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[personal profile] mattbell
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

Date: 2011-01-20 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Personally, I don't feel all that nostalgic about the vast civil engineering projects of the past. I mean yes, they're impressive (I've boggled at the scale of Hoover Dam, too). But on some level they feel like small penis goals. (I mean, the Empire State building? Compensating much?) Past a certain point, I'm more impressed with those subtle factors you mention than with a focus on simply creating something big.

The development of the internet and near-universal broadband is allowing people and businesses to stray ever farther from the big cities that have long been centers of commerce, which may one day lead to less need for vast edifices like the Empire State building in the first place (and probably improve quality of life, too). Will we one day find a way to replace Hoover Dam with a series of smaller energy gathering units? Maybe so... and maybe we'll even find a way to do it that avoids the environmental impact that we saw there or with Three Gorges. I've often wondered if a highly advanced society might at first glance look considerably less urban than what we've grown to expect here at the tail end of the industrial revolution.

Someday we'll know, I suppose. :)

Date: 2011-01-20 09:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ironically, under most circumstances cities are more energy-efficient than suburbs. Dense construction means less energy required for heating & cooling, and lower per capita transportation costs.

Micro power generation makes sense under certain circumstances (eg solar panels on the roofs of homes in homes in very sunny areas) but I don't think it makes sense for dams. Generally dams work best when they are larger because a large reservoir is needed to smooth out seasonal variations in water flow, which cause seasonal variations in power generation capacity.

Also, I'm a big fan of "small-penis" projects that have strong aesthetic, scientific, or political value. The Apollo program was definitely such a project. Having countries spend money on such projects is a great substitute for actually going to war. It's no substitute for strong social programs of course, and a society that spends all its money on small-penis projects will end up looking like North Korea.

Date: 2011-01-21 05:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Of course, urban density isn't necessarily best served by building huge single buildings of over 100 stories - it's much better to just replace every two story building in the city by a three story building, because there are huge costs and inefficiencies in supporting single large buildings (though of course, I am a huge fan of skyscrapers too - the skyline is one of the important aesthetic innovations of the 20th century, I think).

Date: 2011-01-21 11:50 pm (UTC)

good read

Date: 2011-01-20 07:12 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Read the Fountainhead if you like your engineering mixed with a little (ok, a lot) of socio-political commentary. And read Devil in a White Dress if you want your architecture sprinkled with a little sociopathic murder (non-fiction, pretty interesting stuff!)

Re: good read

Date: 2011-01-20 08:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've read them both, actually!

Date: 2011-01-20 04:59 pm (UTC)

Date: 2011-01-21 11:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I always like getting compliments from you because you take such amazing photos yourself. :-)

Date: 2011-01-21 05:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Also, I climbed the tallest mountain in that last picture of yours, on Christmas Eve, with Matt and my mother and brother! It turns out the trailhead is just a few minutes walk from my parents house, even though they live in cookie-cutter suburbia.

Date: 2011-01-21 11:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow. Small world. For some reason it strikes me as odd that your parents live in outer Vegas suburbs. I always imagined you were from New York or Boston.

Date: 2011-01-22 01:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm from New Jersey (though I was born in Canada). But my parents moved to Vegas four or five years ago from Orange County, where they were for a few years after NJ. It still strikes me as odd that they live in Vegas suburbs too!


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