Descriptions, Awards, Exhibitions and Presentations


12.01.2000: inception date

Manhattan Timeformations was begun in the early 90's by architect Brian McGrath, author of a folio called Transparent Cities, "a boxed edition of twenty-four historic and contemporary maps on clear acetate -- twelve of Rome, twelve of NY -- that invites readers to assemble, transform, and contemplate the ever-evolving urban spaces of almost any city".

In 2000, McGrath and The Skyscraper Museum received public funds from a Technology Initiative Grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, allowing this previous research to be revisited with specific focus on New York and the age of skyscrapers. Designer Mark Watkins was brought in to put the website together, and to help reimagine the project in interactive form.

Throughout the Summer of 2000, The Skyscraper Museum, curated by Carol Willis, held a series of informal discussions with the public, presenting the aims of the project while 3d digital models of New York skyscrapers were constructed in the gallery by Parsons School of Design architecture students Akiko Hattori and Lucy Lai Wong. These models, also built by McGrath and added to his large, historical / analytical model of Manhattan, were exported and formatted for online presentation.

This page serves to present further information and observations from the artists and track the recognition and comments made of the project by others.

E-mail contact:

Brian McGrath   Mark Watkins


12.19.2000: Macromedia Site of the Day

The project is, in part, a product of available technology. For instance, the spatial data is "wireframe" rather than rendered in appearance, because of software limitations. The presentation animations follow singular rather than mutliple paths.

The project was constructed with the 3D modeling software form*Z by autodessys, Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Flash. Exporting from one program into the other required a number of experiments. Data integrity, file size and download time were major concerns. Flash offers the representation of a 2D space in which to work, so importing 3D models into the program involved the flattening of the data and the sequencing of animated views. Flash works well with vector-based artwork. About one-third of the data remained vector-based from form*Z to Flash, while two-thirds were formatted as lots of individual gif files with Photoshop. Flash also allows the designer to consider the presentation of information. Thus, a variety of related interfaces were created to support the data. The designer learned much about Flash in the interim, and Macromedia was eventually kind enough to recognize the project in the Showcase section of their website


01.07.2001: Rhizome Artbase Selection

"The Rhizome ArtBase is an online archive of net art projects that is assembled and maintained by, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. The goals of the ArtBase are to preserve net art for the future and to provide access to net art in a context of relevant information and critical discourse."


05.03-30.2001: net.ephemera at the Moving Image Gallery

"Curated by Mark Tribe of Opening reception: Thursday, May 3, 6-9pm.

"Net art is made to be experienced online. How then should museums and galleries best exhibit net art in their physical spaces? net.ephemera takes an innovative approach to this problem by focusing on drawings, diagrams, notes, receipts and other physical artifacts related to the making of virtual work.

"net.ephemera includes one ephemeron by each the following New York-based net artists/groups: John Cabral, Andy Deck, Ricardo Dominguez of Electronic Disturbance Theater, Angie Eng, Keith Frank & Jon Ippolito, Alex Galloway, Jeff Gompertz,GH Hovagimyan, Yael Kanarek, John Klima, Tina LaPorta, Golan Levin, Diane Ludin, Michael Mandiberg, Jennifer & Kevin McCoy, Brian McGrath & Mark Watkins with Akiko Hattori & Lucy Lai Wong, Sally Minker, MTAA, Prema Murthy, Mark Napier, Cary Peppermint, Wolfgang Staehle, Beth Stryker & Sawad Brooks, Marek Walczak & Martin Wattenberg and Maciej Wisniewski."


06.13-16.2001: MIT Image and Meaning Conference

"The Image and Meaning Conference, set for June 13 - 16, 2001 at MIT, will bring together participants from science and engineering, imaging, information architecture, science writing and publishing.

"Conference participants will discuss and demonstrate the most advanced forms of visual expression from scientific, technical and nonscientific visual fields in both plenary and working sessions. Topics discussed will include:

  • ways in which techniques developed for one discipline can be used in others
  • the role of science writers in adding information and meaning to the image
  • the psychology of perception
  • the border between image enhancement and falsification
  • graphical representation of numerical data
  • the tailoring of various kinds of imagery to suit specific media, from academic journals and textbooks to newspapers, television and the Internet

Although we haven't confirmed exactly where Timeformations was exhibited, it's possible that it was used within the following lecture:

"The Indirect Image - Interpreting the world through pictures created to show what cannot be seen directly. 1:30 - 2:30. Architectural rendering, GIS, visualization/simulation. William Mitchell, MIT; Lucia Lovison-Golob, Harvard University; Don Middleton, National Center for Atmospheric Research."


08.11-17.2001: Siggraph 2001 Image Set Contributor

"The SIGGRAPH conference is the world's annual celebration of the latest research advances, demonstrated applications, and freedom of expression within the disciplines of computer graphics and interactive techniques. Each year's gathering draws people from diverse fields of study and commercial ventures to discuss, share, and debate in an amazing technical and educational event that often defies definition."


07.11.2001: Flash Film Festival New York 2001, Winner: 3D Category

Hammerstein Ballroom, New York City

Flashforward2001 is an educational and inspirational conference dedicated to supporting the community of designers and developers who create using Macromedia Flash and other products that write the Macromedia SWF format. As the world's premier Flash event, Flashforward2001 evolves to address the interests and needs of the changing industry. The conference is constructed to offer top-notch technical, conceptual, inspirational and business sessions that educate attendees through real-world, how-to techniques and tips on better design and development on the Web and beyond.

We took home the Flash Film Festival orange rubber arrow award for best "3D", a category which "includes 3D graphics from another application and creatively integrates that 3D design into a Flash presentation." The event took place in the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC, so I imagine getting called up on the stage to accept a trophy and make a short speech felt a lot like winning an Academy Award or Grammy. Totally ridiculous cultural ritual. View the 4 mb trailer that introduced our project. Did I mention that we received a large orange rubber arrow for our efforts? Other winners at the event included:



09.03.2001: Prix Ars Electronica 2001, Net Excellence Award of Distinction

"Which constellations, which factors are defining the art of tomorrow, where will it happen, who is doing it and with whom?

"The altered framework conditions that effect working as an artist and the impact of art in a world characterized by information and communications technologies have given rise to new forms of art. Significant here is the shift of their presence into spheres beyond the conventional art world and also increasingly into the emerging economies that have been geo-culturally uncharted territory for media art."

Takeover!, by Brian McGrath for Columbia University's Newsline issue 01.02

Prix Ars Electronica Observations, by Mark Watkins, posted to 9/9/01


10.15.2001: Wired, November 2001, page 39

We are published in Wired, in the Electric Word section, under the title "Timescrapers". Short description by Evan Ratliff:

When Brian McGrath decided to liberate a New York City map from the x-y plane, he chose an unusual third dimension: time. The professor of urban design at Columbia University culled construction dates and square footage for 726 of the city's largest skyscrapers from real estate directories and entered the data into the form-Z modeling software, with each year representing 1,000 feet. Manhattan Timefoemtions - the culmination of 24 months of research and 6 months of digital manipulation -- is an interactive history of NYC building booms and busts. The Flash-generated fly-through travels south to north up Madison Avenue. Color-coded icons represent constructions in each location over time, starting in 1893. White buildings went up between 1917 and 1940, for instance, while orange represents 1980 to 1989. The 2-D lines, also colored by time period, signify additions to Manhattan's street grid.


12.2001: ciberpais mensual, no. 17

Published in an article titled "Memoria de Nueva York", page 70-71 which read:

La arquitectura de una metropoli esta destinada a cambiar y la configuracion que adquiere es el resultado de las modificaciones que se han ido anadiendo una tras otra a lo largo de los anos. En esta refelxion se inspira Manhattan Timeformations, creado por el arquitecto neoyorquino Brian McGrath con la colaboracion del disenador Mark Watkins. El proyecto, un analisis informatizado de la distribucion de los grandes edificios de Manhattan, ha sido producido por el Skyscraper Museum, una institucion sin animo de lucro dedicada al estudio de los rascacielos que fue fundada en 1996. La genesis del trabajo, que se colgo en Internet hace poco mas de un ano, se remonta a 1991, cuando McGrath trabajaba en un investigacion cartografica para su libro Transparent Cities, que se publico en 1994.

En la web de Manhattan Timeformations es posible observar la evolucion, a lo largo del siglo xx, de la celebre isla y de sus caracteristicos edificios, gracias a un mapa tridimensional formado por diferentes niveles que representan graficamente la distrucion de las infraestructuras urbanas como metropolitanos, autopistas, rascacielos, monumentos, centros comerciales, etcetera.

Todas estas informaciones pueden ser analizadas de acuerdo con una escala temporal que permite apreciar de manera muy clara la evolucion topografica de los diversos elementos. Manhattan se materializa tambien en unas versioned animadas que se pueden atravesar para gozar de una vision panoramica y tridimensionnal de su estractura.

Este ano Manhattan Timeformations gano el premio para la mejor realizacion en tres dimensiones del New York Flash Film Festival y recibio una mencion especial en la categoria Net Excellence de los Prix Ars Electronica celebrados en la localidad austriaca de Linz.


12.17.2001-01.16.2002: 9th Annual New York Digital Salon

Selected as part of a group exhibition of electronic art at the School of Visual Arts, New York City. In the Juror's Statement by Jeremy Gardiner:

As you look at the work selected for the Ninth Digital Salon, you will see how the Internet is fostering cultural and international diversity and how multimedia is facilitating the free play of imagination that the philosopher Kant deemed vital to the production of art.


12.17.2001: Leonardo Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology, Volume 34, Number 5, 2001, page 516

Leonardo issue dedicated to the Ninth Digital Salon. From the Director's Statement by Bruce Wands:

As digital art becomes more widespread and is embraced by contemporary artists, we will see an ever-increasing evolution of art created by means of digital tools, as well as other technologies. The distinction between categories such as digital art and contemporary art will blur.


02.23.2002: Pew Center for Civic Journalism Conference, "Tapping New Data Territorities"

A workshop on interactivity, access and connections sponsored by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, IRE and the Institute for New Media Studies, University of Minnesota. February 22-24, 2002, at the Hyatt Regency, Tampa, FL. Presentation of Timeformations at a panel discussion titled "Visualizing Data in New Ways".


04.17.2002: Thundergulch

"Selected Works and Conversations with Artists" from the Ninth New York Digital Salon, organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and hosted by the New School University. "The New York Digital Salon is one of the most established forums for exhibiting and examining the emerging digital arts and has played a leading role in its development and promotion. Panelists are Cory Arcangel, Brian McGrath, Andrea Polli, Bruce Wands, and Mark Watkins."


06.2002: Architectural Record, 06/02, "Mapping Places and Spaces", page 180-187

Brian McGrath interviewed in a "Digital Practice" feature titled "Mapping Places and Spaces", by Bill McGarigle. The article was subtitled: "Geographic information systems are important tools for defining the societal and environmental contexts of urban design, planning, and architecture." Under "defining architecture's context", McGarigle writes:

No building or city is designed in a vacuum. Brian McGrath, adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia University, in New York City, and a founding partner of Urban Interface of New York, emphasizes that urban design is multidisciplinary by nature. 'It engages sociology, geology, ecology, history -- all of these are planning-based and are enriched by databases and information accessed through GIS,' he says. 'It is defining the social, historical, political, and environmental context of architecture that GIS has relevance to architecture.'

McGrath's views are reflected in the award-winning Manhattan Timeformations, an exhibition he created with his partner Mar Watkins and other collaborators for New York's Skyscraper Museum, in Lower Manhattan. The piece is a computer model that presents a visual history of the development of Lower Manhattan, focusing on high-rise office buildings. 'The projec t uses GIS thinking,' McGrath said, 'because it's layered maps. Burt I used architectural and 3D software, and Mark Watkins used Flash to layer [and animate] the information. I would call it GIS technology, but it isn't literally GIS software.'

McGrath believes most architects will eventually use GIS to access and analyze data at the beginning of a project, rather than having to create it and do multiple on-site surveys. The information is often available through a city's or state's GIS department, or architecture firms themselves can become repositories of data for locations they work in often. 'The architect's role is to make that information physical and experential,' he says, 'taking it out of databases and making it engage social life and contemporary city as we try to solve environmental problems, housing problems, and educational issues connecting different communities.'


06.23.2002: National Science Digital Library Report Selection

"The Internet Scout Project has selected your site--Manhattan Timeformations--for inclusion in the National Science Digital Library Report for Math, Engineering, and Technology (May 24, 2002). The report is a biweekly current awareness publication that highlights new and newly discovered Internet resources in these areas. We take care to cover only the most useful resources, considering the depth of content, the authority of the source, and how well the information is maintained and presented. For more information on our selection criteria, visit our site:

"The Internet Scout Project is an NSF- and Mellon-sponsored organization based in the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The NSDL Scout Report for Math,
Engineering, and Technology Selection
10.19.2002: Multimedia out of the Mainstream, ONA Conference

3rd Annual Conference & Awards, October 18-19, 2002, Marriott Marquis Times Square, New York, New York

Multimedia out of the Mainstream Program
"How is content on the web morphing to take advantage of all of online's attributes? Some of the best examples of innovative story-telling is coming out of interactive design shops and from digital artists. They are busting the conventions and creating new experiences for online users. The first half of this session will focus on the work of three "non-mainstream" storytellers who will share stories about how they created their interactive packages and the results they have seen. The second half of the program will explore the ways photojournalism is being showcased on the web, how truly multimedia packages are being created, and the impact they can have."

Moderator: Nora Paul, University of Minnesota, Institute for New Media Studies, Director
Sue Johnson, Picture Projects, The Sonic Memorial Project
Margot Lovejoy, My Turning Point
Brian Storm, Corbis
Mark Watkins, Manhattan Transformations


05.16-25.2003: VideoEx //03 International Experimentalfilm & Videofestival

The description of the festival (German): "seit 1998 findet in z�rich (kaserne und kino xenix) j�hrlich das video- und experimentalfilm festival videoex statt. videoex versteht sich als forum f�r experimentelles filmschaffen und hat einerseits dessen etablierung in der schweizer kulturszene, andererseits die f�rderung einer eigenst�ndigen, qualifizierten einheimischen bewegung zum ziel."

English translation of catalogue text for our program:
Linking Time Capsules. New York City ( 1963 - 2003)

"This is a history of New York" is the simple, direct title of Jem Cohen's work from 1988. Image collages like this automatically evoke a city's own historicisation. One might perceives the city�s spirit, in form of many disseminated time capsules that appear only loosely connected, somewhat like tadpoles. Passing time can activate unforeseeable aspects in a film piece itself. To arrive at this stage, some images have to age like wine in a barrel. One can witness time to become the crucial indicator that detects if a work might change within a certain period, and what aspects may crystallize into something time-less. The two programs present works that feature idiosyncratic aspects of New York City. It is the surface of things that is primarily exposed to the time stream: Its architecture, design, fashion, colors and their related signifiers which from a meta-language. As it turned out in this selection, many works have time reference even in their title: "History of" , "Clockmaster", "Time-formations", "Square Times".

The featured spectrum circumscribes the past 40 years, which seemed as an appropriate scale for an observation. of a city, which streets are flooded with memories of its own past. Once the effort is made to excavate and differentiate these periods, one discovers distinctive time layers that were build upon each other, like the different cities of Troy. As reading New York's history of film and video in such a vertical scale, some interesting repetitions can be found, things that resemble each other, caused by generation gaps. One can focus on the similarity in which particular objects, aesthetics, or moods are featured. This fact inspired me to juxtapose relationships, therefore creating a program structure consisting of pairs, in which the pieces mutually activate each other. The result is the program�s progression zigzagging through time.

In particular throughout 2002, there had been an enormous outcome of cultural activities in New York City, which most likely is a reaction of New York's creative forces towards the enormous amount of attention and solidarity, that the world paid to the city's political and cultural situation and its development during 1 1/2 years post 9/11. Some of the newer pieces in this program may reflect this very mood. I deliberately did not include a single work related to the WTC disaster for reasons, which might be easily to comprehend, in particular for festival viewers. What is rather there are some memories of the intact buildings, once again Jem Cohen and his document of the parade of returning gulf war soldiers in 1991(!). The other from the very last day of the towers on September 10 (Monika Bravo). After that we immediately fast forward towards the city's immediate future and show, how the city's negative space, Ground Zero, the big void, could have been filled (THINK's World Cultural Center proposal).



"There is still innovation on the web after all. This site uses Macromedia Flash (software I normally detest as a pointless waste of bandwidth) to present cartographic information with a time dimension. The author has used some mapping program to construct layers of information -- landfill, buildings built during particular periods, street grids and so on -- and then animated it in a variety of fly-bys and interactive maps. Also a good argument for having lots of bandwidth. An excellent hint of what a future web could bring us in terms of rich information." Mike Gunderloy,

December 26, 2000. "Space over time. Manhattan Timeformations resides in my psyche next to the Archeological Collage--both use interactive media to present the evolution of urban landscapes over time. And both are pretty damn nifty." Peter Merholz,

June 13, 2001. "Now this I really really like!" Posted by cameron campbell on

October 17, 2001. "I have just been introduced to the Manhattan Timeformations website. It is a wonderful tool. One minor correction. In the "Transparent New York" module, shouldn't the layer labeled "Topology" actually be "Topography"? Congratulations on an excellent concept, beautifully realized." Jonathan Fink, Vice Provost for Research, Arizona State University