Conference paper abstract – Peter Merriman

Motorway modern: landscape architecture, movement and the aesthetics of roads in post-war Britain


In this paper I examine how landscape architects and other professionals focused their attention on the movements, speed and visual perspective of vehicle drivers in early post-war Britain. I trace how the Institute of Landscape Architects pushed for the involvement of their members in the landscaping and planting of future roads in the 1940s, tracing the tensions which emerged between the ILA and horticulturists associated with the Roads Beautifying Association about the appropriateness of ornamental trees and shrubs adorning the nation’s roads. In contrast, 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 involvement of key figures in the government’s Advisory Committee on the Landscape Treatment of Trunk Roads led to similar views being applied in a range of new road projects. In contrast, I examine how Britain’s first major motorway, the Luton to Rugby sections of the M1, was criticised for its poor landscaping and planting, being upheld as an example of how not to approach motorway design.  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.

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