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HIGHRISE and THE NEW YORK TIMES

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 Spingarn-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.

Check out some of the press coverage of our announcement: BBC Click, a mention in The Globe and Mail, CBC.ca, Playback, Chinokino, and idocs.

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.

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.

***

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

MORE WINS: ONE WORLD, FITC and education

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HIGHRISE/Out My Window has been honoured with more awards, in very diverse worlds.

Last night, Senior Producer Gerry Flahive was in London U.K. where he accepted our prize in the New Media category at the One World Media Awards. This amazing organization, created by BBC World Services Trust, “recognizes the media’s contribution to international development, human rights, education, mobilising a global community that shares our values.”

The jury citation from One World: “HIGHRISE/OUT MY WINDOW was the richest and most innovative entry in terms of its use of multimedia and the possibility of new media. With so much emphasis in development on the rural poor it was refreshing to see the emphasis here on urbanisation. The views of people living in developing country cities were at centre stage. It was an engaging and compelling work.”

At FITC -Toronto, an award celebrating Flash and other technologies, we won the Best Audio in Flash. Grats to our incredible sound designer, Janine White, and the whole team at Imaginarius: Vincent Marcone, Natalie MacNeil as well as the programmer Bobby Richter.

In the education universe, we have picked up an Award of Merit from the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education. Congrats especially to our eduction team, Tey Cottingham and Kathy Sperberg.

ReelScreen covers the One World win here.

Congrats to the team, and congrats to all the residents living in the global highrise of Out My Window.

Award nominations: WEBBY and more

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It’s award season, and the nominations have been coming in!

The awards are very diverse, attesting to the innovation on all fronts of Out My Window.

We are up for Best Use of Photography at the Webbys. Please consider voting for us in the People’s Choice awards. Our fellow nominees are National Geographic, Life, BBC and The Tiziano Project.

Meanwhile, at FITC, we are nominated for best use of sound. There’s also a People’s Choice there, please consider supporting us there too.

At the Banff Interactive Rockies, we are nominated along with 3 other NFB projects for best online program –non-fiction.

In the UK, we are also nominated for a One World Media Award, which recognizes the media’s contribution to international development, human rights and education.

Congrats to the whole team on these remarkable acknowledgments!

OUT THE *NUCLEAR DISASTER* WINDOW

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Yesterday, Japan upgraded its ranking of Fukushima Power Plant to the highest level of nuclear disaster – that of Chernobyl, a power plant in the Ukraine that exploded 25 years ago this month. In commemoration, our photo of the week is this haunting image out an abandoned highrise window near Chernobyl, in Pripyat, by Łucja Dorota Stomma. We talked with Łucja as part of our occasional HIGHRISE series which features the photographers behind the photos — and the windows.

Pripyat was a Soviet highrise community built to house the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s employees. The whole community was evacuated within 2 days of the initial explosion on April 26, 1986, and it’s now a ghost town, a stark symbol of central planning gone horrifyingly wrong. The empty city has been featured in at least 3 video games, and tour operators began bringing in tourists a few years ago. Our HIGHRISE “participate” photographer of the week, Łucja Dorota Stomma, went into Pripyat as a tourist herself, a few months ago and took these pictures. HIGHRISE project coordinator Paramita Nath asked her for the story behind the images over email last night:

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“It was my first visit to Pripyat, first time in Ukraine. (I live in Warsaw, Poland, about 900 km to the west of Chernobyl). Pripyat was founded in 1970, was home to plant’s employees and their families, at the time it was a developing modern town – the main idea behind the urban layout was the so-called triangular principle and this triangular plan in Pripyat was a novelty which won many awards for Soviet architects. People led good and happy lives in the town (there was a continuous supply of good variety of food, different than in the rest of USSR). Thirty six hours after the explosion of the Czernobyl’s reactor 1,200 buses evacuated the entire population and this prosperous town was made empty. It’s worth noticing  that the town, in fact, was nothing more than a 50-thousand people city with huge blocks of flats, quite a lot of open spaces, a symmetrical plan, horizon visible from many places. What really draws attention now is trees and bushes everywhere – nature takes over.”

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“Of course, there are quite a lot of toys left and other belongings, e.g. little shoes (but mainly toys, books and notebooks) – it makes one feel really strange, uncomfortable. You keep thinking – what was this girl or boy like who left it? How was he feeling on the day of evacuation? Did he know he won’t get his bear or car back? And that he will never come back? Yes, children will never play there again. Sometimes looking at a notebook or a toy you can read the date, it’s explicitly there, you can really see that time stopped for Pripyat.”

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“There are also many stories that you may get to know while being there (from the people in Czernobyl). For instance, it is said that after the explosion at the reactor, inhabitants gathered on so called railway bridge just outside the town to get better view of the reactor. Nobody thought about the possibility of danger, especially as officials were telling that radiation level was minimal and there was no problem. What they saw was a beautiful rainbow coming from burning graphite nuclear core. The view was beautiful but fatal to them – they all must have died – they were exposed to so many roentgens (a fatal dose).”

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“I was six years old when the accident in Chernobyl took place – I don’t remember any details about the situation at the time. I think after 1989 in Poland (the first free democratic elections since Second World War) nobody tried to make it a secret so I just grew up hearing, from time to time, something about Chernobyl. In other words, I feel I’ve always been aware of the facts.”

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“Now, I work for an international bank, I am an analyst, in my job I need to combine  knowledge from the fields of statistics, econometrics, programming, and finance. It’s not a repetitive job generally and brings satisfaction, particularly if it leaves me time for my hobbies – photography, among others. I am an amateur photographer. I must say that only recently I started thinking about photography more seriously and deeply. I’ve read quite a lot of classics: Susan Sontag, John Berger, Roland Barthes, and some Polish authors, as well.  I think I’m getting closer to understanding what’s a good photo, where its value lies, what it makes me feel like…”

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“When looking out this window, you see emptiness of this ghost town, the horizon and nothing out there, and a lot of green – nature taking over, from the roof of a block of flats out there the bushes and trees. It looks more like a forest with some strange buildings in the middle of it. I think that in 10 years time, no people will be allowed in this vanishing town (because of the collapsing buildings) and after some time, only our memories and photographs will remain.

HIGHRISE WINS THE EMMY!

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The NFB’s Tom Perlmutter, Christina Rogers and Joel Pomerleau accept the Emmy in Cannes, France.

HIGHRISE/Out My Window has been honoured with an International Digital Emmy Award for Non-Fiction. Here are some of our team’s reactions, that I’ve been collecting from all over the world:

“We are thrilled with this prestigious recognition for a work entirely conceived for digital platforms. It is part of our ongoing commitment to explore and determine the art form par excellence of the 21st century,” said Tom Perlmutter, Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson of the National Film Board of Canada.

“To be honoured with such a prestigious award for our efforts in pushing the boundaries of documentary storytelling, reminds us of the decades of innovation by our predecessors at the NFB, where creativity, social impact and the incorporation of new technology have always been at the forefront of what we do,” said NFB senior producer Gerry Flahive.

“It’s so great!” said Heather Frise (Editor, Story Assignment Editor, HIGHRISE Creative Associate) “Hopefully, because of the award, more people are drawn to the work, and we will have a broader reach and impact with the stories and the issues.”

“As for Chicago, the award comes at a time when the last highrise in the Cabrini-Green public housing project is being demolished,” said David Schalliol (Chicago story and photos).  “The event is a symbolic end to a major U.S. housing policy, but it’s also the end of a community. Highrise/Out My Window provides an opportunity for the world to engage how residents experienced the end of that era, and the Digital Emmy reminds us of the value of thinking about global events as anchored in daily life.”

This experience has really clarified for me what is possible to achieve when a team working collaboratively is led with a strong vision filled with trust, support and generosity,” said Paramita Nath (Bangalore story and photos, Illustrator, Participate Project Coordinator). “I feel lucky to have been part of this team and this process.”

I’ve always thought of Out My Window as an online installation piece which focuses on bringing together the stories of very different people from very different parts of the world,”  said Vincent Marcone (Chief Artist at Imaginarius, responsible for the interactive architecture and design). “We tried to create an artful way of portraying these tales in the design and specifically the 360-degree navigation of the site.”

“I’m very proud…” said Theodore Kaye (Taiwan story and photos), “I look forward to seeing and partaking in further redefinitions of the ‘web documentary’ and other new media. As internet connectivity trickles down to more countries, such media evolution is bound to take on fascinating forms and functions.”

“I think Out My Window opened a window on many minds,” said Cigdem Turkoglu (Istanbul research and story). “I also shared it with the participants of our part here in Istanbul, they were also very pleased with the news and shared it with their neighbours on the street.”

It’s projects like OMW that are the reason I got into multimedia in the first place!” said Brent Foster (Istanbul photos).

“Bring on the digital Oscars!” said Martin Potter (Phnom Penh story and photos).

“My family posted [the news of the Emmy] all over their facebook! They sent out a huge email to all our friends. My whole family is thrilled!” said Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam (Research, Editor, Sound Research and HIGHRISE Community Media Production Coordinator).

It’s the project’s music curator and supervisor, Helen Spitzer, who probably said it most simply of all: “We’re all doing cartwheels!”

Last, but not least, the NFB Executive Producer Silva Basmajian said: “I am honoured to be part of an organization (NFB) and  team that has reinvented documentary storytelling through the production of original digital content.  Out My Window is a global community with stories  that resonate with all those who enter this virtual Highrise.”

Set in 13 cities around the world, HIGHRISE/Out My Window combines interactive 360° photography, video, text and music in 49 vignettes, chronicling life inside the most common urban structure of the age: the high-rise apartment block.

Some nice media coverage of the award: cbc.ca, realscreen, VarietyCTV News, and Macleans.

Here’s the Emmy nomination trailer:

RODNEY KING TAPES, HIGHRISES and REVOLUTIONS

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A still from the Rodney King Tapes, from the documentary *Seeing is Believing*.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the first modern acts of citizen journalism — and it all started out a highrise window.

In March 1991, George Holliday heard police sirens and commotion out his 2nd floor bedroom window. He picked up his new consumer video camera and from his balcony, filmed the confrontation unfolding ninety feet below on a LA highway. He recorded almost 10 minutes of tape: four white LAPD police officers brutally beating Rodney King, a black man, but it was one minute of the footage that would be broadcast on TV around the world, and would spark the “Handicam Revolution.”

The images, “the Rodney King Tapes,”  became shocking evidence of police brutality in the public gaze of television, and they were used in the first court trial by the prosecution  – as well as the defense. The images were slowed down, frame by frame, and used by the police lawyers to explain how the police officers had “followed police protocol.”

When the four officers were acquitted in 1992, South Central Los Angeles erupted in what came to be known as the “LA Riots” resulting in 54 deaths, over 2382 injuries, 7000 fires, over 12 000 arrests, and over 1 billion dollars of property damage.

It was only in a second trial and a Federal Grand Jury that found the officers guilty in 1993.

***
The footage, its use, impact and legacy – and the political impetus to use video technology to document human rights abuses – was the subject of a film I made almost 10 years ago with co-director Peter Wintonick, called Seeing is Believing: Handicams, Human Rights and the News.

But it was only this month that I made the connection between *the HIGHRISE window* and the genesis of citizen journalism as we know it today. It is not inconsequential that new consumer-grade communications technology, which was, in the early nineties, becoming ubiquitous and affordable, would be used in one of the originating acts of citizen journalism on a balcony of the most commonly built form of the 21st century: the highrise building. And the HIGHRISE, of course, is now the frame of my multi-year, many media exploration of the human experience in vertical suburbs around the world.

Today, we continue to witness the inextricable relationship between communications technology with people’s movements  around the globe; in these last months in North Africa and the Arab world.

I am reminded of the words of Dr. Alex Magno, a sociologist we interviewed in Manila for Seeing is Believing back in 1991: “In the last two decades or so, most of the political upheavals had some distinct link to communications technology. Iran, the Iranian Revolution, was closely linked to the audio cassette. The first EDSA uprising in the Philippines was very closely linked to the photocopying machine and so we called it the ‘Xerox Revolution’. Tiananmen, the uprising that failed, was called the ‘Fax Revolution’, because the rest of the world was better informed than the rest of the neighbourhood because of the fax machine. The [2001] January uprising here in the Philippines represents a convergence between electronic mail and text messaging. And that gave that uprising its specific characteristics.”

Today we can add to Magno’s list the powerful roles that Twitter, live video streaming on the net, Facebook and even dating sites have played in various stages of democratizing gestures in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and beyond.

I’m also realizing we need to understand how, just like the technology, the HIGHRISE built form (which I consider a metaphor for urban density) plays into these events. Doug Saunders, the author of Arrival City, has recently made a similar compelling argument about the role of urban slum density in the Egyptian uprisings.

Inside these grey architectural structures that contain and shape our human, urban experience, lies the power of ingenuity, social innovation and communal force to harness and usurp our available technologies (and points-of-view) to transform them into historic, profoundly contemporary political acts.

More tributes and thoughts on Rodney King 20 year later here, here and at Witness.org.

EARTH HOUR, TOWER RENEWAL

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In honour of Earth Hour, our photo of the week (on our front page) is out a highrise window in Seattle during “lights off!”.

Earth Hour is celebrated in urban centres around the world – it’s a symbolic 60 minutes when residents and businesses turn out their lights out inside all sorts of architectural forms: from single family homes to the skyscraping highrises of downtown New York City.

But its possible to honour the Earth every hour. The photo above is an example of it. Its a recladded Berlin highrise. There’s a myriad of concrete ways to conserve energy in our concrete towers, inside and out. The Tower Renewal movement is a fine example of environmental solutions: its an agenda to encourage the retrofitting of our aging highrises to conserve heat and energy. Simple ideas. To clad the buildings with insulation to keep the heat in. To replace the windows. To create rooftop gardens. To create regional geothermal stations that take a cluster of highrises right off the main grid. To spread the notion of Urban Agriculture. Tower Renewal has precendents in highrise neighbourhoods around the world.

And here at HIGHRISE, these are all ideas we explore daily as we put the finishing touches on our latest project, 2000th Tower. A whimsical animated film that brings to life ideas for renewal in a Toronto Highrise neighbourhood. Watch for the launch later this Spring, and in the meantime, Happy Earth Hour.

A HIGHRISE VIEW ONTO EGYPT’S REVOLUTION

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This week, as part of our ongoing series to highlight photos from our new Out My Window/participate project, we go to Alexandria, Egypt.

These are the stunning photographs of Corinne Grassi, as she documented the  events of Egypt’s revolution unfolding through her 7th floor window in the northern, coastal, ancient city of Alexandria. She wrote to us during curfew, earlier this week.

“When I look out of my window, I’m in the heart of Alexandria with – on one side – the magic sea covering the antic lighthouse not far, the famous Bibliotheca, and – an the other side -  Champollion street passing all the way from the medicine faculty and Shalalat gardens to the sea. Just behind the building where I live, is the Ibrahim mosque.”

Bibliotheca far away

“For years, I’ve shared this window on a terrace, gathering often here with friends and colleagues. During Ramadan, every night brings more and more people praying in the streets. The 27th night (Leila al Kadr – the night of power) is a captivating moment where thousands of people pray, all following a magic and captivating voice.”

3 worlds side by side

“The first time I witnessed it, I got vertigo looking from the 7th floor at those thousands of people – I was told there was about a million of people praying – in a real communion, doing exactly the same thing at the same moment.”

26th night of Ramadan

“During the recent Egyptian revolution my spot at the window was, of course, the place where I spend a lot of time, especially in the moments when it was not always easy or safe to be down in the streets. This window between the 28th of January and the 18th of February gave me a real feeling of being part of Alexandria’s life.”

demonstration on Police day (25.01.2011)

over Fouad street where is the governorate

Demonstration after the Friday prayer (28.01.2011)

On “Guerrilla Day”, Corinne went into the streets to look for a colleague. “We could just see the crowd of protesters going towards the riot police with stones and then they were running backwards when tear gas was coming. This gas was incredibly strong, stinging  the face, the throat and the eyes. The police continued for hours. Because the colleague had told her family she would watch from my terrace I felt responsible to go down the street as well to check what was happening.”

Demonstration after the Friday prayer (28.01.2011)

Demonstration after the Friday prayer (28.01.2011)

“As the neighbour had Al Jazeera on, we learned what was happening in Egypt, but there were no images from Alexandria. So, I went on the terrace of the women. There, we saw that the riot police were loosing the battle as they were trapped between a group in Champollion street and a group at the mosque.”

population protecting the riot police men being left when their trucks left

“They were also running out of the tear gas and the demonstrators were progressing and starting to burn cars and trucks. Even if one can understand all the anger people have towards police it was shocking to see the police vans leaving in hurry without several of their guys. Some of the crowd protected the police that were left behind.”

watching the crowd over the street

“At some point I realised that on an opposite roof someone was looking at me taking pictures. For a minute I thought taking pictures as a witness may be dangerous. But I could not stop because all those hours I also realised that I had not seen a single journalist. It seemed the few that had stayed, were on the mosque side.”

“The next day I went in the close surroundings with a colleague to see what was happening. There was a feeling of liberation among people. All burned trucks and cars were like trophies where people where taking pictures, asking to be photograph proudly. People were shinning and happy.”

“As soon as I found an internet connection before people got internet back, I took the risk to download all my pictures as soon as possible to share with the outside world.”

biggest demonstration day (01.02.2011)

“One day I understood that people had really been over their fears when the demonstrations were like floods of people along the Cornish, in all the streets around. It is only the “day of the Victory” that I felt I had to join people, full families with little children well dressed up with red-white-black flags on their faces and in their hands.”

more and more flags, more and more women

braving the curfew on the Cornish

Preparing for the night prayer

“Since “victory day” the mood is quite nice. My colleagues less afraid to express their opinions, to enter discussions about democracy, civil society, politics and corruption. Immediately after  “guerrilla day” people showed they were responsible and took in charge neighbourhood security with traffic, buildings, cleaning.”

“The first 2 weeks were sometimes euphoric with flowering initiatives and ideas from everywhere. Many young people started immediately deep cleaning in the streets and gardens, painting pavements. Many things in the streets are painted with the Egyptian colours.  A week ago there was a very nice festival, “Start with yourself” (part of the new album on flickr) in a park with many activities like painting, photo, make up with the Egyptian flag, origami, different kind of bands. Actually the band of my neighbour has been one of the most pro-active playing immediately in different cafés in the city.

tanks on the Cornish

“Now the view from the window is like before with many cars on the Cornish. But still and probably this Friday too it is still a spot to look at the size of the demonstrations which continue on Fridays.”

Corinne Grassi has worked with international NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) all over the world, including Europe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the West Bank, Siberia, Burkina Faso, Yemen, Libya, and Lebanon. She has worked with the Council of Europe, UNESCO, UN, and has been in Alexandria since 2009, working with EuroMed, to build dialogue between cultures.

“With the Egyptian revolution, I never felt in danger and did not feel to evacuate. So, it was clear to me that to stay would also be to witness [with my camera], because I could not contribute too much by joining demonstrations, by making posters and so on. Many Egyptians gave me positive feedback on the fact that I was there, that I had my way to show them, others and outside that things were maybe not exactly like on the TV news. I got similar feedback from abroad. Now I feel more in the local life of the city and I feel a responsibility to continue to keep images of what is happening since the 11th of February. My camera has been, in the last month, a way to approach people and start to exchange ideas and experience to improve things.”

Check out Corinne’s contribution to Out My Window/participate through our new showcase, along with 500+ other photos from highrise windows around the world.