Six years ago, the opportunity
arose to write two short papers on the reproduction of architecture in different media. An
interest in both theatre and cinema influenced the first essay, which emerged as a
collection of ideas and theories exploring the possible existence of a relationship
between architecture and film.
Image 1- Images by Eisenstein reflecting Choisey's theory on processional journeys- denying a pedestrian or audience a focal point, & thus pushing them on to seek the next.
Image 2 - Metropolis: the city by night.
Our experience of architecture
has become habit, a subconscious part of everyday life. Film has likewise become part of
our subconscious memory, shading our impression of places we have never experienced and in
many cases never will; influencing to the point of dictating how we should feel, think and
operate in a particular space. Wright quips that when films are set in New York the
background is so dominant, and so instantly recognisable, that it cannot help but become
almost an honorary member (6) acting to validate the plot. If
this is true then how do audience members make the cognitive leap between what they see
and what they understand?
The semiotics of architecture
presents the fact that architecture is primarily to function and then to communicate, and
operates on these two different levels of signifiers. It is understood that people must
understand the root sign to expand their meanings of architecture. In one of Eco's
discussions he shows that the stair came to mean a change in level. Both the stair and the
lift are used in several of the case study films to symbolise 'level'. In Metropolis,
Bladerunner and The Hudsucker Proxy, levels convey class segregation
between the wealthy and poor, the successful and the unsuccessful. The 'underground'
versus the 'topside' in 12 Monkeys conveys disaster. Respondents knew that the
desolate city of Philidelphia had experienced a horrific event although they could not
necessarily pin point exactly what the catastrophe was. Director Tati in Playtime simply
used level changes to show the confusion one can suffer in absurdly modern architecture.
Image 3 - Playtime: hospital or airport? Tati used different architectural signs common to certain types of buildings to show his audience how absurd modern architecture can be.
Image 4 - The Hudsucker Proxy: Mussberger's very intimidating office displaying his power and wealth as the corporation's director.
testing conducted involved sample groups viewing film sequences cut from the six case
study films according to strict criteria. The participants were required to complete a
questionnaire which recorded their perception and understanding of the film material
shown. Hence the director's intentional use of architectural signifiers to aid
comprehension was analysed. The questionnaire provided a common plane for prompting
audience response and as a reliable method of recording of data for collation and
Image 5 - Bladerunner: filming the model of the Tyrell Corporation Building.
|1. Perception of film material does not differ greatly between different
2. Perception is not enhanced by prior viewing of the material; and
3. Respondents of certain disciplines had different perception levels.
This last finding was deduced from research between film and architecture students and I won't divulge whom was more perceptive!
It seems that many of the findings resulted from differing levels of general experience and knowledge, not prior film exposure as first believed. This only strengthens semiotic theories purporting that people construe meaning by combining signs and 'experiences' from their library. The findings also support the idea that film research is formulaic to a film's successful understanding.
The thesis results have implications for both disciplines. Firstly it proves that the creation and use of film architecture is an important part of the cinema process. Secondly it verifies Neumann's statement that film can play an important role in the reception, criticism and dissemination of architectural ideas (12) throughout society. Lastly, it supports the notion that architecture actively communicates, which infers that the creation of real architecture must remain a respected and carefully considered process as it holds enormous energy that can subconsciously colour peoples' lives.
Both architecture and film operate as agents in disclosing hidden aspects of society, the unexpected collective 'unconscious'. (13) They revel in the dreams of society but are at the same time the divulgents of repressed information. The psychology of film and architecture's relationship is therefore more important than we care to admit.
Image 6 - Bladerunner: Deckard arrives at the Mayan / cathedral like Tyrell Corp. building.
|Neumann proposes three roles film architecture plays in cinema; as a
reflection and commentary on contemporary developments, as a testing ground for innovative
visions, and as a realm in which a different approach to the art and practice of
architecture can be realised. (14) Cinem(a)rchitecture encompassed
all three guises and studied them collectively in an attempt to define the limits of
architectural signifiers in film.
Architecture and film in a sense need each other to exist on certain levels. Architecture aids film in communicating with its audience. Film aids architecture by inspiring the average film goer to take an interest in their built environment and to experience within the realms of cinema what they may never experience in real life. Film also returns to architecture a mass medium where both the trained and untrained can become the critique; where architects and wanna-be architects can realise dreams that cannot be constructed in reality.
By increasing our understanding of the relationship between film and architecture, we are enhancing our ability to express via architectural elements our complex ideas and visions on cities. This is the path I believe film must take to keep the unreal and imaginary 'alive' for its audiences.
(1) Webb, Michael. (1987), "The City in Film", Design Quarterly, vol.136, p5.
(2) Grigor, Murray. (1994), "Space in time: Filming Architecture", in Toy, Maggie (ed.), Architectural Design: Architecture and Film, London: Academy Editions, p17.
(3) Vidler, Anthony. (1993), "The Explosion of Space: Architecture and the Filmic Imaginary", in Asemblage, no.9, p46.
(4) Ingersoll, Richard. (1992), "Cinemarchitecture", in Design Book review, vol. 24, Spring, p5.
(5) Neumann,Dietrich. (1996) "Editor's Notes", in Neumann, Dietrich (ed.) Film Architecture: set designs from Metropolis to Bladerunner, Munich: Prestel-Verlag, p. frontispiece.
(6) Wright, Amalie. (1995) Triple-Fronted and Two Faced: Suburbia in recent Australian Films, University of Queensland,p2.
(7) Threadgold, Terry.(1986), "Semiotics - Ideology - Language", in Grosz, E.A.; Halliday, M.A.K.; Kress, Gunther & Threadgold, Terry (eds.) Language Semiotics Ideology, Sydney: Sydney Association for Studies in Society and Culture.
(8) Monaco, James. (1977), How To read A Film: the art, technology, language, history, and theory of film and media, New York: Oxford University Press, p127.
(9) Jenks, Charles. (1980) "The Architectural Sign", in Broadbent, Geoffrey; Bunt, richard & Jencks, Charl;es (eds.) Signs, Symbols, and Architecture, Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, p80.
(10) Monaco, Op Cit, p133.
(11) Colimina, Beatriz. (1988) "Introduction: On Architecture and Publicite", in Architectureproduction, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, p22.
(12) Neumann,. Op Cit, p8.
(13) Jormakka, Kari. (1987), "Semiotics: Architecture, Sign, Design", in Datutop, no.11, p54.
(14) Neumann, Op. Cit, p7.
1. Eisenstein, Sergi M. (1989), "Montage and Architecture", in Assemblage, no.10, pp. 110-131:120, fig. 8.John Wiley and Sons, p80.
2. Neumann,Dietrich (ed.). (1996), Film Architecture: set designs from Metropolis to Bladerunner, Munich: Prestel-Verlag, p34, fig.5.
3. Photograpy by author. Film: Playtime, (1967), Director: Jaques Tati, Spectra Films, France.
4. Photograpy by author. Film: The Hudsucker Proxy,(1994), Director: Ethan Coen, Warner Bros., U.S.A.
5. Neumann,Dietrich (ed ). (1996), Film Architecture: set designs from Metropolis to Bladerunner, Munich: Prestel-Verlag, p44, fig.1.
6. Photography by author. Film: Bladerunner, (1982), Director: Ridley Scott, The Ladd Company / Warner Bros., U.S.A.
[Compiled from a lecture presented by Natasha Higham at the Queensland University of Technology, April 1999. © Copyright 1999 Natasha Higham. All Rights Reserved.]