The Politics of Soil in the Lower Klamath:
Designing for Collective Becoming
With this case study of a region at the border of California and Oregon, I argue that landscapes are not made through one-time construction and then finished; rather, landscapes become continuously. They become what they are with (and not by) people.
The Lower Klamath is a region at the border of California and Oregon; it is the tribal homeland of the Modoc people and includes farmland, a National Wildlife Refuge, and a former Japanese internment center. In the summer of 2019, I conducted interviews with management and maintenance personnel and traversed and documented the site to better understand the mechanics of the current operations. While the primary goal of the wildlife refuge is to support migratory birds, it is also used by indigenous tribes and by local farmers. Many of the local farmers were brought in under a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project in the early 1900s; the Bureau’s single-minded goal of engineering watersheds for maximum food production by white farmers continues to shape the region today.
This case study asks: Understanding that landscapes are made from ongoing political and ecological relationships, how can we design to give up attempts at control without giving up responsibility? Usually in landscape design projects, the aspect of continued human interaction with landscape materials over time is classified as “management” or “maintenance” and included in designs as an afterthought, subordinate to the spatial form. The premise of this project flips that hierarchy, where design with ongoing actions between humans and landscape materials produce responsive and changing forms.
In designing for this region, I am not attempting to tell the residents of the Lower Klamath what the future of this territory should be--I am instead spatializing ways for a collective imagining to occur. In the Lower Klamath, settler colonialism imposed an assumption that the functions of a landscape--farming, wildlife preservation, significant cultural sites and historical markers--can be siloed as a method of control. With careful attention to both historical and contemporary time-based actions on the land, my design explores different ways to integrate these siloed functions, both materially and conceptually. By designing spaces and systems for time-based engagement from various residents, the negotiation and care of the territory can be visualized and practiced at a smaller scale. Experiments with ecological management can be a practice of remembering and honoring the history of the land. Farming, hunting, and finding subsistence from the land can be a practice of ecological care.