THE TASKSCAPE OF A DAM: TEMPORARY WORKERS’ SETTLEMENTS OF LA GRANDE DIXENCE 1950 – 1967

Researcher: Rune Frandsen (Chair Günther Vogt, ETH Zürich)

This research projects funded by SNF is led by Institut für Landschaft und Urbane Studien (LUS), Chair Günther Vogt, ETH Zurich. Prof. Dr. Silke Langenberg is the co-advisor for this dissertation.

This research project investigates the role of the construction of La Grande Dixence, the world’s largest dam, on the transformation of the Alpine landscape. It was built between 1950 and 1967, in response to the rapidly increasing demand for electricity in Switzerland in the post-war decades. The remoteness of the building sites, and the need to concentrate work within the summer months, resulted in the construction of temporary housing settlements for the workers, directly by the building sites, going up to sometimes 2800 meters in altitude. With their disappearing, at the completion of the Dixence complex, these witnesses of the contribution of the workers have been erased. Building on Tim Ingold’s notion of “taskscape”, this thesis reconstructs the array of activities necessary to achieve this dam, and reconstitutes its spatiality. Even if this phase was temporary, it constitutes an example of dwelling in a high alpine environment, and contributed to shaping the landscape we can see today. The tools used, such as dynamite, trucks or cable-cranes have marked the land in a particular manner. Likewise, roads, paravalanches, earthwork or foundations remain as testimonies of these past activities. The description of the taskscape puts in relation past and present. It allows to question why some traces have been wilfully obliterated, simply abandoned or highlighted, and shows how the image of the Alps have been disconnected from its true, physical materiality, and become a discursive construction.