What Happens When The Grid Meets The Curvature of The Earth?

Dec 14, 2015 3 comments

In the late 18th century, when American land surveyors were laying down the grid system —the network of perpendicularly intersecting streets that divide towns and cities into square-shaped parcels of land— they faced the same problems cartographers face when making maps. The grid design is two-dimensional and flat, while the earth is three-dimensional and spherical. Wrapping the rectilinear planning scheme onto the surface of the spherical planet will always result in distortions of angles, distance, direction and area. For instance, all north-south running streets will not be parallel but gradually taper resulting in land areas that continually decrease in width as one proceeds north. To prevent this from happening, the longitudinally running roads were reset every twenty-four miles to counter the diminishing widths. This resulted in roads that make doglegs and abrupt zigzags in the middle of nowhere.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.

Dutch photographer Gerco de Ruijter first experienced these strange design quirks during his visit to the US for an artist’s residency at Wichita’s Ulrich Museum of Art. While driving to a friend’s house outside of town, de Ruijter encountered several intersections along the road that required him to make quick detours, with no visible reason why the road should shift at all. When de Ruijter learned why these deviations exist, he turned to satellite imagery to extract aerial images of these small turns and detours. These pictures form de Ruijter’s newest project called “Grid Corrections”.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.


Image from "Grid Corrections" by Gerco de Ruijter.

via BLDGBlog


  1. That would also explain why I've encountered so many grid streets that share a name but where half of the street is several blocks removed from the other half.

  2. The United States Public land survey System as proposed by Thomas Jefferson and still in use today corrects the north and west edges of every 4th township because of the converging meridians. You can see it clearly on every county plat book that uses this system which is most of the states west of the original colonies. South American countries that use a similar system also need to correct for curvature only their systems correct on the other sides.


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