The New York Public Library is a stunning piece of architecture. Its Rose Reading Room has 51-foot ceilings and measures the length of a football field (that’s more than a Manhattan block), yet it has no columns, making it one of the largest open interiors in the world.
If you’re Nate Bolt—Facebook design researcher, amateur filmmaker, and friend of the NYPL’s skunkworks team—you get invited to fly a drone through the space. Bolt shot the video you see here using an ultralight setup—a DJI Phantom quadcopter drone loaded with a GoPro and an iPhone. That’s roughly $1,500 in equipment weighing just a bit over two pounds. It allowed Bolt to film with a god-like perspective as the camera floats over shoulders and through doorways to explore the nuance of such grand architecture.
Bolt was inspired by the Rose Reading Room, where his mom would sneak away to escape what he calls a pretty hard childhood in the Bronx. (She was an avid reader who was featured in the NYT back in the 1950s after securing 4,000 books for a bombed Korean school.) Inside the Rose, Bolt's camera floats over endless tables, taking the time to peek over the shoulder of a visitor mid-book.
"I will say that in final product, seeing the entry to the Rose Reading Room (0:39-0:43) was really stunning. It is a favorite and oft-photographed spot for tourists, but to see it from that angle was awesome," says NYPL Information Architect Morgan Holzer, who approached Bolt to film the video. "But it was really the Astor Hall that I was most excited about. So many people traverse up and down the grand staircases on either side, trying to get up to the gorgeous spaces on the third floor, that I think some of the simplistic beauty of that space is lost on them. I loved seeing the candelabras and the detail on the marble."
Indeed, the sequence from 10 seconds onward is particularly special because it is the most laborious to duplicate conventionally. You would need a giant jib arm or crane to film Astor Hall, and it would need to be carefully maneuvered so as not to scratch the marble. As quadcopters become more capable and more autonomous, it’s not hard to imagine such fly-throughs becoming a greater standard for documenting spaces. And at this rate of progression, quadcopters may soon build those buildings, too.