A buttress dam or hollow dam is a dam with a solid, water-tight upstream side that is supported at intervals on the downstream side by a series of buttresses or supports. The dam wall may be straight or curved. Most buttress dams are made of reinforced concrete and are heavy, pushing the dam into the ground. Water pushes against the dam, but the buttresses are inflexible and prevent the dam from falling over.
Buttress or hollow gravity dams were originally built to retain water for irrigation or mining in areas of scarce or expensive resources but cheap labour. A buttress dam is a good choice in wide valleys where solid rock is rare.
As designs have become more sophisticated, the virtues and weaknesses of the buttress type dams have become apparent. The Romans were the first to use buttresses to increase the stability of a dam wall. Buttress dams of slab concrete construction became popular in the United States in the early 20th Century with the patented process of Norwegian-American civil engineer Nils F. Ambursen.
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- Edward Wegmann, Masonry dams; a historical, theoretical and practical review and discussion, p.33, American Society of Engineering Contractors, Paper No. 34, New York, 1912