored with Liat Margolis, is Living Systems: Innovative Materials and Technologies for Landscape Architecture (Birkhäuser, 2007), a treatise on landscapes as material performance systems

Los Angeles Review of Books


The Oorscapes Reviews The Spoils of Dust

The Spoils of Dust Reviewed by Los Angeles Review of Books

Book Review | The Spoils of Dust: Reinventing the Lake that Made Los Angeles by Alexander Robinson

Willful Waters

Office of Outdoor Research, Landscape Morphologies Lab Features The Spoils of Dust

Nature Magazine – Lake Lazarus: the strange rebirth of a Californian ecosystem

Alumni Update by Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Professors Alex Robinson and Diane Ghirardo Awarded Graham Foundation Grants



7" x 10" Portrait




Softbound with flaps

Publication date

Fall 2018



Rights world