A Perfect Christmas Gift from WSU Architecture Students: Taking a Closer Look at State Route 26

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University architecture students have a unique gift for the person who seems to have everything.

The WSU School of Architecture students have produced a collection of gifts featuring State Route 26, the infamously boring, 133-mile highway that stretches from Vantage to Colfax. Each year, nearly 10,000 college students regularly drive the route, commuting from the Puget Sound area to Pullman.

The collection includes a book of essays and photos, a collection of postcards, posters, and a 2-CD set intended as a musical accompaniment to a SR-26 road trip. The students’ goal: to present the highway as a work of art.

“We’re taking land that is considered to be relatively ordinary and, through framing it in a very creative way, allowing people to see the landscape as extraordinary,’’ said Paul Hirzel, an associate professor in the School of Architecture.

In Hirzel’s site and landscape design class, students learn about the significance of a site in making architecture work well. By paying attention to the context and the character of a place, students are able to make their architectural designs more integrated and, consequently, better. Hirzel, who grew up in eastern Washington, said that western Washington is generally marketed as the preferred landscape in the state.

Students often have that attitude as well, he said. The introduction of “Motion Pictures, Stories of SR26’’ notes that the highway is believed to be so uneventful that no part of it is even mentioned in Washington state travel guidebooks by the American Automobile Association or the Washington State Bureau of Tourism. By focusing on what is thought of as a mundane landscape such as State Route 26, students find that such landscapes are often far more fascinating that most of us think, Hirzel said.

Profits from the State Route 26 project benefit WSU’s School of Architecture. Further details about the project are available on the college Web site at www.arch.wsu.edu/publications.