November 15, 2019 Landscape Architecture Students Navigate Nuclear Highway

work from Madl's Nuclear Highway studio
Our students are explorers. They venture into unknown territory and design for otherwise elusive sites. Obstacles are opportunities, not deterrents, and unusual circumstances don’t phase them. Our students are makers, designing for our future and drawing on our past.

Landscape Architecture students in Adjunct Assistant Professor Andrew Madl’s 3rd-year studio are using landscapes to explore the ecology of America’s nuclear economy through America’s Nuclear Highway.

The Nuclear Highway is a nickname for Interstate 25, a 1,000-mile highway that runs from New Mexico to Wyoming. This area of the country is where the first nuclear bomb was tested at Trinity, New Mexico, and where many other nuclear facilities existed.

Madl’s studio examines the presence and operation of the Pantex Plant in Panhandle, Texas, the only U.S. site still responsible for nuclear weapon construction and disassembly. Earlier this semester, they took a trip west to travel along the Nuclear Highway.

Drawing on the U.S.’s history with nuclear weapons from World War II to the present, students are investigating the impact of nuclear weapons testing, changes in land use, government land acquisition and more on the Nuclear Highway’s landscapes.

photo from Madl's studio trip to the Nuclear Highway site

Through analyzing the site and the entire Nuclear Highway, Madl’s students expand the definition of the Nuclear Highway to include the entire network of U.S. highway systems that have been released by the Office of Secure Transportation.

Students in this studio draw on not only landscape features and changes but also political complexities, global issues with nuclear weapons and other governmental systems.

“The work of the studio intends to deploy research and simulation as methodologies for deriving and evaluating design interventions,” Madl said. 

The studio is divided into three sections, each building on the previous section. Part one included an investigation into the Nuclear Highway’s larger national and world context. Based on these systematic findings, students created a spatial strategy or intervention that works with or challenges the discovered system. The third and last part is about expanding the previous studies and supporting findings with theoretical and empirical data.