Dams built in the 20th century utilized grand neoclassical façades to monumentalize the ingenuity of man. This proposal for a dam shifts the emphasis from the wall to the dam's moving parts and the spaces they envelope. Two key moving elements, the lock and gantry, are reinterpreted in their means of motion and form, as a set of rotating conic volumes. One complete revolution of the lock causes the water level within it to gradually fill and conversely drain, allowing boats to reach both river levels through the course of a 360 degree turn. The effect of both large moving objects on the exterior is a temporally transforming facade. On the interior, an oculus in the turbine hall, and linear aperture on the lock, allow both spaces to perform as inconstant observatories, charting their own engineered cyclic motion and the natural cyclic motion of the earth in relation to the sun. Both forms embedded in the dam wall are the result of subtractive operations made on two perfect conic volumes, causing these forms to be read as their primitive geometric source and as a more complex set of derivative surfaces that avoid a simple scalar reading.
Sited along the Housatonic River, this dam is proposed as a replacement for two existing non-navigable dams. Consolidating these dams into a new dam with a lock will make the lower portion of the river navigable to the Atlantic. The new dam will also connect two currently isolated state parks that meet the river on either bank, and will merge their existing system of trails. One could equate its sublime qualities to those of a cathedral, presenting the question, how can architects engage infrastructure's potential as a new kind of monumental public space?
In order to achieve monolithic qualities three primary formal strategies are employed, referencing those same qualities found in the bunkers of Paul Virilio located along the Atlantic Wall. First, mass is made to appear “upturned” and “tilted,” as if “weight displaces volume over time,”1 reinforced in shadow distribution across the façade’s texture. Next, earth is seen as “no longer being good lodging” due to an apparent “dematerialization of the ground”2 through a formal insistence on verticality and in the shift of the predominant mass above the ground plane. Similarly, internal primitive volumes, over which saddle surfaces are arranged, rotate from the horizontal to the vertical, reinforcing this reading. Finally, the primitives are made to “interpenetrate” leading to a “confusion of the animate and inanimate.” 3 Their forms are coincident and rotate around a hinge point, creating an internal sense of motion.
The resultant monolith is in effect a slightly lifted pyramid, with its internal primitives acting as narrow tunnels. A figure-void relationship is created in which solid program acts as a thick poché, wrapping around the central void of the primitives. The convergence of these primitives results in an atrium that carries light to the interior, provides circulation space on the lower horizontal levels, and allows in views from the adjacent floor plates through the pores of a micro-texture in the more vertical forms above. These primitives can be read as a vestige of the monolith’s creation, but the intention of their being retained is to act as an unexpected inner-world, incongruous to its exterior. The monolith retains its status as such not only for its formal qualities, but in its “inward looking”4 attitude. It is in effect “a single object folding back on itself.”5
In addition to creating a false top-heaviness, the texture employed conveys a faux transparency of the figure in its multiple, overlaid of¬¬fsets and rotations. It produces a multitude of small firing slits, unrelated to the original geometry. This strategy transfers to the interior in a field of moray-like columns that provide structure and suggests a thick transparent volume, further solidifying the poché space. Occupants sense the incredible pressure and singular heaviness of the surrounding monolithic interior. It is read in the proximity of its presence to its absence – through the juxtaposition of two dissimilar realities.
(Quotes indicate theoretical framework shared with Paul Virilio.)
1 Virilio, Paul, and George Collins. Bunker archaeology. (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994), 38.
2 Ibid., 41.
3 Ibid., 44.
4 Johnston, Pamela, ed. The Function of the Oblique: the Architecture of Claude Parent and Paul Virilio, 1963-1969. (London: AA Publications, 1996), 5.
5 Ibid, 9.