Traffic Jams, Detours, and Historical Knowledge

After writing the earlier post on artist-designed traffic jams, I just remembered one of my favorite projects by the Dutch architect Wiel Arets — his “Boulevard Domburg” (1990). In this masterplan, Arets designed a bottleneck-producing, z-shaped stretch of road, set within a larger highway scheme that incorporated housing.

Picture 1

In many ways “Boulevard Domburg” recalls the early Obus Plan proposal by Le Corbusier for Algiers. But unlike the much more famous Obus Plan (that also incorporated housing and highways), Arets’ project challenges the concepts of circulation driving Corbusier’s and many other modern city planning schemes.

Aret’s project involves something we might term “anti-circulation.” Arets purposely includes a bottleneck, a detour that forces cars to slow to a standstill. Within this zig/zag detour Arets brings the existing town and the seaside into the view of the driver. It enables a driver and their passengers to consider their particular location within the slipstream of an automotive environment. Arets not only brings a new appreciation of a highway’s particular context, he opens up a space, a very interesting space, for other forms of knowledge to enter the experience of driving.

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As anyone knows from driving in the United States, there’s a certain direct and palpable relationship between speed and historical knowledge. Zipping through a town not only limits our ability to understand it; the highways and roads of the United States are dotted with historical markers and signs that are comically unreadable at the speeds most people drive. I often recall particular detours — due to accidents, sudden natural hazards, or road work — that led to fantastic discoveries — an old mill town, the site of a famous battle or event, basically something I had driven by many times but never knew.

91708 two dot crazy marker 5499 single167

Arets designed his detour as a critique of modern efficiency, but perhaps his detour represents some larger project that we can harness to better relate speed and history. In turn, one imagines that the detour becomes an aspect of a historical project.

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