Short history of Highrise

Katerina Cizek made an interactive video on the historical development of highrise buildings, using the photographic archives of the New York Times.

At a time when Manhattan luxury condos can cost tens of millions of dollars, residential high-rise buildings made of glass have become symbols of gargantuan excess and privilege. But the history of vertical living goes far back in time and extends around the globe — from the biblical Tower of Babel, to Arizona cliff dwellings to the Soviet Khrushchyovka towers.

Katerina Cizek, New York Times


Click the image to go to interactive video

Technopolis (Gazi), Athens

In 2013, the old Gasworks of Athens were reopened as industrial museum. Besides the heritage and educational programs, the complex also functions as a cultural hub and event space: Technopolis. This spring, for example, the Technopolis jazz festival was held here on an open air stage. Today, the area is one of the main nightlife hotspots in Athens.

The gasworks operated from 1862 until 1984. At the time it was the first energy plant in Greece and it had an immense structuring effect on the city’s expansion along the Pireos street and social life around it. Street lighting on coal gas illuminated an increasing part of the city. Gazi, the neighbourhood directly around the factory, became an ethnic and cultural melting pot, fueled by migration of the industrial workers. The unique selling point as an industrial museum is that the whole process of coal gas production can still be seen, from the coal retorts and chimneys to the condensers, purifiers, washer-scrubbers, meters and control rooms.

Beijing 798 art district

China as factory of the world, and the West as hotspot of creativity and consumption. This and many other stereotypes of the 20th century are dissolving rapidly. The 798 Art District in Beijing may be one of the first witnesses of the new China.


After World War 2, Beijing and later also other Chinese cities embarked on massive industrial growth. This brought about interesting collaborations with fellow socialist countries, such as the DDR. German engineers came to the 798 industrial district to build the first electronics factories, using super-light concrete shed structures (involving bamboo!) that form now a unique heritage. From the 1980’s, industries started to move away from (central) Beijing, because of rising labour costs and taxes. The factories of 798 remained vacant until the end of the 1990’s, when Chinese and foreign artist movements started to occupy the industrial spaces, culminating in the 2005 Art Biennale.

From that time, the district has functioned as a magnet for creative companies, art galleries, artists, shops, bars and restaurants, consumers and tourists. The economic succes of 798 is so high, that the first creative companies have already moved out again, in search for cheaper rents and new sites. In other words, incubator sites and gentrification have definitely become part of Chinese urban development in this century. Another example of a creative incubator site is the commercial complex San Li Tun. Both 798 Art District and San Li Tun were analyzed and drawn up in 3 dimensions – using a spectacular parallel projection – by Xu Lei, Li Han and their team.

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Demolishing Morro do Castelo

Rio de Janeiro is well known for its spectacular landscape of beaches and highrise mixed with steep green hills, suchs as Corcovado, Gávea and Pão de Açucar. Today, it is hard to imagine that one of those large hills was radically removed from the skyline about a hundred years ago. In the area of Avenida Rio Branco and Cinelândia, presently the financial and cultural heart of the city, there used to be an enormous hill: Morro do Castelo.

Cinelândia, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: José Maria de Sá

In the early 1920’s the city decided to remove the entire hill and the Jesuit monestary from the 16th century as well as the settlement on top of the hill, in favour of ambitious urban plans. At this time, suitable building space near Rio’s waterfront was already scarce, a problem that persists until today. In less than a decade the hill was literally washed down into the Guanabara bay using sprinklers. The sediment was used to provide new landfills near the waterfront, such as Santos Dumont airport. The humble communities that used to lived on Morro do Castelo spread to occupy other hills in central Rio. This movement can be seen as a precursor of the current favelas.morrodocastelo04

Laundry near the Jesuit monestary, Morro do Castelo (1922)

Sprinklers washing down Morro do Castelo (1927)

New constructions on the site (1930’s)


C-mine Genk


The Winterslag coal mine in the city of Genk (Flemish Limburg region) has begun a new life as a centre of culture and creative industries. At first, temporary events were organized in the abandoned mining complex, to increase the relationship with the city dwellers and counter the decay of the buildings. In 2005 the first new tenant arrived – Cinema Euroscoop. The new liveliness paved the way for other programmes, such as the Media and Design Academy and young creative enterprises. C-mine is slowly becoming the cultural hub of Genk.

Photo by Merten Nefs

Local market in the engine room of C-mine

Nowadays, C-mine is also a tourist attraction, featuring tours through various parts of the mine, as well as cultural events and gastronomy. The renovation design, by NU Architectuuratelier, focuses on the visitor’s experience and provides contemporary facilities for the creative functions. The design is rather clean compared to the coal mine compex Zeche Zollverein, near Essen, Germany (masterplan by OMA). The latter is a much larger complex, which is partly left in its original state to decay.

Photo by Merten Nefs

The entrance to the mine shaft, with on one side the White Tunnel (where clean workers went in) and on the other the Black Tunnel (where dirty workers came out).

Photo by Merten Nefs

Air pump that supplied the mine with fresh air

Photo by Merten Nefs

Underground artist installation – simulating the speed of a mine gas explosion

The bigger picture
The Winterslag mine is part of an entire mining region, where it used to provide employment to thousands. The mines are still very recognizable in the landscape – as elevator towers and strange mountains of rubble. They are also still a crucial part of the regional history and culture, since many young people have a father or grandfather who used to work in the mines. These stories frequently come back in the C-mine exhibition.

Photo by Merten Nefs

Another coal mine, seen from the C-mine main elevator tower

Photo by Merten Nefs

Rubble ‘mountains’ of nearby mining areas