»Architectural interpretations accepted without reflection could obscure the search for signs of a true nature and a higher order.«

Louis Isadore Kahn

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Dam Fine

Carsten Meier's new photographic typology of dams

  • Diablo Dam, Washington 2015. (All photographs © Carsten Meier) 1 / 19  Diablo Dam, Washington 2015. (All photographs © Carsten Meier)
  • Grane Reservoir near Grane Creek, Germany, 1997. 2 / 19  Grane Reservoir near Grane Creek, Germany, 1997.
  • Eibenstock Dam, Germany 2014. 3 / 19  Eibenstock Dam, Germany 2014.
  • Engelbright Dam, California 2014. 4 / 19  Engelbright Dam, California 2014.
  • Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona 2014. 5 / 19  Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona 2014.
  • Gibraltar Dam, California 2014. 6 / 19  Gibraltar Dam, California 2014.
  • Hoover Dam, Ohio 2011. 7 / 19  Hoover Dam, Ohio 2011.
  • Jackson Lake Dam, Wyoming 2015. 8 / 19  Jackson Lake Dam, Wyoming 2015.
  • Jameson Dam, Dry Side, California 2014. 9 / 19  Jameson Dam, Dry Side, California 2014.
  • Jameson Dam, Wet Side, California 2014. 10 / 19  Jameson Dam, Wet Side, California 2014.
  • Matilja Dam, California 2014. 11 / 19  Matilja Dam, California 2014.
  • Mossyrock Dam, Washington 2015. 12 / 19  Mossyrock Dam, Washington 2015.
  • O'Shaugnessy Dam, California 2014. 13 / 19  O'Shaugnessy Dam, California 2014.
  • Parker Dam, Arizona 2014. 14 / 19  Parker Dam, Arizona 2014.
  • Rappbode Dam, Germany 2010. 15 / 19  Rappbode Dam, Germany 2010.
  • San Clemente Dam, California 2014 . 16 / 19  San Clemente Dam, California 2014 .
  • Shasta Dam, California 2014. 17 / 19  Shasta Dam, California 2014.
  • Tussavatn Dam Spillway, Norway 2013. 18 / 19  Tussavatn Dam Spillway, Norway 2013.
  • Tygart Dam, West Virginia 2011. 19 / 19  Tygart Dam, West Virginia 2011.

Dams are both heroic feats of engineering and the villains when it comes to ecological impact. In a damn fine new book on the subject, photographer Carsten Meier contemplates the fascinating architectural typology of these concrete behemoths. Fiona Shipwright enjoys the view.

From the Hoover Dam that has impounded the USA’s Colorado River since 1936 to the vast hydroelectric power generating capacity of the Three Gorges Dam, opened in 2008 on the Yangtze River in China, dams are some of the largest man-made structures in earth. They are often lauded for being feats of structural engineering prowess, and have a mixed press for their ecological effects (land reclamation, flood prevention, habitat destruction) but are rarely contemplated as an architectural typology.

This body of work by German photographer Carsten Meier, who has been documenting dams in Europe and North America since 2010, puts to one side the complex debates about their impact and instead puts the structures themselves centre stage (and frame). Meier does for dams what Bernd and Hilla Becher did for water towers. He recently published his dam series in a book entitled simply DAM (Kerber Verlag, 2015), a selection of which uncube publishes here.

Even before you read the texts from scientific experts included at the back of the book – which lay bare the reasons why the contribution to human lives and development afforded by dams often comes at the expense of those of the non-human variety ­– the photographs already belie the uneasy relationship between these monumental structures and their surrounding environment. Dams boldly interrupt nature, not only through the physical act of stemming the tide of a river but also visually, via their introduction of a man-made colour palatte of concrete, brick and steel into the landscape. But perhaps Mother Nature will still have the final word. In some of the images of the older structures, the surrounding habitat can be seen claiming back its territory; moss quietly crawls over the smooth concrete cliff faces, slowly but surely asserting itself: a reminder that nature is force that cannot truly be contained.

Fiona Shipwright

Carsten Meier was born 1971 in Braunschweig, Germany and studied at University of Fine Arts, Ohio University, Athena. He has been held an assistant professorship at Utah State University, Logan since 2011. DAM is published by Kerber Verlag.
www.carsten-meier.com

Further reading: for more examples of storage infrastructure, from the massive to the miniature, raid the shelves of uncube issue no. 39: Storage.

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