Today at SXSW, HIGHRISE is proud to announce a new collaborative project with The New York Times. It’s an interactive documentary series, called A SHORT HISTORY OF THE HIGHRISE.
It all began last year, when HIGHRISE was approached by Jason Springarn-Koff, the commissioning editor of the NYT Op-Docs section, a remarkable new forum at the paper for short, opinionated point-of-view documentaries.
Jason’s idea was that we might do to something about highrises in the city of highrises – New York City. Meanwhile, we at HIGHRISE had always wanted to do a “short history of the highrise” around the world. So when Jason offered to open up the NYT undigitized photo archives (a collection of 5-6 million photographs) to us, Gerry, the HIGHRISE Senior Producer, and I were really intrigued by this incredible opportunity for deep collaboration.
I spent a week in the archives, affectionately known as “The Morgue.” It’s 3 floors underground below Times Square — no cell phone connection, no internet down there, time warp to circa 1995 — with the formidable archivist Jeff Roth. Jeff pulled thousands of photographs for me in file folders organized by, um, building names. Many of these stunning images, portraying the triumphalist rise of the city in the 20th century, have not been seen for decades.
I pulled over 500 photographs, and over the next several months, began assembling a series of (very) short films, spanning 2,000 years of human high-rise history. We are supplementing the collection with additional visual research by the crackerjack team of Elizabeth Klinck and Jivan Nagra.
Above, the “Morgue” and my library cart of file folders of photos.
And, we are thrilled to have the ace team at Helios Design Lab as our animators on this project.
There’s a whole other aspect to this: The New York Times social media department is putting out a call for submissions from the paper’s readers, who can submit their own photos depicting their lives and experiences in and around high-rises from around the world. From these images, we’ll create the final chapter of our whirlwind tour of the highrise history. Upload your photos here
Last but certainly not least, we are also working with the New York Times interactive team to build the whole thing as an interactive cinema experience. Extremely exciting.
Check out The NYT press release.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE HIGHRISE will premiere later this spring at www.nytimes.com and subsequently at highrise.nfb.ca and distributed internationally across many platforms. Watch for news here.1 Comment »
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Highrise/One Millionth Tower is up for an award tonight at the newly minted Canadian Screen Awards (formerly the Geminis and Genies). The other nominees are the NFB’s Bear 71 and Bar Code, High Fidelity’s Masa Off Grid, and the CBC’s Exile Without End: Palestinians in Lebanon. Congrats to all! A warm shout out to Helios Design Labs’ Mike Robbins and Sarah Arruda, both of whom were central to all things digital at One Millionth Tower. Also a warm thank you to the highrise residents, architects and animators who helped us redefine collaboration in the digital documentary realm.
BTW, we at the HIGHRISE team have been seeing a lot of Helios lately, because we’re working on a new exciting project that we’ll be announcing at SXSW next month. Stay tuned here for details.No Comments »
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We at HIGHRISE just screened our documentary One Millionth Tower outdoors, at a festival celebrating another highrise neighbourhood. In One Millionth Tower, highrise residents re-imagine their neighbourhood by working with architects to illustrate what’s possible in the bleak space around their buildings.
Four residents from this HIGHRISE project crossed from west-side Etobicoke, over Toronto, to the east-side suburb of Scarborough and presented at the 3rd annual Bridging Festival. It’s called that, because in its first two years, the festival was held under a local bridge that divides the community.
“The original concept of the festival three years ago was to reconnect the community, as people felt uncomfortable crossing the bridge,” explains Tim Whalley, Executive Director of Scarborough Arts, “The idea of the festival was to turn the bridge, which was considered a barrier, back into a bridge.”
This year, the festival moved to the nearby The Scarborough Storefront, possibly one of the most remarkable community organizations I have ever known.
You might remember the Scarborough Storefront, which I visited at the very beginning of our HIGHRISE project, and featured in our Prologue. The Storefront is a collection of agencies organized in a “hub” model: they share space, staffing and administration to bring in as many opportunities as possible under one roof to a severely service-deprived neighbourhood. It’s located in a former police station.
It’s only 1 kilometre away from a last month’s tragic shooting, which killed 2 people and injured 20.
“The Storefront has now become a hub for discussion how to heal from those events,” said Whalley.
Our One Millionth Tower screening was held in the parking lot of The Storefront, with a highrise towering over us.
The One Millionth Tower residents Ob, Faith (with her daughter Tashana), Jamal and Priti had a picnic lunch in the Storefront’s community garden before the screening.
Jamal rehearsed in the garden before going on stage with his sax. His stagename, btw, is J-Smooth.
Priti admired the pumpkins growing on the fence.
J-Smooth inspired the crowd with his musical improvisations.
After the screening, we talked with some of the local residents, many of whom live in the highrise directly behind the Storefront.
Zena, from the 11th floor, said she could imagine many of the ideas in the film in her own neighbourhood.
“I recognize Etobicoke in the film right away,” said Slim, from the 10th floor, “because we used to live there. These two areas are similar, because Etobicoke has many people from India, and here its Sri Lankan. But over there, its full of nature. I used to see deer, rabbits, snakes, fish and birds. Here I see only raccoons.”
Both Zena and Slim come to the Storefront regularly to use the internet. Until this weekend, they had to walk all the way around an entire block, because of a fence between their highrise and the community centre, even though the two buildings back directly onto one another.
But from now on, the buildings and people are more connected: this year’s Bridging Festival featured a ceremonial “fence tear down” – the fence between the buildings has been removed.
Not surprisingly, Graeme Stewart, the Tower Renewal architect involved in HIGHRISE and One Millionth Tower, is involved in this project!
At the end of the evening, Marcia, who lives in another highrise down the street, approached the One Millionth Tower residents and told Faith that she was considering moving out of the neighbourhood because of the recent violence.
“We need to come together and share and learn from one another,” said Faith.
“Power comes in numbers,” Marcia agreed, and concluded by saying she wouldn’t leave the neighbourhood for one main reason: the Scarborough Storefront.No Comments »
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It’s the Next-Gen participatory media project at HIGHRISE: girls learning computer code. They’re building websites and telling their own stories. It’s future web-developers in the making, on site at the Kipling Highrise in suburban Toronto.
“It’s so easy to learn code!” exclaims Janever, 10, as she learns how to change the picture and background colour on her website.
It wasn’t so easy, though, to convince parents to let the girls come to the pilot workshop in the first place. When Heather Frise, HIGHRISE Community Media Coordinator, set out to find girls to sign up, the kids in the lobby were super enthusiastic. But when she went up to their apartment doors to speak with their families, the parents were reticent. Many speak little English, many are very new to Canada, some even asked why the workshop wasn’t for boys. The stereotype that computer coding is reserved for boys is as pervasive here as anywhere else .
[Listen to a CBC radio feature about our workshop today on "Here and Now" between 3-6 pm EDT here]
The 13 girls and their families are mostly recent immigrants, from Nigeria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Somalia and Iraq. Two girls have only been here a month; they’ve just arrived from Iraqi refugee camps in Syria. Their friends help to translate, and they soaked it all in.
The workshop is lead by a young woman, Heather Payne of a non-profit called Girls Learning Code. I met Heather through the Mozilla Foundation, who has hired her and others like her to build a new generation of webmakers around the planet. This summer, they’re encouraging people around the world to run Kitchen Code Parties of their own. We thought it would be great to do so at the HIGHRISE highrise too, where we’ve worked with adults for almost 3 years now with such participatory photography an storytelling projects such as One Millionth Tower.
We also knew we needed to work with the youth at this building when our Digital Citizenship Survey showed us last year that a whopping 50% of the population at this highrise is under 20 years of age. That’s a lot of kids with not much to do all summer long.
“We know that if we advertise the workshop for both boys and girls,” Heather explains to me, “Only boys will show up. So making the group open only for girls ensures girls make it to the keyboard.”
“I was so excited to hear about this workshop,” says one girl, “Because all we do all summer long is stay in our apartment and clean.” The needs of the kids are high, and so few services exist in highrise neighbourhoods such as this.
“I really do see a difference here from the workshops we’ve run downtown,” notes Heather Payne, on a quick break from teaching HTML, CSS and Python to the girls. “There are so many obstacles in just getting to this neighbourhood. Getting up here takes over an hour, bringing the equipment, and then the girls have their own obstacles too: language barriers, cultural barriers, lack of access to computers, and just being so new to so many of the things we teach in this workshop.”
She adds though, that their enthusiasm is the same. “Everyone loves learning how to make a website!”
Several of the girls from this highrise will join Heather’s team and 40 other girls downtown later this summer for a whole week of coding summer camp, thanks to scholarships offered by Girls Learning Code, and Mozilla.
Heather and her team of volunteer instructors at Girls Learning Code are aiming to change the face and culture of future webmakers, so often engendered as a boy’s club. The stereotypical image of young men, hunched over laptops hacking away in darkened rooms, playing video games continues to dominate the cultural understanding of webmaking. It’s a big battle. The rate of women in computing in Canada has actually gone down. In the last ten years, the share of women in high-tech jobs, including software development and electrical engineering, has dropped from 25.6% to 23.9%, according to a FINS.com analysis of Labor Department data.
Teaching kids to code is not just about of training a new professional sector of technology workers, as important as that is. Coding is becoming a “fourth literacy” – a basic skill set we all need to be active and engaged citizens in a digital age. “HTML” has become the “ABCs, 123s” of the 21st century.
That’s why HIGHRISE will continue learning more from the youth about Digital Citizenship here in Toronto and other sites in the world. Together with our academic partner Dr Deborah Cowen, we’re thrilled to announce that HIGHRISE is the recipient of an academic grant to continue our work on understanding the invisible digital lives of highrise residents around the world.
And there lot’s more exciting news to come as HIGHRISE heats up again in 2012!
Thanks to Action for Neighbourhood Change-Rexdale, Microskills, United Way, Albion Boys and Girls Club, and Mozilla Foundation for their support on this project get girls at Kipling to code.No Comments »
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Toronto’s most popular radio program, CBC Radio Metro Morning, is “going HIGHRISE.”
They’ll be broadcasting live from the site of the NFB HIGHRISE project, a Toronto apartment building, where we’ve been working for the last 3 years. On Wednesday, February 15, one million listeners will tune in to hear host Matt Galloway, in conversation with many diverse voices from inside this suburban vertical community. The remote studio will be set up in the ANC meeting room in which many of the NFB HIGHRISE projects were born (including our latest doc, One Millionth Tower).
Yesterday, Matt got his first taste when he visited with some of the residents. Jamal, his mom Faith, Priti, Rita and Najiba all welcomed the consummate (on-air) host in their homes, with a live sax performance, Chinese fortune cookies, Iraqi pizza + pastries, Turkish coffee, along with moving stories of arrival, adaptation and building new communities.
When Matt asked Priti what she would like to say to the rest of Toronto, she replied, “You should be jealous of the great neighbourhood we have here.”
HIGHRISE is acting as a springboard for the CBC to access the building, and to engage with residents and community leaders. Audiences will hear their life stories and about the challenges they face in the building – realities that are no doubt reflective of Toronto’s many other residential towers. HIGHRISE director, Katerina Cizek and University of Toronto professor Deborah Cowen will also join in, to give a sneak peak into upcoming HIGHRISE work, the Digital Citizenship in the Global Suburbs Project.
From the CBC.ca website:
On Wednesday, February 15, we’re packing up the Metro Morning microphones and taking the show on the road. We’ll be broadcasting live from Rexdale, from one of the many concrete highrises along Kipling Avenue, north of Finch. It’s the same building where the NFB has done so much great work in their ongoing series – Highrise. This building is one of more than a thousand rental towers across Toronto’s urban suburbs. They went up in 1950s and 60s, complete with swimming pools and tennis courts, built to attract swinging singles. Now the structures have reached middle age, and are a little worse for wear. But they are home to tens of thousands of newcomers who can’t afford to live anywhere else. Next week – we’ll meet some of them and hear their stories. Building Community: Life in a Rexdale Highrise, next Wednesday on Metro Morning.
Also featured here.
The show airs live 5:30-8:30am ET; it streams live at http://www.cbc.ca/metromorning/ and segments are posted online later in the day. The CBC website will also feature a photo slideshow with audio.
First photo of Priti being interviewed by Matt by Dwight Friesen, for CBC.
All other pix by Kat.
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The HIGHRISE/One Millionth Tower public art installation in the Toronto Subway well underway. The series features 6 silent videos on all digital screens, and 4 different posters on 110 platforms that together, tell the story of re-imagining our vertical city.
Here’s three of the six silent videos, with ambient subway sound, to give you an idea of the experience watching, while waiting for a train:
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Our HIGHRISE documentary, One Millionth Tower, has re-incarnated into a public art project that reaches 1.3 million subway commuters daily in Toronto, Canada.
6 short videos adapted from the documentary and 4 specially-designed subway posters with images from the project are currently on display throughout the Toronto underground subway system until the end of February. The 30-second videos play continuously every 10 minutes on the digital signage system, while 110 copies of the posters are on display at 59 stations throughout the city.
The project is curated by Sharon Switzer for Pattison Onestop and Art for Commuters (A4C).
The idea for the project was to hone the central concept of One Millionth Tower to its most basic, core, visual theme: to contrast the “real” Toronto highrise conditions with that of the “imagined” landscapes of the residents and architects.
Here’s some pix from my visit to the print shop with Joanna from Helios Design Lab, to check out the 6-foot tall print proofs.
Nice article in Canada’s Globe and Mail here. Watch this space for the silent videos coming soon.7 Comments »
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One Millionth Tower has gone live — and not just on the web. Here’s some pix from recent live appearances:
Last week, we celebrated our new web-documentary One Millionth Tower (1MT) live at the historic Gladstone Hotel Ballroom in downtown Toronto. The highlight of the show was a saxophone performance by Jamal, one of the 1MT residents (check out the above bootleg youtube recording by Prof. Roger Keil!) Over 150 Torontonians were in attendance.
The event was hosted by our incredible Senior Producer, Gerry Flahive, who brought 12 people to the stage, each in their own way, highlighting the collaborative nature of the project.
Ob represented the residents on our panel, and he spoke out about the need for resident involvement in changing the landscape of our highrise environments across Toronto.
Graeme Stewart of ERA architects took on tough questions about the mechanics and philosophy of Tower Renewal. How can it really happen? What are the real costs? Who needs to be involved?
Elise Hug of the City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal program, spoke about need for cross-disciplinary collaboration, and how to bring many stakeholders together. She was followed by Jamie Robinson, of United Way, who gave context with the remarkable Vertical Poverty study, and the United Way’s hopes for making the Kipling buildings a demonstration site for what’s possible. Matt Thompson, Chief Storyteller at Mozilla Foundation, rounded out the panel with a great talk about the role open technology can play in city-building. Before the screening, Roger Keil talked about the highrise in the context of “the world” by introdicuing the fabulous Global Suburbanisms project he is spearheading at York University (and with whom we are partnered), while Michael McLelland of ERA Architects gave a great nutshell introduction to the legacy of apartment towers in the city of Toronto. Russell Mitchell of ANC/United Way talked about Rexdale, the neighbourhood in which we are working. Mike Robbins of Helios Design Lab also took to the stage to explain why we used open source to build 1MT.
Somewhere in the packed house was Marcus Gee, columnist for The Globe and Mail, who then filed this great story about our project and vertical Toronto.
A week before the Gladstone, Ob, Faith, Donna and Jamal showed 1MT live to their neighbours in a moving presentation — in the very meeting room in which the project was created.
Jamal and Donna also hit the CBC Metro Morning airwaves live in Matt Galloway’s 3-part series dedicated to One Millionth Tower. Metro Morning is the number one morning show in Toronto.
Meanwhile, One Millionth Tower was showcased *live* in Amsterdam for the largest documentary festival in the world, IDFA, as part of the fantastic DocLab lounge. (HIGHRISE won the inaugural DocLab award there for Out My Window last year. This year the honour went to the artful web-documentary In Situ, a lyrical french project from ARTE, which is not unrelated to urban themes in HIGHRISE).
This is me, Kat Cizek, chuffed to be launching 1MT live at the awesome Mozilla Festival in London U.K. in front of a crowd of 4-500 brilliantly talented hackers and journalists who had gathered for the Media, Freedom and the Web Festival.
And finally, streaming on live web-tv during an interview about 1MT at Mozfest, I had an unexpected visit from the Foxy Mozilla Fox Mascot, the true rockstar of the Mozilla Festival. Never know what can happen when you’re *live.*
Video courtesy Roger Keil, photos from the Gladstone by Marcus Matyas for the NFB, Kipling Launch and CBC Radio by Kat Cizek for the NFB, and Mozilla Festival by Sarah Arruda, for the NFB.38 Comments »
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When we premiered at the Mozilla Festival in London UK, and co-launched on-line with wired.com, the prestigious technology publication reported that we’ve “Re-invented the documentary format… the resulting film is unlike any before it.”
Engadget, one of the world’s top blogs (#6 according to Technorati), says the documentary “Elevates the art of HTML5″ and the french publication Libération says “By far the most ambitious, most audacious of the HIGHRISE collection.”
For One Millionth Tower, we go “hyper-glocal:” we tell a local story about two sister highrise buildings in suburban Toronto, but our approach and message has global resonance.
I was really moved when Priti, one of the residents at the building, told us “You may just drive-by and see an ugly building, but for us, this is our home.”
Over a billion of us live in deteriorating apartment buildings, and in One Millionth Tower, we wanted to discover how harnessing the spirit of the people who live inside can help re-imagine the bleak highrise landscape, anywhere in the world.
“Too often we blame the buildings. It’s really about the system around the buildings. What can we do to improve that?” says ERA Architect Graeme Stewart, whose generative work on Tower Renewal has inspired much of the overall HIGHRISE project.
The idea behind One Millionth Tower is to bring together residents, architects, animators and a web developers to tell the story of speculatively transforming physical space in a 3d virtual landscape — directly in the browser.
The Atlantic Cities publication notes “The ongoing collaborative aspects, through the amazing interfaces Cizek and her team have created, are surprising and enlightening.”
It all started when our HIGHRISE community-media documentarians, Heather Frise and Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam, gathered Faith, Ob, Donna, Priti and Jamal, all residents of the highrise, together with Graeme and his team of architects to draw and to re-imagine the spaces around the highrises as vibrant active places. Soon, animators Howie Shia, Lillian Chan and Kelly Sommerfeld brought the illustrations to cinematic life.
Then, using brand new technology called webGL, and Popcorn, new software inspired by Mozilla, Mike Robbins of Helios Design Lab, radically transformed the whole project. He helped us craft a documentary in 3d space that lives and breathes like the web. For example, when it’s raining at the Toronto Highrise for reals, it is raining in One Millionth Tower.
“It is a story about space,” Mike says, “so I thought why not put it in 3d space?”
Pulling together so many technical and human innovations involved 24/7 piloting by Associate Producer Sarah Arruda and Technical Director, Branden Bratuhin.
“Our iterative process was complicated, and it was successful only because true passion and commitment from every member of the team,” says Sarah.
“One Millionth Tower is a prime example of the work we are doing together to empower makers and build tools that anyone can use to make awesome things happen — on the Web and in the world. It’s a testament to how we are building a better Web together,” says Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation.
The same can be said for building a better city. How can we all be part of building and re-building rethinking the cities and infrastructures that defines us now as an urban species?
“The highrise building for us is a great storytelling prism. It’s a metaphor, and it’s a way for us to address ‘the future of cities’ in a concrete, human way,” says Gerry Flahive, the Senior Producer who leads our productions through “formats that haven’t been invented yet.”
With music composed by Toronto’s own visionary Jim Guthrie, including a sonata by Owen Pallett, and sound design by Timothy Muirhead, the collaged “mixed tape” approach to the soundscape adds more poetic reference to collaborative nature of the project.
The inspiration has not stopped on the web. Due in part to the documentary process, and mostly because of all the great community organizing that’s been happening on site (the residents themselves, the United Way, ERA Architects and the City of Toronto) there’s been real on the ground impact that’s come from the “imaginings” of the documentary.
Last summer, as we were still completing the virtual work, the residents won a grant that brought a playground “built-in-a-day” to the site, through Kaboom, a non-profit that brings back play to neighbourhoods in need.
“It’s because of the One Millionth Tower,” says Donna, one of the residents instrumental in the project.
“Because the residents had done two years of organizing,” says Elise Hug of the City of Toronto, “They were able to put in the application in a week and a half.”
“In One Millionth Tower, my mother blows seeds around,” says Jamal, who has grown up in the building and worked on the project, “it’s very symbolic.”
When we picked up the NFB’s first Webby for our Filmmaker-in-Residence project in 2006, we used five words to accept the statue: “The internet is a documentary.” By that I meant that what we do on the web as citizens is at its core, documentary: we creatively interpret our actuality.
Today, five years later, as we launch One Millionth Tower, I am surprised to flip those words around: ‘Documentary is becoming the web.’
Out of the 2,000+ tweets so far about One Millionth Tower, my favourite so far is from @terry_whyte who says he “Came for the HTML5, stayed for the story.”
See the documentary here: highrise.nfb.ca/onemillionthtower2 Comments »
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So happy to announce that the new HIGHRISE documentary is now LAUNCHED on the web, for all the world to see for free, currently at the prestigious technology online publication, WIRED.COM.
We will be bringing it to highrise.nfb.ca on Monday Nov 7, mid-day. Meanwhile, this weekend, the HIGHRISE team is participating with the new documentary in a series of live events in London U.K., at the awesome Mozilla Festival, “Media, Freedom and the Web.”
One Millionth Tower is the result of unique collaboration between apartment residents, architects, animators, filmmakers and web developers to re-envision what a declining highrise neighbourhood could be. Through a close collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation – Mozilla, developer of the open source Firefox browser and a pioneer in promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the web, the HIGHRISE team has created a lush visual story unfolding in a 3D virtual environment. Visitors to the online documentary can explore how participatory urban design can transform spaces, places and minds.
One Millionth Tower re-imagines a universal thread of our global urban fabric — the dilapidated highrise neighbourhood. More than one billion of us live in vertical homes, most of which are falling into disrepair. Highrise residents, together with architects, re-envision their vertical neighbourhood, and animators and web programmers bring their sketches to life in this documentary for the contemporary web browser — one of the world’s first HTML5/webGL documentaries. And it’s got music by Jim Guthrie and Owen Pallett.
Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, says One Millionth Tower ”is a prime example of the work we are doing together to empower makers and build tools that anyone can use to make awesome things happen — on the Web and in the world. It’s a testament to how we are building a better Web together.”
One Millionth Tower places you in the three-dimensional world of a run-down highrise neighbourhood, where, if you access it with a webGL enabled computer, you can interact with the environment and see it re-imagined as a lively, flourishing community. (If you do not have a webGL enabled system, you can still watch a non-interactive video capture of the documentary play out in a virtual 3D space.)
Additional features include:
• a behind-the-scenes documentary about the collaborative process behind One Millionth Tower
• a short documentary featuring international examples of tower revitalization
• a short documentary exploring the open technology used to create the project
and a spectacular interactive feature that takes you to highrise neighbourhoods in more than 200 countries in the world, thanks to Google Streetview and satellite imagery. It’s based on our own original research to find and understand highrise communities around the globe. Visitors can submit their own highrise tower to be included in this unique visual database.
One Millionth Tower is a story with global implications about how, with the power of imagination, we can transform the urban and virtual spaces that belong to all of us.
The team behind One Millionth Tower includes director Kat Cizek, Senior Producer Gerry Flahive, 3D Creative Technologist, Mike Robbins (for Helios Design), Music Jim Guthrie, Owen Pallett, Animators Lillian Chan, Howie Shia, Kelly Sommerfeld, Technical Director Branden Bratuhin, Associate Producer Sarah Arruda, Community Media Project Lead And Creative Associate Heather Frise, Community Media Liaison Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam, Highrise Residents Ob, Faith, Priti, Jamal and Donna, Lead Architect Graeme Stewart (for E.R.A. Architects), Executive Producer Silva Basmajian and many more.
Our previous HIGHRISE project, OUT MY WINDOW, won a Digital Emmy Award, IDFA’s first-ever Digital Storytelling Award, and many other international prizes.4 Comments »
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