Untapped Cities has followed New York Times’ documentary collaboration with the Highrise project through three of its four parts: “Mud,” “Concrete,” and “Glass.” Today, we conclude with “Home“––by far the most sentimental of the four.
If “Glass” was unusual for being narrated entirely in verse, “Home” goes even further into artistic abstraction: This documentary section uses Patrick Wilson’s song “Lighthouse” in lieu of narration, set to photos sent in by New York Times readers.
With each section––Balconies, Storms, Children, Pets––the documentary’s “explore” option gives you the chance to look closer into the lives of the individuals whose lives play out on the stage of the high-rise. The stories pour in from New York City to Dubai to São Paulo. “I often wonder at what age my daughter realized those were people down there and not tiny creatures,” one Vancouver resident mused. “Or if she has yet to realize this.”
After the series’ investigation into the history and politics of the high-rise, “Home” serves as a much-needed reminder that each window of a high-rise belongs to someone, or some family. Many of these families have lived in their high-rises since the 1970s, putting down roots in often tumultuous housing. Long-term tenants stay even as their buildings are converted into public housing or take new landlords, often simply because these places are home.
One Hong Kong resident summed it up thus: “As stacked up as people get, we deal with the close conditions and pursue our happiness alongside each other…After all, there are now seven billion of us.”
The rolling drumbeats and increasing intensity of Wilson’s vocals pair beautifully with the spectrum of personal photos, giving a viscerality and immediate importance to the three preceding sections. The song concludes with mariachi trumpets over images of the cities at night, with Wilson’s parting lyrics won’t you shine a little light / In your own backyard.
The series succeeds in proving that what high-rises lack in backyards, they make up for in history and soul. Check out the video here.