Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – The Fifth Element

Well in my pursuit for futuristic architecture in movies, I stumbled upon this not so famous Hollywood flick by Luc Besson, The Fifth Element. But surprisingly this movie manages to portray a rich multi layered world world that talks extensively on the possibilities of future architectural developments within existing cities. The film certainly offers a thought provoking vision of the future of Manhattan two hundred and fifty years from now.

The movies plot starts with Earth’s water reserve falling drastically as a result of the planetary exportation in order to serve distant planets following the colonization of the Solar System.

As a result, following a logic similar to the one we saw in Gilliam’s cult sci-fi movie Blade Runner, real-estate developers excavated down the earth, slicing the island into vertical canyons and instead of replacing structures constructed new additions to the existing ones not only on top but also below the old buildings. This changed the notion of a single street and ground plane for circulation, so hovering craft were envisioned to roam into stratified layers throughout the verticality. With the street layer stripped back, once-hidden infrastructures of subway shafts and city utilities are suddenly revealed giving the city a sometimes chaotic machine-like appearance .

The movie also manages to portray Zorg’s powerful capitalist status through the elements of architecture. The tower he lives in is like a literal translation of being at the top of the hierarchy. The building is one of the tallest in the city but not the most prominent. Well as a matter of fact, the New York of 2259 seems to lack such a central vertical element.

Fifth element vertical growth is indeed a distinct trait of 20th century New York, due to the physical constraint of the land and the ever growing population of this city. In the year 2259, the viewer is told, the world has a population of over 200 billion and New York City has become the capital of the world. The city has, like in the past, been forced to grow taller, as a result, the metro transportation system is forced to be integrated vertically into the building .

What is important about the Luc Besson’s future New York is that no matter how much it has changed, it still remains visibly recognizable as New York.

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Brazil

Well cult movies have a way of their own in explaining things and Director Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is now different. Brazil was a sci-fi comedy cult movie released in 1985. Through this movie Terry intends to create an eclectic style. The film was shot on location at various places in Europe to create this mood. The architecture of the movie Brazil is as varied as its themes. Architectural expression takes on various forms and styles. Styles range from the decadence of Ida Lowry’s house to the brutalist interrogation space of the ‘Ministry of Information’. Gilliam sequences the plot of Brazil to move through these spaces and distinguish the intensity of the film. The spatiality of the sets highlight the themes of the movie.

During the time Brazil was released Post Modernism was a significant architectural style and had influence on Brazil’s set design. The courtyard in front of the Ministry of Information can be linked to Arata Isozaki’s design of MOCA in Los Angeles. MOCA has characteristically large monumental public spaces and over-scaled urban artifacts similar to the space in front of the Ministry of Information building. Robert Venturi and the post modernists of the 1970’s and 1980’s coined the phrase that ‘function follows form‘. With the use of post modern architecture, artificiality is integrated as a subplot within Brazil. Mrs. Ida Lowry’s apartment is an exhibition of her wealth and caste within society. Her apartment was filmed in the Liberal Club located next to London’s old Scotland Yard, a wealthy and well protected area of the city. Similar to Ida’s apartment Dr. Jaffe’s surgery room, where Ida Lowry receives her cosmetic treatment, exudes a certain decadence as well. The scene was shot in the home of Lord Leighton, a Victorian artist and collector, and is extravagantly decorated.

In the scene where Sam visits Mrs. Buttle to return her receipt for her husband, we see the difference between the aristocratic society and the working class society. Modern economical building types are used to depict the living conditions of the society that are poor. For example, the modernist courtyard that Sam visits before going to Mrs. Buttle’s apartment is testimony to this idea. The courtyard is derelict and inhabited by impoverished children. The architectural form of these buildings shares some resemblance to Le Corbusier’s Unite de Habitation. The hard concrete façade is characteristic of both apartments in Brazil and the Unite de Habitation.

Additionally we see that these influences of architecture affect the mood of the scenes. Architecture is used to express cinematic ideas. The restaurant where Sam, Ida, Mrs. Terrain, and Shirley eat lunch was filmed in Buckinghamshire’s Mentmore Towers. The restaurant scene portrays the lack of sensibility of the upper class in Brazil. A terrorist bomb detonates while the group is dining and not a single person acknowledges that the event takes place or attempts to help the people injured.

Continuing that architecture is used to express cinematic ideas, Sam’s apartment filmed at the Marne la Vallee in France, a huge apartment complex designed by Ricardo Bofil, depicts the problems of functionality. Sam’s house is functional to the point that it is inept for living. The extreme functionality of the house actually negatively affects Sam’s life. This is the case when his alarm clock neglects to go off, his toast is burnt, and his coffee is spilled. Similarly, the enormous space where Sam is lobotomized depicts the over-bearing strength of mechanized industrial society on the human psyche. The scene was shot on location in a cooling tower at a South London power station. During Sam’s escape scene the stunt man who rescue Sam descend a distance of 170 feet onto 9 inch wide metal bridges that are 40 feet above the ground. The enormous space emphasizes the scale to which society has succumbed to total dominance over the individual. The space is empowering and extremely intimidating. The Records Department where Sam works is the ‘container’ where he becomes a ‘cog’ in the machine of society. Filming of this scene took place at an abandoned grain mill in the Docklands of London. The mill was painted gray to create a dull and uneventful space. The giant holes in the ceiling are the bottoms of giant twelve story grain silos. The significance of Sam’s work place shows that the worker’s humanity is mediocre within the realm of Brazil’s bureaucracy.

Architecture in Movies

Minority Report – Architecture and the movie

Minority Report is probably the one film  that attempts to portray not only an exciting narrative set in a futuristic milieu, but also visualizes a credible future based on the predictions of today. Based on themes like ‘free will’ vs ‘determinism’ ,  ‘utopian’ vs ‘dystopian’ – the movie tries to predict the plausible dominant norms of a future society that would exist in 2054.

Washington of 2054 has evolved into three distinct zones: the Washington Capitol area where the monuments are present; the “bedroom community” across the river that has developed vertically ; and the decaying part of the city that has not kept up with the technological advances afforded by the rich.

While government buildings are hostile, and metallic; the grass in the city is still green, and historic row houses still stand proud presenting the post-modernist possibility of harmony between the old and the new.

The integration of infrastructure and cityscape presented so well by such films as Metropolis (1927) and The Fifth Element (1997) has been perfected here. A transport network of magnetic levitation vehicles is seamlessly built into the facades of most of the new buildings . It seems that the buildings and the vehicles exist to complement each other. Inclining highways form part of the façades dropped like waterfalls and merging with horizontal roads. The network of highways functions in all three dimensions , as the road surface totally abandons its dependence on gravity.Such seamless flow of traffic would be able to take care of any amount of traffic judiciously because of limitless possibilities in the use of the third dimension of space.One must however question the feasibility of such vehicles when considering the rest of the still horizontal city, where the viewer is clearly shown that the old road network still exists. A point to ponder for the future for Urban Planners, eh??

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Blade Runner

The Oscar winning director, Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult sci fi movie, Blade Runner, has become the most credible cinematic futuristic manifesto of the 20th century. The film potrays a future Los Angeles and offers a deep insight into the future of architecture and urbanism, while also providing information on contemporary realities and trends.

The film devicts that by the year 2019, Los Angeles will be a city that supports a population of over 90 million people. The colonization of the elite to utopian “off-world” planets has resulted in the large scale immigration of the upper class, leaving the city populated by a mainly ethnic underclass( mainly Chinese people). The cityscape is in a state of urban decay and has become totally synthetic. The middle-class suburbs have been overtaken by the city administration, transforming them into a huge industrial zone, while huge mega-structures now dominate the center of the city.

Syd mead, production designer of Blade Runner talks about the motive and inspiration behind the set design:
“I took the two world trade towers in New York City and the New York street proportions as a .today’ model, and expanded everything vertically about two and a half times. This inspired me to make the bases of the buildings sloping to cover aboutsix city blocks, on the premise that you needed more ground access to the building mass.”

As metropolis and blade runner work on similar themes, a comparison between them seems appropriate. Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner share a sense of urban gigantism and geometrical form. While the “New Tower of Babel” dominates the skyline of Metropolis, here it is the pyramid of the Tyrell Corporation headquarters that serves as the city’s nucleus. The building’s presence is overpowering, in it evokes a strong sense of financial power. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) like Metropolis (1927) reveals class structure through its vertical architecture.

The Los Angeles of 2019 is essentially a city of contradiction; high rises, pyramids and glass towers intermingle with revival architecture, historical buildings, and the debris of past urban sprawl. The visual layering of architectural typologies from various cultural pasts creates a post-modern image of a globalized world.

Due to the drain of wealth that accompanied the mass immigration, the city becomes a place where the whole economic process is slowed down. The removal of old buildings begins to cost far more than the construction of a new ones. Instead of tearing down buildings or dismantling established technologies, modifications and additions are thus added to existing structures. What results is a deeply layered city, where new use has grown over and subsumed Los Angeles’ architectural history (the film utilizes such historical Los Angeles buildings as the Bradbury Building, Union Station and the Yukon Hotel for several of its most important scenes).

New structural elements extend through old buildings to support new construction above; while ducts, signs and service pipes run, snake like, over the old façades . As the cables and generator tubes delivering air and waste go up the old buildings, the street level becomes nothing more than a service alley to the Megastructures above.

“Things are retrofitted after the fact of the original manufacture because the old, consumer-based technology wasn’t keeping up with demand. Things have to work on a day-to-day basis and you do whatever necessary to make it work. So you let go of the style and it becomes pure function. The whole visual philosophy of the film is based on this social idea” Syd Mead.

The aesthetic of retrofitting is very similar to the adaptive façade concept of Archigram’s Peter Cook. His 1978 Trickling Tower project [Fig. 10] starts its existence as a polished steel Megastructure. Over time, the appearance of the building changes as new elements are added, and uses changed. Also, the externalization of infrastructural services (heating, cooling, water, gas) brings to mind Richard Rogers’ and Renzo Piano’s Pompidou centre, 1977 .

The thoughtfulness of the underlying concept, and the layering of images and associations, makes Blade Runner one of the most discussed and influential films of our times.
The film remains a compelling reminder of just how nasty life in the twenty-first century may eventually become. It depicts a road humanity is heading down now : class separation, the growing gulf between rich and poor, and the population explosion; but as such, offers no solutions.

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Equilibrium

Futuristic movies of Hollywood have always given great focus on the architecture of the mentioned era. Equilibrium is different from all those conventional futuristic imaginations, because the core of the architectural concepts of the movie lies in Soviet or fascist style of architecture.


Equilibrium presents a vision of a world at peace, with a tremendous human cost. This is a world where war is a distant memory, yet where there is no music, no art, no poetry, where anyone who partakes in such banned activities is guilty of a “Sense Offense,” a crime that carries a death sentence. It is a world where the age-old question “How do you feel?” can never be answered because all feelings have been shut out.

Libria, the main focal point of the movie is a stark, black-and-white metropolis, which is run by a tyrannous dictator named the Father who wields power through a group of Ninja-like “clerics” who enforce his vision of peace through the chemical control of all emotion.

The city of Libria  in Equilibrium presents a controlled state taken to its extremes. The emotion suppressing state’s agenda is clearly expressed through the city’s architecture. Buildings, like the people that inhabit them are faceless and devoid of any feeling. The fascist’s states media manipulative machine is inbuilt into the infrastructure of the city: giant billboards overtake whole build facades, and loud speakers that air a constant stream of propaganda are located at every corner.

Visual effects supervisor Tim McGovern worked alongside Kurt Wimmer and Wolf Kroeger to formulate the look of the walled Librian metropolis. McGovern, who won an Oscar for “Total Recall,” started with a theme of grandiosity. He explains: “The whole idea of fascist architecture is to make the individual feel small and insignificant so the government seems more powerful and I continued that design ethic in the visual effects. For example, Libria is surrounded by a seventy-five feet high wall, the walls just keep going on and on and use vertical and horizontal lines in a Mondrian-type way. ”