Bird’s Eye View of Manila

It is, quite literally, the bird’s eye view: from the window seat of an airplane, the hovering roar of a chopper, a perch at the top of a city’s tallest building. Nothing lays out the geography of a place more starkly and dramatically as the elevated view. Dennis Pieprz, a principal designer at Sasaki Associates, specializes in aerial photography. He does it as both hobby and occupational necessity. “I love to make pictures from the air,” Pieprz says. “There are always lessons to be learned. Sometimes the discoveries are exhilarating, but I’m often shocked by the scale of sprawl and the mindless repetitive forms.” A recent trip to the Philippines served as a kind of cautionary tale for our age.  -Martin C. Pedersen

“We were invited by a client to design a new community near Manila. On one of our site visits, they rented a helicopter so we could gain an understanding of how the different areas in the region related to one another.”

“From the air, some communities seemed more vulnerable and fragile, while others appeared to be on ‘firmer’ ground. But one thing is certain, the impact of sea level rise would inundate these settlements.”

And this doesn’t just apply to places like the Philippines. This is true of coastal communities the world over, even and especially in the United States. Big, fundamental questions—Do we stay? Are we allowed to stay? Who stays? Who goes? And how does it all get decided—will have to be answered. It will be the design and planning issue of our century.”

“And yet, when I fly over these communities, I am hopeful. I can see the ingenuity of the people who built these structures. They don’t have the engineering might of the Netherlands, or the planning chops of Singapore, but, perhaps because of the ad hoc nature of their solutions, they might respond more quickly to rising sea levels.”



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