Ancient Modernists

Dianne Peacock reflects on a personal history of family outings and school excursions to dams, power stations, mines and other infrastructure.

November 20, 2012

Junction Dam was completed in 1944 and was first dam in the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Scheme. Its concrete buttress wall holds and releases water flowing from the Bogong high plains. Surface erosion, stains, lichen and the growth of the sub-alpine Australian bush around the wall combine to suggest a physical state somewhere between infrastructure and nature.

The dam wall has a back and front, an inside and outside. The front holds Lake Guy and faces the mountain Spion Kopje in the distance. At the back is a terrace of ageing European trees, blackberry thickets and the bush. Here the wall shuts off the expansive space of the lake. Space is tight; concrete stairs, tall trees and the dam itself are close. While the front presents as infrastructure, the back suggests divergent physical relationships with nature. The wall appears at times to merge with its surroundings; at others to emerge from them, as if the partially excavated work of some ancient modernists.

Inside the dam wall is another space again. The dam is supported by a row of tall concrete buttresses, roughly triangular in outline. Square section concrete struts hold the spaces between each buttress and its neighbour. Forces necessary to counter the weight of water have shaped the engineers’ design of the wall, its buttresses and that of the residual internal space. While open to the terrace, this series of vertical caverns has its own climate; a result of its concrete mass and the cool heaviness of water pressing against it. This cool, vertically oriented internal space is akin to the internal spaces of churches and wells.

It is possible to play with the vertical and horizontal planes of architectural modernism through the re-orientation of the images of this simple, monumental structure. It works this way because the main force in a buttress type dam is lateral rather than vertical.

A desire to revisit and know this physical structure and its spaces connects to a lineage of architects’ fascinations with heroic, engineered concrete structures in their raw state. It also flows from a personal history of family outings and school excursions to dams, power stations, mines and other infrastructure. Such structures came to be appreciated for their spatial and acoustic qualities, their mysteries, cool air and great mass.

Dianne Peacock is an architect and artist from Melbourne, Australia. She has an interest in spatial mystery, and her architectural practice Subplot operates alongside projects in collage, video, film, installation and zine making. She is a PhD candidate at RMIT University.

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