Art Imitating Life

The New York skyline augmented to be Gotham.*

Gotham City, where Batman resides, has been a funhouse-mirror reflection of New York for 80 years. Even the name is a reference to New York. Gotham is dark, with narrow alleys fronted by ornate (possibly over-ornate) tall buildings. The ledges and roofs of those buildings, of course, give Batman a place to stand and look down on the city.

There’s a TV show currently on the air called “Gotham” and it takes place roughly ten years before Bruce Wayne decides to become Batman. The simplest description of the show might be that it demonstrated how things got so bad in Gotham City that a vigilante like Batman could be accepted. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s an interesting show. If not, probably not. But regardless of your feelings about anti-heroes in tights, the sets are gorgeous. The interiors have the gothic-crossed-with-industrial-revolution feel of the comics books, but it’s the exteriors that really caught my eye. About half are carefully-selected New York street scenes and buildings, and the other half are the New York skyline augmented. By “augmented,” I mean that the art department on the show has carefully added taller and weirder buildings to New York’s already tall and weird skyline. They’ve added elevated trains to areas that only have subways. As a nice touch, they’ve added a lot of bridges between buildings, which was an architectural obsession circa 1900-1925.

We are proud to be part of the team working with Dunn Development to convert the former Building T – a tuberculosis hospital constructed in 1941 – to affordable housing. It’s a great building and it’s been drastically underused for years. During this period, some of the upper floors have been used for filing various TV shows. Since there’s nothing creepier than an abandoned hospital, it’s been used by “Gotham.” (Eventually I had to tie this paragraph to the rest of the post, right?) Specifically, portions of the upper floors served as an interior of Arkham Asylum, which is, in the Batman folklore, a very bad place to be locked up. Jimmy Chen, our intern engineer (and now in his last semester at City College) worked on our structural survey of Building T and has sharp eyes. He noticed that this shot of Detective Harvey Bullock of the Gotham City Police interviewing Oswald Cobblepot (also known as The Penguin) was in a room he’d seen before:

I’ve recognized in “Gotham” any number of backgrounds that I know, but I hadn’t identified any Building T shots.

* The stills of copyrighted material from the show are presented here under the fair use doctrine.