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Architecture and Film

January 15, 2018 \ Studio
by Fraser Maitland

For many of us, it is through film that we develop deeper our understanding of scale, space, and the city.

Architecture and Film

From the carpeted hallways of the Overlook Hotel to shadowy post-war Vienna, the medium of film has an enduring legacy in representing architecture and the built environment. For many of us, it is through film that we develop our foremost understanding of scale, space, and the city.

This was true for me, and so I have sought to assemble an anthology of personally significant films, arranged from the smallest – the 2010 film ‘Buried’, which takes place entirely in a coffin, to 1977s iconic ‘Star Wars’, set on a galactic scale.

The collection, depicted in Pecha Kucha fifteen-second blocks, begins with a cluster of small spaces. ‘Room’ accurately captures the terror of confinement, and ‘Moon’ depicts the effects of isolation and sensory deprivation, before ‘Rope’ grounds the setting in a New York apartment, where Alfred Hitchcock imparts the skills in set design that he developed through his training in Weimar in the 1920s. In his later film ‘Rear Window’, he uses the incapacitated James Stewart’s perspective on events as the genesis of paranoia and suspicion.

The iconic war room in ‘Dr Strangelove’ presents the room as a source of power, instilling fear rather than enclosing it. Both Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman’ use labyrinthine sets to develop suspense, punctuated with moments of horror and comedy respectively. The tension is finally shattered – along with a window – in 1975’s ‘One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest’, which breaks for freedom in its final moments.


“For many of us, it is through film that we develop our foremost understanding of scale, space, and the city.”

As the lens widens, we take a funicular railway to the whimsical ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’, embrace anarchy in the adaptation of J.G Ballard’s ‘High Rise’, and cower from ‘Barton Fink’s fascist undertones; and its peculiar fetishisation of peeling wallpaper. After the dystopia of 2012’s ‘Dredd’, we emerge in a present-day London estate with ‘Attack the Block’, where the looming post-war architecture successfully out-menaces the extra-terrestrial on the loose.

Modernism’s counter culture, embraced by the suburb, flowers in the backdrop of ‘Edward Scissorhands’, a sickly sweetness countered by the dark, oppressive, underbelly of ‘The Truman Show’. The nauseatingly mundane is thrown into relief by the slums of ‘Batman Begins’, modelled on the once densest place on earth: the Walled City of Kowloon.

Each of these ‘visions’ was an archetypal reality, but starting with ‘Inception’ literally folding the Parisian skyline, the following selection twisted that perception to further extremes. ‘Babe: Pig in the City’ presents a surreal montage of tenuously linked architectural styles, ‘The Third Man’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ read their respective cities of Vienna and Tokyo in shadow and light, and ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ fuses the natural and the urban; setting life out of balance.

Our mental exercise enters its final lap, led by the German Expressionist film ‘Metropolis’. With its incredible sets and enormous scale models, the 1927 film has inspired countless others to imagine the future city, and indeed ‘Batman Returns’, ‘The Fifth Element’, and ‘Cloud Atlas’ all do so in their own ways. However, any lingering hope for a utopian crescendo is crushed by ‘Blade Runner’ and its 2017 sequel, particularly in the latter’s rhapsody on the abandonment of cities.

In a week that saw a Tesla car launched into space, it feels, more than ever, that humanity’s own ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ bid for freedom will inevitably lead us into colonisation of the cosmos. I have always considered the models, production design, and enduring optimism of ‘Star Wars’ to be the zenith of cinematic achievement, but who knows, maybe off-world suburbia is an option under a ‘Truman’-shaped dome?


January 8, 2018 \ Studio
by multiple authors

Our understanding of the city is constantly changing, a product of how we experience it; how we move through it.

1218Architecture and Film