Conference paper abstract – Megan McHugh

National Identity, Landscape and the Early Motorway in England

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In 1958, the first section of motorway in Britain was opened. While Britain’s motorway infrastructure increasingly attracts scholarly interest, no investigation of its earliest experiment in motorway construction, the Preston Bypass, has so far been conducted. Its design had been a precedent for the M1, the first full-length motorway, a year later. Wartime propaganda and the post-war optimism which accompanied the end of austerity and the coronation of a new queen had witnessed the rise of a heightened interest in an English national identity. The new motorway infrastructure, much anticipated during the wartime building hiatus, became entwined in this 1950s conception of national identity via its position in the architectural debates surrounding reconstruction. This paper investigates the visual manifestation of ‘Englishness’ as it was situated in ideation of a picturesque rural landscape. It demonstrates the ways in which professionals in architecture, planning, art, literature, and the newly formalised discipline of landscape architecture were united in promoting a Modernist vision of ‘Englishness’ based on a revision of the Picturesque. It demonstrates that landscape architects, reimagining their discipline as a force for social improvement in urban planning, became a powerful lobbying force through links with The Architectural Review, the CPRE, the Royal Fine Art Commission, and eventually the Landscape Advisory Committee; and were able to establish a number of strategies for a new picturesque Modernism which were exercised for the first time at the Festival of Britain and in the landscaping of New Towns, before being applied likewise to the nascent motorway plans. This centrality of landscape architecture to highway design was not unique to Britain, and professional engagement with examples from the Autobahnen are highlighted. It concludes that while foreign highway aesthetics were engaged with, the experimental Preston Bypass was uniquely influenced by this English vision in a way that would not be fully expressed in later motorways.

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