Urban Giants

The wife & husband team of director Davina Pardo and journalist Andrew Blum—the latter of whom you might also know as the author of Tubes and a prolific writer on architecture and design—have released a short documentary about the literal architecture of the internet: the huge buildings looming amongst us here in New York City, inside of which sit much of the telecommunications equipment that switches, routes, and relays global internet traffic.

These “urban giants,” in the filmmakers’ words, are over-built monsters, their titanic foundations, floor plates, and empty rooms reinforced to hold early telegraph machines. Yet they are also surprisingly delicate and beautifully detailed Art Deco structures. The internet is a kind of chandelier of controlled light, beaming information through fiber optic lines all over the world, relying on anchorage points and cables strung deep inside buildings like these.

“Between 1928 and 1932,” the film explains, “Western Union and AT&T Long Lines built two of the most advanced telecommunications buildings in the world, at 60 Hudson Street and 32 Avenue of the Americas in Lower Manhattan. Nearly a century later, they remain among the world’s finest Art Deco towers—and cornerstones of global communication. Urban Giants is a 9-minute filmic portrait of their birth and ongoing life, combining never-before-seen-construction footage, archival photographs and films, interviews with architectural and technology historians, and stunning contemporary cinematography.” That cinematography is by David Sundberg from Esto.

The film is embedded above or you can watch it over on Vimeo—and Blum’s descriptions of these buildings and their inner machinery in Tubes are not to be missed.

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