Reading up and down – how the NYT Magazine gained extra height for its Life Above 800 Feet issue

Last weekend, The New York Times Magazine turned the idea of what the publication can do on its head. Or, rather, its side. Reflecting the high rise-theme of the issue, the entire edition was rotated to create a taller format.

The special issue contained several stories about “the strange world at the top of the city’s super tall high rises,” says design director, Gail Bichler.

To mirror the content, the design team rotated the issue to make the magazine taller – changing the format so that that the longest side, normally the width of the issue, became the height.

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The process included turning all the features, photo stories, ads and even the crossword puzzle 90 degrees.

The result is a printed object that, as the opening editorial declared, “is in keeping with the striving spirit that has given New York City its distinctive skyline: this is as tall as it is possible for our magazine to be”.

The format change enabled Matt Willey, the magazine’s art director (and lead designer of this issue), to create a series of vertically-oriented, poster-like spreads.

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“Matt drew the type which allowed him to elongate or shrink headlines to fit the layouts,” Bichler explains. “This was quite helpful since the space for the headlines varied with the page design and length of the display copy”.

All of the photography was also shot with the radical format change in mind, which includes a range of pictures by Thomas Struth, Christopher Anderson and Jack Davison, and illustrations by Brian Rea.

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In his opening comment, editor Jake Silverstein distilled the scramble for height in the city: “The city has 21 buildings with roof heights above 800 feet; seven of them have been completed in the past 15 years (and three of those in the past 36 months)”.

For some, this new altitude – “a kind of Alpine loneliness”, Silverstein wrote – offers a hitherto unseen view of the city. Jon Ronson touches on this unique high-altitude living later on in the issue and there are interviews with the workers who construct the buildings in a photo series by Davison.

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While the content of the issue is most notable in print because of the shift in orientation, Bichler adds, there’s also an accompanying online version at nytimes.com that contains several interactive features (check out what happens to the giddy headline type as you scroll).

Bichler says that the NYT Magazine also created a virtual reality film “that allows readers to climb the spire of 1 World Trade Center with Jimmy Chin, the photographer and professional climber who shot the vertigo-inducing cover image”. Watch that at nytimes.com.

Design Director: Gail Bichler; Art Director: Matt Willey; Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan; Photo Editor: Christine Walsh; Deputy Art Director: Jason Sfetko; Designers: Ben Grandgenett, Frank Augugliaro, Choe Scheffe, Chelsea Cardinal; Interactive design: Linsey Fields, Danny DeBelius; Editor: Jake Silverstein

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