“Drawing Natures: US Freeway Controversies, Representational Techniques, and the Rise of Ecological Design,” Journal of Design History (2017).
Amidst broad disciplinary, political and technological shifts in the 1960s, a handful of U.S. urban designers experimented with highway design, thereby reconfiguring how human/nature relationships were enacted in the studio. This paper examines the specific techniques and methods used in two such experiments: a 1962 highway location study by architect Christopher Alexander and engineer Marvin Manheim, and a 1966 highway re-routing proposal by landscape architect and urban planner Ian McHarg. In some ways, these projects support the notion that 1960s design was increasingly technological and rational in character: they exemplify a key moment when data-oriented, computer-inspired approaches were integrated into urban and environmental design, and demonstrate designers’ interests in developing more scientific, comprehensive and measurable approaches. Yet attending to these projects’ techniques and methods reveals contradictions and complications within that broader narrative. In action, 1960s designers often made the categories of nature, ecology, data and technology multiplicitous and unstable, by speaking, viewing, drawing and performing them in different ways at different moments. In focusing on the actions of designing, this work contributes a new understanding of the ecocentric dimensions of 1960s US urban design, and examines the substantive roles of drawing technique and design method in defining human/nature relationships.