Kaid Benfield Archive


A birds-eye view of new suburbia

Kaid Benfield

Posted January 20, 2010 at 1:26PM

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  Skye Isle II, Florida, 2009 (by: Christoph Gielen) 

  Sterling Ridge III, Florida, 2009 (by: Christoph Gielen)

Like the amazingly talented Alex MacLean, German-born photographer Christoph Gielen takes aerial photos of the increasingly developed American landscape.  Writing on MetropolisMag.com, Sarah Palmer quotes Gielen as making an explicit connection between his work and the quest for sustainability:

“With these pictures, I am interested in exploring the intersection of art and environmental politics,” Gielen says. “I hope to trigger a reevaluation of our built environment and the methods of its development, to ask: What can be considered a viable, ecologically sound growth process?”

Metropolis presents a slide show of seven of Gielen’s photos from his Arcadia series.

On the photographer’s own site, Johan Frederik Hartle of the University of Amsterdam adds:

“Christoph Gielen's photographs document urban development on three continents and over four decades and they raise universal questions about the social nature of our world. To expose the macro-structures of city planning, Gielen takes a long view. From high above in a helicopter, he focuses on housing developments, construction landscapes and traffic arteries. The distance imposes an aestheticizing process on the formal patterns in urban structures and ways of life, making them appear as blocks and wedges, cylinders, squares and curves. Yet at the same time, he reproduces residential culture in a different mode of seeing.”

In the comments section following Palmer’s article, a number or readers pointed out that the subdivisions depicted in the photos were relatively dense as new subdivisions go and perhaps not the best examples to make Gielen’s intended point.  Maybe so, and one of them in particular doesn’t look that bad; but to me some of them look like they are in wetlands where perhaps development shouldn’t go at all, and the lack of street connectivity (the developers seem to squeeze in as many cul-de-sacs as possible) in some is appalling. 

We don’t get that many high-quality, objective photos of development from above, and I’m glad that Gielen is helping us see these places from a new perspective.