Log in

No account? Create an account

Matt's Blog

A Most Stupendous & Audacious Undertaking

Hoover Dam and the era of Great American Civil Engineering
I also squeezed in a visit to Hoover Dam during my Vegas trip, paying an extra $20 to see a couple of more esoteric areas of the dam that are normally closed to tourists.  My experience of Hoover Dam was a bit bittersweet.  While I was impressed at the number of tourists who streamed in to see a large and technologically interesting but fairly unattractive-looking historic engineering project instead of simply gambling in Vegas, seeing the dam reminded me of the much larger Three Gorges dam in China, which I saw a few years back when it was under construction.  Hoover Dam was built during an era when US urban engineers dared to be big and bold with their projects -- buildings like the Empire State building, bridges like the Golden Gate bridge.  These were symbols of national pride.  However, the US has stopped pushing the limits of construction technology, leaving it instead to places like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Dubai. 

We are certainly making progress in subtler ways; energy efficiency has dramatically improved, and mass customization techniques are allowing for new types of structures with fine nonrepeating detail and an organic feel.  There are also certainly drawbacks to structures like dams, which can damage ecosystems despite providing clean power, and I don't advocate aggressive damming of every valley in sight.  Also, there are also certainly other areas in which America is excelling, including most major internet businesses.  However, it seems that new construction and civil engineering projects don't fire our imaginations anymore.  I don't want to see our urban development mired in a morass of entrenched interests and excess regulation, leading us to gradually fall behind as it becomes too difficult to make progress.  For example, building a modern SF-LA high speed rail seems hopelessly complex and political. 

Anyway, the visual experience of Hoover Dam, built in a jagged and lifeless canyon of burnt-brown with a tangle of power lines emerging from a central core deep in the ground, is not unlike a mid-1900s rendition of Mordor.  The stark landscape helps add to the feel of the project's audacity.

Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
The spillway was the most enormous pipe I had ever seen.  NOM!
Hoover Dam

From the interior... 80-year-old grafitti, among other things:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam

Faraway rocks had a burnt look -- here's a quick feel for what they'd look like without all that silly air in the way:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Full Flickr set here