For LWK + PARTNERS’ fourth installment of the Red Envelope journals, themed ‘ARCHITECTURE + FILM’, the company’s MENA managing director, Kerem Cengiz, offers an opening word on the meaning and intention of the topic.
I would argue that both architecture and film stir a restlessness in us, sparking our unconscious to imagine the impossible, to rediscover what was forgotten and to reimagine how our urban futures might be.
The relationship between architecture and film is intimate. The synergistic connection between the two exists as both media are cultural expressions around space, people and time, seeking to address the human condition through spatial narratives. The architect is the director of their work, as they are constantly in the act of making realities from fictions, while in reverse, the film director is the architect of storytelling, and builds via visual sequences. In this issue of the Red Envelope, we seek to examine the intimate and, at times, bombastic relationship between architecture and film, drawing on modernism, futurism and many things between.
The diminishing involvement of citizens in socio-political engagement over the past two decades has altered the scale of our societies’ collective imagery, in turn lessening people’s influence on spatial development. The importance of architecture for the future of the urban realm is beyond the exclusive responsibility of urbanists and architects. It is critical to expose these topics to our societies for them to engage and shape their futures; but how can we achieve this in an age when the moving image is perhaps controlled and artfully manipulated like never before?
Architecture exists, like cinema, in the dimension of time and movement. One conceives and reads a building in terms of sequences, much like film. To construct a building is to envisage and establish effects of contrast and connections through spaces which we pass. In the continuous sequence that (passing through) a building is, the architect works with metaphorical cuts and edits, framings and openings. In the mind, yet through the hand, the architect creates a depth of field, reading space in terms of its mass, producing a superimposition of different screens or planes legible from constructed intersections of movement, which are to be found in all buildings.
What is the interaction between architecture and film? The cinematic essence of the architectural experience and the inherent architecture of cinematic expression is multi-faceted. A duality exists, and each is considered an art form brought into fruition by specialists, assistants and colleagues. Irrespective of their inherent nature as the realisation of collective effort, both architecture and film are arts of the Visionary, the Auteur, the Artistic Creative Genius. The relationship between these two could be (and therefor are) studied from an array of viewpoints.
How different directors represent a city, such as Fritz Lang in ‘Metropolis’ (1927) or Walter Ruttmann in ‘Berlin – die Sinfonie der Grosstadt’ (1927), or how buildings and rooms are presented, as in German expressionist films with their fantasy architecture suspended between dream and reality, signifies cinema’s voice on both the realities and possibilities of built experiences.
There are those, such as Peter Greenaway or Paul Nelson, who blur the boundaries usually from architecture into stage design or film. Nelson, an architect, created beautiful projects both as a building designer and set designer. His project ‘Maison Suspendue’ (1936-38), a house in which individual rooms are suspended within a steel and glazed cage-like structure, is as illusory as any of the concepts expressed through the art form of the moving image. Conversely, we could speculate on the nature of buildings that the virtuosi of cinematic architecture would have constructed had they not decided to devote their architectural vision to the art of cinema.
Establishing a sense of place is the fundamental endeavour of architecture and urban design, and the first undertaking of architecture is to establish man’s place in the context of his environment. Keeping this at the centre of our thoughts, there are almost no films that do not include images of architecture or the urban realm. Whether buildings are shown in the film or not, the framing of a shot, or the implication of scale or lighting, already infers the establishment of a defined place.
Through the structuring of place, space, setting, scale, volume and other characteristics of architecture, the framing of human existence is woven intrinsically into cinematic expression. German philosopher Martin Heidegger stated: “We are thrown into the world. Through architecture we transform our experience of outsideness and estrangement into the positive feeling of domicile.”
In the same way that architecture articulates form and space, it also arguably manipulates time. Architecture is not just about taming space; it is also a defence against the fear of time. The discourse of beauty is fundamentally the language of timelessness. Restructuring and conveying time; speeding it up, slowing it down, halting and rewinding it – reordering it – is as essential in cinematic endeavour as it is in architectural expression.
Space and mind, and place and event are not exclusive of each other. Mutual definition is present, joining inescapably into a shared experience. The mind is in the world, and the world exists through the mind. Experiencing a space is a dialogue, a kind of exchange.
Humans and the technology we have created has irreversibly changed nature and our environment; perhaps the existing models of architectural thinking are not sufficient. Architecture alone cannot offer answers. Architect Giancarlo De Carlo argued that architecture is an indeterminate discipline, never becoming fully specialised, like a filmic vision. He believed that architecture’s challenge lies in constantly expanding its scope and imposing no boundaries on it…letting the camera endlessly roll on.
Today, film helps capture and present to the viewer ideas that otherwise might remain within the professional realm. The relation between architecture and film enables reflection on the importance of architecture as an essential element in every development that involves space, time and people. By screening films on society, urbanisation, architecture and environmental issues, people are exposed to new images that can transform their perception faster than their realities will do during their lifetime.
Our journal seeks to be a global chronicle of the people, places and ideas that aim high, pose questions, challenge conventions, and force us to reevaluate our own perceptions. The essays laid out ahead operate within the disciplines of the built environment and the moving image, while furthering interdisciplinary understanding across four contrasting horizons.
Our editor, Rima Alsammarae, addresses the ancient traditions around storytelling through theatre, the narrative string intrinsically binding both architecture and film. With theatre dating back thousands of years to the Bronze Age, the craft of stage design reveals an intricate evolution that reflects not only the varied stories of people throughout history, but also of sweeping cultural progress. Yet, where does that leave stage design today, as modern technological mediums continue to drastically impact our experiences?
Whilst in Japan, in a fascinating piece entitled a A Serendipity of Architecture & Time, Osaka-based writer Nader Sammouri explores the relationship between architecture and film as both archives of urban development, with a special focus on modern Japanese film.
Architecture has long been used as a secondary character in films, setting the scenes by providing context, foreshadowing storylines and reaffirming tone. In their highly engaging piece entitled Thresholds of Cinematic Space, Parikshit Nema and Nipun Prabhakar examine how architectural elements from staircases to doorways, windows to key holes, and other building features, are placed with intention and often relied on by directors for subtle storytelling. Here, cinematic examples from the US, Iran and India shed light on the use of the door as a poignant frame.
We end this issue of the Red Envelope with an interview with Dr Juhani Pallasmaa, a Finnish architect, author and professor emeritus. Dr Pallasmaa discusses the symbiotic relationship between architecture and film, and how the latter enriches the development of the built environment.
Perhaps the future role of the architect will be the translator of narratives around spaces, whose mission it is to uplift our societies. Buildings and the urban environments capture and codify images of culture and life; similarly, the narratives of space shape our experience and expectations of present realities, as well as those yet to take place. The question remains: are narratives formed around space in architecture inevitable? What sort of narratives should be attached to spaces, both existing and future ones?
In our search for honest architecture and urbanism, perhaps the real path to discovery might not be in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes in which we view the ones right in front of us.
This article was originally published in the Red Envelope series, as part of the fourth journal themed ‘ARCHITECTURE + FILM’. The Red Envelope journals are published by LWK + PARTNERS, and edited by Round City co-founder Rima Alsammarae. They aim to provide knowledge and insight on global urban design for readers interested in architecture, design, development and the built environment.