HIGHRISE, UNDERGROUND + HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

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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 a few pix and videos. We’ve had a great response, including a Globe and Mail article, an interview on CBC Metro Morning, an article in The Grid and even a Hollywood Reporter story (!).

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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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ONE MILLION COMMUTERS

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.

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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.

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Nice article in Canada’s Globe and Mail here. Watch this space for the silent videos coming soon.

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ONE MILLIONth TOWER: LIVE

One Millionth Tower has gone live — and not just on the web. Here’s some pix from recent live appearances:

LIVE AT THE GLADSTONE HOTEL
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

LIVE AT THE REAL HIGHRISE
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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.

LIVE ON THE RADIO
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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.

LIVE IN AMSTERDAM
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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).

LIVE AT MOZFEST
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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.

LIVE ON WEB TV
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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.

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One Millionth Tower: the first week

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Lots of great responses to our newly-launched web-native documentary One Millionth Tower.

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/onemillionthtower

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WORLD LAUNCH AT WIRED.COM

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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.

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UPCOMING WORLD PREMIERE

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It’s a week away: our international launch of One Millionth Tower (1MT), a documentary about the HIGHRISE re-imagined.

The live events are happening in London U.K. in partnership with the phenomenal MOZILLA FESTIVAL, as this year they bring their attention to the theme of “Media, Freedom and the Web”.  And on-line too, next week, we have a truly exciting international launch that we’ll be sharing with you soon.

One Millionth Tower (watch trailer here) teams a group of highrise residents in Toronto with architects and animators to re-imagine their surroundings and transform their dilapidated highrise neighbourhood into a vibrant, resident-led community. Using cutting-edge open-source technology, this interactive documentary enables a 3D storytelling environment within a web browser, incorporating the magic of cinema, architecture and animation. A hyper-local story with a global resonance in its vision for a more human-friendly urban planet – and world wide web.

So here are the events:

Mozilla Festival Nov 4-6, 2011 – We will unveil the documentary during the KEYNOTE on Saturday Nov 5, and we’ll participate in numerous Mozillific events including Fireside chats, master classes on The Connected Documentary, as the open-source cinema guru, Brett Gaylor launches Mozilla Popcorn 1.0.

On MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2011, we’ll be doing a special Central London screening at the Frontline Club, presented by Mozilla and our dear friends at POWER TO THE PIXEL. I’ll be joined on stage by Brett, as well as Liz Rosenthal of PttP. If you are interested in attending, send an email to highrise@nfb.ca, seating is very limited.

Over in Amsterdam, in mid-november, One Millionth Tower is also in competition in the digital arm of the world’s largest Documentary Festival,  IDFA DocLab, where we took home the Inaugural Award for Digital Storytelling Award last year for our interactive documentary Out My Window.

Toronto launch plans for One Millionth Tower are in the works for early-December. Watch this space for more details!

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FIRST GLIMPSE OF NEW HIGHRISE PROJECT

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What we’ve all been waiting for. To share with you the first glimpse (a trailer) of our new documentary project, One Millionth Tower.

ONE MILLIONth TOWER (we call it 1MT for short)
Over a billion of us live in highrises, and most are falling into disrepair. In One Millionth Tower, a group of highrise residents, together with architects, re-envisions their vertical homes, then animators & computer programmers magically bring their sketches to life in this documentary for the contemporary web-browser.

The result of this unique collaboration is a lush, visual story unfolding in a 3D virtual environment. Visitors explore how participatory urban design can transform spaces, places and minds.

One Millionth Tower will be the world’s first HTML5/webGL documentary,  powered by POPCORN, created by our good friends at Mozilla. Mozilla has been deeply supportive of our project, offering us extensive technological and philosophical support, as they lead the global open-source charge in the bridging of cinema with the web, under the helm of Brett Gaylor  (RIP Manifesto). (An interesting nerd HIGHRISE fact: Bobby Richter, the programmer behind the wizardry of HIGHRISE/Out My Window, now works on the Popcorn project at Mozilla! It is a small HIGHRISE world after all).

One Millionth Tower is engineered by the wickedly talented Mike Robbins, of HELIOS DESIGN LAB, whom we are honoured to call the HIGHRISE house band. Mike single-handedly crafted an entire virtual 3D world with his own two hands. Talk about DIY. Speaks to his genius — and the power of these new open-source libraries. The open-source world you will visit in 1MT might have taken a small army of programmers to create in proprietary software.

The actual story and images of 1MT came about through a highly collaborative process. Highrise residents. Architects. Documentarians. Animators. Drawing, imagining together. Many many hands came together to create the delightful, inspirational world of 1MT. We consider the story *hyper-global.* Deeply connected to a very specific HIGHRISE place in suburban toronto, but with global resonance in its vision for a more human-friendly urban planet — and world-wde web. It’s the HIGHRISE re-imagined. The web re-imagined.

Be the first to know when we release this highly-anticipated open-source documentary, by subscribing to this blog in the top right hand column on this page.

Also, read more background on this unique collaboration here and here.

GO TO THE TRAILER NOW >>

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SPECIAL GEMINI AWARD for NFB

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Last month, The National Film Board of Canada received a Special Achievement Award at Canada’s Gemini Awards. HIGHRISE is proud to be a small part of it. Here’s the citation for the Award:

OUTSTANDING TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DIGITAL MEDIA, GEMINI AWARD

Under the creative leadership of Tom Perlmutter, the NFB has become a pioneer in the use of digital technology, both from a viewing and production point-of-view.

From the advent of video and DVDs, the NFB’s vast collection of documentaries, animation and narrative films, which had been available in 16mm, became difficult to access, unless the material was repackaged from film to popular hom viewing formats. Many NFB classics were languishing in cinema vaults until an new initiative was undertaking to digitize much of what had been created over the years at the Board.

Now, over 2,000 titles can be seen online, including all the major award-winners going back to the 1940s. Last year, NFB films were seen over 20 million times — an astonishing figure — with viewings on the Viewing Room at nfb.ca, apps for iphone/ipad, Android and Playbook as well as on related channels on Youtube and Dailymotion.
Simultaneously, the Board has been moving forward, creating some of the most intriguing uses of documentary in the realm of new technology. HIGHRISE/Out My Window created by Katerina Cizek and produced by the NFB is a 360-degree interactive project, which offers viewers the chance to view real-life scenes and situations in locations around the world.Working collaboratively with artists, activists and residents in other countries, Cizek and the NFB have broken barriers, creating new experiences in the documentary. Along with Welcome to Pine Point and Waterlife, the website as a new form of doc is beginning to take shape.
“Seen through the Board’s long history, social media begins to look like an extension of the social doc, and the recent ascendance of the NFB into a world-player in ineracitve interfaces can br seen more as manifest destiny than dark horse success.”— Jessica Duffin Wolfe POV

“The NFB is creating and showcasing some of the most innovative content anywhere on the web. They are pointing the way for others who want to fully engage with online audiences.” — Norm Bolen, President & CEO of Cnadian Media Production Association
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FOOTAGE FOUND: CLUES TO A HIGHRISE LIFE

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Still image from recently found footage: An uncle’s self-documentation 20 years ago with a super 8 film camera in a Toronto highrise.

This remarkable footage is providing clues for Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam,  HIGHRISE community media coordinator,  in her documentary about the mysteries of her uncle’s immigration to Canada, and his struggle with mental health issues. I asked Maria to guest blog about how she found the footage, her uncle, and how it unexpectedly relates to HIGHRISE.

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My father was convinced he had no films of his brother Pandi. While I was interviewing him on camera, he insisted on showing a box with a super-8 projector in it that belonged to Pandi. He had barely put his hand inside the box when he came across a smaller box, with a roll of developed film inside!

To our surprise the projector was working. We were taken aback by dizzying shot of his shoes from above. Pandi is standing on the balcony of his highrise apartment by Yonge and Eglinton. There’s a sudden  a low-angle of his face with a beautiful view of the city in the background and the CN Tower.  He appears intense and solitary, yet empowered —it was probably the first time he had ever shot with a film camera.

My father had never seen any films his brother had created, nor had never visited Pandi’s apartment.  Pandi’s life in Toronto was a complete mystery to us as he started developing symptoms of bipolar disorder. “Wow, it’s as if he’s looking at us,” cried my father in awe. Pandi is letting us in. He continues to film around his small, empty apartment, revealing a framed photo of his parents, playing with focus on a figuring of a royal mounty police bear. He must have just moved in. Like many newcomers to Canada, a highrise building was his first home in Toronto. He had moved there with his friend in 1993 to start earning a living.

Pandi had been living in Chennai, India where he was having trouble finding a job in the film industry. He believed Toronto was the city that could help him pursue better opportunities in film, but ended up working in a car manufacturing firm and working long hours. The building he lived in was privately owned,  and occupied by many Indians and Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. At the time, Yonge and Eglinton was a common area for new immigrants,  because of the low-rent apartments.

I could relate Pandi’s film to the National Film Board’s HIGHRISE, a multiyear, multiplatform initiative that explores vertical living in the global suburbs. The stories that I witnessed and participated in creating for HIGHRISE’s web-documentaries Thousandth Tower and Out My Window are private and colourful experiences inside residents’ apartments that depict the phenomenon of urban growth, not only from global but personal points of view. In Thousandth Tower, the residents we worked with in two highrises on Kipling Avenue, Toronto combined photographs, text and audio to describe their experiences of living in the buildings.

Although they all had different ideas of home, each revealed a strong connection to their cultural roots. In these particular highrises 97% of the people were born outside of Canada (Digital Citizenship Survey, HIGHRISE). Themes that arose from their photos were dichotomies of belonging and loneliness, comfort and insecurity, success and struggle.

Similarly, Pandi’s film gives me a glimpse of a transitory phase in his life, a time of a new kind of independence and personal growth. The objects he chose to highlight in his film may seem trivial, but to me, had some importance to him.  The framed photograph of his parents appears again in another film that we recently discovered of his, and in a sense becomes a personal motif—a reminder of home.

I also think about all the moves from small towns to urban centres that Pandi had made in his life, and how they had affected him. I came across a publication from Colombia University “The urban environment and mental disorders: Epigenetic states nearly a century of research has shown higher risk of mental disorder among persons living in urban versus rural areas, and that there are links between particular features of the urban environment, such as concentrated disadvantage, residential segregation and social norms, which contribute to the risk of mental illness.”

My aunts spoke to me about how difficult it was for Pandi to adjust to their new way of life in Chennai, the overpopulated capital of Tamil Nadu. They were previously living in Poondi, a small rural town where there father was working as a senior hydrologist. In Chennai, their father was under a lot of stress in a new position and struggled to provide for his family financially. Pandi who was doing poorly in high school dropped out and began working odd jobs.

This sparked me to question the increasing urbanity of the world’s population and its implications on mental health. In the Kipling highrises, we met many families that were in transition all their lives. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be constantly moving, starting over, again and again. Every time I watch Pandi’s film, I witness the meditative and liberating power of holding a camera. For Pandi, using the camera to experiment and explore seemed like a pleasant way to exercise his creative abilities and break from the daily pressures of the city.

— Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam,
director of IMPRINTS (working title)
and Community Media Co-ordinator, HIGHRISE

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VIRTUAL AND PHYSICAL TRANSFORMATIONS

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It’s the HIGHRISE summer of transformation -  in virtual as well as in physical space. This month, as the HIGHRISE team toils away on computers building our new HTML5 documentary set in a virtual landscape, on the physical HIGHRISE site, there’s also some “real” building going on: new outdoor play-spaces for families and children.

Our HTML5 documentary, One Millionth Tower (formerly known as the 2000th Tower), re-imagines a dilapidated HIGHRISE neighbourhood in a Toronto suburb. But the story and space could be almost anywhere, as global modernist highrise buildings, the most commonly built form of the last century, are aging and falling into disrepair, all over the planet. it’s a hyper-local story with global relevance. (maybe its hyper-glocal?)

In our story, HIGHRISE residents join forces with architects to envision a more human-friendly environment around their vertical homes. Then the magic of animation and cutting edge open-source technology, brings their drawings to life in a virtual 3D space on the web.

Meanwhile, on the ground, at the site of the real HIGHRISE, on which our 3d virtual space is modeled, lots is in the works physically too. It’s all fueled by the momentum of our two current projects there (One Millionth Tower and the recent Digital Citizenship Survey) but mostly by the force of incredibly committed residents, E.R.A. architects, the United Way, the City of Toronto (both Tower Renewal and Children’s Services) as well as the property manager.

Last weekend, all parties got together to construct 6 picnic tables for the site. it’s a small, low-cost but important first step towards transforming the outdoor space around the buildings.

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Architects from ERA join forces with residents to build picnic tables.

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Recently moved in resident Salam Younan, 47, was coming home from a night shift at a local furniture factory, when he saw all the picnic table commotion. He pitched in and stayed most of the day to contribute his carpentry skills. Trained as plumber back home in Iraq, Salam has been living in the building only 2 months, but said “I will do anything to help all the people who live here.” A growing community of Iraqi Christians is moving into the buildings, many are U.N. sponsored refugees.

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Faith, long-time resident and One Millionth Tower collaborator, face-paints during picnic table event.

The mood was jubilant for another reason. The residents have just been granted a brand new playground from the American non-profit, KaBoom. The new playground will be built in a day (August 18th) by hundreds of volunteers from across the city, as well as a team of residents.

KaBoom’s mission, according to their website, is to address “The Play Deficit. Our children are playing less than any previous generation, and this lack of play is causing them profound physical, intellectual, social, and emotional harm. The Play Deficit is an important problem, and it is imperative that we solve it to ensure our children have long, healthy, and happy lives.”

“It’s a gift that’s fallen from the sky,”said Eleanor, a long time resident and social animator at the United Way’s ANC community engagement office, located in the building.

But the residents have been working hard towards this moment. In the last months, they’ve  been mobilizing around the need for a playground. The old playground equipment, nearly 40 years old, was rusting and dangerous.

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One of two old playground sites at the highrise.

Two months ago, in an historic meeting between residents and the property manager, everyone agreed to take down the old equipment, and to move towards realizing some of the ideas presented in One Millionth Tower, starting with play-space.

Around that time, we were also conducting the HIGHRISE Digital Citizenship Survey, which revealed astounding statistics about the demographics of the 2 buildings. We discovered that over 50% of the people at the two highrises are under the age of 20. And that 25% are under 10 years of age.

The numbers were telling us what all the residents already knew: hundreds and hundreds of kids with nowhere to play.

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Kids shelter from the heatwave, under a makeshift clubhouse, above the highrise parking lot.

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If all goes well, virtual and physical interventions, all powered by imagination, will change the space in the coming months and years, and perhaps inspire other cities to do the same with their highrises, the most commonly built architectural form in the last century.

One Millionth Tower, an HTML5 documentary set in a virtual landscape, will be launched in the Fall.

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image credits:
illustration from One Millionth Tower, by Lillian Chan, Howie Shia and Kelly

picnic table build photo, courtesy United Way

Salam builds a table, by Kat Cizek

Faith facepaints, by Kat Cizek
Old Playground, by Jamie Hogge
Makeshift Clubhouse, by Kat Cizek



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