From humor to sci-fi drama, the interaction of cinema and architecture produces an art form that renews itself. The choice of architectural elements such as volumes, colors, and textures strongly influence the theme of a movie and help to uphold it’s storyline, and then when it’s also a movie about an architect …is there anything better!?!
Such designed spaces are next to our actual visual experiences and give us a better understanding of the details we overlook in reality. If you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve gathered a list of 12 intriguing films that are bound to have you hooked.
The best movies about an Architect
1. The Infinite Happiness
Regarding mass housing, many of us are acquainted with Bjarke Ingels’s impressive ‘8 House’ in Copenhagen. The Infinite Happiness is an architectural film that allows us to explore the giant ‘8 House’ through an inner and intimate point of view. This intriguing film echoes the contemporary design of the building and its context of people and space.
Documented by Ila Beka and Louis Lemoine, the film concentrates on the housing occupants sheltered inside the building. We could further interpret it as a compilation of architectural experience as it views the building by talking to the people who live and work there.
The film has brought an emphasis on the effort invested in by the architects and construction team through building’s contemporary qualities, practices and diverse theories. The filmmakers made this experience more sensible and realistic by being self-residents in the housing building during the filming of the movie.
2. Blade Runner
Whilst not strictly a movie about an architect, Blade Runner poses a futuristic world that mirrors the industrialism of advancing technology and society. Directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Michael Deeley in 1982, this science fiction film expresses dystopian visions through architecture and surrounding elements.
The film is set in a dystopian future Los Angeles of 2019, in which built humans identified as ‘replicants’ are bio-engineered by the Tyrell Corporation to function as slave laborer in colonization of other planets. When a group of advanced replicants force their way back to Earth, Harrison Ford’s character Deckard is tasked with tracking down and killing replicants.
With those stunning megacity landscapes of future Los Angeles, the Blade Runner reflects a dark and uncompromising tone which is a feast for the eyes. This film emphasizes notable architectural landmarks, including the Bradbury Building and Ennis House.
The science fiction of the film gets alive with the machines in the sky. And it’s the buildings that are designed with these machines in mind that set this film on its futurist path.
3. The Architect (2016)
The Architect is a film directed by Jonathan Parker in 2016. It mirrors architects and professes architecture as a fun, bizarre, and very popular profession. It thus is a fine satire with a balance of drama and comedy.
The premise of the film revolves around a couple, Colin (Eric McCormack) and Drew (Parker Posey) who wish to build a dream home before starting a family. They hire a visionary architect to design their dream home. The architect, however, is a different off-beat character who has plenty of his own artistic ideas. Things take a whimsical turn when he designs his dream house instead of theirs.
The movie is fun to watch as it is full of actual situations; from the crazy design of a house to the contractor struggling with the exhausting changes of the project. It delves into some quirky senses of architects and their method of working.
4. The Fountainhead
The Fountainhead is an adaptation of a 1943 novel by Russian-American writer Ayn Rand. The film takes place in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. It narrates the struggles of an innovative architect, Howard Roark, in his attempt to gain fame on his own terms.
In composing the character of Howard Roark, architect Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Ayn Rand. Howard is a bright, innovative architect whose modernist way and unique designs are rejected by most societies. As a result, he struggles to gain acknowledgment of his designs against the conventional bound masses.
Roark’s reluctance to compromise his designs in order to satisfy clients glints a debatable issue between the industrialization of the profession and the individual creation.
Inspired by New York skyscrapers such as the McGraw Hill Building and the Woolworth Building, they’ve shot the film in a captivating German Expressionist style that swerves from being pointless to being exciting.
If you are an architectural admirer, the extravaganza of architecture and richness of city life will draw you in to watch this 110 minute movie.
5. My Architect: A Son’s Journey
In 1974, a man was found dead in a Penn Station restroom, his body left unidentified for days. This man was the renowned architect, Louis Kahn. While most of us are familiar with Kahn’s work in modern architecture, very few of us are aware of the mysteries and turmoil that filled his personal life.
“My Architect: A Son’s Journey” is an admirable documentary film about the noted American architect Louis Kahn. Here, Kahn’s only son, Nathaniel, begins a five years’ worldwide exploration to decipher the curious life of his father.
Composed and directed by his own son, Nathaniel, this slow but moving documentary brings to light the life of noted architect Louis Kahn. It features interviews with many people his father collaborated with, counting the distinguished architects B. V. Doshi, Philip Johnson, Frank Gehry, Shamsul Wares, I. M. Pei, Moshe Safdie and Anne Tyng.
In quest to understand his father’s architecture, Kahn further explores all of his father’s buildings, including The Yale Center for British Art, The Salk Institute, Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
It’s worth watching just to peek at the grace of Louis Kahn’s architecture and to understand just how much a man can leave of himself in the works he leaves behind.
The below trailer isn’t the best quality, but provides a good insight into the film:
6. Ex. Machina
Simila to Blade Runner, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a fantastic science fiction film. Much of the movie takes place inside one building with a set of very limited characters. The film tells so much about these characters just by its visuals alone that we could watch it without the audio.
Ex Machina tells the story of a programmer, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) who scores the chance to spend a week at the private estate belonging to Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the brilliant CEO of the firm he works for.
Upon arrival, Caleb discovers they have designated him to be the human component in a Turing test to study the abilities and awareness of a smart robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander). However, Ava is much more self-aware and deceitful than imagined.
Architecture, cinematography and design combine to bring the characters and environment to life. The set design composes some of the most jaw-dropping and inspiring architecture, design, and interiors.
The key aspect to why the film was impressive was that they shot it at Alstad’s Juvet Landscape Hotel. Within the early few minutes of the film and from the architecture alone, we learn all about Nathan before having even met him.
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel portrays the story of a concierge, monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). When Monsieur Gustave is framed for murder, the pair begins on a journey for fortune and valuable renaissance painting amid the threat of military forces.
Although the film was set in Europe in the 1960s, it paints the glory days and the deterioration of a grand hotel in various eras.
Holding in for the Grand Budapest Hotel itself is a deserted Art nouveau department store in Görlitz, known as Gorlitzer Warenhaus. The Hotel Bristol Palace in Karlovy Vary influenced the hotel’s pink façade. The shifts between the two eras, the 1930s and the 1960s, are fabricated through the facade of the hotel.
The contrary usages of materials, and the deliberate floor plan in the interior show the changing notions about the function and definition of the hotel through the two divided periods.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visual feast, much a tribute to the style of European Glory and soviet architecture. With the usage of different design approaches and variation in colors, Anderson has manipulated space and layering in interesting ways to underscore architecture.
With some scenes shot from a bird’s-eye view, a concept of size is formed and transferred to the audience as the story’s progresses.
8. The Belly of an Architect
Directed by Peter Greenaway, “Belly of an Architect” is a film showcasing the beauty of Rome. It is a visual feast, almost a tribute to the style of Rome’s architecture.
The film revolves around an Architect Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy) who visits Italy with his young, beautiful wife Louisa (Chloe Webb) to set up an exhibition honoring his hero, Étienne-Louis Boullée.
As Kracklite’s health issues cause his downfall and loss of his work, he entertains the assumption that he is being poisoned by his unfaithful wife. He refuses to believe in his doctor’s diagnosis and drifts into a restrained insanity until both his marriage and his life collapse.
Just as Greenaway takes us into the life of his main character, he also intrigues us into the city of Rome. Through the use of symmetry, prominent colors and shades, the film emphasizes the poetic traits of Rome’s elegant monuments such as the Pantheon, Colosseum, Villa Adriana and many more.
As a spectator who has not experienced the splendor of Rome’s architectural riches, the film presents a poignant introduction through the use of visual communication and a fascinating musical score.
9. Mon Oncle
Mon Oncle (My Uncle), the classic by French filmmaker Jacques Tati, is a satiric film about life in an ultra-modern house with ultra-modern furniture. Mon Oncle shows the sophisticated aesthetics of modernization through clean, rational forms with less ornamentation which soared from 1945 to 1975.
The plot revolves around Monsieur Hulot who lives in an apartment complex hunched under the eaves of a rundown tenement building. Hulot’s sister Arpel lives in an ultra-modern house on the outskirts with an organized geometrical garden, motorized gadgets and suburban routines.
Disappointed with Hulot’s failure to discover his place in modernized France, an ashamed Arpel plans to set him up with a wife and a job.
Mon Oncle is a mockery of the Post War obsession with Modernist Architecture and consumerism. With its sleek but agonizing furniture, circular windows, fish fountains and a crooked garden path that compels people into bizarre behaviors, the architecture allows for light visual gags.
Tati highlights the reality of living in such an atmosphere versus the practicality.
10. High Rise
High-Rise is a British dystopian film directed by Ben Wheatley. It is adapted from J. G. Ballard’s novel of 1975. The story illustrates the fragmentation of a rich high-rise building as its inhabitants slip into violent chaos. It explores the influence of architecture on human behavior.
The plot revolves around Dr. Robert Lang (Tom Hiddleston), the newest inhabitant of a grand high-rise building in which they split the residents into classes. The rich live on upper floors and the poor on the floors beneath. It was an architectural paradise for the rich and the middle-class.
But as the power outages became more frequent, weaknesses of the buildings rose on the lower floors, reversing a serene social order. The building then becomes a battlefield in a literal class war.
Not only does the movie encourage us to ask questions about how architecture can shape our feelings, but it also facilitates consideration of how architecture controls how we interact with one another.
Again, this isn’t strictly a movie about an architect, but it is highly relatable as one. Inception is a psychological science-fiction film directed by Christopher Nolan in which dreams within dreams are manipulated by architects designing a fictional reality.
The film follows Don Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a professional thief with the rare ability to steal thoughts from subconscious minds. His skill has made him a hot asset in the world of corporate shadowing at the cost of everything he loves.
Cobb gets a chance at redemption when he is offered an impossible task to plant an idea in someone’s mind. If he succeeds, it will be the perfect crime, but a dangerous enemy forestalls Cobb’s every move. Following him in his mysterious endeavors are his faithful team mates Arthur, Eames, Ariadne, Yusuf and Tadashi.
What makes it so interesting is that the architectural space here acts as a medium of inception to affect the target by planting the idea ‘secretly’. The target is conscious of the intervention and believes the idea presented itself.
This planted idea is supposed to change the mindset and behavior of the target. An architect can create an architectural space in the layers of dreams only through the mind.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is considered a masterpiece in science fiction. You can see its influence in films such as Star Wars, The Matrix, Blade Runner, and a myriad of others. Lang’s Metropolis gives form to the theories of futurism through monumental landmarks that are symbols of the futurist school of thought.
Metropolis projects a futuristic city that is separated in vertical layers conferring to the various social strata. In such a future where the city is structured between the working class and the upper-class, two characters from each class fall in love with each other. One of them is a working class prophet while the other is the mastermind’s son from the city.
When a distraught inventor abducts the prophet and uses her to power a robot, imitating her physical appearance, it leads to a series of issues for the working class. The son of the city’s genius and the prophet try to stop the robot and its insane inventor from causing added issues for Metropolis.
Lang’s sci-fi is well appreciated for its rich set design that takes your breath away. Metropolis’ famous structures and cityscape influenced many artistic works. The architecture of this film is a translation of what could be given to the conditions of Germany during production of this movie.
But unlike conventional European cities that are overshadowed by church towers, this city better mirrors the American city, whose towering temples of work dominate the skylines.
…and that’s a wrap!
For architects, architecture films offer a coherent expression of visionary ideas without the actual world limitations. They are instruments that help build an alternate realm of reality.
We hope this post helped you discover some architectural films to check out for an architecture night in. You can again go through the studios, production companies, and directors of your favored films to spot similar ones. Happy watching!