Lofty Visions : the Architectural Intentions and Contrary Realities of Elevated Urban Highways in America, 1900-1959

Finstein, Amy Debra, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard Guy, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Spain, Daphne, Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, University of Virginia
Nelson, Louis, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia
Zunz, Olivier, Department of History, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard Guy, Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

This dissertation establishes a typology of American urban elevated highways from the first half of the twentieth century that united previous conceptions of urban design and transportation with contemporary definitions of modem architecture and automobility. Designed jointly by engineers, urban planners, architects, and municipal leaders, these skyward roads responded to the particular challenges of adapting existing cities to fit changing patterns of urban growth and transportation. Their constructed nature necessarily defined the terms of their impact and reception. Soaring into the air and marching through and across city streets, elevated highways physically affected more people than just those who drove on them. Rather, they stood as physical proclamations of the importance of automobility in the American city. And because of this, their design features and architectural impacts narrated a complex interweaving of early twentieth-century social, architectural, transportation, and urban design challenges.

To demonstrate the boundaries of this pattern, this study profiles three elevated highways in distinctly different urban settings with divergent stylistic approaches: Chicago’s Wacker Drive (1924-1926), New York’s West Side Elevated Highway (1929-1937), and Boston’s Central Artery (1951-1959). In tracing the evolution and implementation of each project, the dissertation shows how elevated roadways synthesized previously disparate narratives about economic vitality, civic beautification, transportation efficiency, and architectural modernity. Municipal leaders, planners, engineers, and architects separately turned to elevated highways as physical evidence of their efforts to respond to each of these conditions. The highways sorted traffic, facilitated ever-faster automotive travel, navigated existing urban fabric, and sported varying interpretations of modem architecture. As such, the highways became physical proclamations of the many facets of urban modernity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-02-18 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:36:43.

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