© 2015 Jeffrey Mansfield

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Highway Constellations: Mapping the Experiential Space-Time of the New York Thruway

2015 Finalist, Peter Reyner Banham Fellowship, University at Buffalo School of Architecture + Planning

Highway Constellations proposes to investigate and conceive the New York Thruway as a place and examines its speculative potential to recontextualize the Interstate highway and the experience of driving. What if the Interstate were more than a conduit for transporting people and goods and highway driving could offer multiple modes of experiencing space and landscape? Through archaeological and architectural negotiation of infrastructure, landscape, and the built environment, this proposal problematizes and confronts the thruway as experiential space-time. 

To Peter Reyner Banham, traveling on the American highway was a powerful spatial experience unparalleled by other modes of transport. While ostensibly liberating and exhilarating in its speed and freedom of choice, highway driving for Banham was deeply paradoxical. In Scenes in America Deserta and Los Angeles The Architecture of Four Ecologies, Banham tempered his enthusiasm for highway travel with the observation that “Americans... will be awheel on Interstate 40 or whatever because they are going somewhere else,” and that “what seems to be hardly noticed or commented on is that the price of rapid door-to-door transport on demand is the almost total surrender of personal freedom for most of the journey.” Today, this situation is increasingly relevant. Highway driving is inherently the experience of space through time, expressed as a measurement of distance over time, in miles-per-hour. Traveling within this continuum affords the driver the unique, soothing state of being alert while taking in the landscape and allowing his or her thoughts to wander freely. Despite its meditative qualities, and coinciding with the rise of highway authorities and enhanced modes of highway surveillance, the Interstate highway is an increasingly regulated space. We are constrained within our vehicles and within highway barriers. These developments, especially on the eastern Interstates, including the New York Thruway, have had an inversely proportional effect on the spontaneous episodes of the Banham lore.