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Explore the Future of Vertical Living in an Interactive High-Rise Documentary

Filmmaker Katerina Cizek releases the final chapter of her seven-year-long project inquiry into the urban fixtures.
Images via NFB

Back in 2010, director Katerina Cizek and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) released the browser-based interactive documentaryOut My Window. It was part of the NFB and Cizek's multimedia, multi-year-spanning project, Highrise, which explores vertical urban living across the globe, its history, and cultural impact.

Out My Window allowed you to click on various windows and pan through an enclosed apartment in 360°, exploring collaged photographs that make up the homes of its featured characters. Each apartment contains various clickable hotspots that elaborate on the story of its objects and inhabitants. The entire documentary features 49 stories from 13 cities, told in 13 languages.


This was followed by two further interactive docs, one in 2011 called One Millionth Towerwhich teamed residents with architects and animators to reimagine their high-rises for the better. Using WebGL and HTML5, the online work allowed people to explore these neighborhoods both in their then-present states, and in how the residents reimagined them.

A Short History of the Highrise, a collaborationwith the New York Times ,followed in 2013, using the newspaper's archives to present the story of living veritcally, stretching back 2,500 years into our past. Now, Cizek has released the final chapter in a project she first began researching way back in 2008. Called Universe Within: Digital Lives in the Global Highrise, the interactive documentary takes you to 18 cities throughout the world, exploring 21st century high-rise living and how the web affects people's lives in different countries.

To explore the documentary, you first choose an avatar, presented in a point-cloud style aesthetic, to be a guide who asks you various questions. Your answers then determine what story you're taken to. The entire experience is 70 minutes in length, broken down into 12- to 15-minute shorts. The stories range from Mumbai residents starting a social media campaign to save their building, to the lives of refugees living in Toronto.

Cizek and a team of academics spoke with people in Africa, South America, Asia, Europe and North America to explore how people living in vertical buildings interact and engage, and how technology is influencing this—not always for the better.


"Ever since my work with Tower Renewal, a program to improve Toronto’s concrete apartment towers and the neighbourhoods that surround them, I have been really interested in the people who live in high-rises because they are so transitory, and because connecting with one’s neighbours in a highrise can be very difficult," explains Cizek, "I was also interested in their digital lives because our digital connections are so crucial to how we govern our lives—how we love, how we hate, how we find work, and so on. The result of Universe Within shows how the digital maps onto the vertical. Trapped in our apartments, how do we feel about and engage with our loved ones over the World Wide Web? How has it rewired our brains and our relationships?"

Explore Universe Within here.


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