Watersheds have the potential to act as units of infrastructure, urbanism and architecture which are both large enough and small enough to balance the tectonic, ecological, urbanistic, financial and political elements of their domains. However, the hard watersheds of the twentieth century need to be adapted into soft, multi-functional territories for inhabitation and agriculture, for transportation and energy, for industry and pleasure. In contrast to strict technocratic management, the demands of 21st century urbanization require negotiation between the conflicting uses of water for sustaining life and for industrial production, balancing the demands for clean water for humans and animals, recycled water for growing and feeding plants, and for maintaining landscapes for pleasure and identity. In order to meet these competing needs, watersheds will need to be designed with a rich, simultaneous use of spaces, dense and urban as well as diffuse and rural. We need to see rivers and their territories as more than merely plumbing and instead design them as flexible bodies with amorphous edges and changing geometries.
Following the Watershed Atelier in Paris, France (2011), the Watershed Workshop in Los Angeles, California cuts a cross section of the earth in relationship to water extraction and harvesting. The workshop is subdivided into three sections: Air to Surface, Surface to Surface, and Subsurface to Surface. Each section engages the gravity and cycles of water through a particular lens and its multi-scalar relationship to cities. Rather than create a standardized nomenclature based on scale or theme, the three panels address the processes shaping watersheds in terms of water migration, extraction, and harvesting. In this way, we can better imagine the gravity and cycles of water in relationship to mobility, energy, infrastructure, agriculture—all decisive elements in unleashing the latent opportunities of watersheds.