Engineering a place of celebration

Aug 28, 2022

Luke Carothers

It’s fitting that we seek out this highly engineered desert oasis as a place of celebration.

Zweig Group is elated to host the upcoming 2022 ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala in Las Vegas. Running September 14-16, this event celebrates the best and brightest from the AEC industry, furthering our goal to elevate the industry. It is truly fitting that this conference be hosted in a town of celebration, especially one whose very existence and origins are feats of engineering in their own right.

Prior to the 20th century, there had never been a large settlement in the area where Las Vegas now sits. Native American tribes lived in the area for short periods of time, congregating near several natural wells before moving to the nearby mountains. In the 19th century, Mormon missionaries built a fort in the area, which supported a small, shifting population throughout the century. In 1902, the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad purchased the land.

Amongst the first actions taken when the land was purchased by the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was to improve upon the existing natural wells and pipe water to the settlement. This made it an attractive stop for wagons and trails moving further West. During America’s most rapid expansion of railroad infrastructure, Las Vegas played a crucial role in connecting important routes. When the railroad was completed in 1905, it linked two growing areas in Los Angeles and Salt Lake. The settlement at Las Vegas played an important part in the development and service of this line. As a result, Las Vegas continued to grow for several decades until the railroad industry started to decline in the 1920s.

However, another larger infrastructure project located nearby provided an even more powerful catalyst for the city’s growth. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed a bill to begin construction on the Boulder Dam, which would later be renamed Hoover Dam. Located in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River on the border of Arizona and Nevada, the plan was to create a concrete structure the likes of which had never been built before. Nearly 30 years of studies and investigations had been conducted to select the location for the new project. Its completion would generate power for a vast swath of the American West and Southwest, proving critical for the area’s growing settlements and cities.

The plan was to construct a massive concrete arch-gravity dam. This wedge-shaped structure would be considerably thicker at the bottom and thinner at the top. At 660 feet thick at the bottom and 45 feet at the top, the structure would leave room for a highway at the top which would connect Nevada and Arizona. The labor force needed to create such a structure would be vast, and Las Vegas soon became part of the plan to support this influx of workers.

Las Vegas played a pivotal role in supporting the construction of this critical piece of infrastructure. Before construction began on the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas had a population hovering around 5,000 people. Just one year later, when construction started in 1931, the population had exploded to more than 25,000 people. This influx of workers meant that not only new housing and utilities had to be constructed, but also places to entertain the new population.

Like most Western towns, gambling has always been part of the culture in Las Vegas, despite being outlawed in Nevada in 1910. In 1931, gambling was legalized at the local level. This was done both to capitalize monetarily on the expanding population of young men working in the area and to curtail the presence of illegal gambling. These first casinos initially served this young working population, but their continued presence laid the groundwork for Las Vegas’ eventual status as a world icon when it comes to gaming.

After the dam was completed in 1935 and opened in 1936, the population of Las Vegas declined as there were no longer men working on the dam. However, this shifting population provided fertile ground for Las Vegas to grow into what it is today. The Hoover Dam’s stunning beauty, as well as that of Lake Mead, have made them into attractions that draw tourists from all over the world. These attractions, as well as the early presence of legalized gambling and the power generated from the Hoover Dam, meant that Las Vegas would continue to grow into what we know today – a sparkling jewel in the desert.

It is fitting that we, and many others, seek this desert oasis as a place of celebration. For us – the AEC industry – to celebrate our accomplishments in this city is especially poignant. Unlike most places where humans have settled, Las Vegas offers no natural advantages. Not only the existence, but the thriving expansion of its development are a testament to feats of ingenuity from the people who came before us in our industry – from the first wells, water lines, and railroad tracks to the soaring beauty of the Hoover Dam. In this environment, we are poised to celebrate the continuation of that tradition and look forward to how we can continue to elevate the industry. If you want to join us in this momentous celebration of what the AEC industry can achieve, visit our website for more information

Luke Carothers is editor of Civil + Structural Engineer Media at Zweig Group. Contact him at

2022 ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala Registration is open for the annual in-person conference in Las Vegas, September 14-16. The 2022 winners of the Hot Firm list, Best Firms To Work For, Marketing Excellence, Excellence in Client Experience, Rising Stars, Top New Ventures, and the Jerry Allen Courage In Leadership Awards will be celebrated at the iconic black-tie awards gala. Register now for the AEC industry’s top learning and networking event of the year!

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.