|Dawson City Gold Rush, Yukon, c. 1898 (source)
The history of civilization is a history of the procurement of gold. While it was the invention of agriculture that led to the formation of large permanent settlements, it was often the lure of gold that pushed the boundaries of human development into unknown territory. The oldest known map in the world is a document describing the road to the Wadi Hammamat gold mines in Egypt. Spanish expeditions in search of El Dorado—a mythical city of gold—in South America, led to the exploration of much of that continent (though the city was never found). News of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma California in 1848 led to an influx of 300,000 people into the state, which at the time had a non-native population of a mere 15,000 souls. San Francisco, which was the nearest settlement and port to the California gold rush ballooned from a village of 1,000 people to a city of 25,000. The city today is one of the largest and most influential in the nation.
While the California Gold Rush led to the development of one of the most populous and productive states in America, the seeds of civilization cannot sustain themselves on gold alone. Discoveries of gold in the Klondike Valley in the Yukon, Canada, in 1897, led to an estimated influx of 40,000 people into the arctic territory. The city of Dawson, hub of the Klondike Gold Rush, absorbed much of the in-migration, growing to a population of 40,000 between 1897 and 1898. For a short time it was the largest city in Canada West of Winnipeg. A frigid and unproductive landscape, the legacy could not last. By the 1900s, with its gold reserves depleted, much of the city’s population fled, and the urban landscape reverted back to wilderness.
E. Sean Bailey
||Kazuyo Sejima Receiving Her Pritzker Prize, Photo by Michael Nagle, 2010 (source)
Architects have maintained a fascination with gold, which in the past, stemmed mainly from its ability to cultivate status. Historically gold was employed throughout religious buildings, such as the Harmandir Sahib, and palaces, such as Versailles, political spaces such as the Canadian Houses of Parliment and other buildings of importance, often as a symbol of power. The role of gold in architecture does not typically see it performing in a structural capacity, but rather as a material for adornment.
However, recently architects have found new practical uses for gold in buildings. For example, glass in building facades may be coated with a film of gold in order to reflect the sun in the summer and maintain internal heat in the winter, thus retaining warmth within the building. The façade of The Royal Bank of Canada, in Toronto uses 2,500 ounces of gold in its 27,000 windows for energy conservation. This treatment also gives the entire building an unusual but intriguing gold hue, underscoring the bank’s role in matters of wealth.
From branding the building to branding the architect, gold plays a vital role. Beyond buildings, the architect’s fascination with this material is apparent in their mad pursuit of certifications like LEED Gold and awards such as the Venice Golden Lion. While architects once sought to preciously adorn their buildings, they now seek to adorn themselves with RIBA and AIA Gold Medals, and so on. The irony being that it is only through the collection of all of these golden prizes that they are able to get into the running for the coveted Pritzker bronze.
Erandi de Silva