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2003: A Motorway Odyssey

Part 2 Project 2003
Ian Townsend
Nicholas Robert Birch
University of Liverpool | UK
This thesis began as a road trip.

Initially, we travelled the 225 miles of the M6 sketching, filming, interviewing and analysing the sometimes surreal and often unexpected, clandestine activities of motorway service stations.

A second road trip, travelling the A1 (France), proved a vital comparison. We discovered a clear rationale of the whole route with service areas broken down into types. Adopting this technique and applying it to the M6 the motorway and the stations became a narrative, working together as a whole.

Subsequently our investigation took on a more detailed approach analysing one station, Lancaster Forton. Studies of the site coupled with the notion that the car is a substitute for our home environment, led to the insertion of fragmented elements of the home, (sleeping, lounging and cooking), in an attempt to address the issues of scale, familiarity and context.

In portraying our proposal to rationalise the M6 we constructed an installation/room that expressed elements of the domestic along with our film, drawings, research and overall intention of our journey.

Ian Townsend
Nicholas Robert Birch

This is clearly one of the most exciting, methodically interesting and intellectually engaging projects of the academic year. It began with an intention to understand the nature of motorway service stations on M6. To start off, Nick and Sarah undertook a journey up and down the motorway, meticulously recording – through a video diary and through interviews – many aspects of the world that these constitute. In that process, they discovered facets of the service station life we never envisaged had existed; also they captured a range of shady deals being carried out under the twilight sky. To have a basis for comparison, they visited the A1 in France undertaking a similar journey through this busy European motorway and once again producing a video diary. The two sets of experiences were compared carefully to understand the issues and problems of the M6. The ones on the A1 were clearly more organised and displayed a sophisticated and user-friendly signage system to go with it; even before stopping at the station the motorists knew what facilities these contained. Based on the observations and analysis, Nick and Sarah suggested a reorganisation of the service stations on M6; there were too many of those, too close, trying to provide the same kind of facilities and failing in many cases to impress the consumer. They proposed a system of categories of programmes and events, where beyond providing the basic facilities (such as rest rooms and fuel, which would now be taken out of the rest and located in a clearly demarcated place!) the service stations would have clear focus to the attractions these would offer.

Lancaster Forton was eventually taken up as an example to work with – a product of the 1960’s naïve faith in the image of space technology and automation, the building could have easily formed part of the world of the Jetsons. The students’ intention was to develop a programme that would investigate and address such enthusiasm for the technology of speed and futurism, within a modern context. It was decided that various car-centred event spaces, such as a ‘crash-testing centre’ with live and playback observation facilities, as well as, a ‘car showroom restaurant’, would be introduced. On another scale, the students were also interested in the characteristics of ‘Non Places’ (taking Mark Augé’s cue, it was defined as places having differing characteristics from places that we have grown accustomed to knowing and understanding, such as dwellings, institutions, etc., but not a negation of ‘Place’), to which motorway service stations, alongside airports, belong. From that perspective, defining the specificity of the ‘service station’ became important. They felt that the nature of such a ‘Non Place’ could only be articulated when these are contextualised through the characteristics of ‘Places’. The quintessential ‘Place’, the dwelling with its specific elements of ‘sleeping’, living’ and ‘cooking’, was introduced into the project. The ‘sleeping’ element was grafted into the car park allowing for rest zone (which also speculated on the possibility of many unplanned and fringe activities, such as prostitution), while the ‘living’ element was introduced as galleries for the ‘crash-testing centre’ and the ‘cooking’ element found its place within an innovative ‘car showroom restaurant’, allowing a complex interweaving of consumption through eating and enjoying the cars. The project culminated in a beautifully fabricated installation that captured the process and the central intentions.

Dr Carl O'Coill

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