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The Surprising Beauty Of America’s Crumbling Interstate System

Cloverleaves, diamonds, turbines, and windmills: Peter Andrew captures America’s sprawling highway infrastructure.

  • <p>Photographer Peter Andrew likens the interstate to a cardiovascular system, where cars are blood cells and roads are arteries.</p>
  • <p>This shot of a Phoenix interchange won the 2013 Communication Arts Photo Annual.</p>
  • <p>Andrew charters a small plane to capture his images, which he snaps while hanging out the window.</p>
  • <p>He tends to focus on the Southwest.</p>
  • <p>“Some are slick and chaotic others appear chipped-up and worn but at the same time neat and symmetrical,” he adds.</p>
  • <p>A "stack" interchange framed against red soil.</p>
  • <p>A neatly maintained "cloverleaf" stack.</p>
  • <p>And a complicated hybrid.</p>
  • <p>Another stack.</p>
  • <p>And what looks like (to our untrained eyes) a hybrid "cloverstack."</p>
  • <p>This is the newest image in Andrew’s series, which is ongoing.</p>
  • 01 /11

    Photographer Peter Andrew likens the interstate to a cardiovascular system, where cars are blood cells and roads are arteries.

  • 02 /11

    This shot of a Phoenix interchange won the 2013 Communication Arts Photo Annual.

  • 03 /11

    Andrew charters a small plane to capture his images, which he snaps while hanging out the window.

  • 04 /11

    He tends to focus on the Southwest.

  • 05 /11

    “Some are slick and chaotic others appear chipped-up and worn but at the same time neat and symmetrical,” he adds.

  • 06 /11

    A "stack" interchange framed against red soil.

  • 07 /11

    A neatly maintained "cloverleaf" stack.

  • 08 /11

    And a complicated hybrid.

  • 09 /11

    Another stack.

  • 10 /11

    And what looks like (to our untrained eyes) a hybrid "cloverstack."

  • 11 /11

    This is the newest image in Andrew’s series, which is ongoing.

It’s hard to oversell the impact of America’s largest public works project, the 47,000 mile Interstate Highway System, which is tied to some of our best and worst attributes as a country. For aerial photographer Peter Andrew, it is something of a muse. Like so many other artists and writers before him, Andrew is fascinated by our sprawling highways. And as someone who hangs out of helicopters with a camera around his neck for a living, he has frequent opportunities to document it.

"I was drawn to these structures because they are easily overlooked and yet ubiquitous to most western cities," Andrew tells Co.Design. "Cars flow over the highway junctions like the concrete arteries in the city’s cardiovascular system." In this nice little video, you can watch as the Canadian photog climbs into a single-engine plane and, once airborne, opens up the window to shoot highway stacks far below.

Andrew’s images focus on the interchanges, which come in an array of shapes and types, including cloverleafs, braids, collectors, and stacked diamonds, to name a few (this field guide lists more). "Some are slick and chaotic others appear chipped-up and worn but at the same time neat and symmetrical," he adds. More are crumbling. Most states are struggling to maintain their highways, taxed both by budget cuts and extreme overuse.

"Future archaeologists will study the freeway to understand who we are," David Brodsly wrote in 1981. Andrew’s photographs echo the sentiment, framing grimy cloverleafs in an almost reverent light. He adds that the series is ongoing—next, he’ll train his camera on Texas’ famous highway stacks.

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