A Short History of the Highrise is an interactive web documentary comprised of four short films about the evolution of highrise buildings. It is one of five documentaries directed by Katerina Cizek within a multimedia project that spanned from 2009 to 2015.
For this portion of the project, The New York Times Op-Docs department partnered with the National Film Board of Canada to produce the documentary. Its first three mini films–Mud, Concrete, and Glass–used photos from the Times‘s archives and featured different narrators telling the story in the form of poetry that rhymes. The fourth film, Home, drew on user-submitted images set to the song “Lighthouse” by Patrick Watson.
This web documentary has its own navigation system built in to guide the viewer through the piece. Loading it for the first time will result in this pop-up opening, giving directions (in the form of poetry) on how clicking down opens extra content and clicking up resumes the film.
The title page for the first short film directs the viewer to “Click and drag between parts.”
At the beginning of Mud, the viewer is shown where to click down to “explore interactive features.”
The “Explore Park” button appears above as the film is playing the “Park” chapter, visible on the horizontal timeline. Clicking any of the chapter sections along the horizontal timeline lets you jump directly to the next chapter and its interactive content.
Selecting “Explore Park” reveals vertical panels underneath the film, where you can flip through photo slideshows while listening to audio or interact with animated graphics and micro-games.
The timeline is especially helpful if you want to watch the entire documentary first and then easily get back to each chapter to delve into its extra content.
Throughout the documentary, breaks are incorporated to guide the viewer chronologically through the history. This works nicely to organize the content, since the film examines 2,500 years of vertical living.
At the end of the last short film, Home, viewers are invited to explore all of its user-generated content and submit their own images.
The “Your Stories of Life in High-Rises” section utilizes side menus to allow users to view photos from a certain region or with a specific theme.
After watching all four of the short films in this documentary, I felt like I had been watching actual film footage. A closer look revealed that much of what I perceived as footage was really a still photo with animated graphics added to it.
Another technique the director used to make a photo look like video involved zooming out on the photo to resemble the panning of a video camera.
In addition to these more subtle methods of illusion, the project made frequent use of animated graphics, interactive content, and micro-games.
Photos in the “explore more” sections can be flipped over to reveal additional information. Some are postcards with stamped dates and descriptions on the back. Other images feature the name of the photographer or artist, descriptions of the subjects, and the names of museums the works appear in.
Many of the photo slideshows are accompanied by audio interviews. Recordings start automatically and play continuously as you flip through the photos.
Here are some user-submitted photos from the “Pets” and “Storms” categories: