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Flights of Imagination

Aviation, Landscape, Design
Sonja Dümpelmann

BUY Cloth · 352 pp. · 7 × 10 · ISBN 9780813935812 · $60.00 · Sep 2014
BUY Ebook · 352 pp. · ISBN 9780813935843 · $60.00 · Sep 2014

John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize, Foundation for Landscape Studies (2014)

In much the same way that views of the earth from the Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s led indirectly to the inauguration of Earth Day and the modern environmental movement, the dawn of aviation ushered in a radically new way for architects, landscape designers, urban planners, geographers, and archaeologists to look at cities and landscapes. As icons of modernity, airports facilitated the development of a global economy during the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, reshaping the way people thought about the world around them. Professionals of the built environment awoke to the possibilities offered by the airports themselves as sites of design and by the electrifying new aerial perspective on landscape.

In Flights of Imagination, Sonja Dümpelmann follows the evolution of airports from their conceptualization as landscapes and cities to modern-day plans to turn decommissioned airports into public urban parks. The author discusses landscape design and planning activities that were motivated, legitimized, and facilitated by the aerial view. She also shows how viewing the earth from above redirected attention to bodily experience on the ground and illustrates how design professionals understood the aerial view as simultaneously abstract and experiential, detailed and contextual, harmful and essential. Along the way, Dümpelmann traces this multiple dialectic from the 1920s to the land-camouflage activities during World War II, and from the environmental and landscape planning initiatives of the 1960s through today.


This book is unique in examining the aerial view and airports themselves from the perspective of landscape history and environmental design. It addresses a significant turn in culture: flight changed our perspectives on the world, then transformed our imaginations, and finally changed the landscape itself and the ways we inhabit it. Excellent, and a real contribution to the field.

John Beardsley, Director of Garden and Landscape Studies, Dumbarton Oaks, author of Gardens of Revelation: Environments by Visionary Artists

She (Dumpelmann) has produced a well-written and imaginative book that in its interrogation of landscape and structures as seen from the air is both surprising and esoteric.

Have no doubt, Dumpelmann is an academic writer and this is an academic read, but the book is accessible to a general audience.

Michael John Law · Aerospace Magazine

The strength of Flights of Imagination resides in its ability to broaden the disciplinary scope of landscape design.Dümpelmann develops a nuanced phenomenological perception of landscape ecology, one in which the hybrid of the disembodied aerial eye and the experiential body presents a fresh way of understanding landscape.... The book broaden[s] our understanding of aviation’s complex relationship to histories of visuality, architecture and landscape architecture, transnational mobility, globalization, and urbanization... [and] offer[s] helpful insights into the nature of our modern world.

Journal of the Society for Architectural Historians

About the Author(s): 

Sonja Dümpelmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University, is the coeditor, with Dorothee Brantz, of Greening the City: Urban Landscapes in the Twentieth Century (Virginia).

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