Aerial views of the uneasy geometries of urban sprawl by Christoph Gielen

Christoph Gielen
© Christoph Gielen

Urban sprawl has been "eating our planet" for decades now, an unfortunate byproduct of urban planning that caters to the car, rather than pedestrians. The effects of urban sprawl are numerous, ranging from increased transportation costs, greenhouse gas emissions, permanent alteration and destruction of habitats, and on. Sprawl will be the death of us all, but it's something that doesn't hit us viscerally until we see it for ourselves, amidst the bigger picture.

Christoph Gielen© Christoph Gielen

Christoph Gielen© Christoph Gielen

German-born photographer Christoph Gielen offers us an aerial view of this slowly unfolding disaster in his latest book "Ciphers". From the publisher:

At once fascinating and profoundly unsettling, these photographs detail the potential ramifications of unchecked urbanization. When these settlements were developed, neither distance from work place nor gasoline prices much mattered in determining the locations of new constructions. These places are relics from an era that was entirely defined by a belief in unlimited growth, of bigger is better. The startling extent of those practices, and their inherent wastefulness, come to light in Gielen’s pictures—as if looking at a microcosm of non-sustainability through a giant magnifier.

Christoph Gielen© Christoph Gielen

The geometries of these imposed systems of human habitation seem to reinforce collectively held illusions about modern society, says architecture critic Geoff Manaugh in his essay “Geometric Sociology”:

We are living amidst geometry, post-terrestrial screens between ourselves and the planet we walk upon. [Are they] diagrams of a new anthropology still waiting to be discovered... [or] are they the expression of something much deeper in human culture – some mystical spatiality of the global suburb, an emerging cult of a redesigned earth – like prehistoric glyphs only visible from high above?

From above, these suburban forms look almost beautiful, yet many of us know at ground-level, there is the emptiness of the parking lot, the unending drone of cars, big box stores eating up the local mom-and-pop shops, alienation and monotony. It is a way of living that is imposed through its inherent structure, offering cookie-cutter homes but in the end is spiritually displacing.

Christoph Gielen© Christoph Gielen

With contributing essays from a number of experts, the book gives us an unflinching view of how sprawl affects our environment and communities, and how other rapidly developing nations would do well to take note before making the same mistakes. More over at Christoph Gielen's site.

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