“It’s at once fascinating and profoundly unsettling,” German photographer Christopher Gielen says of the urban sprawl documented in his new book Ciphers.

As the population in the United States grew, people began developing urban housing projects on the outskirts of major cities, now affectionately referred to as the suburbs. Gielen was intrigued by these growth patterns and the values that guided them. Between 2003 and 2010, the photographer traveled around the United States, taking aerial shots of suburban housing projects in places like Arizona, Florida, and Nevada.

“I was able to present these settlements as relics from an era that was entirely defined by a belief in unlimited growth, of bigger is better, when neither distance from work place nor gasoline prices mattered much in determining the locations of new construction,” Gielen said.

This ‘bigger is better’ mindset led to the modern day urban sprawl. It’s the largest contributor to our country’s carbon footprint, and has made Americans sad, fat, and poor. “If we want to combat the contribution of emissions to climate change it will require us all, but particularly those of us living in far-flung exurbs, in single-family detached homes, to reduce our high ecological footprint,” the artist said.

Gielen hopes his stunning photographs will be able to grab people’s attention and hold it long enough to make them consider the seriousness of the issues these housing developments have created.

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[via FactCoexist]