Strangeharvest is a collection of writing and projects about architecture and design. Strangeharvest is made by Sam Jacob.
The Harvest Reviews Read Mes Projects
Tarmaceden

road.jpgThis is a designers story about non-design. The origins of the tarmac road are as clumsy as a smash at the crossroads of geology, chemistry, economics, and city planning. In fact, its origins are literally in an everyday low grade road accident.


A British county surveyor, Edgar Hooley travelling the bumpy roads of Derbyshire came across a hard, smooth section. Curious, he asked how this patch had formed. The locals told him that a barrel of tar had accidentally fallen off a cart. To mop it up, slag from a blast furnace had been sprinkled on top. Hooley, recognising some potential in this gloopy recipy began experimenting. In 1902 he patented the process of heating tar adding slag or macadam to the mix then breaking stones within the mixture to form a smooth road surface. He formed TarMacadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Ltd in 1903 and registered Tarmac® as a trademark. But like most innovators, he couldn’t turn a big idea into a big business. He sold up to a Wolverhampton steel manufacturer who saw a way of turning furnace leftovers into cash. Sir Alfred Hickman formed a company called Tarmac, still doing business today.


Accident, not necessity was the mother of this invention. Borne out of those un-designerly characteristics of spilling and bodging, it is a sophisticated and forgiving kind of infrastructure. Its capacity for forgiveness is revealed in the scars that it bears. Scars caused by the lacerations of diggers and drills which hack through its surface. Its sophistication in its anticipation of all possible changes. Tarmac remains provisional as its dug up and patched to accommodate the alterations, improvements, mistakes, extensions and erasings. Mending and change are intrinsic to its characteristics.
Like glass, tarmac never sets completely solid. The streets are really rivers flowing with the thickest black treacle. A viscous gloop in whose depths lurk stringy wires and lumpy pipes. Like the chocolate topping on a crunchy musli bar. On very hot days you can feel its velvety softness with your heel.


The Situationits claimed that the beach lies beneath the pavement. Reality, however, is more exotic than rhetoric. Roads are million year old sludge drawn from deep beneath the ocean. Most road asphalt is a by-product of crude oil processing. Once all the valuable bits have been removed, the denuded left overs are made into asphalt. Roads are just a sticky kind of dirt, rearranged into linear patterns.

It’s like mud that’s been edited. Asphalt is an abstract version of the ground. Dark, compressed, inert and flat. Somewhere between mud and stone. Equivalent pretty much across the country – consistent meaning, regardless of local vernacular or materials. Endlessly extendable and always exactly the same. Where even now a truck and a roller are adding a three-lane bypass.

All of this freshly pressed blackness flows on to the horizon. Crisp and clean and unspoilt. Glistening like overnight snow, only blacker and harder. As full of the promise of love as wedding cake icing. So beautiful and textured that you want to step barefoot onto this unspoilt world. Forests of signposts, hosts of golden yellow sodium lamps for the Wordsworth of the highway – deeper in poetic loneliness behind the wheel of than the lake district ever permitted.


A brand new skin for the earth. That makes the world look newborn, so that it can’t be anything but innocent. More wonderful than the ancient craggy, scuffed planet beneath. Perhaps the real modern poets are those who create these landscapes: The Capability Browns of the motorway system, the Gertude Jekels of the parking lot. Driven by desire to reclaim earth as an unspoilt paradise. Highway engineers who dream of being naked Tarmac Adams in a Tarmac Eden.

First Published in Contemporary

Posted by sam at May 16, 2004 10:11 PM
comments
The MTPaginate tag only works within PHP documents!
Make sure that the document extension is .php and that your server supports PHP documents.
2) $paginate_current_page = 2; $paginate_sections = array( 0 , 10, 13); $paginate_top_section = $paginate_sections[$paginate_current_page-1]+1; $paginate_bottom_section = $paginate_sections[$paginate_current_page]; } else { $paginate_top_section = 1; $paginate_bottom_section = 13; } $paginate_self = '&' . $_SERVER['QUERY_STRING'] . '&'; $paginate_self = preg_replace("/&page=[^&]*&/", "&", $paginate_self); $paginate_self = substr($paginate_self, 1, strlen($paginate_self) - 1); if($paginate_self == '&') $paginate_self = ''; else $paginate_self = htmlentities($paginate_self); $paginate_self = basename($_SERVER['PHP_SELF']) . "?${paginate_self}page"; ?>

'I, Faker' chronicles the descent of trade journal hack-ism into satirical search for humanity in the deathly press release prose....
December 07, 2004

Whats so great about cab offices at christmas? Well, for starters, its the total lack of conscious design but its also the mystical prehistorical tin foil symbols too ...
November 25, 2004

A fanzine on wheels: The rear window plastered with fading pictures of Freddie, the boot covered with stick-on lettering. The Queen Mobile spotted brightening up a traffic jam around Shepherds Bush....
November 21, 2004

"The objectives of the Knork are: to provide a single utensil capable of providing the benefits of a knife and fork ... "...

They say the first step is to admit to your vice. OK, my name is Sam and I like postmodern architecture. My love for this universally reviled twentieth-century movement began in bargain bookshops. The architecture section was like a Battersea...
November 15, 2004

A Contribution to the Ethical Taxonomy of Political Signage...
November 04, 2004

The secret history of Ketchup...
October 21, 2004

Clova Estate, Aberdeenshire...
September 19, 2004

Imagine sitting at home when suddenly the sky goes white. Not that shadowless white-without-limit where cloud meets mist on a winter morning. But a whiteness with a grid of reinforcements and repeating logos which stops a few yards from...
August 24, 2004

A scrap of of something for Intersection magazine : My parents had a Morris Traveller in the early 1970s. I have vague dreamlike memories of sitting in the back driving through the English countryside with a large clay Cider jug...
June 16, 2004

What happens when London gets bigger and bigger? What happens when postcard London is further away than Reading? When the familiar landmarks that stand for London are far over the horizon. When London is only a tourist destination and a...
May 27, 2004

I was asked by FX magazine to name my 4 favorite things. Here they are: Polly Pocket: Plastic toys which open up, swivel and fold to reveal incredibly intricate, pastel pink and blue landscapes. They have the kind of beauty...
May 16, 2004

Carlton Terrace runs along the back of the Mall, and if you’re ever there on a weekend you might see actors dressed in 19th century costume looking bored and drinking Nescafe. That's because if you stand in the right...
January 28, 2004

1) echo ' | '; if($i == $paginate_current_page) { echo sprintf(" %d ", $i); } else { echo " %d ', $i) . ''; } } ?>
california dreamin'
Rest In Peace
Fork Hook
100m Travelator
BirdTableLight
The Neverending Poem of the Internet
Souvenir Empire
Swimming Pools
Snack Sculptures
Highways