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The latest initiative from Highrise are four short films produced with The New York Times Op-Docs that make up an interactive documentary hosted on The New York Times“A Short History of the Highrise” explores the “2,500-year global history of vertical living and issues of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world.” For one film, Cizek spent weeks in the “morgues” of the New York Times visual archives for undigitized photos that hadn’t been seen in decades. Another film is made of images submitted by the public. During each film, you can click to get more information about a particular section.

The first part, “Mud” asks “Who gets the top floor and why?” To orient the audience, the film begins in New York City with the Dakota apartments along Central Park an an example of the early modern residential high rise with running hot water, elevators and doormen. But it quickly brings us the “creation myth” of the high rise building–the Biblical Tower of Babel. 2000 years ago, Romans built high rises of mud and timber for the working poor where the rent got cheaper when you got higher. 700 years ago, early dwellers in modern-day Arizona built habitation in cliffs, supposedly for the elite. In Fujian province in rural China,  clans of families lived in a circular, stacked dwelling with all rooms equal. Louis XV commissioned an early elevator in Versailles in 1743, a “game changer” according to the doc. It leads from there to the tenement in the industrializing world cities and Jacob Riis’ expose of conditions through photography.

We’ll look at Part II, “Concrete,” in a follow-up post tomorrow.

Fujian Province-China-Communal Living-High Rise-A Short History of the Highrise

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