Patent No. 452,989, “Method of Constructing Levees” (1891)

Levees That Might Have Been

At a time when regional levee systems were not yet consolidated under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, inventors were experimenting with diverse ideas for modifying American rivers. A tour through the patent archive provides a remarkable view of innovation in landscape infrastructure, as well as models for future intervention.

A history of forgotten inventions that would have produced a very different landscape along American rivers.




  • Barbara Penner
  • shannon-mattern-new2
  • Aaron Rothman
  • Despina Stratigakos

Barbara Penner

Barbara Penner is a columnist for Places. She is Senior Lecturer in Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

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Shannon Mattern

Shannon Mattern is a columnist for Places. She is Associate Professor in the School of Media Studies at The New School in New York.

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Aaron Rothman

Aaron Rothman is the photo editor of Places, and an artist and writer whose work explores contemporary issues in landscape.

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Despina Stratigakos

Despina Stratigakos is a columnist for Places. She is an internationally recognized historian and professor in the architecture department at the University at Buffalo.

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