Out My Window

As the introduction to Out My Window says, from the outside, concrete residential highrise buildings tend to look the same. But inside “people create community, art and meaning.” Where we live effects how we view the world, and increasingly we live stacked on top of each other in an urban world. Highrise apartments aren’t so different, whether they’re located in Toronto, Beirut, or Bangalore.

Out My Window gives the user a glimpse into 13 such apartments from around the world. In each apartment, there are three to five stories – 49 in total – about the people living there or the larger city outside the window. For example, one of the stories from the apartment in Prague talks about the Velvet Revolution that ended communist rule in that country, while one of the stories from the apartment in Istanbul is about a letter from a son who moved to Germany.

How It Works

Out My Window calls itself “a 360° documentary.” In each apartment, the user is placed literally right in the middle of things. They can use the mouse or the arrow keys to explore a 360° collage of images taken in the apartment. About half of the collage is from the interior, the other half from the city outside. Sound effects from inside the apartment and music plays to better give a sense of place.

The stories are accessed through hotspots embedded in the collage. When the user rolls the mouse over one, the image turns into a drawing with a title. Clicking on one of the hotspots plays a video – usually a photo video, although often the images within the photos move slightly independent of one another, making them more kinetic. In a few cases, the stories are 360° videos that the user can move just like the apartment collages. Each video also includes text elements which act as subtitles when the speaker doesn’t speak in English or to emphasize certain lines when they do. Sometimes, the words themselves are animated.

The different apartments are accessible through three different menus: a world map with the different cities marked on it, a row of photos of the people who live in the apartments, and the outside of a virtual building where every window connects to a different apartment.

While Out My Window is very much a creation for the web, it is also grounded in the documentary tradition. The emphasis here is on the visuals – from the rooms themselves to the photo videos. This is about showing, not telling.

What Works, What Doesn’t

As a project about space and the meaning people create there, the 360° panorama view of each apartment is apt. The collage style of the images that overlap in imperfect ways creates a more interesting space to explore than a seamless 360° image would be and fits the idea that the spaces we live in are made up of snippets of meaning. As the director of Out My Window, Katerina Cizek says in the director’s statement, “We would create collages, overlappings, doublings. Many seams. Leaving room for interpretation, for the unspoken, the unsaid, the private, the personal.”

The stories themselves range in topic, but remain personal. They are narrated by the people they are about, no matter what language they speak. So when a Cambodian labourer who lives in the luxury apartment building she is helping to build in Phnom Penh (at least until the building is completed) talks about the hardships that drove her into construction, you can hear the weariness in her voice. Any extra information is added as text only.

And they are kept short – two to three minutes in length – which suits the non-linear organization of the stories. As Cizek says, “The fragmented, non-linear stories of Out My Window reflect the way we tell our stories. Pieces. Snippets. Small tales that, as they add up, create a collage of meaning, of experience. Together, subtly, gently, the stories accumulate into epic narratives about globalization, migration, poverty, environmentalism, reclamation, and the search for spiritual meaning.” This fragmentation also has the benefit of keeping the user interested when the medium is one that tends to suit brevity, and allows the user to consume Out My Window one bit at a time over time, instead of forcing them to commit an hour or two when they might be unwilling to do so on a website.

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