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The Land Art movement, and the work it left scattered among the deserts and valleys of the American Southwest, was the locus of the studio. While ostensibly in the middle of nowhere, the requisite drive to reach these sites is remarkably consistent. A 3-4 hour drive from the nearest town, on interstate highways and farm-roads. The road itself, however involved in the intentions of the artists, is undeniably part of this work.

My project begins here and through research and on-site investigations, evolved to focus exclusively on the space of the road, culminating in the design of 3 potential roads.

This conclusion was percolating early in my research, beginning with a “tech” portrait of Land Art, identifying the various technologies that not only utilized but the artists, but were crucial to their ability to execute their works.

Following this study, I set out on Google Earth to catalog the architectural space that exists in these areas. Compiling the various definable “destinations” in the rural space: road pull-offs, pit stops, historical markers, land use, and even the random piles of residual road material.

I focused on the generally unpopulated section of highway between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, crossing North across Nevada, and experience a variety of landscapes.

As a tool of analysis I generated a scaled plan aggregating all the various elements of the catalog. Here, it becomes clear that these architectures all exist in the periphery, an explicitly separate space from the “space” of the road. Similarly the land art sites all attempt to purge the presence of the road, even more forcefully than the spaces from the catalog.

 
 
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Taking these studies on the road, I developed a system to annotate the road trip, inspired partly by the work of Kevin Lynch in The View from the Road.

Sitting shotgun with a graph pad, I began with a minute by minute documentation of the section of the road and the corresponding sight lines and perceived space around the car. I then mapped other elements, unique to the location, which existed at this scale: weather, density of vegetation, shadow, iconic buildings, and the time spent stopped.

By the end of the trip, I had annotated 12 hours of driving across varied landscapes spanning 4 states. 

In reviewing these annotations after the fact, they work to highlight the diversity of the sectional relationship between the road and the landscape as well as the unique dynamism of this perceptual space. 
 

 

For this project, I designed 3 roads which all work to intervene on the “space” of the road and foreground a relationship to the landscape.


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Located between Wendover, NV and Salt Lake City, this road intervenes on the highway traversing the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake. Pointing to its own hypnotizing effect, this section of highway is replete with warnings of fatigued driving and a peculiar “speedometer calibration zone”. The road of my intervention diverts drivers off the main highway into a constant spiral which, through a constant increase in the curvature of the roadway slows cars from 80mph to 0 at the center. 

 
Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

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Located between Flagstaff, AZ and the Grand Canyon, this section of highway is particularly hilly, however, owing to the grading requirements of high-speed roads, this goes unnoticed for the driver on the endlessly smooth and flat road surface. I chose an area along this highway which uses an extensive amount of fill and removed it, maintaining the existing road at grade but replacing the fill below with more road. Cars can now drive below the road, proceeding on a laborious set of ramps to the bottom where the road widens to meet the landscape at its true grade.

 
Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

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Just outside of Superior, AZ a small tunnel guides the highway through a section of mountain. Here, I’ve taken that existing tunnel and expanded it, wrapping it around itself and changing the trajectory of the driver to proceed perpendicular to the mountain face. As the tunnel approaches the edge of the mountain it protrudes beyond, exposing a hole to the outside. Similarly, as one navigates deeper into the mountain the lights dim and go out, leaving the driver to rely on their headlights. The lighting within the tunnel also transitions from warm to cool , thereby coloring the drivers perception beyond the ends of the tunnel.

 
Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

Photo: Casey Simons

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To approximate the experience of the driver, each of the roads has been rendered in 360° from a position within an automobile, at various spots along the road. The below video can also be viewed using a viewing device such as Google Cardboard. Open the video in the Youtube App on your smartphone and select the "VR" headset option.