Concrete Island

July 11, 2009

Picture 2CNCRETE J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island is the story of architect Robert Maitland, whose car accident in April of 1973 leaves him stranded and confined to the forgotten land under the spur of the M4 motorway in London.

Maitland, the hero of the story, ends up stranded in an ‘island’ defined by the concrete structure of the highways that surround it and the deafening roar of the cars. No-one sees him as they drive by and, as he remarks more than once, no will ever think of looking for him there.

The ‘island’ – and extension of his car and of himself- is nothing but the wasteland of urban living. The space is constricted and airless, left to overgrowth, trash and a seemingly abandoned outbuilding where Proctor and Jane (a brain damaged acrobat and a social outcast) live forgotten and isolated from and by society.

The novel explores themes that go far beyond the infrastructure but it is also a social commentary on modern technology. Ballard realizes the notion that the most prominent feature in our modern day landscapes are the highways. Maitland is not unlike Crusoe, having to survive the strains of nature and island natives, except the times have changed and the deserted tropical island surrounded by endless water is now the overgrown patch of land surrounded by endless lanes of concrete and speeding traffic (the 12 to 18 lanes of I-10 come to mind!)

It would certainly be easier to escape from the space under 610 (our intersection), yet it is still similar to the ‘island.’ Whether planers and engineers foresaw it or not life happens in this space. We keep building roads to get to new places that keep getting further and further from where we live, yet we forget about these holes of residual space that sit quietly in our city.

Mike Bonsall traced down the Real Concrete Island
Concrete Island by J.G. Ballard
[Earlier: Inevitable Dross, Saved Space!, Highway Space in Use]

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