Concrete Art on California’s Highways

Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen concrete stamping before—from freeway structures we use every day to landmarks of ancient architecture, this technique for molding or impressing scenes and patterns into wet concrete is used to add visual interest to what could otherwise be seen as boring slabs of cement.

Public Infrastructure: Concrete Stamping to Enhance Sense of Place

In recent years, public infrastructure has made creative use of concrete stamping, with municipalities using the technique to enhance the appearance of bridges and roadside structures. An emerging trend towards locally-meaningful representations on these structures helps add to an area’s sense of place.

Cathedral Oaks Interchange City of Goleta Logo Closeup

Quails in Concrete Stamping at Willow Road

The City of Goleta’s recently-completed Cathedral Oaks interchange and the County San Luis Obispo’s Willow Road interchange (both are located on U. S. Highway 101) use concrete stamping. These projects are perfect examples of local governments investing in and artistically expressing their locales’ unique culture through decorative concrete stamping, on transportation system structures often overlooked or seen as purely functional.

Reducing Impact

Faux Painting on Concrete Stamping Begins at Pitkins Curve

Decorative Concrete Stamping isn’t just for artistic expression or place branding, however. At our Pitkins Curve and Rain Rocks Highway 1 project (pictured above), the technique is used to reduce the visual impact of the rock shed. The sides of the protective structure were stamped with a rock wall texture, then painted to look even more like the rocks of the surrounding cliff face. By helping the rock shed blend into the landscape, concrete stamping allows highly beneficial safety improvements to be implemented without detracting from an area of natural beauty.

Although concrete stamping is more economical than stonework or carved relief sculpture, the technique also allows a flexibility that would be difficult to achieve in other ways.

Another current MNS project, the Lindero Canyon Road bridge across Highway 101, located in Westlake Village, was featured last week in the Ventura County Star. The City of Westlake Village’s ambitious freeway overpass design will be the first large-scale scene stamped in the concrete spanning a freeway bridge. Artist Joe Wertheimer’s design features mountains and sailboats, with “Westlake Village” spelled out across the top, adding to the area’s unique sense of place.

Concrete Stamping’s Construction Management Challenges

The process of stamping an artist’s design into concrete is a complex one, requiring careful work and oversight. Gary Ethier, MNS Assistant Resident Engineer, tells us that the major concern with patterned concrete like the stonework at Pitkins Curve or the upper portion of the bridge at the Cathedral Oaks Interchange (below) is with keeping the concrete dry enough so that the stamped forms hold their shape.

Cathedral Oaks Interchange Goleta Arch Pattern

Concrete Stamping Willow Road Geometric Pattern

For the larger, pictorial panels like the quail and decorative patterning from Willow Road (above), sometimes the panels are pre-formed in a reverse-image mold, though on many projects the concrete is poured and formed in place. “Sometimes there’s a test pour,” says Gary of these large panels, who tells us the other major concern for construction managers on decorative concrete projects is “making sure there’s a good releasing agent so the molds will separate once the concrete is dry.”

***

MNS Engineers is providing Construction Management (CM) services on the Pitkins Curve and Lindero Canyon Road Bridge projects, and has completed CM services for the Cathedral Oaks and Willow Road interchange projects.

Relevant links:

MNS Construction Management Services

MNS Transportation Projects and Market Overview

Westlake Village sculptor’s next big project will span Highway 101,” Ventura County Star.