dancing with architecture: the hoover dam, nevada/arizona

I was uber fortunate a couple weeks ago to tour the Hoover Dam, a gorgeous collision of architecture and hydrology. Built between 1931 and 1936 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the project's intent was to dam the Colorado River for flood control, water supply, and hydroelectric power, thus creating Lake Mead, the largest reservoir by volume in the United States. The dam is 726 feet tall with a 660 foot-wide base that tapers to 45-feet thick at the top. There is enough concrete in Hoover Dam to build a two-lane road from Seattle to Miami or a four-foot wide sidewalk around the equator (presumably under the assumption that concrete floats...).

The Bureau's initial architectural plans had the dam festooned with gothic details, criticized by many as being out of step with the simple structural lines of the dam itself. The Bureau's supervising architect at the time, Gordon B. Kaufman of Los Angeles, was brought in to redesign the facades and details, which he did in streamlined Art Deco. One of the joys of touring the dam is how the Deco styling exists everywhere, even on the turbine decks and mechanical rooms.

It's a beautiful, fascinating place, well worth a visit for many reasons.

Info above from Wikipedia and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The original dam site (image via Wikipedia)

The dam under construction (image via Wikipedia)

The upstream side of the dam nearing completion. The tall towers are intakes for the water as it moves through electricity-generating turbines (image via Wikipedia)

On the turbine deck.

Fun Art Deco details everywhere

One of the turbines

At the dam base

I believe this is one of the overflow outfalls

Beautiful detail

Functional rhythm

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is on safety: These are the administrative offices, at the foot of the dam.

Looking downstream from the base of the dam. Outflows from the turbines source from the openings on the lower left and right.

"I think I'll eat my sammich here."

Mechanics shop

mmmm: concrete curves and aluminum.

It's amazing how resilient the equipment is here.

Gorgeous Art Deco statue topside

Even the outbuildings are nicely done.

The intakes

This is the emergency spillway: When levels in the lake get too high, water spills over this wing dam (and another one on the other side) to relieve water pressure and prevent water from overtopping the main dam. They have only been used twice: in 1941 for a test and 1983.

Here's where the water goes to bypass the dam once it goes over the spillway. Looks like a great ride for a skater! The spill systems can collectively handle 400,000 cubic feet per second.

The reservoir is down quite a bit, about 50 percent, as the 16-year drought continues in the Colorado River watershed. Water folks often refer to the bleached stone shown above as the "bathtub ring". Las Vegas spent $750 million boring a large tunnel into the lowest place in the reservoir so extend their water supply if the unthinkable happens.

Believe it or not, but this structure on top of the dam houses the men's bathroom (as the original design intended). The women's restroom is on the Arizona side. Sadly, I forgot to go!

The intakes on the Nevada side and the Arizona side. Because Arizona doesn't adhere to daylight savings time, the clocks show the same time for half the year.

The structure at the far end is the newer visitor's center. Can't find who the architect was, but it's sadly overdone. The cladding choices evoke the materials of the dam (concrete, brass, copper), but are too flamboyant and disrespectful to the site. It would have been much better to have built a quiet concrete structure and let the dam sing alone. 

This structure on the top of the dam appears to have been the original ticket center for tours. Clean lines, long overhangs, redwood frames, and corner windows.

One last wave to the tuning-fork angel and then back to Vegas!

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