Images From A Car

August 20, 2009

IMG_1806We leave at 5.30 knowing that traffic will slow us down, yet hoping not too much, in order to make it on time to our 6 o’clock  appointment. Valencia (in Venezuela) is a little town of  900,000 people that sits in a valley, and has only one freeway that resembles Allen Parkway more than it does 610. But instead of finding the hellish traffic overwhelming, I discovered a few gems for the drivers’ eyes only. As we reach the highway entrance cars approach from all directions. The left turn we need to make seems impossible, given the abundance of cars coming from ahead. The intersecting vehicles come from the right and the left and seem to think the red light is merely decoration, while honks become the perennial soundtrack of the trip. We swerved through the cluster of cars and made it to the 20 mph traffic on the highway. The highway’s 3 lanes have been converted into 5 since here we use the shoulders as the other fast lanes.

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26opie.xlarge2Catherine Opie is a portraitist who also photographs landscapes, cityscapes and contemporary still lives. Her portraits  play into the role of  social commentary, very edgy and maybe even controversial. So, her “Freeeways”  series sticks out as a completely different line of work. The fact is though, that her photographs of freeways are also a sorts of social commentray on the realities of todays’ city landscapes. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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Observations

June 28, 2009

SqFt_comparison

Square footage comparison: Interchange vs. shopping strip

Having visited the interchange a few times already, we’ve made a number of observations. One of the most important (and recurring) one is the shear size of the space. Read the rest of this entry »

Jumping K-Rails

June 22, 2009

THOUGHTS ON OUR FIRST SITE VISIT

Existing Conditions

Once, when I was about 13 or 14, we had some massive flooding out in Humble. Highway 59 was totally under water starting just north of FM 1960 going almost all the way to Kingwood. We lived in a neighborhood right off of the highway and I remember wading out to the freeway with my cousin. We just sat there in the middle of this concrete speedway.  It was quite the experience. Remembering walking along the deserted highway always brings to my mind Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story, By The Waters of Babylon.  There was something powerful about being there, in that space, totally unprotected, small, and vulnerable. Maybe that is where this whole obsession started.

We made our first “official” site visit to our site on an early Sunday morning.  After consuming unhealthy amounts of caffeine, and recovering from the shock of finding other people actually awake at 7am on a Sunday, we made our way to the empty Northwest Transit Center Park and Ride. Read the rest of this entry »

It is hard to imagine a Houston without highways. How you can’t go anywhere without coming in contact with the highway. No matter where you are you have to be aware of your position as it relates to the highway. This reality  though shows the dependency that the city has developed towards its concrete arteries. They are the only mode of transportation for long distances and some would say even for short distances. So in Houston the relevance of the highway is that they are essential for the ability of the city to live.

It could be argued that the highway is essential to the survival of any city, to take it further to the survival of any country. This is true, but the difference is that the highway is essential both to the workings and to the identity of Houston. Let’s take a much older city, Munich, Germany, which I recently visited. It is one of the largest cities in Germany and one constantly filled with travelers from all over the world. The highway in Germany is treated much differently than it is in Houston. The beginnings of the highway can be said to be very similar: both were made to transport the military quickly across the country. The difference comes in the way that the highway meets and interacts with the city. In Houston the highway seems to pierce through the city dividing anything that comes in its path. The city then grows out from the highway. In Munich the highway appears to be much less important. The highway is subservient to the city, it is defined by the city not the other way around. The highway also seems to dissolve as it nears the city center. It goes from four or five lanes into a large boulevard until it becomes part of the normal city street grid. Also the highways seem to have no problem disappearing under the city for a while and then reappear where it is appropriate. There is a real sense of hierarchy in the way the highway meets the city.  In the end what all of this means for the city is that the highway plays a supportive role as opposed to a dominant role. The highway doesn’t dictate development, as it does in Houston. So as you enjoy a stroll in Marien Platz one of the last things on your mind is: “how do I get back to 59 from here?”.