Human Flower Project

Looking over a Concrete Clover

Lewis Mumford sets off a search for the flowers of highway interchange.


Highway interchange in North Carolina

Photo: NCDOT

“Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf.”

So Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) summed up America’s erotic love of technology, speed and engineering-for-engineering’s sake.

Are there truly flowers in asphalt, discernible from the sky? We found a few symmetrical freeway interchanges, like this one in St. Louis, a loop-de-loop in Maryland, and the Kathleen Road interchange in Florida (oh, Kathleen, I’m thinking you would have preferred some lovelier floral tribute than this!).

But primarily what we found was land scarred up, hideously. Check out the Museum of Ridiculous Freeway Design for some especially koo-koo junctions. What’s more sinister, though, (and inspired Mumford’s “national flower” thought) is our deep infatuation with roads. This site lovingly compiles highway shapes and here’s a study of knotted objects including concrete clovers.

Up for a bit of DIY? Well, by all means, make your own cloverleaf highway.

Architect and sociologist, Mumford developed a fairly grim outlook on American culture, and after checking out these transportation “flowers” one respects his darkness. He wrote about how advertising had fabricated “needs” for ever more and newer stuff, and that stuff was deliberately shoddy—so we’d always be out there buying replacements, on credit. But he argued that the organic world obeyed very different laws: of “qualitative richness, amplitude, spaciousness, and freedom from quantitative pressures and crowding. Self-regulation, self-correction, and self-propulsion are as much an integral property of organisms as nutrition, reproduction, growth, and repair.”


Brooke and endangered cranes fly

over Kankakee County, Illinois

Oct. 27, 2005

Photo: Operation Migration

It seems to us that the worlds of technologies and organisms, of highways and wildflowers, have become knotted. How many clomid babies and, by now, clomid young-adults do we know?  The hope of returning to an existence free of “qualitative pressures” may be an impossible one. Inside the knot, though, there are some fascinating efforts and successes. Consider Operation Migration, a mix of human technical prowess and bird instinct. This group has been working to reroute endangered whooping cranes along their ancient migratory path.

“Whooping cranes learn their migration route by following their parents. But this knowledge is lost when the species is reduced and there are no longer any wild birds using the flyway. Until Operation Migration was asked by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to spearhead a reintroduction of the world’s most endangered cranes, there was no method of teaching migration to captive reared Whooping cranes released into the wild. In the first five years of the program,  approximately 60 birds have been taught a migration route between Wisconsin and Florida. This is 4 times the number that existed in the early 1940’s.”

We wish Lewis Mumford were here to comment on such an odd endeavor and this photo, of “Brooke” and six birds flying over a concrete cloverleaf last fall in Illinois.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/25 at 12:36 PM


“make your own cloverleaf highway” this is the funniest part. imagine if it was possible…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/24 at 10:23 AM
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