Dozens of movies have been made in the past 100-or-so years about famous architects and architectural projects. Arch Daily recently published a piece on architectural documentaries to watch in 2018 and Arch 20, an online architecture & design magazine, recently looked at some of the most enduring and notable architectural documentaries from the archives that are as awe inspiring as they are educational, many of which are laced with human drama and politics.
Whether depicting the life and work of famous architects, past and present, a school of architecture, or a remarkable architectural feat, the new slate of films as well as the 30+ films highlighted by Arch20 have made a memorable impact and may even leave viewers as delighted and breathless as a Hollywood action film would.
From Cairo, the Capital of Egypt (a 1914 documentary) to Frank Lloyd Wright (1998) a film directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick about the famous architect’s life — including his misdeeds — and the surpassing influence he had on American architecture, or Inside Piano (2013) about Renzo Piano’s three most symbolic buildings including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the films reviewed offer insights into architectural visionaries throughout time, as well as a grand international tour of architectural wonders.
Some of the other films reviewed include:
- Schindlers Hauser (2007) — a “cinematic photo album” directed by Heinz Emigholz, showcasing 40 of the homes Schindler built in Los Angeles between 1921 and 1952. Emigholz also pays tribute to the pioneering work of Modernist Adolf Loos (1870-1933) in the film Loos Ornamental (2008).
- Antonio Gaudi (1985) — an ethereal visual documentary with minimal narrative that showcases the innovative architect’s work, directed by Hiroshi Teshigarhara.
- Bird’s Nest – Herzog & de Meuron in China (2008) elaborates on the cultural and political challenges the two architects faced building the new National Stadium for the Olympics in Beijing.
- If you’re a Rem Koolhaas fan, there are at least three films to choose from: REM (2013) directed by his son; Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect (2008), and Koolhaas Houselife (2013).
- Samsara (2011) — filmed over five years, in 25 countries on five continents, directed by Ron Fricke, generated $2.6 million in box office earnings and transports viewers to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes and natural wonders.
- Unfinished Spaces (2011) — an inspiring story about the National Arts School in Cuba and the political turmoil there in the 1960s, and about how dreams are destroyed but can be revived. The film was a catalyst for restoring the structure.
- One of the most widely viewed documentaries, Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005), directed by the famous Sydney Pollack, portrays Gehry’s career and creative process and his twin masterpieces: the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles.
- And finally, while not a documentary, Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang, is a science fiction masterpiece that architectural scholars consider a “must see”. It depicts a futuristic dystopian city severely divided along lines of wealth and class.
Films may be accessed online (Netflix, Amazon, etc.); get the popcorn ready and turn down the lights!