Architects At the Movies

August 26, 2013 — 41 Comments

It’s time to go to the movies* with your architect buddies! So get your popcorn and box of Milk Duds … the film is about to roll!**

I’d like to say that architects are visually oriented individuals and as such, we like a good film as much, if not more so than other people outside of the film industry. Last week, I was trying to come up with an idea on how to introduce the readers of Life of an Architect to the employees we have on staff here in the office, and against my better judgement, I thought I would ask everyone to pick their favorite movie, find some sort of “architectural” connection (however direct or indirect is of their choosing) and let me know by the end of the week.

Not only did I get some … interesting movie selections, I also received some unusual movie write-ups.

Say hello to the architects and associates we have on staff here. In no particular order …

Michael Malone headshot

The Art of Robots

movie: Robots
director(s): Carlos Saldanha and Chris Wedge
year: 2005
why I choose this film:

I think William Joyce’s art direction and the fully formed, very architectural world he created is amazing. If you read about the origins of the movie, Joyce’s construction of a model city was the genesis and framework of the story and characters. The environment is so much a part of the story you could almost watch it without the characters and it would still be fascinating.


Ezra Loh headshot

The Fall movie poster

movie: The Fall
director(s): Tarsem Singh
year: 2006
why I choose this film:

I really dig this film for 2 main reasons: Cinematography – One of my favorite opening sequences, scored perfectly to Beethoven’s Symphony No.7. You can shoot basically anything in slow motion and make it look “cool” or “creative”, but this scene really does it right.

Film Location– The film was shot in over 15+ countries and uses some great buildings and untouched landscapes as backdrop such as The Namib Desert (Namibia), The Taj Mahal, Hagia Sophia, and Chand Baori in Rajasthan, India to name a few.

Here’s a great link to all the filming locations

The film is a true work of art, a perfect composition of sound and visual imagery interlaced with storytelling that often blurs the line between what dreams may be and reality. Also, it may or may not add a few buildings/places to your travel destination list upon viewing the film.. It did for me at least.


Peter Joe headshot

The Replacement Killers

movie: The Replacement Killers
director(s): Antoine Fuqua
year: 1998
why I choose this film:

The movie that I favor for any sort of architectural significance is “The Replacement Killers”.  This movie has scenes which features the Ennis House by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Being a fan of action movies as well as Wright’s work, this movie has dramatic action sequences in which Chow Yun-Fat displays his weapon in a very dramatic way.  It is priceless to see him walk up in a night club to show his next kill the bullet with the Chinese character etched in a bullet with the saying “die” before he proceeds to take out his gang without even getting a hair out-of-place.  There is a pivotal scene in the movie which Chow Yun-Fat visiting the Ennis House to receive his orders against the rain pouring on this magnificent piece of architecture.


Ryan Thomason headshot

Jacques Tati Playtime movie poster

movie: Playtime
director(s): Jacques Tati
year: 1967
why I choose this film:

Being such huge fan of the International Style it was refreshing to see just how seamless its warmth and diversity could be accepted by the forgivable Parisian urban landscape… Watching this man magoo his way through a world designed for Design’s sake scuffed up my golden hero-Architects statues and reminded me “oh, that’s right…people will have to live with these series of opinions.” Plus, great dialogue and soundtrack.


Paul Pascarelli headshot

Field of Dreams movie poster

movie: Field of Dreams
director: Phil Alden Robinson
year: 1989
why I choose this film:

As an architect we study the past to build for the future.  In ‘Field of Dreams’ Ray Kinsella followed a voice that said ‘If you build it, they will come’, a throw back to a connection to a past generation of baseball players and bringing them to a place they can come and play today.  I can’t help but think that our clients of today, allowing us to design and build our structures for tomorrow, while influenced by the past, truly allow our profession to transgress time and connect the past, the present and the future.


Audrey Maxwell headshot

City of God movie poster

movie: City of God
director(s): Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles
year: 2002
why I choose this film:

I didn’t see this film until a few years ago after I had been to Rio de Janeiro myself. I appreciated how it captured the dichotomy that exists in the city. Scenes move from picturesque beaches and aerial panoramas of a dense modern city to the gritty favelas where the characters live. The film painted a picture of how the city is inhabited instead of just using it as a backdrop. It’s authentic settings and ability to show the city’s many faces make this one of my favorite architectural films.



Morgan Newman headshot

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in The Lake House

movie: The Lake House (or ‘Das Haus Am See’ if you see it in Germany)
director(s): Alejandro Agresti
year: 2006
why I choose this film:

A good romance movie with a smidge of architecture … some time travel … handsome actor who can’t act … snow on the ground. If you like all of these things, this is your movie.


Bob Borson headshot

Aeon Flux with Charlize Theron

movie: ÆON FLUX
director(s): Karyn Kusama
year: 2005
why I choose this film:

Exactly why did I choose this movie? Three words: (1) Charlize (2) Theron and (3) Architecture

… but mostly Charlize Theron.

In all seriousness, there are actually a lot of remarkable buildings in this movie, probably more than any modernist architect has a right to expect.

Trudelturm Wind Tunnel Aeon Flux movie

Trudelturm Wind Tunnel – The setting for the “maze” and government complex, this massive concrete structure in Berlin-Adlershof was constructed in 1932 and used as an aerodynamic testing facility for German aircraft. After World War II the Soviets carried off all the equipment for their own use, leaving only the concrete structures. Designated a “technical landmark,” the former Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL, founded in 1912) structures now stand on the grounds of the DLR research center for aerospace technology.

Tierheim Animal Shelter by Dietrich Banger 2001

Tierheim Animal Shelter (above) by Dietrich Banger, 2001 which houses up to 2,000 animals and is believed to be Europe’s largest animal shelter.


Bauhaus Archive of Art and Design

The Bauhaus Archive of Art and Design – originally conceived by Walter Gropius although there is not that much left of Gropius’ original 1964 design apart from the characteristic silhouette of the shed roofs. The necessary changes to the plan were carried out by his former colleague Alex Cvijanovic, in conjunction with the Berlin architect Hans Bandel.


New Congress Hall photo courtesy of Lanesarchiv Berlin Horst Siegmann 1957

 House of World Culture by Hugh Stubbins, 1957, in Berlin is Germany’s national centre for the presentation and discussion of international contemporary arts, with a special focus on non-European cultures and societies.


Baumschulenweg Crematorium designed by Alex Schultes and Charlotte Frank

Baumschulenweg Crematorium designed by Alex Schultes and Charlotte Frank [photo credit]

A visually stunning building, the Baumschulenweg Crematorium is an exercise in material restraint (or material celebration if you’re a fan of concrete and glass) and it seems obvious why it would be used as a backdrop for movie with futuristic settings. I haven’t ever been to this building but I think it would be interesting to experience the scale of this room in person.


* by “go to the movies”, I mean “sit on the couch in front of the TV”

** and by “the film is about to roll”, I mean “press play on the VCR”


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  • Valentina Pajtak

    The first movie that came to my mind was ”Equilibrium” starring Christian Bale and Sean Bean. The movie is set in the future, when the gouvernment is fighting war, murder and agression via new drug that opresses any emotion a person has. In accordance with that way of life, architecture has to be designed in such a way that it doesn’t evoke any emotion. For me as an architecture student it was interesting to see what a building that doesn’t make you feel anything looks like. I recommend it because it is generally an interesting and fun movie to watch.

  • Brendan Geyer

    2 words Bob… STAR WARS.

    The amount of architecture is unreal! It’s the reason I chose to study architecture this year. (The force is strong with this architecture)

    • I have many of the Art of Stars Wars book – there was definitely some great design going on.

  • Richard Hofmeister

    What about 2003 “My Architect – A son’s journey” – a documentary by son Nathaniel Kahn retracing his father’s eccentric life. It has the best coverage of Loui Kahn’s projects in India other than first hand accounts I’ve seen in lectures over the years by world traveling architects. The Tagline?: “Director Nathaniel Kahn searches to understand his father, noted architect Louis Kahn, who died bankrupt and alone in 1974.” Wow, depressing. Another gem not in wide distribution: Bette Cohen’s documentary of John Lautner’s work “The Spirit in Architecture.”

  • MarvinOne

    Morgan’s movie is also one of my fav architectural movies – love the house they constructed for it.
    I’ll add…”North By Northwest”. The Wright inspired house that was set above Mt. Rushmore in the movie was only partially built, when you see the whole house, it’s really a large painting. At least that’s the information I dug up on it!

  • Nathan Taylor

    “I mean “press play on the VCR” ” … Wow Bob, still rock’n the VCR… I bet you have a Beta-max too… You retro modernist you… 😉

  • I highly appreciate the * and **.

    I started listing out movies in my mind, and noticed a majority of them have been listed by other comments.

    I’d like to add 500 Days of Summer, and a good amount of Pixar Films like Brave. Their attention to detail of the castles that our brave heroine calls home, the minor details that play into the story.

  • approval

  • Chips O’Toole

    True Stories, by David Byrne. It has more about how we live today than most documentaries.

    Mon Oncle, by Jaques Tati, for reasons similar to to those for seeing Play Time.

    Brazil, by Terry Gilliam. with Blade Runner, set the standard

    Firefly, tv show… for its combination of cultural and technological elements in one world

    Royal Tenebaums and The Life Aquatic, both by Wes Anderson. that guy composes space well.

    there are many more…

  • Miquel

    I would definitely choose Blade Runner.

    I remember watching it when I was a teenager and thinking how unreal it was and how unlikely was going to be to have a city like that in our world. Now that I am working and living in Shenzhen (China), every day it rains (which is unfortunately very often) I can stop thinking about how close does the city look to that film.

  • 03306028

    Heh… VCR…

    I love the look of Gotham City in Burton’s Batman films, both inside and out.

  • ehsan alizadeh

    and i love matrix…great film…great idea…great architecture

  • Surfmental

    Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), dir. Thom Andersen

  • Matthew N.

    Limits of Control.

  • Gary ford

    looks to me like the fix is in with the selection committee!

  • Thanh Ho Phuong

    my favorite architecture-in-movie is Gattaca (1997) : huge, imposing, empty, cold, lonely but somehow give people an endless hope.

    • Gattaca is a great movie, probably on my wife’s Top 10 list. I should look into whether or not it was a set or filmed on location somewhere

      • Ron Campbell

        If I remember correctly, one of the Gattaca filming locations was Wright’s Marin Civic Center. Not sure about the other locations.
        Another great architectural film would be The Name Of The Rose. Lots of labyrinth allusions in the monastery. Who knew Sean Connery could play a monk convincingly?

        • Thanh Ho Phuong

          As I remembered, I saw CLA Building by Antoine Predock in Gattaca.

  • Patrick

    It it too late or too obvious to list “My Architect” about Louis Kahn by Nathanial Kahn. His building in Dhaka Bangladesh is such a start contrast with the country itself.

    • not too obvious – great add to the list

  • kerry

    The Fountainhead. Howard Rourk. dare to be an individual and not follow the crowd.

  • Drew Hasson

    My favorite Archi-theme flick is “Click”, where the Jr. Architect played by Adam Sandler does a last-minute design change for the Asian client.

    • haven’t seen ‘Click’ is it really worth seeing?

      • Nebzyl

        It’s more related to time travel and a person’s relation to family. The protagonist is an architect and so, there’s something related to architecture.

  • Herman C

    Maybe I missed it, but did no one mention “Inception” The Architect is recruited to create the dreams.

    • the premise of having an architect design the labyrinths was a great twist to the story

  • Kevin Turchin

    You forgot Deathwish, where Charles Bronson played an architect.

    • I’m not sure that anybody forgot it, one movie per person (although it would be an easy matter to come up with several more). At first I thought about letting people choose stage sets (‘Ghost Writer’ had a terrific house but it was a set) but thought it would make people’s head’s explode with this being their first “assignment”

  • Courtney Price

    What a fun post. You architects are up on your movies- think I have only seen one of these! :0

    • I’m not sure which one to guess, might get me into trouble 🙂

  • Patrick

    Another couple to add on there – North by Northwest (love the opening sequence) and Equilibrium.

    • NxNW is a great film although I haven’t watched it in 20+ years. I’ve never seen Equilibrium, suppose I need to add that one to the list

  • EnergyVanguard

    How did Metropolis not make anyone’s list?

    • Maybe it was too obvious? Movies like ‘Gattaca’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Metropolis’, etc. are probably the first ones that come to mind and presumably skipped over. All three are worthy for the list but in my case, none of them have Charlize Theron in them.

  • Gjalt

    The crematorium is one of the most beautiful and catching buildings I’ve ever been to. Not regularly open to visitors (who would mostly be architect’s) we got a complete tour (including the basement!) with our architecture class this year.

    The shear size of the building combined with the perfect detailing, the light falling from the top of the columns and the amount of symbolism in this buildings makes this definitely a building which respects the celebration of the end of life by the vibe it creates.

    • you are a lucky person! It is unlikely that I’ll ever get to see the space, certainly not as you were able to see it

    • Kevin Turchin

      I agree about the crematorium. Visited there when I studied abroad and it is truly a special building.

  • Robert Moore

    Charlize Theron.

    Well at least you listed a chick flick for balance.

    • pretty sure I stand behind my selection … I thought of going with one of the more obvious selections but what’s the fun in that?