Map Critique: Out My Window


Vogelfang, Inés / Map Critique / Maps as Media – 10/19/2016

For my Map Critique I chose to do an exploration of the project “Out my Window,” part of the Highrise series project of the National Film Board of Canada and Filmmaker documentarian Kat Cizek.

I will first try to define the meaning of a highrise building; too bad for me that I didn’t ask my urban planner- or architect-classmates for help to do it. I will try to do my best to define it. High-rise buildings became possible with the invention of the elevator and cheap building materials. The highrise building has economic advantages in areas of high population densities.  It has become a common housing accommodation in all densely populated areas around the world.
In 2009 Kat Cizek and the National Film Board of Canada released a project called “Highrise,” which studies the lives of people living in those buildings in areas of high population density around the world.

Artist’s background:

Kat was born in what was then Czechoslovakia and moved to Canada, where she was raised. Her father was an engineer and a professor at the University of Waterloo; she grew up using a Terminal, so when the Internet was known by the rest of the world she was already familiar with its use and with coding. Inspired by Leonard Cohen she went to discover the world with one idea in mind: giving a voice to the communities that needed to be amplified because she thought that media couldn’t be trusted with this task (Paraphrasing from Podcast “She Does” Ep. 11).

She was curious about the invisible forms of segregation in Toronto and how the city was dividing itself up.

With the support of the National Film Board of Canada, she examined the life of those living in residential highrises in Canada, China, the Netherlands, Cuba, the Czech Republic, etc. What interested Cizek was to see all the cultures that one can find in these types of buildings, all the languages intermingling but not socializing. Highrise was meant to bring those people together.  It wasn’t meant to be just a flashy techie documentary, but, rather, to be educational.

The Highrise Project is divided in chapters: The Thousandth Tower, Out My Window, One Millionth Tower, A Short History of the Highrise, and Universe Within: Digital Lives in the Global Highrise. My focus is on the chapter: Out My Window. One Highrise. Every Window, a Different City.

Released in 2010, Out my Window, gives the visitor three choices to explore the stories of global highrise-dwellers. The way the user goes into the map is his/her choice. One of them is to go in through a map of continents. I say she maps continents because Cizek does not make any distinction between countries. There are no borders on her map of planet Earth; her borders “remain abstract” (Eva Salinas, with Sébastien Caquard, “The Politics of Making Maps,” Canadian International Council (November 12, 2014)

This is a project in which the stories that are mapped are more important than the the way they are mapped, but, nevertheless, the project is built on a very interesting navigational platform.

The other ways the user can access the stories is by clicking on what I call the photo-shaped map, or the list of people.

I am using a screen recording as a sample to make it clear that this is a quotation from the website. The video has no sound.

We know she mapped the cities that interested her — she calls them the “mid size cities where most of the urban species actually lives” — but still, there is one aspect of the map that is not very clear to me. Why THESE cities? Why THOSE families? What we do know is that what Kat Cizek is trying to do is to give us a journey around the world through the common concrete high rise building.

She is mapping family tales, stories, using objects where we click on and we are carried to these stories, the mapping of the buildings are not seamless like a real-estate map, but it’s in the form of a collage, leaving room for interpretation.
It is a map to discover the ways in which people create art and music in communities, no matter how prefabricated their environment is. She is leading us into buildings we could not have access to.

I am using a screen recording as a sample to make it clear that this is a quotation from the website. The video has no sound.

She evokes memory with nostalgia as an aesthetic resource in the pictures she uses to tell a story, and soundscape helps create the immersion and fluidity of the experience. She pays special attention to sound in this project. The filmmaker is mapping memories, people, cities, landscapes, apartments and stories, giving a sense of place and its history.

    Nostalgia Sample  screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-1-25-33-pm
I find Out my Window to be very interesting because I am planning my Atlas project for this class, as well as my thesis project for the MA, on an interactive map and documentary. So I am getting a lot of good ideas out of it but still I think one important thing is that it lacks some sort of explanation of why she is only portraying thirteen cities and why those in particular. This is something that really gets my attention, so it is something that I would keep in mind when working on my own projects.
For my creative prototype I am drafting my Atlas project using a map of New York City. I chose to make borders noticeable so it could be clear where in the city I can localize a particular public space where a sport is played. That is important to me as my project is also a study of immigration and where communities are based and how they relate and build bonds through sport.

The user can interact with the map by touching on the speakers that would play a sound recording of the sport played in that specific location.



It is important for me to make a REAL tactile map, focusing in that format, because of something that Kat Cizek mentions on an interview for the Podcast “She Does”: we are not sure how we are going to be able to see these web-based interactive projects in 15 years from now, because they only live online. And I agree with it because, how can we be sure that web hosting will work the same way in 15 or 20 years? It is also important to me to make sure the user has a playful and active experience with a tangible object.
Thank you