The Bartlett School of Architecture


Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes

Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes (Reaktion, 2013), by Iain Borden, explores the spatial experience of driving and interactions with the built environment.



The book draws together new insights alongside other observations of automobile driving made by earlier commentators (e.g. Lefebvre and Virilio), investigating how different kinds of driving, at different speeds and on different kinds of road, produce distinct encounters with cities and architecture and, hence, also produce similarly distinct social cultural experiences. In particular, the book undertakes an extensive exploration of films, videos and other moving images in order to explore the cultural meanings of driving as a spatial experience. It argues that different intersections of speeds, roads, automobiles and histories produce four different kinds of political and cultural productions of space: 30 mph, and the cognitive mapping of city streets; 55 mph, and the tourist and existential experience of the countryside; 70 mph, and the contemplative experience of motorways; and 100 mph, and the risk-danger of accelerated real and virtual speeds.

Underlying the project is an engagement with current debates about car-usage, arguing that the role of the private car cannot be simply replaced by improved forms of public transport without first understanding, and responding to, the various pleasures and experiences offered by automobile driving. The politics of architecture and urban space is thus seen as a complex intersection of historically-layered and recently-received experiences, ideologies, cultural representations, urban spaces and architectures, and thus as a condition which cannot – or should not – be reduced to purely functional or economic considerations. 

Drive was shortlisted for the 2013 RIBA President's Award for Outstanding University-Located Research.


Iain Borden
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Iain Borden, Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes, (London: Reaktion Books, 2013). Chinese edition: Beijing, The Commercial Press, 2016/forthcoming.

Iain Borden, 'The Pleasures of Driving: Experiencing Cities From the Automobile', Igea Troiani and Mark Swenarton (eds.), The Politics of Making, (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 75-86.

Iain Borden, 'Slow In, Fast Out: Speed and Body in the Little Chef,' David Lawrence (ed.), Food on the Move: the Extraordinary World of the Motorway Service Area, (London: Between Books, 2010), p. 128.

Iain Borden, 'Driving: Automobiles, Speed and Restless Cities', Gregory Dart and Matt Beaumont (eds.) Restless Cities: Essays on the Metropolis in Perpetual Motion, (London: Verso, 2010), pp. 98-121. 

Iain Borden, 'From Trains to Automobiles: Motorised Experiences of Landscapes', MarklinWorld Catalogue, (Amersfoort: Kunsthal Kade, /2011), pp. 12-14.

Iain Borden, 'Chinatown, Automobile Driving and the Unknowable City,' Matthew Gandy (ed.), Urban Constellations, (Berlin: Jovis, 2011), pp. 186-9.

Iain Borden, 'Automobile Interstices: Driving and the In-Between Spaces of the City,' Andrea Mubi Brighenti (ed.), The Aesthetics and Politics of Urban Interstices, (Ashgate, forthcoming/2013).

Iain Borden, 'Desire and Adventure: Youth and Automobile Driving in The Italian Job and other Movies,' Kyriaki Tsoukala et al (eds.) Youth. Public Space, (Thessaloniki: Epikentro, 2012), pp. 29-62. In Greek.

Iain Borden, 'The World's Most Popular Architecture: the Technology and Interior of the Automobile,' Medina Lasansky (ed.), Archi-Pop: Mediating Architecture and Popular Culture, (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), pp. 163-76.


Building Design
"A tremendous amount of research has gone into the book and if nothing else, it is the best bibliography and filmography on the subject ... After reading this book I’ve fallen in love with 'the intoxicating pleasures of automobility'." 

Classic Cars magazine
"Every now and then a book comes along from an unexpected source that completely changes your perspective . . . [Drive] launches a substantial investigation into what it is about cars that we find so appealing, and how this manifests itself in cinema ... Superb."

Daily Telegraph
"To pick up this book is to be taken on a smooth, fast drive – a remarkable examination of just why it is that so many people choose to drive."

Design Observer
"From the moment I saw its title, a new book, Drive, had me buckled into the front seat ready to hit the freeway.

[Borden] is an attentive and penetrating film critic able to evoke the character and attraction of many kinds of film while deftly interrogating them in support of his themes ... Cutting across films in this way reveals just how much texture and information entertainment-led reviewing (and viewing) can miss, and what rich sources of evidence films can be about social organization, spatial experience, contemporary behavior, and urbanized life."

Film & History
"From its compelling selection of films to its insightful analyses, well-written prose and captivating illustrations, Drive has much to recommend it . . . a gripping account of the pleasures that car-lovers are likely to derive from watching cars and driving in film. One of this study’s greatest merits is that it brings cinema into the equation, demonstrating that films have been both indebted to and responsible for the massive success of this major everyday practice."

Icon magazine
"What emerges from Borden's account is not a straightforward picture of driving as pleasure, but of humanity simultaneously enthralled and trapped by the car and the world we have created for it - both real and imaginary ... Drive is a robust account of the history of driving in 20th-century cinema."

The Independent
"You’ve seen the films, now read the book. Drive ... cruises along at an exhilarating speed over scenic routes."

The i Paper (produced by The Independent)
"Where would the movies go without the magic of the automobile and the open highway? From The Italian Job to Crash by way of Thelma and Louise, Borden's study makes engaging detours beyond the standard 'road movie' theme."

Journal of Historical Geography
"In Drive, Borden argues that driving is the normalised way we encounter landscape today. The chapters are based on the speed of the cars involved – a dromological approach that is clever and revealing. It is, though, an inter-disciplinary study, which blends insights from sociology, cultural geography, and media studies, with architecture kept below the surface –  though, as his work on skateboarding has shown, Borden is a far from conventional architectural commentator. 

Drive is a moderately priced, well-illustrated, and engaging book that is recommended for readers interested in how movies help us understand the experiences and emotions of driving in cars and how drivers experience landscape."

Journal of Transport History
“One of the great strengths of Borden's work is the close consideration of the embodied experiential dimensions of driving, both in the city and outside the city. 

An accessible, well written and richly illustrated study that highlights the importance of investigating how automobility both reflects existing structures and precipitates changes in urban, industrialised societies, and provides ample stuff to fuel debates over the past, present and future role of the car in the city.”

Octane magazine
"Drive details how driving is portrayed on celluloid; so that's everything from the dangers implied by C'etait un Rendezvous to the existentialism of Vanishing Point's desert scenes. It offers an interesting and thought-provoking slant on why we love driving and does much to debunk the anti-car rhetoric espoused by certain sections of the media. Well written and a pleasure to read."

RIBA Research Awards
Shortlisted for this award in 2013.

Viewfinder (www.bufvc.ac.uk)
"The perceptive reader ... will be thankful for the remarkable scope of this work. For example, Borden’s encyclopaedic knowledge of road films ... allows for discussion of such diverse material as Nazi Party propaganda films celebrating the birth of the autobahn, promotional films from the 1950s advertising products by General Motors, art films such as the anti-consumer Zabriskie Point (1970) or the nihilist existentialism of Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and big-budget Hollywood productions such as Rain Man (1988) and Thelma and Louise (1991). While previous substantial studies of road films focus mainly on Euro-American productions, Borden goes further, exploring aspects of the genre from Africa, Australia, Central America and Southeast Asia. Such ambition means that Drive’s bibliography, by itself, is an invaluable source of reference.

This is a lavishly illustrated, well-written, and perceptive book, which should prove popular with readers interested in all aspects of automobility."

Robert Wisehart, US novelist 
"In a world where research all too often consists of a few minutes on the internet, Iain Borden's Drive shows how it's done, or how it should be done. They're all here: road movies such as Thelma and Louise and Vanishing Point; great car chases including BullittThe French Connection and The Italian Job; and auto-psychological movies such as Driving Miss Daisy, Rebel Without a Cause, and American Graffiti. Borden's creation is thoughtful, gracefully expressed, and lavishly illustrated. So buckle your seat belt, I think you'll enjoy this Drive."

Image Credits

(01) Book cover. 

(02) Still from Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968).

(03) Still from Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974).

(04) Still from Les Quatre Cents Coups (François Truffaut, 1959).

(05) Still from The ? Motorist (Walter R. Booth, 1906).

(06) Still from Emak-Bakia (Man Ray, 1926).

(07) Still from Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950).

(08) Still from Pierrot le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965).

(09) Still from C'etait un rendezvous (Claude Lelouch, 1976).

(10) Still from Two-Lane Blacktop (Monte Hellman, 1971).

(11) Still from Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976).

(12) Still from Radio On (Christopher Petit, 1979). 

(13) Still from Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007). 

(14) Still from Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008). 



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