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

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

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

He tends to focus on the Southwest.

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

A "stack" interchange framed against red soil.

A neatly maintained "cloverleaf" stack.

And a complicated hybrid.

Another stack.

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

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

Co.Design

The Surprising Beauty Of America’s Crumbling Interstate System

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

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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7 Comments

  • Bud Fox

    Great photography, but what's even more interesting to me is how relatively few cars are actually in most of the images. 

  • Alex

    The award winning shot noted as being from Phoenix is actually from Toronto.

    Completely separately, TeckDeck hits the nail on the head in how to ultimately reduce traffic: Spend less on roads.

  • baycityroller1

    Pretty!  Almost as pretty as the many twisting, sprawling veins that sprout from fast-growing malignant tumors that lay waste to the body, in very nearly the same fashion as car-dependent suburban sprawl and freeway construction have laid waste to our cities, health, environment, economy and politics.

  • PhineasJW

    The cloverleaf should go down in history as one of the worst civil engineering inventions of the modern age.  It should have been called the cluster$%^& leaf.  

    It would probably be less expensive, in terms of lost time, traffic, and insurance rates, to fly the Hindenburg once per year, directly into downtown New York during a thunderstorm.It does look neat from above, however.

  • Robert Brennan

    Cloverleafs are decently efficient for areas without a lot of space and smaller flow volumes. I grew up in Los Angeles and studied civil engineering in college. Cloverleafs just cannot contain the flow volumes present there. Most in LA were designed in the middle part of the 20th century. Flyovers are more efficient for heavily congested areas because you don't seem to have to slow as much to traverse them in most cases (25mph vs 50mph) but are a lot more expensive to build.

    My current job has moved me to the Eastern side of Oregon along the Washington border and there are a few cloverleafs in the tricities area and they're fine for the traffic volume.

    cloverleafs just can't handle the volumes present in systems when they were designed in the 1960s

  • teckdeck2008

     As much as I want to agree with you...having experienced the cloverleaf and the stop light with the crossing bridge...the cloverleaf is an improvement.  The sad truth is there is no good solution for the volume of traffic flow in suburban sprawl type areas.  To improve traffic flow, we need to do something that seems counter-intuitive - spend less on roadway design/expansion and more on buses/rails/etc.