Hovering Above the Skyline, Armed With a Camera

On Monday, the Empire State Building became the second tallest building in new York. So if you’re not safe from being looked down upon even if your rooftop is 1,250 feet in the sky, what hope do the rest of us have?

Not much, if Alex MacLean is buzzing around overhead in a Robinson R22 helicopter. If there is anything interesting about your roof — gazebos, greenhouses, graffiti, topiary, trees, swimming pools, sculpture, lawn chairs, chaises longues, picnic tables, paving stones, cocktail bars, solar panels or a Sopwith Camel — Mr. MacLean seems likely to catch it, to judge from the newly published “Up on the Roof: new York’s Hidden Skyline Spaces” (Princeton Architectural Press). there are 184 plates in the book, many of them 11 by 17 inches, making it possible to pore over the smallest details. it is fairly easy to pinpoint locations on two large maps that are coded to each plate.

But the photographs offer more than simply an aerial Advent calendar on new York’s cliff-dwelling peoples, though they are compelling and revealing enough as that. Mr. MacLean was described almost 20 years ago in the new York Times Magazine as “an artist and a sociologist.” Cumulatively, his pictures of new York illustrate a city that has intuitively understood for a long time the value of a “green roof,” and seems poised to exploit the potential.

“Rooftops will be the lungs of the denser city of the future,” the architecture critic Robert Campbell wrote in his introduction to the book. “as the world urbanizes, the rooftops will connect us with nature, with wind and sun and rain and snow, with the natural processes of growth and decay.” And we’ll be able to wave to Mr. MacLean as he zips by.

“up on the Roof” by Alex MacLean (Princeton Architectural Press) Rockefeller Center, 620 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

Hovering Above the Skyline, Armed With a Camera


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