Film and architecture have a long history that stretches back to the very first period of film production. Pictures may visualise a design but in film they can be fully brought to life in a way that a still image simply cannot. We have compiled a list of the best uses of architecture in film that will leave a lasting impression.
1927’s Metropolis was the beginning of architecture’s long history in film. Director Fritz Lang brought German Expressionism to the screen in one of the world’s first science fiction films. Nothing else at the time captured the essence of the built environment. Set in the future, the city in the film is a character in itself and the set design, a towering city of the future, was said to be inspired by Futurist Italian architect Antonio Sant’Ella. New York was said to be the inspiration for the futuristic cityscape. The architecture in the film draws heavily from the Art Deco movement at a time when the movement was beginning to take prominence in design.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 neo-noir dystopian film is set in Los Angeles. Hong Kong was the inspiration for the city as well as also drawing on the works of Antonio Sant’Ella. Blade Runner features a world where flying cars, robots and the technological age have taken over. The city is constantly shrouded in darkness with massive skyscrapers and large advertising television screens as its backdrop. The built-up environment utilises light from the buildings to create a sense of eeriness.
Tim Burton was the man first responsible for bringing the Batman character to the big screen and in Gotham City, he created a darkness that inhabits the screen as much as any character does. Gotham has always been a visually distinct city and Burton drew inspiration from New York in its design. The city itself is usually shot at night and features towers that seem to lean into one another to create a sense of claustrophobia. The city is primarily influenced by gothic architecture but also features a clash of architectural styles that creates a unique visual experience.
Christopher Nolan is known for his uniquely designed films and this 2010 film features architecture and design at its core. Unlike other films on this list which utilise set design, Nolan creates a film that bends and twists what we know about our physical universe. The film features ‘architects,’ people who create dreams. What follows is a truly unique visual experience where the audience watches massive cities being bent in on themselves and people travel in a world that is spinning around them. The film features several locations globally with a mix of Western and Japanese architecture but again like many other films on this list there is a large emphasis on the built-up environment.
This 2008 Martin McDonagh crime-comedy film was shot almost entirely in the Belgian city of Bruges. The city centre is a World Heritage Site of UNESCO and the film takes you on a journey through its streets. From the 10th century Bruges canals were introduced and much of its medieval influenced architecture remains intact today. The cities most famous landmark, the 13th century belfry, is featured in the film along with numerous other buildings that make the city a beautiful example of mid-European architecture and design.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film is shot almost entirely in a hotel. What makes this film visually enthralling is its manipulation of the everyday functions of the hotel – the long corridors, the grand lobbies and ballrooms. Created on a soundstage, the set for the Overlook Hotel was the largest ever built in that location. The fictional hotel was based on the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, a National Historic Landmark and an example of Parkitecture. The open spaces that a hotel provides are utilised perfectly in the film to create the ominous sense of dread.
The Truman Show
The Truman Show is the perfect example of the master-planned community that has become so popular in the last 100 years. Peter Weir uses the suburban setting perfectly to portray the protagonist as the everyday man in the everyday world. Seaside, Florida was used as the location for shooting. The city was one of the first in America to be designed with a New Urbanism influence and this carries onto the screen as the fictional setting. The area is one of several that can now be found around the world.
This Hong Kong drama film is set on location and features Tsim Sha Tsui and Central Hong Kong. The compact nature of Hong Kong and its buildings is fully explored and felt in this film. Featuring traditional Chinese architecture, people, buildings and structures are always hiding around the next corner and it is easy to get lost in its mass. Director Wong Kar-Wai wanted to explore space and time by having two separate stories in the film and setting one in dark and one in light during the day. The areas used in the film are mass-populated and hyperactive which contrast nicely with the traditionally pale colour palette of the film and steel building structures.