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