Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Analyzing Architecture and Design Elements in The Avengers

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Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Marvel’s Avengers certainly needs no introduction. Apart from being the most successful movie franchise in history, it received considerable acclaim from critics and audiences alike for the quality of film making. While most of the readers here would be familiar with multiple end credit scenes and quirky Stan Lee cameos, I aim to provide a perspective from the point of view of an architecture enthusiast. The series has managed to depict a mix of futuristic, contemporary, and medieval architecture in a seamless fashion. This amalgamation of contradicting style transcending real and virtual universes clearly deserves praise.

We have had a total of 23 released movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, split across 3 phases and 8 new movies in the pipeline from phase 4. For the purpose of this story I will be focusing on the first two installments of the series i.e. The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). I will try to cover the sequels, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in subsequent stories. You will, however, find the buildings mentioned below in multiple other movies from the franchise.

For the uninitiated, the series is based on Marvel Comics superhero team created by Stan Lee and first two installments of the series were written and directed by Joss Whedon (he had earlier created some amazing TV series’ such as Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The movie has a stellar star cast which includes Chris Evans, Robert Downey Junior, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson.

James Chinlund, the production designer of the film described his experience working on the look and feel of the movie in great detail in an interview with Charlie Jane Anders for io9 in 2012. One of the major concerns for them was to keep the superhero team grounded to the real world. The problem statement to the team was simple:

“How do you make this virtual universe seem relatable to the audience?”

The Answer: Architecture

Stark Tower

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Stark Tower, the high rise building complex which serves as the headquarters of Avengers is located right in the middle of Manhattan.

Stark Tower is the most familiar architectural element in the film. The high rise building, which serves as headquarters of The Avengers, is placed right in middle of Manhattan as per the Marvel Universe. While designing the tower the goal was to make New Yorkers look around at the skyline after leaving the cinema halls, with a feeling that the Tower might have actually been there and they might have never noticed it. As per the Marvel comics storyline, Tony Stark bought the iconic MetLife Building (which was formerly the PanAm Building) and ripped off the top to add his own piece of parasitic architecture to it.

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Metlife Tower — Photo by Finn on Unsplash

This is what Chinlund had to say about his experience of designing the Stark Tower :

“In choosing the MetLife location we were also recognizing the rich topography of the streets below, which is a unique arrangement in New York, with the viaduct over 42nd St and the tunnels behind Grand Central Station, not to mention Grand Central itself, the ultimate conflagration of rich histories and futuristic ideas.”

The production design team deserves praise for the incredible job of redesigning and retrofitting the MetLife Building into Stark Tower. The team focused on creating a ‘Stark aesthetic’ feel, introduced in the first two Iron Man movies, with design elements such as sweeping curves and glass from his home in Malibu.

The team also focused on real-world or practical aspects of design rather than just creating something of grandeur. Considering the tower was in New York, it had to be more efficient in terms of space with a machine-like feel. It can be said that Tony Stark was designing everything around Iron Man Technology, to the point that he incorporated it into the architecture of his living space. A key design element of the Stark Tower is the landing pad, also known as the car wash, where Tony Stark usually lands in his Iron Man suit. The design of the tower seamlessly integrated the car wash with the super-efficient workstations capable of accomplishing everything Tony Stark needed with the minimal effort.

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A redesigned Stark Tower, now known as Avengers Tower, appears in Captain America — The Winter Soldier

A redesigned Stark Tower, later known as Avengers Tower, appears in Captain America — The Winter Soldier. Changes made include the addition of an aircraft hangar and STARK sign being replaced with the Avengers “A” logo. In the Age of Ultron, the tower is the Avengers’ main headquarters and we are also introduced to other spaces within the tower such as lounge area, three laboratories, machine room, gym, relaxation area, and locker room.

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The dramatic and photogenic spaces designed by Lautner have been frequently used as movie sets to the extend of them influencing film production.

Many fans and architects are of the opinion that Tony Stark’s taste in architecture and decor is directly influenced by Los Angeles based Architect John Lautner. The concept artists of the Iron Man series have also talked about how John Lautner’s works provided inspiration to them.

The dramatic and photogenic spaces designed by Lautner have been frequently used as movie sets to the extend of them influencing film production. Few of the popular films that featured Lautner’s buildings include the James Bond series, Charlie’s Angels, The Big Lebowski and A Single Man. His car-centric ‘Googie style that defines mid 20th century Southern California, inspired the car café set created for the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction (Remember the iconic Uma Thurman — John Travolta dance scene?).

The medieval fortress of Bard in Val d’Aosta

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The Medieval fortress of Bard in Val d’Aosta featured as the home of Loki’s Sceptre makes quite an impression to the audience.

The Medieval fortress of Bard in Val d’Aosta located in North-Western Italy, used as the set for Hydro headquarters in Avengers: Age of Ultron, makes quite an impression on the audience. The film also features real world village of Vittorio Veneto and the town of Bard, on the outskirts of the Fort. The origins of the fort dates back to the 5th century and it rose to historic prominence as the site of a Napoleonic battle when in 1800, a 40000 strong French Army was stopped by 400 Austro-Piedmontese soldiers. In 2006 the Fort was completely renovated, bringing it back to its former imposing glory, and formed part of the set of Age of Ultron.

Conclusion

Unlike many of the futuristic-fantasy movies, The Avengers focused on creating an architectural style which integrated seamlessly with the real world. This was mainly due to the fact that most of the storyline for these movies were set on Earth. The subsequent films in the franchise, however, had to deviate from the earth-centric design ideology, as the storyline took the characters beyond the realms of planet Earth.

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – The Matrix Trilogy

The 1999 Science Fiction Action movie, The Matrix, directed by The Wachowskis and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving is undoubtedly one of the most complex and entertaining movies of the late 20th century. The Matrix Trilogy began with the feature film The Matrix and continued with two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded in May, 2003 and The Matrix Revolutions in November, 2003. It features a cyberpunk story incorporating references to several religious and philosophical ideas. It also shows influences of various mythologies, anime and different martial art forms. Amidst all the breath taking visuals and action sequences this futuristic fantasy movie gives a lot of prominence to architectural styles and design. The Wachoski brothers’ keen interest in detailing was also evident in their recent release, Jupiter Ascending. The Matrix surprisingly contains many of the real world buildings along with the fictional virtual reality cities within The Matrix.

Mega City can be considered as a conglomeration of many cities fused into one large city with a gigantic downtown and an impressive skyline
Mega City can be considered as a conglomeration of many cities fused into one large city with a gigantic downtown and an impressive skyline

The most notable of architectural features in the movie is the Mega City, an enormous virtual city in which the inhabitants of the Matrix live. Mega City can be considered as a conglomeration of many cities fused into one large city with a gigantic downtown and an impressive skyline. The city was designed to represent an amalgam of major cities in the United States and Australia during the 1990s characterized by grey and utilitarian areas with small pockets of colour and entertainment. The cities that provided inspiration for the Mega City include Sydney (where most of the film as shot), Oakland (where some of the car chase sequences in The Matrix Reloaded were filmed) and Chicago (the birthplace of The Wachowskis). Hence we see yet another movie in which the major city is designed based on existing cities. Other examples include the Gotham City in Batman Trilogy and the fascist architecture inspired structures of Equilibrium.

The concept of the city in The Matrix is actually an archetype of the hyper reality theory developed by prominent author Umberto Eco, who wrote the popular novel, The Name of the Rose, which was filled with detailed description of the cathedrals of Italy. The hyper reality theory states that the virtual city constructed by the machines controlling the society is more convincing and realistic to its inhabitants than the real world itself.

The logic behind the creation of the harsh grey and uninteresting landscape was to ensure that the unknowing inhabitants of the Matrix did not question their living space given that they lacked an alternative. It can also be possibly said that the City is an inhabitant-unique environment, where no one sees things the same way. Other theories state that the visualization of the City could possibly be a result of the redpills’ experience outside of the Matrix. Further, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) describes to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) that earlier instances of the Matrix which were cheerier did not meet the expectations of the humans hosted within. The Architect later expands on that explanation telling Neo (Keanu Reeves) that the first versions failed because they were designed around the two extremes of perfect paradise and absolute hell that the human mind was unable to accept.

A map of Mega City later provided to the designers of the game The Matrix Online by The Wachowskis splits the city into four main districts Downtown, International, Richland and Westview
A map of Mega City later provided to the designers of the game The Matrix Online by The Wachowskis splits the city into four main districts Downtown, International, Richland and Westview

A map of Mega City later provided to the designers of the game The Matrix Online by The Wachowskis splits the city into four main districts: Downtown, International, Richland (ironically called the slums by the redpills), and Westview. The map shows that the actual shape of the city represents the Y-shaped symbol which can also be seen at the end of the code sequence in The Matrix Revolutions.

The beautifully designed mansion is based on the traditional designs and is lined inside with numerous Greek like statues and ancient armours and weapons
The beautifully designed mansion is based on the traditional designs and is lined inside with numerous Greek like statues and ancient armours and weapons

An architectural feature that stands in stark contrast to the modern or futuristic styles in the old fashioned Chateau or the Merovingian mansion located in the mountains. The beautifully designed mansion is based on the traditional designs and is lined inside with numerous Greek like statues and ancient armours and weapons. The Chateau provides the audience a real world atmosphere amidst all the virtual reality.

As mentioned earlier, many of the real world buildings and structures are either referred to or are seen in the film. The Sydney Tower is visible on the construct TV screen. In the famous roof top bullet scene the audience can catch a glimpse of the UTS Tower building. Other prominent buildings from Sydney that are visible include Martin Place and St. James railway station. Early drafts of the movie’s screenplay identified the city as Chicago and most of the street and landmark names referenced are from Chicago, such as Wabash and Lake, Franklin and Erie, State Street, Balbo Drive, Cumberland Ave, the Adams Street Bridge and the Loop Train. Apart from the cities of Sydney and Chicago, the film also refers to the Heathrow Airport, the United States Congress to name a few.

Overall we can say that The Matrix Series captures the design of a futuristic all inclusive city with great detail and accuracy. With the huge influx of population to urban areas, the future cities would in all probability end up resembling the Mega City of The Matrix with loose connection to the base city from which it expanded.

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Interstellar

It is very interesting to note that movies which consider architecture as an essential element of the film fall under two categories, fantasy and futuristic. Though people may argue that futuristic movies are quite similar to fantasy ones, we have to admit that futuristic movies are made with much more scientific reasoning and backing and surprisingly the architecture elements of such films are generally derived from the past. We have seen how many of the futuristic movies take inspiration from the fascist architecture styles of the Nazi or Soviet era. But here is one movie based on a futuristic story line which has chosen to ignore this clichéd architectural representations and have gone for a much more simplistic approach (After all, Less is More).

Christopher Nolan’s 2014 Science Fiction film Interstellar tells the story of a crew of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity. The incredibly talented star cast of the movie include Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Michael Caine and Matt Damon.

Christopher Nolan had revealed in television interviews how he would have chosen architecture as an alternative career option. He had demonstrated his knowledge in the domain of architecture earlier in movies like Dark Knight Series and Inception. His approach has always being quite simplistic and grounded to reality, whether it was designing the city of Gotham in Batman movies or the spherical futuristic abode of humans in Interstellar.

So, many of you might be wondering what is there to talk about if the architecture style in the movie is quite simplistic and real. Well this is where we should not underestimate a man of Christopher Nolan’s calibre.

TARS
TARS

First let us discuss about the articulated machines present almost throughout the movie – The sleek grey acerbic robot named TARS (Voice by Bill Irwin). These rectangular slabs of shiny metal that walk, talk, have a sense of humour and operate like a cross between a Swiss army knife and an iPhone. Their blocky fragments can disconnect and rotate to perform a variety of actions, from pushing buttons to cart-wheeling across alien planets.  It also relates strongly to the architecture style of Mies van der Rohe, widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusiner. Nolan explained in an interview how he honed in on the idea and asked the art designer of the film, Nathan Crowley who is a very big fan of modern architecture, “What if we designed a robot as if Mies van der Rohe designed a robot?” We can see how the machines of the movie are quite different from the anthropometric robots that we generally see in fiction (Like C3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars).

One of the most fascinating yet confusing part of the movie is the scene involving the Tesseract
One of the most fascinating yet confusing part of the movie is the scene involving the Tesseract

One of the most fascinating yet confusing part of the movie is the scene involving the Tesseract. (Spoiler Alert!) This appears when Coop (Matthew McConaughey) jumps from the space craft and is drawn into a black hole. Inside this black hole Nolan envisages an Escher-like architectural structure representing a single moment in time – the scene in which Coop leaves his daughter. Maurits Cornelis Escher is a Dutch graphic artist known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints which feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.

Inside this black hole Nolan envisages an Escher-like architectural structure representing a single moment in time
Inside this black hole Nolan envisages an Escher-like architectural structure representing a single moment in time

Most of the other architectural features in the movie like the spaceship, the travel pods, and the station of Dr Mann (played by Matt Damon) are based on real scientific elements and have also taken inspirations from classic science fiction movies like 2001 Space Odyssey. These spaces focus more on functional aspects. Even the futuristic abode of humans shown at the end of the movie is quite simplistic from an architectural point of view. Most of the buildings shown are similar to any modern day buildings we find around us. Be it the houses near which the kids play baseball or the interiors of the hospital where Coop meets his aging daughter, Murph. Of course the shape of the terrain and the play of gravity makes them look fascinating.

Overall we can say that Christopher Nolan has tried to provide a simplistic treatment to the architecture elements in the movie. Considering the already complicated plot and scientific elements in the movie, we can assume that he wanted the buildings to be as near to present day structures as possible. These simplistic elements help make the movie easy to relate to for the audience.

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Entertainment’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ directed by James Gunn is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining and visually spectacular movies of recent years. The movie is based on the Marvel Comics series and was produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It features a cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro. The story revolves around a group of extra-terrestrial misfits who are on the run after stealing a coveted orb and find themselves in the most unusual situation of having to save their own galaxy. Like most of the movies based on futuristic themes, Guardians of the Galaxy also has a lot to offer to people with keen interest in art direction and architecture.

Kyln - This cylindrical shaped 360 degree structure required almost 100 tons of steel across its three levels and was later extended by around 200 feet in post-production stage
Kyln – This cylindrical shaped 360 degree structure required almost 100 tons of steel across its three levels and was later extended by around 200 feet in post-production stage

The first interesting building that caught my attention was the space prison named The Kyln where the Guardians initially meet. Apparently it was one of the largest buildings constructed during the production of the movie and it was later transformed into the Collector’s lab or Taneleer Tivan’s museum of curios. This cylindrical shaped 360 degree structure required almost 100 tons of steel across its three levels and was later extended by around 200 feet in post-production stage. The byzantine prison includes a series of steel corridors that connect cells to bays which are built on a steel frame on wheels. The structure is shown in great detail in one of the best action sequence in the movie.

Xandar, the most Earth-like planet in the galaxy and the one the prime antagonist of the movie, Ronan, wants to destroy, is a stark contrast to an otherwise dark environment in the film. This planet with the brightest environment was created almost entirely on computer. The credits of the film suggests that most of the structures on this planet draws inspiration from the works of renowned Valencia based Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, specifically the white concrete, gorgeous steel and glass arch of the Liege train station designed by him in Belgium. Interestingly, this building has also appeared in films such as Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, featuring Benedict Cumberpatch and Lorna’s Silence (2008). Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia was also one of the locations of the film Tomorrowland starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. Moreover the climax of the film Faust (2000) was shot in Bach de Roda Bridge designed by Calatrava himself.

The credits of the film suggests that most of the structures on Xandar draws inspiration from the works of renowned Valencia based Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava -Liege Station,Belgium
The credits of the film suggests that most of the structures on Xandar draws inspiration from the works of renowned Valencia based Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava -Liege Station,Belgium

It must be said that the overhead visuals of the cities in the planet of Xandar with people walking, looks straight out of a 1950’s futuristic architectural drawing which one might find in Disneyland’s World of Tomorrow exhibit back in the fifties. It’s beautiful and bright setting is certainly a metaphor for the happy, peaceful planet that it is. However, the planet looks too clichéd and feels out of place amongst the rest of the galaxy.

Framestore, the VFX team behind Guardians of the Galaxy built Knowhere with an astonishing 250 unique models of buildings, pipes, railings, and lights, assembled into a 1.2 billion-polygon world
Framestore, the VFX team behind Guardians of the Galaxy built Knowhere with an astonishing 250 unique models of buildings, pipes, railings, and lights, assembled into a 1.2 billion-polygon world

The most spectacular element in the movie is undoubtedly the mining outpost in the movie “Knowhere”, which is actually the decapitated head of an ancient celestial being. Framestore, the VFX team behind Guardians of the Galaxy built Knowhere with an astonishing 250 unique models of buildings, pipes, railings, and lights, assembled into a 1.2 billion-polygon world. The team remarked that the structure was so complex because there was a huge amount of geometry to contain in one space. The first glimpse of Knowhere is one of the most visually spectacular scenes in the movie.

It is said that the director and the production design team were inspired by the look of greasy industrial mining towns and built both the Boot of Jemiah and the Collector’s Lab with an eye towards inspired dirtiness. The Collector’s lab which also appears in the post credit scenes of the movie is expected to be shown in further details in the upcoming sequel of the movie.

The Dark Aster- It's minimal and brutal, a stark grey colourless world devoid of any set dressing whatsoever, and relying purely on its heavy concrete-like architecture to convey its tone and function
The Dark Aster- It’s minimal and brutal, a stark grey colourless world devoid of any set dressing whatsoever, and relying purely on its heavy concrete-like architecture to convey its tone and function

Another interesting structure although not a building is the Ronan’s ship – the Dark Aster which is said to have been inspired by a mausoleum. Here’s what director James Gunn had to say about Ronan’s ship:  “It’s minimal and brutal, a stark grey colourless world devoid of any set dressing whatsoever, and relying purely on its heavy concrete-like architecture to convey its tone and function.” This can be compared to many of the fascist or soviet structures appearing in dark futuristic movies such as Christian Bale starrer Equilibrium.

The fact that this movie has given great attention to very minute details can be explained by the fact that even the floor lamps and planters in the movie were product designs by Austrian architect and designer Martin Mostböck. His new floor lamp- “The Edge.01” and the planter – “Arrow” are featured in the blockbuster movie.

Overall the movie is a visual treat for the audience and is a pleasant experience for people with an eye for production designs and architecture. I really hope that the upcoming movies in the Guardians of the galaxy series continue providing a visual treat for the spectators.

Architecture Related

Living Walls

Introduction:

Living walls (also called bio walls, ìmurî vegetal, or vertical gardens) are composed of pre-vegetated panels or integrated fabric systems that are affixed to a structural wall or frame. Modular panels can be comprised of polypropylene plastic containers, geo textiles, irrigation, and growing medium and vegetation. This system supports a great diversity of plant species, including a mixture of ground covers, ferns, low shrubs, perennial flowers, and edible plants. Living walls perform well in full sun, shade, and interior applications, and can be used in both tropical and temperate locations.
Benefits Of Living Walls:
  • Improvement of Air Quality
  • Reduction of Urban Heat Island Effect
  • Moderate Building Temperatures
  • Contribute to Carbon Dioxide/Oxygen Exchange
  • Stormwater Management (absorbs 45-75% of rainfall)
  • Sound Insulation
  • Building Envelope Protection
  • Habitat and Biodiversity
  • Aesthetics
  • Health (visual contact with vegetation has been proven to result in direct health benefits).

LEED points:

  • Sustainable Sites Credit 7.1: Landscape Design That Reduces Urban Heat Islands, Non-Roof (1 pt) Exterior green walls reduce the solar reflectance of a structure, thus reducing the urban heat island effect.
  • Water Efficiency Credits 1.1, 1.2: Water Efficient Landscaping (1 to 2 pts) Buildings can incorporate a stormwater collection system for irrigation of the green walls and other landscape features. Using only captured, recycled, or nonpotable water may enable the project to achieve this credit.
  • Water Efficiency Credit 2: Innovative Wastewater Technologies (1 pt) Green walls can be utilized as wastewater treatment media for gray water. Other features, such as the incorporation of compost tea from a composting toilet, is another way for green walls to aid in the reduction of wastewater.
  • Energy and Atmosphere Credit 1: Optimize Energy Performance (1 to 10 pts) Green walls can provide additional insulation and natural cooling, which reduces a building’s reliance on mechanical systems.
  • Innovation in Design Credits 1-4: Innovation in Design (1 to 4 pts) Green walls may contribute to innovative wastewater or ventilation systems.

Five scenarios were run with UFORE to assess the effect of both green walls and the urban forest on energy consumption.  The scenarios were designed to reflect the impact of different levels of intensification that could occur under Ontario’s new Regional Growth Management Strategy or under any Smart Growth strategy to contain urban sprawl.

  • Scenario 1
    BASELINE: this scenario was based on the reductions in energy consumption provided by existing trees and shrubs in Midtown.
  • Scenario 2
    No Trees: this scenario examined the effect on energy consumption in Midtown when all trees were removed from the area.
  • Scenario 3
    No Big Trees: this scenario examined the effect when all big trees with a diameter-at- breast-height greater than 22cm were removed from the area.
  • Scenario 4
    Trees off Buildings: this scenario examined the effect when trees that provided shade to buildings (within 3-5 meters) were removed.
  • Scenario 5
    Green Walls: this scenario examined the effect when existing trees and shrubs were removed and vertical “hedges” or walls of Juniper species were added within 3 meters of residential (medium and low) houses.

ITC Royal Gardenia
ITC Royal Gardenia

The Royal Gardenia:

  • The Royal Gardenia is the worlds largest LEED Platinum rated hotel.
  • The Royal Gardenia deals with this in a bold and unique way. For a start, the hotel’s Atrium lobby is not air-conditioned. Leading you into the hotel is just a simple glass arch. There are no doors and the whole lobby is wind-cooled. In addition to a square lotus fountain in the middle, the lobby features vertical hanging gardens with a mix of plants that are watered using drip irrigation.
  • The hotel is one of the first hotels in India to create the concept of vertical hanging gardens that are located at the main lobby and the Cubbon Pavilion, the coffee shop. These gardens rise towards the ceiling. Lighting is provided from natural sources or through an energy efficient lighting system.

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