Watch North American City Skylines Sprout In 3-D Video, From 1850 To Today

When 20th-century French psychoanalyst and urban philosopher Michel de Certeau gazed down at Manhattan from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center, he was overcome by the city’s curves, its crests, its collisions of history. “To what erotics of knowledge does the ecstasy of reading such a cosmos belong?” he asked, presumably stroking his chin. “Having taken a voluptuous pleasure in it, I wonder what is the source of this pleasure of ‘seeing the whole,’ of looking down on, totalizing the most immoderate of human texts.”

Suffice it to say, 2-D maps don’t really do the poetic justice, or, uh, voluptuous pleasure, of taking in a city skyline. These awesome 3-D growth maps from Cube Cities, however, begin to get at the idea. Combining commercial real estate data with Google Earth, the Canadian startup has been generating videos of North American cities prickling with skyscrapers and industrial development over the past century.

“Cube Cities is the new kind of 3-D pushpin for the next generation of 3-D maps,” Cube Cities’ website tells us. The company also developed a platform called Verticode that lights up individual windows in a building to show off to clients. “Cube Cities clients can fly over the city like Superman, and scope out all the new condo’s [sic] for sale in New York, confirm the ocean view of a hotel room before they book, or zero in on exactly the right office space in Hong Kong with a view of the harbor,” according to the site.

We’re just struck by the videos themselves, which cover New York, San Francisco, Chicago, L.A., Calgary, Toronto, and more. If you download the Google Earth plugin, you can also explore the 3-D maps here.