Henry David Thoreau once noted that “every apartment in which man dwells [should] be lofty enough to create some obscurity where flickering shadows may play at evening about the rafters.”1 Despite the fact that Thoreau abhorred urban life, the existential human quest for magic from the unlikeliest of places—confined living quarters—is similar to that of A Short History of the Highrise, an interactive documentary conceived and directed by Katerina Cizek and published online by the New York Times in the fall of 2013. The short interactive online documentary, which prides itself on placing the human aspects of high-rise life to the fore, is a hearty yet wistful work whose most striking aspect is its visual interpretation of source material. Cizek’s approach to her sources and narrative style itself flickers with a keen sense of play—as well as a certain amount of obscurity.

Highrise is an “op-doc” subdivided into...

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