Monday, April 8, 2013

The View from the Road

(spell checking in progress)

My interest for the car in the american society led me to The view form the road, a book written by Kevin Lynch, supported by Donald Appleyard and John R. Mayer and originally published in 1964 for the Center of Urban Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. The authors analyze in this book the question of aesthetics of highways in USA. Highways are here considerated as vantage viewpoints for urban landscapes, and we could consequently emphasize their potential beauty, "contrasting with their current uglisness". 

The book is mainly written for the engineer who decide the highways routes ; arguing that they should take in consideration the vision and the perception of landscapes from the road  to imagine futures highways  The authors use some cinematographic technicals to ilustrate their theories. The visual sequences of routes are described by different successions of sketches or photographs to simulate the motion of the viewpoint of the driver. All of them are from the inside of the car, with the windscreen as a frame. This technical can therefore be linked to Lee Friedlander work, who capture the face of the american society with pictures from his car  in the serie America By Car. The aim of both works are surely differents, and the motion is does not appear on  Friedlander’s work, but they both considerate the car and the streets as windows on society, and as a starting point to understand the city. From that point it is interresting to compare these studies, and try to see if the artistic work of Friedlander finds a particular resonance in theoric work of Kevin Lynch, to see if the strength of the pictures can be explained by analyzes of the view that a driver own from a road. 

In the first part of The view form the road, Kevin Lynch describe the elements of attention on the road. The visual takes here a huge importance in the sensation of the road and of  car’s motion. Friedlander use different levels of perception, shifting from big perspective on empty roads to small details as signs in city center, and in the same time from striking big perspectives to trivial details. The position of the photographer in the car, visible thanks to the presence of the elements of the inside of the car on the picture (windows, steering wheel ..) follows the same logical as well, shifting from a frontal view on larges lanscapes to a lateral view on the side of the car on tightened shots. This natural effect, represented in some pictures is described in The view form the road : "As speed increases, attention is confined to a narrower forward angle, since coming events must be predicted furthur ahead. As near objects rush past more rapidly, they are harder to perceive and attention may shift to more distant and relatively more stable elements. Landmarks are seen in clusters rather than singly ; larger spaces and bigger land form take command. The scene shifts from details to generality".

"Shifts from details to generality" in Friedlander’s pictures

Direction of the passenger's view on the road, Kevin Lynch


  1. Hi Samuel,

    Have a look at these - you might find them interesting
    and a more local version....


  2. It might also be worthwhile to look at some of JB Jackson's writing about the landscape, time and our perception of it:
    Your study could develop your idea of looking at the points of view - driver - in front, passenger - side and front, car - lower than standing pedestrian, google car - above pedestrian and car height....etc