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“Concrete Oasis” Builds Awareness About Southern California Water Crisis with AR

Suzan Oslin, former Space Camp participant and member of Design Science “cohart 2,” shared some insights about her “Concrete Oasis” project with BFI.

1. Please briefly describe your project.

Concrete Oasis builds awareness about the water crisis in Southern California by teaching the community, in an experiential and engaging manner through augmented reality(AR), about the local water ecosystem.

Located at Pershing Square Park in downtown Los Angeles, the present-day / impending inevitability of a lifeless, concrete desert will transform into a flourishing oasis through augmented reality (AR). California native plants will sprout from the ground (virtually) and be visible through any ordinary AR-enabled phone.

Additionally, augmented reality experiences will be installed throughout the park to educate the public about LA’s water sources, the devastating impact on ecosystems when water is diverted from its natural flow, and actions everyday citizens can collectively take to make an impact. It is designed to empower, inform, engender empathy, and inspire collective action towards a sustainable water future.

2. Can you describe how your project came about?

Working for large corporations, I was deeply disenchanted. I loved being a UX Designer, but the projects were uninspiring. It seemed not a good use of my talents and ambitions to make a real difference in society. In 2018 virtual reality caught my attention. I had started my career as a 3D visual effects artist and animator so I got really interested in building VR experiences and eventually was drawn to augmented reality. As I learned about geospatially located AR, I became fascinated with the idea of how to design for a virtual experience that was living in, and had become a part of, the real world–not just informational overlays, but fully immersive interactive virtual experiences in the physical world.

I set out to build an experiment. Pershing Square’s central location and abandoned infrastructure seemed a perfect location and an appropriate blank canvas for augmented reality. I wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on humanity, something that would demonstrate immersive technology as a power for good. After some digging around about Pershing Square, my then-partner, Laura Garcia, Ph.D., and I discovered the story of LA’s water. The now-dry fountain’s system was designed to mimic water coming from the mountains via the aqueducts and into Los Angeles, providing water to an otherwise waterless desert.

Given the state of the water crisis, and Pershing Square’s powerful symbolism of both LA’s rich history with water, as well as, the fountain’s lack of water as a testament to the current crisis, the narrative started to flow from the location itself.

3. Is there anything in the work of Buckminster Fuller that inspired its origin or that inspires you today?

Around the same time that the ideas for Concrete Oasis were bubbling up, I came across a promotion for the Design Science Studio, a collaboration between the Buckminster Fuller Studio and HabRitual. The program is a “(r)Evolutionary incubator for ART inspiring a regenerative future that works for 100% of life.” It was a perfect fit, as well as timing. Having spent my entire career in entertainment and technology, I was pretty naive about regenerative systems. I had a lot to learn.

The biggest impact from the incubator for me was learning to think about entire systems. Not only where any drop of water comes from, but what happens to it along the way to its destination and after its been consumed or evaporated–the entire watershed cycle along with LA’s reclamation system and plans for purification. Also, to look at the impact of our industrialized interruption of that natural cycle by diverting water hundreds of miles to bring water to a desert for 19 million people. It’s staggering.

BFI has definitely inspired in me a new appreciation for our planet and how to approach healing from the point of view of regenerative systems. I now consider myself to be somewhat of an expert about the water systems in Southern California, the stories that need to be told about the history of those systems, and the damaged relationship to the people and ecosystems of our water sources. The narrative that supports Concrete Oasis, the relationship of the exhibits throughout the park, is intended to encompass all of this. For true healing to take place, it has to.

4. What can people do to support your project?

We need the support of water municipalities, city officials and community leaders to extend the reach of this important exhibit and generous donors to make it possible, as well as available for free to all. We need all kinds of collaborators, independent artists and developers, or even a studio that might be interested in taking this on. And we need the structural support of a fiscal sponsor. You can follow us on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/concrete_oasis.city/ signup for our monthly newsletter at https://concreteoasis.city, or contact me directly [email protected].