Our Studio team’s speculative design for new signage typologies for motorways and major A-roads is based on the milestones that have guided travellers for millennia. Roman markers of local stone, worked into cylinders and laid every thousand paces, can still be found across England.

“Earth is ancient now, but all knowledge is stored up in her. She keeps a record of everything that has happened since time began. Of time before time, she says little, and in a language that no one has yet understood. Through time, her secret codes have gradually been broken. Her mud and lava is a message from the past.” Jeanette Winterson, Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles


Laurie Chetwood Gantries concept sketch

[above: Laurie Chetwood concept sketch]

The Studio team approached their design in the context of a research project for using rammed earth as a construction material, proposing that new milestones will be made from the local ground they stand on. The team mapped geological formations under the landscape in relation to the major motorway routes above them.

A milestone marking the way to the Peak District will be banded shades of brown and tan, the colours of Millstone Grit; graded shades of green, purple and brown will mark the way to Cornwall’s Lizard. 

The earth will be excavated, and foundations of compacted stone installed.  The excavated earth will be used to form rammed earth columns. These cylinders, giant geological core samples that tell the story of their place and time, will support the efficient and elegant signage-bearing truss structures that span the road.

The design of the gantry truss structure considered materials that could be repurposed and concluded that they should be made from steelwork from disassembled redundant electricity pylons.

As technology changes and autonomous vehicles mark the end of physical signage the trusses can be taken down and their components reused elsewhere. The rammed earth cylinders that remain will become ecosystems for migrating birds which will rest in their crevices, drink from their pools and feast on their insects. Eventually the cylinders will be left to disintegrate, returning into the ground from where they were created.

“It was during my enchanted days of travel that the idea came to me, which, through the years, has come into my thoughts again and again and always happily—the idea that geology is the music of the earth.”  Hans Cloos, Conversation with the Earth 1953

At Chetwoods our design teams are constantly exploring and experimenting with new building materials, pushing boundaries from the potential of using structural stone in our work to designing environmentally friendly facades. We share our knowledge of the best materials to specify across our industry via our Thrive team’s Material Matters Workshops which focus on embodied carbon as well as considering health, wellbeing and circularity. We have also designed one of the largest timber buildings currently being constructed in the UK.

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