Andrew Cowen

The 6-lane route has no lack of storefronts or homes, but it's not a place you'd want to spend much time.

Sydney's Princes Highway is one of the major arterials for getting to and from the city center via the airport and the southern suburbs. But despite the "highway" in its name (and the airplanes landing at the nearby airport), the six-lane route has no lack of storefronts or homes alongside it.

That messy combination has long intrigued photographer Andrew Cowen. Cowen was first drawn to the roadway for its signage and architecture. But he's become increasingly fascinated with the area's history and evolution, eventually putting together a photo series titled, Princes Highway.

Cowen sees the roadway as a place that grew "out of years of no real planning," an area long inundated with big, colorful signs competing with other big, colorful signs for the attention of motorists. In some instances, Cowen tells us, the houses along the road "get in on the act," painting themselves in equally loud colors.

Despite these seemingly unappealing conditions, the Australian photographer has noticed a change. Princes Highway is losing its car repair shops and gas stations. An IKEA has since opened, and some of the street's older buildings are being renovated or demolished. The area's notorious signage culture disappearing with those changes. 

Now, Cowen sees his project as a document of what used to be. "People used to go to the Princes Highway to get a second-hand bonnet for their Datsun," he says. "Now they go out there to get a new cover for their couch or some timber venetian blinds." That's not to say it's turning into some sort of urban planner's dream. "There is virtually no one on the street because it's such an unpleasant environment," says Cowen. "I was an oddity being a pedestrian in this area."

All images courtesy Andrew Cowen

H/T Feature Shoot

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About the Author

Mark Byrnes
Mark Byrnes

Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design, history, and photography.

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