Taking Measures Across the American Landscape

Essays, Drawings, and Commentary by James Corner; Photographs by Alex S. MacLean; Foreword by Michael Van Valkenburgh

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Only in the past century have Americans been able to see their country from the air, to view its majestic natural and manmade topography and muse how it came to look the way it does. Landscape architect James Corner and aerial photographer Alex MacLean now present breathtaking photographs, exquisite map-drawings, and thoughtful essays that record their flights across the continental United States and express their growing understanding of the way the American landscape has been forged by various cultures in the past and what the possibilities are for its future design.

The book traces the influence on the American landscape of the Anasazi and the Hopi in the southwest, the French along the Mississippi, the British in the east, the pioneer Americans across the plains, and the technological society across much of modern-day America. It investigates the ways in which landscape representation--particularly aerial vision--not only reflects a given reality but also constitutes a way of seeing and acting in the world. It discusses the many meanings of measure--from practical (such as solar furnaces in California) to poetic (such as raised tablets in Illinois that once formed the structure of an ancient city). And it suggests alternative possibilities for planning and taking future measures in our environment, building upon examples that range from the rectilinear survey landscape to the great transportation networks and such technological innovations as windmill fields, pivot-irrigation systems, and radio-telescope installations.

James Corner is assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Alex S. MacLean is a photographer and founder of Landslides, a firm that specializes in low altitude aerial photography. Denis Cosgrove is professor of geography at the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London.

"An original and striking book that imaginatively and creatively melds word with image. It is intelligent, often profound, always shrewd."—John Dixon Hunt, University of Pennsylvania

"You have not seen America till you've looked through the lens of Alex MacLean's camera."—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Hope, Human and Wild

"One of the year's most magical books."—Malcolm Jones Jr., Newsweek

"A loving appreciation of the land, space, and forms that architects, builders, road crews, and farmers have added to the America that can be seen from above. . . . Visually thrilling. . . . Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"This is a wonderful book, containing extraordinary aerial photographs of the American landscape which reveal how it has been shaped by human activity, particularly in the 20th century. . . . The whole is a fascinating study of the way measurement is used to manipulate the land, and the relationship between social life and the land. . . . The book captures the essence of how the landscape—and particularly the mythical American landscape—affects us; an amazing achievement."—Clare Melhuish, Building Design

"A breathtaking, informative and perceptive combination of literature, geography, science and photography exploring the natural and man-made topography shaping the monumental and varied landscape of the United States. It also endorses aerial photography as an art."—Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times

"A remarkable and beautiful album. Aerial photographs are hardly ever inspiring, but these sing. They illuminate the vastness of a continent and its different cultures. There's a thoughtful, politically important commentary by the landscape architect James Corner."—Tim Hilton, The Independent on Sunday

"A visually stunning book of aerial photographs by MacLean, with accompanying essays and drawings by Corner."—The New Yorker

"Every page is a thought-provoking visual delight."—Corey S. Powell, Scientific American

"This stunning collection of images doesn't simply rely on its ability to astonish. . . . Here we [also] have an environmental history of the American landscape, mapping the influence of Indian tribes in the Southwest, the French along the Mississippi, the British in the East."—World of Interiors

"The fruitful collaboration of a landscape architect and an aerial photographer has produced . . . a wonderful book which goes beyond pattern into meaning."—Peter Hamilton, British Journal of Photography

"A breathtaking look at the 'works of art' that dot America the beautiful."—Alan W. Petrucelli, Cape Cod Times

"The visual material is unlike any aerial photographs you have ever seen before, as stunning as they are original. MacLean took breathtaking images of man's traces on the earth, sights as different as giant satellite dishes in New Mexico and an overgrown field in Rhode Island. How he knew to isolate one specific portion of the grand panorama below him is not described, but wherever he looked, he found beauty. An empty parking lot becomes a minimalist painting; a ship channel in a bay a work by an abstract expressionist."—Philip Herrera, LS Quarterly

"A delight to open on one's lap, this book actually makes one long to go up in a plane."—Robert P. Sonkowsky, The Key Reporter

"Taking Measures Across the American Landscape is a visually stunning gallery of aerial portraits in which the landscape is the canvas and time, nature, and the residents of America are the artists. . . . MacLean has captured the beauty and vastness of the land, as well as the ability of human beings to creatively develop and sometimes damage the terrain on which they live."—Ron Boydston, General Aviation News and Flyer

"Maclean's images provocative and memorable, they are accompanied by insightful commentary and map drawings by James Corner and Denis Cosgrove that reveal the American landscape to be a palimpsest of human interventions, good and bad, rather than a collection of dramatic spaces and picturesque views. We look down on rivers, farms, and tablelands, the indelible record of our actions on the earth. If J.B. Jackson's essays were transferred to film, this is what they would look like."—David Dillon, Dialogue

"This [book] is different, and important. It contains a text to be taken seriously. It is aimed at both an academic and a general audience. . . . And it is visually splendid, one of the handsomest books I can remember. . . . A fine, unique book. The authors' stated intents are to provoke thought and to encourage a 'more critical, synoptic eye' in thinking about landscapes. They have done that and more—and with beauty."—Robert B. Riley, Land Forum

"A book that sits uneasily between solid land uses and ephemeral notions of art and human achievement, between esoteric treatise and gorgeous coffee table item."—Bud Young, Landscape Research

"First in a series of insightful essays and then through the juxtaposition of MacLean's remarkable aerial photographs with Corner's drawings, the book provocatively displays the American landscape through interrelated measures of 'Land,' 'Control,' 'Rule,' 'Fit,' and 'Faith.'—Julia Czerniak, Syracuse University

"For the landscape historian and historical geographer there is much of intense interest. . . . I whole-heartedly enjoyed the factual aspects of the book and the excellent photography."—F.M. Griffith, Landscape History

"This book can be read as a visual survey of the American Landscape or as a thought-provoking work on the making of the landscape, the people who live on it and its future design. . . . Whatever way you look at it, the collaboration of landscape architect James Corner and Alex S. MacLean measures up."—Globe and Mail

"[A] gorgeous, glossy oversized book. Applying standards of dimension, quantity and proportion to the landscape, the authors present a dazzling panorama of measures represented in survey lines, clearings, highways, railroads, hedgerows, fields, canals, levees and dams."—Dolores and Roger Flaherty, Chicago Sun-Times

"The stunning aerial photographs, the imaginative drawings and the accompanying essays that comprise this book recommend it as an addition to the coffee table, to the bookshelf of those interested in American landscape exceptionalism, and to required reading list for a college class in landscape theory or landscape design. Available in paper at a reasonable price, this book is a jewel. . . . The words and images so artfully combined in this book enrich the viewer-reader’s intellectual and aesthetic experience. This is a keeper."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"Taking Masures Across the American Landscape is a beautiful book where text, photography, cartography, and art coalesece. . . . {It] belongs in every library of the land."—Martin Aurand, American Studies International

"Spectacular and remarkable. . . . Were there a LANDSCAPES book of the year award, then this is the one that I would gamble on. . . . The text of this, the most remarkable book to come my way for quite some time, is scholarly and informative. . . . More an experience than a good read, this book demonstrates what can be achieved when originality of concept and expertise enjoy first class publishing support."—Richard Muir, Landscapes

Winner of the 1997 American Institute of Architects Book of the Year Award

Winner of the American Society of Landscape Architects Award in the Communications category
ISBN: 9780300065664
Publication Date: October 30, 1996
208 pages, 9 3/4 x 10 7/8
13 b/w + 115 color illus.