Pattern Recognition

High Bridge. Photo by Stanley Greenberg

Moving through seemingly familiar urban terrain, it is easy to take for granted the density of information around us. Stanley Greenberg has made a career of close observation and obsessive photographic documentation of urban spaces, unearthing infrastructural networks and revealing phenomena we are blind to when just passing through. Codex New York largely operates at street level: an attempt to specifically catalog Manhattan’s vacant lots evolved into a far more ambitious and synoptic quest to walk every block on the island, documenting different spatial typologies found along the way.

Kips Bay
Hell's Kitchen. Photos by Stanley Greenberg from Codex New York, courtesy of The Monacelli Press

Rare, uncelebrated sites such as power stations or wastewater treatment plants are woven into the fabric of everyday city life. Other categories speak to the balance of spatial order and disorder in a city of permanent change: the disciplined street grid and its unruly spatial outliers; vacant lots and ubiquitous construction sites; Uptown geologies that have survived the northward march of development.

Lewiston, Idaho, 2015
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 2011
Interstate 75, near Lenox, Georgia, 2014. Photos by Joshua Dudley Greer from Somewhere Along the Line, courtesy of Kehrer Verlag

The US Interstate Highway System may be one of the largest environmental interventions the planet has ever seen, yet it is commonly held as a plain and unremarkable non-place. Joshua Dudley Greer points a camera at the vast and varied network, restoring some of its lost gravity. Somewhere Along the Line, culled from more than a decade’s worth of road trips across the continental United States, is part personal travelogue, part meditation on the interstate as a lived experience. Here, the highway roadside is a home for truck drivers, a resting place for weary bikers, and a stage for the unfolding drama of wildlife migration or car accidents. But these images are also a striking index of the era of highway modernization’s impacts writ large: environmental degradation, suburban sprawl, and social precarity. The interstate system was conceived as a great unifying force in American life, but it has touched lives and places in uneven and ambivalent ways.

Y32_3,100 km from the river source
Y54_5,300 km from the river source
Y25_2,400 km from the river source. Photos by Yan Wang Preston from Mother River, courtesy of Hatje Cantz

Stretching from the Tibetan Plateau to Shanghai, the Yangtze River is both an important shipping route and conduit for urbanization in central China. Yan Wang Preston’s survey of the river counters sensational narratives of Chinese urbanization by way of a highly rational system of spatial classification. Rather than using any aesthetic or historical criteria, Preston determined 62 anonymized points of interest through subdividing the world’s third-longest river into regular 100-kilometer intervals. This panorama reveals subtle gradations between rural and urban China, where growth is more piecemeal than spectacular, and where the fading grip of the recent past may hold as much sway as bold futurisms. Yet the structure of Mother River does not beget any linear narratives. Preston’s journey is interrupted by missing information — not every site was safely reachable — just as urban “progress” has no perfectly smooth trajectory.

Joshua McWhirter is Managing Editor of Urban Omnibus.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.

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