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Premiere at New York Film Festival

Our HIGHRISE collaboration with The New York Times Op-Docs Department is set to have it’s world premiere at the 51st annual New York Film Festival on September 30, 2013, as part of the Convergence Programme, which explores the intersections of technology and storytelling.

“A Short History of the Highrise” is an interactive documentary that explores the 2,500-year global history of vertical living and 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 that have largely been 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”) is comprised of 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, text and microgames. On tablets, viewers can navigate the story extras and special features within the films using touch commands like swipe, pinch, pull and tap.  On desktop and laptop computers, users can mouse over features and click to navigate.  Smartphone users can view the four films via the New York Times Mobile Web site.

“We are greatly honored to premiere at the New York Film Festival’s showcase for cinematic innovation,” said Jason Spingarn-Koff, New York Times commissioning editor for Opinion video.  “In Op-Docs, we celebrate unique voices and creative storytelling approaches, and now we’re bringing opinion journalism to the interactive documentary form.”

“Cinema and interactivity are influencing each other more and more,” said NFB senior producer Gerry Flahive.  “In our HIGHRISE project, we’ve always been platform-agnostic, embracing the potential of both.  This collaboration with Op-Docs has given the NFB and The New York Times a chance to further advance online documentary storytelling.”

Jacqueline Myint, the project’s designer and developer at the Times (and of Snowfall fame) told Mashable “With this project, we definitely took an approach of trying to do tablet first.”

Meanwhile, The Creators’ Project sez: “A world with a recent penchant for urban living wouldn’t be possible without the highrise. This towering structure is as much a practical way to house the most people per square foot as it is a symbolic testament to our sky-high ambitions. In collaboration with the New York Times, National Film Board of Canada’s ongoing and thrilling project HIGHRISE has produced a documentary series that investigates our 2,500-year love affair with living vertically.”

A Short History of the Highrise will launch online in October at the New York Times website.

To see a trailer of the project, visit nytimes.com/highrise


HIGHRISE at Canadian Screen Awards

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.

from one HIGHRISE to another

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Our One Millionth Tower screening was held in the parking lot of The Storefront, with a highrise towering over us.

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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.

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Jamal rehearsed in the garden before going on stage with his sax. His stagename, btw, is J-Smooth.

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Priti admired the pumpkins growing on the fence.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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!

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



HIGHRISE on BIG SCREENS

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It’s been a busy week at HIGHRISE, with two exciting public projections.

In Montreal, to a packed audience at the gorgeous L’Astral theatre, I had the honour of  “performing” HIGHRISE/Out My Window accompanied by 3 musicians, playing a live, improvised score. Sam Shalabi on oud, electronic guitar and electronics, Alexandre St-Onge on electric bass, upright bass and electrionics, and Will Eizlini on tabala and electronics. A magical evening, all part of the DNA Symposium at Concordia University, which was a heady mix of academics and practitioners, all discussing the intersection of Database, Narrative and Archives in the context of computer-generated story-telling. Thanks to the DNA team, and esp professors Monika Kin Gagnon and Matt Soar for creating this space for us.

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Meanwhile, in Toronto…

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…My colleagues represented HIGHRISE at the awesome annual Toronto the Good Party (put on by our partners and friends ERA Architects, Spacing Magazine and others). Technical Director Branden Bratuhin, Associate Producer Sarah Arruda, and Project Coordinator Paramita Nath talked all things HIGHRISE with good torontonians. They also gave a sneak peak (projected on the hallowed halls of Hart House) of our new project, One Millionth Tower, which we are describing for now, as a spacial film/web experience, built in HTML5 by Helios, popcorn provided by Mozilla Foundation.

We will be releasing a video documentary of the Montreal performance, and we’ll be telling you more about One Millionth Tower soon, so watch this space in coming weeks.

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photo credits:

Montreal performance by David Dufresne, duflab.com
Out My Window out DNA’s window, courtesy of DNA Symposium
Toronto the Good Party, by Paramita Nath