Essay Proposal: Pli Revue 03 #Conflict

I'm happy to share that my proposed article for the upcoming edition of Pli Revue was recently accepted. For the uninitiated, Pli is an independent annual journal that reflects upon the intersection of architecture, illustration, and publishing. Each edition is thematic, and the third challenges contributors to explore the theme of conflict. My response to the brief came as the result from a couple of conversations with my friend Aurélien Aumond, a creative architecture and landscape photographer based in Lyon, France. His work is pensive, insightful, and other worldly (his site HERE). Our conversations began with ideas about the basic points of contention created when man made structure meets, displaces, and transforms nature; how the former dominates in the now, but the latter has time on its side. To epitomise that conflict we reached the subject of dam architecture. The article accompanied by his photos will be published in September 2017.  I invite you to take a look at my pitch below:


For Every Light, A Shadow

Perfectly pliable yet all powerful. What water is to the human experience is inherently paradoxical. Our survival depends on a substance as deadly in its overabundance as in its deficiency. A substance that gives man the power to fly, but takes away his ability to breathe. Coexisting with the elements is fundamental, but on what terms? When confronted with a force as pervasive as water, conflict emerges from paradox.

I intend to explore the conflicts that arise when humanity’s modern needs confront the omnipresence of water, particularly through the architecture of dams. Dams epitomize functional, necessary architecture - a symbol of why humans build - to harness nature’s power and improve quality of life. It is widely accepted that hydroelectric dams create “renewable” energy. Processing and transforming water’s movement generates electricity for communities around the world, and dam architecture underpins the automations of modernity and progress. When we take a closer look, however, we are thrust into a reality replete with consequences. With every light bulb lit, a shadow is cast.   

The conflict I propose exploring is two-fold:

1. The conflict of their physical presence. Man made structure versus element of nature. The ebb and flow of water grinds against, erodes, and disintegrates the cement edifice at a molecular level. Though the water is superficially tamed - packed into its quarters, regulated and packaged for consumption - its force and mass is constantly pushing back against the container. Though our cement and steel architecture is built to last, it is ephemeral relative to the earth’s history and future. Nothing is strong enough to hold water forever. This is an artistic, philosophical approach to the confrontation of man made structure and nature.

2. There is conflict in the dam’s function and effects. River conditions like changes in flow rate and level, erosion and sedimentation, are all problems for how we live. For almost 5,000 years dams have served to ensure an adequate supply of water by storing water in times of surplus and releasing it in times of scarcity, thus also preventing or mitigating floods. In modern history, the hydroelectric dam has served to protect human civilization and provide vast amounts of energy. For the gains made over the centuries, however, repercussions are longlasting and many. According to by 2015 the dam industry choked more than half of the earth’s major rivers. Other consequences include: wiped out species and reduced biodiversity, flooded wetlands, forests and farmlands, displaced human populations, and degraded water quality. The legacy of poor planning and the hazards of ageing dams have left entire regions reeling in their wake. For the “renewable” energy they provide, water reservoirs stagnate in areas where nature designed that they run free, contributing to disease propagation and global warming.

We would like to illustrate this conflict with landscape and detail photos of dam architecture taken by Lyon-based photographer Aurelien Aumond. His lens captures the beauty of their conflict, the stillness of molded rock walling formless water. Rendering these photos in black and white serves to recall the image of the light casting a shadow as well as to recall the theme of Pli Revue - the intersection of the printed written word (black on white), architecture, and photography.