'A new look at the English landscape': landscape architecture, movement and the aesthetics of motorways in early postwar Britain

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In the past decade or so geographers have been arguing for more performative, practice-oriented and non-representational accounts of the ways in which people encounter, move through and inhabit landscapes, spaces and places. In this paper I argue that these theoretical concerns should also prompt geographers to explore the fairly long history of critical commentaries and aesthetic interventions by writers, artists, film-makers and landscape practitioners who have shown a sensibility to movement and embodied practices in the landscape. The paper then examines how landscape architects focused their attention on the movements, speed and visual perspective of vehicle drivers in their arguments for the landscaping and design of motorways in early postwar Britain. During the 1940s the Institute of Landscape Architects pushed for the involvement of their members in the landscaping and planting of all future roads, and prominent landscape architects criticized the tendency of local authorities and organizations such as the Roads Beautifying Association to plant ornamental trees and shrubs which would interrupt the flow of the landscape and distract drivers travelling at speed. Landscape architects such as Brenda Colvin, Sylvia Crowe and Geoffrey Jellicoe argued for a focus on simplicity, flow and the visual perspective of drivers, and the government's Advisory Committee on the Landscape Treatment of Trunk Roads applied similar criticisms to the work of Sir Owen Williams and Partners in designing and landscaping the earliest sections of Britain's first major motorway, the London to Yorkshire Motorway or M1. The paper examines how landscape architects pushed for a functional modernism to be constructed around the movements and speed of motorists, and it concludes by discussing how an admiration for foreign motorways was tempered by calls for a British motorway modernism reworked in regional and local settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-105
Number of pages28
JournalCultural Geographies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


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