ruminations about architecture and design

Monday, November 22, 2010

architecture movies

This is a mercifully short post, because I only have a few films that I classify as "architecture movies". At the top of the list is Metropolis, and following in unranked order is Blade Runner, Gattaca, The Truman Show, Full Metal Jacket, Akira, and Robocop.
My criteria for inclusion is rather particular: Architectural space is used like an active character in the story of the film. Blade Runner has an opening scene that steals the entire movie. The unreal Los Angeles of the future explodes on the screen in model-terrific glory. Blade Runner was extensively copied by Ghost in the Shell several decades later. Metropolis, of course, is the Ur-text of the constructed fantasy landscape of a dystopian future and no science fiction film that I can think avoids making a reference to it.
Kubrick is slightly more complicated. I had an instructor at the BAC, Ariel Brain, who used Full Metal Jacket to explain how the movie uses strong axial shots in the first half of the film that are juxtaposed with the more fluid (and Asian) framed vista shots of the second half.


  1. Do you think the Lord of the Rings movies fit your definition? While the architecture in them is all invented (but then, most of your list is sci-fi), they present a fully realized world with several different "building styles." The care Peter Jackson and crew put into each place presented in the movies creates a sense of rich architectural history and culture. The "character" of each place is presented well through its buildings. A good comparison is the scene where Gandalf enters Theoden's hall, and where he enters Denethor's hall. Even if you knew nothing about the stories, the different leaders, and the different cultures, you'd be able to guess a lot based on those two different spaces. (these scenes are great in the book, too).

  2. The Lord of the Rings, and other fantasy movies, frequently employ derivative forms and styles in a way that is intended to convey a sense of familiar originality. The most notable architecture in LOTR is Barad-Dur and Orthanc. Their tower forms reference a dangerous and otherworldly corporate influence. I tend to be biased towards futuristic or more topical sci-fi movie architecture because it is a more sincere effort to relate to our current or near-future aesthetic environment. Fantasy is more geared towards escapism and doesn't have to make an effort at solving the logistical problems of modern life.