Form follows function is an old adage from 20th century architecture. I would also say form follows beautiful function. The Hoover Dam, construction triumph of the Great Depression and President Roosevelt’s New Deal, is the epitome of this. While it is a highly functional dam and power plant, it is also a stunning work of art.
While traveling through the West, I stopped off in Boulder City, Nevada – the planned city born in the desert to house the workers who flocked to the unruly Colorado River in the 1930’s to build the dam. Today it’s a quiet oasis away from the flashy casinos of Las Vegas, a grid of low-slung bungalows and friendly restaurants within striking distance of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.
I am privileged to know one of the tour guides at the Hoover Dam, and she gave me an extensive behind-the-scenes tour of the dam and power plant operations. It was a rush to walk among the steady hum of the turbine generators, to watch as workers cleaned and polished an off-line generator, and to explore the tunnels through the dam and the rock of the canyon walls. Everywhere we looked little artistic details emerged in the most unlikely places, like Art Deco winks amidst the muscle and heft of the dam. Shiny metal turtle hooks for rope stanchions, Native American patterns in the power plant floors, the symmetrical futuristic design of the intake towers.
The severe drought in the West has affected the Colorado River and the water level of Lake Mead, which is starkly obvious in my photos. Keep in mind I visited in April, when spring snow melt should still be feeding the Colorado River further upstream, yet the bottom of the intake towers was visible, the bleached bathtub ring of Lake Mead double the size from when I last visited in 2010.
To view my behind-the-scenes look at the Hoover Dam, click on the link: