Hydro electric dam
Hydro electric dam

Dam Failure

Contested Modern Engineering  in the Age of the Anthropocene

One of the greatest challenges of our time is the need to replace fossil energy with other, preferably natural sources of energy. Hydropower, generated by large artificial reservoirs contained by hydro-electric dams, seems at first sight one of the best solutions. However, the solutions they offer might not outweigh the new problems they create. 


    This studio offers you the opportunity to apply your knowledge and skills in a multidisciplinary team that will explore the dam as a modern contested technical, environmental and social global project with major local impact. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the dam was the vehicle par excellence of 20th century utopian development. Its appeal lay in the promise of free and clean energy and the malleability of ecologies and societies. The belief in modernity through this kind of top-down engineering has always been met with objections, but in recent decades the dam has been the subject of fierce protest movements worldwide like never before, for exactly the same reasons:  the political process by which they were implemented, the ecological impact, the population displacement, and the urbanisation and industrialisation it promoted. Dam construction is now included in the list of criteria to measure the Great Acceleration, the post-war expansive growth that ushered in the Anthropocene.

    In this studio, the issue of dams provides an entry point to learn more about the issues of top-down modernisation, ecological and social engineering. After introductory lectures, you will work in groups to understand the dam as a technological project with major ecological and social implications for local communities. You will learn about the promises, successes in clean energy, water management and development of disadvantaged regions, as well as technological failures and the sometimes disastrous impact on indigenous communities.  This studio offers the opportunity to invest and enrich your disciplinary knowledge and skills in an interdisciplinary project. As a group, we learn in contact with activists how scientific knowledge can be used in a multi-stakeholder social environment to address one of the most pressing issues of our time.

    Starting date

    To be announced
    Main Language


    Type of education

    Contact information

    For more information about this studio, please contact one of the programme directors:

    Heleen Loof
    heleen.loof [at] ru.nl (heleen[dot]loof[at]ru[dot]nl)

    Esther Fluijt
    esther.fluijt [at] ru.nl (esther[dot]fluijt[at]ru[dot]nl)