Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Designed for kids, “Skyscrapers” is a sweet tonic for high-rise malaise.
Skyscrapers aren’t the friendliest places in the popular imagination. Awesome as their gravity-defying heights may be, they can also pique a certain uneasiness in a bystander—the detection of excess power, of hubris gone too far. No wonder they’re often characterized as “impenetrable fortresses”; “imposing monoliths”; symbols of “overbearing evil and phallic overcompensation.”
Of course, these towers aren’t going anywhere. Indeed, they are proliferating. Last year, 106 buildings taller than 200 meters were completed worldwide, setting a new record, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Perhaps city dwellers could use some fresh perspective on their concrete canyons. “Skyscrapers,” an educational app designed for children, is a cutesy, digital tonic for high-rise malaise.
In a few light swipes and taps, users “create” a made-up skyscraper by adding floors and choosing the color of the facade. On the app’s sidebar, select a tiny I-beam button to play a game where adding boulders, elephants, and sailboats sinks your building deep and lopsided into its foundation. An elevator icon takes you to an interactive view of interior life—families in their kitchens, watching television, tiptoe-ing through bedrooms. The details are incredibly ornate, especially in another mode, accessed by clicking on a little water drop, where you clog toilets and set fires on different floors. Watch how the building (which gets an anthropomorphic touch) reacts. They say if walls could talk…
With virtually no text, the app invites you to play by intuiting through touch and iconography. Youngsters, presumably raised on the logic of iPhones, are the audience targeted by the app’s developer, Tinybop. “Skyscrapers” is the seventh in Tinybop’s “Explorer’s Library,” series, which “introduces kids to STEAM topics they learn about in school,” according to a spokesperson. But “Skyscrapers” is worth 15 minutes of an adult’s attention, too. As urban skylines get taller, and their inhabitants more powerful, it’s sort of fun to feel in control—even if it is on the decidedly small scale of an iPhone screen.
”Skyscrapers” by Tinybop, Inc. Available on iOS. $2.99 on the app store.