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Experience Five Hundred (Virtual) Years Of New York City History In A Single Elevator Ride

Elevator rides to the observation deck at 1 World Trade Center will offer passengers an astonishing view historical

image via NYTimes.com screen capture

In just 47 seconds, riders of 1 World Trade Center’s ultra-high-tech elevator system will be able to experience over five hundred years of New York City’s shifting landscape and skyline.


Each of the five elevators making the 102-story trip from the skyscraper’s ground floor to its observation deck are outfitted with nine, 75-inch high-definition monitors. Coordinated animation across the screens give riders the impression they are standing in the middle of a skeletal, open-air box, looking out over lower Manhattan, and into neighboring Brooklyn. As the elevator ascends, the lush pastoral greens of the 1500’s give way to houses, buildings, and eventually an immediately recognizable 21st century cityscape.

Before opening to the public next month, The New York Times was able to get a sneak peak at the advanced virtual history experience. They explain some of familiar, and perhaps not-so-familiar, landmarks whizzing past:

Just after the cab passes the 250-foot mark in the 1760s, during the British colonial era, St. Paul’s Chapel rises splendidly on the eastern horizon, occupying the same site it does today.

image via NYTimes.com screen capture

Prominent landmarks of the 19th and early 20th centuries come and go: the behemoth of a Post Office in City Hall Park; the Astor House hotel across Broadway; the spiky New York Tribune and domed New York World buildings along Newspaper Row; the Hudson Terminal buildings that preceded the trade center.

Height records are made and broken by a succession of “tallest” towers: the Park Row Building, the Singer Building, the Woolworth Building and the original trade center.

The effect is a dizzying visual survey of the city’s multi-century history:

On its descent back to Earth, The Times described the elevator’s animation as “more fanciful.” This time the screens display a simulated areal loop of modern-day Manhattan, done in an effort to spare riders any potential September 11th-related discomfort that might arise from seeing the original World Trade Center towers–only just visible on the ascent–disappear as the years roll back.

It’s a thoughtful detail, one of thousands that have gone into creating this very deliberate, and extraordinarily detailed immersive experience. The above video alone conveys an astonishingly natural sense of fluid movement. One can only guess how much more vivid the experience must be when actually standing inside the elevator’s proto-holodeck.

Fortunately, we won’t have too long wait before being able to see (and feel) the time lapse for ourselves. 1 World Trade Center’s observatory, and its history-spanning elevators, are scheduled to open on May 29th.

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