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 and subsequently at 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,, Playback, Chinokino, and idocs.


Our HIGHRISE documentary, One Millionth Tower, has re-incarnated into a public art project that reaches 1.3 million subway commuters daily in Toronto, Canada.


6 short videos adapted from the documentary and 4 specially-designed subway posters with images from the project  are currently on display throughout the Toronto underground subway system until the end of February. The 30-second videos play continuously every 10 minutes on the digital signage system, while 110 copies of the posters are on display at 59 stations throughout the city.

The project is curated by Sharon Switzer for Pattison Onestop and Art for Commuters (A4C).

The idea for the project was to hone the central concept of One Millionth Tower to its most basic, core, visual theme: to contrast the “real” Toronto highrise conditions with that of the “imagined” landscapes of the residents and architects.

Here’s some pix from my visit to the print shop with Joanna from Helios Design Lab, to check out the 6-foot tall print proofs.

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


Last week, we celebrated our new web-documentary One Millionth Tower (1MT) live at the historic Gladstone Hotel Ballroom in downtown Toronto. The highlight of the show was a saxophone performance by Jamal, one of the 1MT residents (check out the above bootleg youtube recording by Prof. Roger Keil!) Over 150 Torontonians were in attendance.


The event was hosted by our incredible Senior Producer, Gerry Flahive, who brought 12 people to the stage, each in their own way, highlighting the collaborative nature of the project.


Ob represented the residents on our panel, and he spoke out about the need for resident involvement in changing the landscape of our highrise environments across Toronto.


Graeme Stewart of ERA architects took on tough questions about the mechanics and philosophy of Tower Renewal. How can it really happen? What are the real costs? Who needs to be involved?


Elise Hug of the City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal program, spoke about need for cross-disciplinary collaboration, and how to bring many stakeholders together. She was followed by Jamie Robinson, of United Way, who gave context with the remarkable Vertical Poverty study, and the United Way’s hopes for making the Kipling buildings a demonstration site for what’s possible. Matt Thompson, Chief Storyteller at Mozilla Foundation, rounded out the panel with a great talk about the role open technology can play in city-building. Before the screening, Roger Keil talked about the highrise in the context of “the world” by introdicuing the fabulous Global Suburbanisms project he is spearheading at York University (and with whom we are partnered), while Michael McLelland of ERA Architects gave a great nutshell introduction to the legacy of apartment towers in the city of Toronto. Russell Mitchell of ANC/United Way talked about Rexdale, the neighbourhood in which we are working. Mike Robbins of Helios Design Lab also took to the stage to explain why we used open source to build 1MT.


Somewhere in the packed house was Marcus Gee, columnist for The Globe and Mail, who then filed this great story about our project and vertical Toronto.


A week before the Gladstone, Ob, Faith, Donna and Jamal showed 1MT live to their neighbours in a moving presentation — in the very meeting room in which the project was created.


Jamal and Donna also hit the CBC Metro Morning airwaves live in Matt Galloway’s 3-part series dedicated to One Millionth Tower. Metro Morning is the number one morning show in Toronto.


Meanwhile, One Millionth Tower was showcased *live* in Amsterdam for the largest documentary festival in the world, IDFA, as part of the fantastic DocLab lounge. (HIGHRISE won the inaugural DocLab award there for Out My Window last year. This year the honour went to the artful web-documentary In Situ, a lyrical french project from ARTE, which is not unrelated to urban themes in HIGHRISE).

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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.


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.



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 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.



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, 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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Amsterdam – After a long week of physical building and digital patching, we’ve mounted and opened the Out My Window StorySpace Installation.  It’s part of a great exhibit at de Brakke Grond called Expanding Documentary, in conjunction with IDFA DocLab.  Our installation translates the stories of Out My Window into a physical space, using projection, an 8m wide hand-built lattice of screens and motion trigger interactivity.

The audience response to the work has been great: lots of dutch general public and  international documentary traffic coming through. Yesterday, met a Spanish couple from Barcelona, who travelled to Amsterdam for the weekend just for the doclab program, they’re working on their PhDs in interactive documentary. Also have met several dutch locals who have lived in Bijlmer, the highrise neighbourhood we feature in the exhibit. They given me new insight into the controversial and complicated history of the place. Nice round up of the opening night at the DocLab blog.

In other news: tonight at IDFA DocLab, I do a live cinema screening of the web version of Out My Window, and if you like OMW, please consider voting for us at the FWA (Favorite Website Awards), we are up for the shortlist, and they are one of the most important web nods out there. You can register and vote here  <registration only takes a second>

Necessary Shout-Outs for getting this installation off the ground and looking so gorgeous: Priam Givord <incredible interactive artist>, Markus <developer wizard from Derivative>, Branden Bratuhin <HIGHRISE technical director, without whom nothing HIGHRISE could happen>, Michelle Kasprzak <creative curator on the ground in Amsterdam>, Ana Serrano <producer extraordinaire>, Paramita <essential HIGHRISE teamster>, Gemma and Fleurie and the whole beautiful team at de Brakke Grond, and last but not least Caspar Sonnen, curator of DocLab who got us into all this trouble in the first place.

Vids of exhibit coming soon!

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Introducing: OUT MY WINDOW

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It’s really, really real. Our virtual HIGHRISE is up!

Today we launch our major NFB HIGHRISE project, OUT MY WINDOW: Interactive Views from the Global Highrise.

Here it is. One of the world’s first 360 degree documentaries, delivered entirely on the web. It’s about our urban planet, told through people looking out onto the world from highrise windows. Using some pretty cool web technology.

It features 90 minutes of documentary material from 13 cities around the world, shot in 13 languages. As the director, it’s been a blast working on this huge global collaborative effort over the last year. Over 100 people have joined us on this project: photographers, journalists, architects, residents, activists, digital developers, researchers around the world came together to bring you these incredible stories of inspiration, community and resilience.

Props to Caspar Sonnen, the curator and guru at IDFA DocLab, who connected us with the Yellowbird 360 degree video technology and has given us great support throughout the making of.

AND …very excited to be making a joint announcement with Caspar and IDFA DocLab  today, that OUT MY WINDOW will have its WORLD PREMIERE of a live cinema screening (what is that? It’s a live performance of the website in a cinema, VJ’ed by me.) and  an innovative physical art INSTALLATION at IDFA, opening on November 18th, 2010 in downtown Amsterdam. More on that soon in this space.

Out My Window is the first major global release from the NFB HIGHRISE project,  a multi-year, cross-media documentary project, directed by Katerina Cizek, produced by Gerry Flahive, about vertical living around the globe.

Please share Out My Window with your friends/colleagues on facebook, twitter etc., tell us what you think.


Our First project of HIGHRISE, an exploration of life in global vertical urban peripheries, is about to premiere. If you are near or around Toronto, please join us…

Toronto is a city of more than 1000 towers. But we rarely hear from the people who live in them.

Equipped with digital cameras and powerful personal points-of-view, six Toronto residents are documenting their own vertical lives against the backdrop of the city’s ambitious Tower Renewal effort. Their photo stories are the first installment of the National Film Board of Canada’s long-term collaborative documentary project, HIGHRISE, witnessing the human experience in vertical living across the globe.

Join Toronto Mayor David Miller as we showcase
photos and storytelling in a

stories from inside a Toronto Suburban Highrise

Wednesday, May 12, 6 pm

Toronto City Hall
First Floor Rotunda
100 Queen St West

Reception to follow

City staff and councillors please RSVP to
Everyone else, please RSVP to


HIGHRISE plays a small part in an exciting new exhibit, opening this friday at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. The architecture exhibit is called Community Centred, and our architect friends at ERA are creating an installation called People per Hectare. Its a meditation on urban density, how people perceive it, and how it’s actually measured.

The public opening reception is this Friday 6 pm – 10 pm, and the exhibit will run until June 3, 2010 at York Quay Centre
235 Queens Quay West, Toronto Canada.


An awesome response to our first announcement of HIGHRISE at the Creative Places and Spaces conference today. We premiered the trailer, and then put out the call to collaborations of any kind. We are early days, and looking to learn and hear from people… including you.

At the conference, I was really honoured to meet people from  Alberta, Ottawa and as far as Lebanon.  It seems as though everyone’s got a great story about a highrise somewhere in the world.

One person had just finished a dissertation on the relationship between global highrise towers and hiphop. We’re in talks to have him do some cross postings here.

Please contact us with your stories, ideas, comments. Do you know of cities or even specific highrise towers or neighbourhoods that might be good places for us to work with? How might we collaborate with you? highrise[at] or just comment below