When architect Louis Sullivan began cultivating Chicago’s vertical growth with some of the world’s first skyscrapers, he famously cloaked his steel high-rises with images of vegetation. Embellishing the tops of his multistory buildings with iron-cast flora, Sullivan sought to evoke the image of a novel breed of architecture sprouting upwards from the fertile American soil. He quickly recognized how the skyscraper would change the experience of the city, how a soaring building would be read from street level, and how Americans could gaze upwards and project their nation’s values of collective advancement onto the towering facades of his “form follows function” designs.
Almost a century later, Detroit-based photographer Dennis Maitland has conceived of a new way to see the city, turning the experience of the skyscraper up on its head. In a series called Life on the Edge, Maitland climbs atop some of the highest perches in his hometown, dangles his feet precariously over the edge, focuses his lens downwards, and snaps a photo that is sure to induce perspiration. Maitland not only documents his personal overcoming of a fear of heights, but he captures views of Detroit that elevate city streets from their quotidian designation and paint a new image of our built environment.