From Mining to Hydropower in the American West

From Mining to Hydropower in the American West

This event occurred in the past

Date and Time

  • Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.


Warren Auditorium in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall

5998 Alcala Park San Diego, CA 92110




A Talk with Christine Macy

The American West was settled in an all-out race for minerals — gold in California, silver in Colorado and copper in Montana. Instant “boom towns” unleashed the vigour of industrial enterprise on vertiginous mountainscapes, arid plateaus and canyon lands.

Western miners needed water in their search for metals, and they used huge quantities of it to wash through mineral-bearing soils. They became experts at moving earth with water. They developed technologies such as dams, flumes, and sluiceways to store and direct it. They channeled the force of mountain streams onto mining sites, amplifying these with high-pressure nozzles. They created vast fields of water-soaked earth that slowly drained away and solidified into sediments. Miners also used waterpower to crush ore and grind it, operating mills and forges. Competition for technological innovation, the high head conditions of the mountainous west, and the proximity to consumer and industrial markets set the stage for the rapid development of hydroelectricity in the west.

This paper will look at a moment in history, when this highly developed technology for the extraction of minerals from the soil was redirected towards another purpose.  As the population increased in late 19th century California, and the political power of agriculturalists began to predominate over that of mining interests, hydraulic mining was outlawed in the Sierra Nevada. The result was an astonishing transformation of these technologies into hydroelectric power systems, leading to the urbanization of the state and bringing industry into its cities.

Christine Macy is dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, Dalhousie University, Canada. Her research interests include the representation of cultural identity in architecture and public spaces, temporary urbanism, civic infrastructure, and landscape history. She practiced architecture in New York and San Francisco before establishing her partnership, Filum, with Sarah Bonnemaison in 1990, specializing in lightweight structures and public space design. Her books with Sarah Bonnemaison include Architecture and Nature: Creating the American Landscape (Routledge, 2003), Festival Architecture (Routledge, 2007), and Responsive Textile Environments (TUNS Press, 2007). Other books include Greening the city: ecological wastewater treatment in Halifax (TUNS Press, 2000) and Dams (W.W. Norton, 2009).  Book chapters include "Three views of 'frontier' at the World's Columbia Exposition" (Ballantyne and Arnold, Architecture as Experience, Routledge, 2004), "The Architects' Office of the TVA" (Culvahouse, The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion, Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), and "Flows as Agents of Transformation — Benton MacKaye und die TVA" (Nierhaus, Hoenes, Urban, Landschaftlichkeit, Reimer Verlag, 2010).

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