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Design
Architecture of Movies: When Architecture Plays the Best Supporting Actor

Architecture of Movies: When Architecture Plays the Best Supporting Actor

By Von Chua


C:\Users\Von Chua\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Word\film studio set. image by brands and people..jpg
A film studio set. Image by Brands & People.


The architecture of movies has often played an important role to bring forth the era of the movie, the setting to bring the story and characters alive, and so much more. When done right, its effect is subtle in how we perceive the movie, but arguably one of the most important actors in a movie. It may be an occupational habit, but I often take notice of the spatial quality of movie scenes. A recent favourite movie of mine called Parasite is one such movie. In fact, FastCompany's Evan Nicole Brown wrote an article titled Why architecture should have won a best supporting role in 'Parasite' (https://www.fastcompany.com/90462322/why-architecture-should-have-won-a-best-supporting-role-in-parasite). 

A great musician produces music for the ears, a talented artist paints for the eyes, an eloquent writer fabricates stories that bring the reader or viewer onto a ride, etc. A great director and set designer curates and / or produce space that fits the story. It is almost impossible to imagine watching a film that takes place in a vacuum. I remember watching a silent movie by Studio Ghibli a few years ago, The Red Turtle is a story of a man who shipwrecked at sea, became stranded on a deserted island inhabited by turtles and other animals, until he meets a woman lost at sea and begins a life with her. With dialogue removed from the movie, every scene in The Red Turtle appears to 'say' so much more. As one main sensory is removed, do we read more into the other senses? 

Leaving the cinema after the end of the Parasite movie, I immediately searched online for the house in the movie, only surprised to find that it is actually a movie set. I later read in one of the interviews by production designer Lee Ha Jun, who created the set of the house in Parasite that the house was based on a floor plan sketch drawn by director Bong Joon-Ho whilst writing the script. Production designer Lee Ha Jun highlighted one notable difference between the way architects and production designers approach work; blocking and framing are prioritised in Lee's work, even creating the Parasite house's window wall in 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio for maximum on-screen impact in movie theatres. This is quite different to an architect's approach that will likely prioritise the way users inhabit a space instead.

They say that it’s all in the details, and there's no detail too small to ignore. And this applies too in the architecture of movies. In the Parasite house, the production team had to source furniture, props and paintings that fit the Park family. Artworks displayed in the house were reported to cost up to $120,000 for Park Seung Mo's piece titled Maya 2078. As an example to the attention to detail, a German trash can that made it into the movie costs $2,300. But it's all part of the cinematic because when you release your foot, the trash can would quietly close "like some sort of computer graphic" describes director Bong Joon-Ho. The furniture pieces in the house, from tables to chairs, were custom-made by South Korean craftsman Bahk Jong Sun to fit the scenography. The result is a house with modernist furniture that has a warm as well as cold atmosphere. The use of minimal and modernist furniture is particularly poignant in the Parasite house, as we see the contrast in the Kims house that is small, untidy and cluttered. To maintain the spotlessly elegant house, the Parks have helpers to allow them to live in a tidy and minimalist space. Ironically, the Park family do not know every inch of their own house - too big for the house's owners to recognize the dangers hiding in their own house, ie. the underground bunker.  

Some movies are shoot in location, some shoot within a set. Set construction extends the possibility of creating imagery and conditions born from a creator's mind. When Disney Plus released Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, I watched all the episodes with intent as they showed the behind-the-scenes, discussed details of putting The Mandalorian from paper to an episode,  in-depth look at the set, props and technology adopted to create the success of The Mandalorian. Although The Mandalorian is set in what is called the Outer Rim (where would you shoot this on Earth?), co-creator and co-writer Jon Favreau explained that they did not rely on computer-generated images alone to realise all the scenes. The use of cutting edge technology combined with older set construction techniques is an interesting one for those who are interested, I'd recommend watching the Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian documentary.

Some other best supporting 'actors' in movies that are particularly memorable are: 

(i) An abandoned department store in Gorlitz, Germany as The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Grand Budapest Hotel movie is directed by Wes Anderson with a team of production designers led by Adam Stockhausen.

(ii) The Bir-Haikem bridge (Pont de Bir-Hakeim) crossing the Seine in Paris in Christopher Nolan's movie Inception. 

(iii) ESO Hotel in Chile in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. ESO Hotel is designed by Auer + Weber Architekten.

It will be a treat to return to the cinemas again to experience some of these amazing architecture of movies. 

First published on ADF Web Magazine 26/06/2021. If you have any questions or simply to discuss about the architecture of movies, please do not hesitate to contact me via email at von@vonxarchitects.com
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