“Masterpiece” — Indiewire
“Spectacular” — Fast Company

2013 | web documentary | 4 short films

A Short History of the Highrise is an interactive documentary at the New York Times website that explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living, as well as issues of social equality in an increasingly urbanized world. The centerpiece of the project is four short films. The first three (“Mud,” “Concrete” and “Glass”) draw on the New York Times’s extraordinary visual archives, a repository of millions of photographs largely unseen in decades. Each film is intended to evoke a chapter in a storybook, with rhyming narration and photographs brought to life with intricate animation. The fourth chapter (“Home”) comprises images submitted by the public.

The interactive experience incorporates the films and, like a visual accordion, allows viewers to dig deeper into the project’s themes with additional archival materials, texts, and miniature games. On tablets, viewers can navigate the story extras and special features within the films using touch commands. On desktop and laptop computers, users can mouse over features and click to navigate. Smartphone users can view the four films.

This project was created for Op-Docs, the New York Times editorial department’s forum for short, opinionated documentaries, and is part of the National Film Board of Canada’s Highrise project, an Emmy Award-winning multiyear, many-media collaborative documentary experiment, with senior producer Gerry Flahive.

A Short History of the Highrise was built with HTML5 (open-source technology), which allows the user to select features, interact with photographs, play games, and learn more. The interactive documentary is still accessible on the New York Times site for free here. Below are videos that illustrate what it looks like and how it functions.



Trailer for the interactive documentary, Short History of the Highrise, co-produced with The New York Times (34s).

How Short History of the Highrise works (1m 24s).

VIDEO cutine: How the interactivity works: Micro-apartments game (1m 28s).

How the interactivity works: China highway game (30s).

How the interactivity works: Condo game (1m 15s).

Short History of the Highrise, full film, Part 1: MUD, narrated by Feist (4m 42s).

Short History of the Highrise, full film, Part 2: CONCRETE (7m 20s).

Short History of the Highrise, full film, Part 3: GLASS, narrated by Cold Specks (4m33s).

Short History of the Highrise, full film Part 4: HOME, with music by Partick Watson (5m 59s).

Short History of the Morgue, A look inside the New York Times’ archives and how we used them to make Short History of the Highrise (3m 17s).