Category Archives: Architecture and Film

Architecture & Film: Playtime (1967)


Genre: Comedy

Director/writer: Jacques Tati

There is no other film quite like Playtime.

Directed and thoroughly conceived by Jacques Tati, the film is a comedic commentary on modernity, one that very likely extends from Tati’s unique reaction to the excess and dehumanization of daily life under the advance of technology.

At the time of its release in 1967, Playtime was the most expensive French film ever made. For it, Tati created a huge set at the outskirts of Paris fondly referred to by locals as “Tativille”. His city within a city was representative of the purest ideals of the International Style of architecture. Buildings were made out of perfectly smooth surfaces like glass and steel, where the line between the private and public realm was often blurred. Buildings were rectilinear, describing pure straight lines, leaving no space for singularity, uniqueness nor superfluousness. Everything was made with a purpose. Decoration and ornamentation were deemed unnecessary and unrepresentative of function. Though life was already hectic and professionally oriented, there was hardly any space for chaos or for the unexpected. In its purest and most relentless, modernity for the International Style of architecture was in direct opposition to the organic, malleable, responsive and expressive character of human existence.

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Architecture & Film: Unfinished Spaces (Cuba, 2011)

Before my friends and significant other bailed on me at the last minute right before the 2nd and 3rd day of the Architecture & Design Film Festival that took place in Chicago almost two months ago, I managed to watch the opening film, the Cuban documentary Unfinished Spaces.

If seen from a completely apolitical perspective, the film accomplishes two things. First, it introduces us to a group of charming and eloquent personalities, most of whom are architects that, at some point in their lives, shared the dream to complete a huge educational complex for the arts in the very young Cuban Revolution. Secondly, the film manages to craft a story about lost opportunities and nostalgia for a special time in the history of a troubled Caribbean island where hope and dreams seemed to be welcome.

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The Annual “Architecture & Design Film Festival” (part 1)

It is April in Chicago and with it come the flowers, the warmer temperatures and the seasonal allergies that makes tissue-makers a fortune.

April in The Windy City also means it is time for the return of the Architecture & Design Film Festival, an annual event that brings together the two arts with a collection of 33 films, ranging from short documentaries to full-length features of great diversity and covering many different topics.

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Architecture and Film: My Architect (2003), the secret life of Louis Kahn

In the opinion of this author, film is a particularly effective medium when it is used to convey the range of human emotions. Well-crafted films that focus on a particular human activity tend to find the humanity in them. Films like “Black Swan” or “Moneyball” take us inside a world that is foreign to most of us and their success is found at portraying the environment as realistically as possible while focusing on the human element that defines it. Black Swan is not some kind of expose about the lives of ballet dancers, but rather about a particular instance inside this world: a young girl that loses her head due to the pressure she is subjecting herself to. Successful film makers usually try to bring light to a certain activity through an exploration of its human ramifications, often focusing on peculiar stories that may or may not be representative of the whole or that, in fact, are purposely different to the norm.

I start my post with that brief introduction to better understand my mixed feelings towards “My Architect”, one of the few films where architecture is central to the story not because the film-maker has a particular affinity to the profession, but because he, director Nathaniel Kahn, uses it as an instrument to try to understand his father, the late Louis Kahn, one of the most famous architects of the last century.

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Architecture and Film: Fritz Lang’s vision

Being an architect by profession and a cinephile on my free time, you would think that after 59 posts and 10 months of blogging, I would have made the logical move towards a blog that catered to both, not as separate entities, but as one. Architecture and Film, Film and Architecture, two forms of art, one blogger to make sense of it all!

It is only now that I realize the interesting aspects of film that I could touch upon and analyze as it pertains to architecture. So with The Blog Of Big Ideas’ 60th post, it is finally time to bring Architecture and Film together.

Before we begin, it is important to consider what makes the two arts potentially relevant to the other and how each has the potential to contribute something of value, whether it be in terms of conceptual realization, spatial composition or set design. Architecture and Film share common goals that are not so obvious but that stand at the core of each profession. The most important is that both go through an exaustive process of editing that seeks to relate all aspects that make up a building or a story so that the whole is greater than the sum of its pieces. As much as film is concerned with the constant transition from one frame to the next, architecture is also concerned with the transition that exists between spaces, and between materials.

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