LASHP would like to extend a thank you to the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design for letting us tag along on a tour of the Hyperion Treatment Plant, the first of their three part series, Backstage LA taking a closer look at components of our urban infrastructure that are so often taken for granted. But taking it for granted is actually okay. Infrastructure, as an underlying base or foundation, by it’s very nature is about not being noticed. Infrastructure is about quietly and effectively helping society get on with the bigger business of being civilized. If we are taking it for granted that means it is doing it’s job well. Sewage processing and treatment is one of those most happily dependable and discrete functions. The ability to make human waste invisible with a quick flush, coupled with its sanitary containment and disposal, is nothing short of miraculous when contrasted with the raw state of earlier, or undeveloped, sewage conditions – to say nothing of public health epidemics with which they were (and are) often accompanied.
The Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant is the largest, and oldest waste water treatment facility in Los Angeles, and the largest treatment plant west of the Mississippi. The plant began operating in 1894 initially as a discharge point for raw sewage directly into the Santa Monica Bay. Today, 6,500 miles of pipeline feed 350 million gallons of waste into the plant each day for treatment. Since 1998 the plant has operated as a full secondary treatment plant and was selected as one of the Top Ten Public Works Projects of the 20th Century along with Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge. This distinction marks the plant’s long operational history and progressive technological improvements. Our tour guides, Nancy Carr and Mike Mullen, colorfully equated the massive high-tech facility with another famous regional wonder – “Disneyland for poop” they called it. The two hour tour included a video on plant operations, presentations by Carr and Mullen, a tram tour around the facility, and even a visit to the super-secure underground pipe galleries. Treating the waste from all of Los Angeles is a complex process requiring this vast industrial landscape of giant pipes, containers, tanks, and equipment – digesters, air scrubbers, outfalls – the massive systems of conveyance were striking, as were the successive stations and stages of treatment.
Mike Mullen pointed out that 1% of funds from capital improvement projects at the facility is allocated to art, and in the most recent case, building facades were the recipient. Apparently local residents preferred that the plant look other than what what it actually does. Interestingly the resulting architecture, exhibits a slightly cartoonish quality.
If you ask me, this bit looks straight out of Bikini Bottom:
In all seriousness, the work that occurs at Hyperion is invaluable to our quality of life in Los Angeles. During the tour, Mr. Mullen pointed out that the whole reason for the plant’s existence and operation was just to the west. Hyperion Treatment Plant exists to protect one of the greatest resources we share as residents of California, the Pacific Ocean. In that respect, Hyperion Treatment Plant and California State Parks are muy simpatico with respect to a shared mission of resource protection. Looking directly across the street to beautiful Dockweiler State Beach, we were offered a moment of seriously not taking it all for granted.
After such a high-tech sewage adventure, we will leave you with some impressive, low-tech, waste treatment craftiness by Homegrown Evolution. In the event that systems ever do go down, there’s a lot to be said for reliable back up.