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Architecture Movies Every Architect Should Watch

Written by:
Valerie Taylor
Courtesy of Eames Office, LLC

You can often find architecture in movies as backdrops and set pieces. More than these, however, filmmakers use these to portray complex experiences and relationships in the story. Some filmmakers even treat architecture as a character in and of itself. They usually stress its significance to the movie's narrative and worldbuilding.

Some movies emphasize architecture's crucial role in filmmaking and storytelling, from documentaries to fictional flicks.

10 Architecture Movies Every Architect Should Watch

1. Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011)

Is architecture a form of art? The documentary attempts to answer this question by exploring the relationship between architect Charles Eames and his wife, artist Ray Eames. As the founders of the renowned Eames Office and furniture line, Charles and Ray Eames are significant figures for the modernist design movement in the 1950s.

The movie recounts the couple's story through interviews with their family, architects, historians, and former Eames Office designers. Moreover, it explores the intermingling of architecture and artistic design. The movie discusses how combining both helped create the modernist tradition, which still influences architecture and design today.

2. Archiculture (2016)

Architecture is a competitive industry and endeavor. Many can observe this atmosphere even before students graduate, and Archiculture explores this culture. This movie is a 25-minute documentary examining the experiences of graduating design students from an architectural studio mode of teaching, which demands constant idea generation and production.

The documentary also portrays the desperation of students to succeed after they finish school quickly. This mindset can often be tough on their self-esteem. Through interviews with educators and historians, the movie explores the teaching methods educators employ to produce the next renowned architects.

3. How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? (2012)

Norman Foster is a modernist architect with a distinct light and aerodynamic artistic style. His works often polarize critics, yet they become significant landmarks worldwide. Most also consider Foster's work beautiful and elegant on top of being functional.

The documentary seeks to understand Foster and how a boy hailing from a humble neighborhood becomes one of the most influential modernist architects in the world. It demonstrates that practicality and beauty are not exclusive. Architecture is the middle ground where design and functionality can converge.

4. Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (2008)

For many people, infrastructures are simply objects they walk by daily. Julius Shulman sees this lack of appreciation and takes it upon himself to bring architecture to the attention of everyday people through photography.

Shulman's work capturing the pieces of renowned architects like Richard Neutra and Frank Gehry helped bring modernist architecture to the public eye. Released a year before his death, Visual Acoustics explores Shulman's life and how his work helped modernism persist into contemporary culture.

5. The Fountainhead (1949)

Like other art forms, architecture is often a pursuit to make your work shine above everyone else's. However, unique designs may find it challenging to stand out in a world where cookie-cutter structures are so popular.

The Fountainhead is a drama flick stressing the importance of originality in creating authentic pieces. It tells the story of Howard Roark, an individualistic architect. He seeks to pursue his artistic vision but becomes continuously attacked for doing so. The conflict revolves around Roark's struggle to establish his identity as an architect among traditionalists.

6. Dead Pigs (2018)

Set in Shanghai, Dead Pigs depicts the intertwining story of a low-income family whose house is about to be demolished for a new cathedral. Meanwhile, the planned cathedral's architect is a budding professional trying to fit in and make a name for himself in the industry.

The movie portrays the rapid development of China through its infrastructure and how it affects the poor. It's a reminder that architecture doesn't exist in a vacuum. Architecture is a tool that can significantly affect people's lives by diminishing or enhancing home value, for instance.

7. Inception (2010)

Although primarily a sci-fi action flick, Inception dabbles in the possibility of boundless design and creation. The movie focuses on Dominick Cobb, a thief who steals valuable information by going into the target's dreams. Most importantly, he is an architect who designs these dreams—from cars and buildings to the laws of physics.

Cobb's creations are not made in the real world, however. They are formed and built in his mind, highlighting the idea that imagination is the only limit to originality and creativity in architecture.

8. The Northman (2022)

This movie may not explicitly focus on architecture. However, the attention to detail given in building set pieces is an architectural marvel in cinema. Director Robert Eggers is known for his effort to employ historical accuracy in his work, which The Northman successfully demonstrates.

Set in Iceland in the early 10th century, there's a special effort to ensure the accuracy of Norse houses and other infrastructures. The Northman, along with Eggers' other work, stresses the significance of architectural research and replication in creating a well-rounded story. This belief is especially true for movies set during a particular historical period.

9. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Like The Northman, Blade Runner 2049 is a prime example of filmmakers utilizing the architecture in worldbuilding. As a sci-fi film set in the future, the movie heavily relies on establishing the setting through its visuals—portraying neon holograms, body modifications, and architecture to achieve this outlook.

Director Dennis Villeneuve's effort to give architecture a distinct characterization helps establish the film's narrative. From the design of the "spinner" flying cars to the cyberpunk buildings, Blade Runner 2049 embodies the importance of design and architecture in compelling storytelling and worldbuilding.

10. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

From the title alone, The Grand Budapest Hotel already hints that the quirky hotel has a central role in the movie. It's the setting through which you can meet significant characters and where most plot developments occur.

However, more remarkable than the movie's candy-like visuals is Director Wes Anderson's dedication to creating each hotel set piece extensively. His intense commitment has made him stay away from green screens and CGI.

As a result, Anderson's architectural efforts have produced a movie so visually unique and iconic that it defines his entire filmography for the years to come.

Architecture and Movies

From technical documentaries that use real estate terms to fictional flicks utilizing set designs as a narrative tool, movies are very flexible in portraying architecture as a field.

By employing architecture in set designs or the narrative, cinema demonstrates its capability to represent other art forms. Moreover, it reveals the power of movies to educate and inspire not just architects but people from all career paths and walks of life.

By Liliana Alvarez

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