Terri Meyer Boake B.E.S. B.Arch. M.Arch.
Associate Professor School of Architecture University of Waterloo

Arch 484/684: Architecture and Film

Fall 2002: Course Home Page






Course Description:
This course explores the relationship between Architecture and the development of early and modern films. Students will look at the source and portrayal of architectural expression in film: precedents for imagery, its relationship to the development of early modern architecture, and its vision of the urban future. Contemporary and futuristic architecture will also be examined in recent films to study its expression of the vision of the future of urban built form. Lastly, the architecture of space will be examined. The reality of the actual construction of the space station will be compared to varying visions of future life outside of earth’s environment.


Film Name and Details Reviews:

Theme 1: Early Film and Its Vision of the Architecture of the Future:

 All of the internet reviews below were active as of August 2002.

The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920) (72 minutes)

The film that forged the dark, ominous cinematic movement known as German Expressionism - and influenced vanguard filmmakers for generations. Werner Krauss stars as a deranged hypnotist who spreads death through the countryside from a ramshackle traveling carnival. In making the film Robert Wiene and designers combined techniques of painting, theatre and film to conjure a nightmare world of splintered reality ... boldly creating a visual representation of insanity .. taking the art of cinema a lengthy stride into unexplored stylistic and psychological terrain, hinting at the terrifying power the medium might possess.


 Student Reviews:




Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926) (115 minutes)

Fritz Lang's most famous silent film uses science fiction and spectacular special effects to tell a story of biting social criticism. In a futuristic time and place, an above ground city of lightness, culture and respectability is kept going only by the enslaved proletariat laboring beneath in the underground city: a nightmarish, cruel and dark place. An innovative and influential film in its day and now considered one of the hippest films of the sci-fi genre.


  Student Reviews:


H. G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come (1936) (97 minutes)

One of the most important science fiction films of all time, it opens prior to World War II and takes the viewer on a hundred year time trip to 2036 A.D. when a man and woman are rocketed to the moon. This inspired saga predicts television, jet planes and evil dictators. Featuring fabulous sets, a rich musical score and sweeping visual grandeur. Visionary science fiction novelist H.G. Wells teams up with ace producer Alexander Korda to produce this landmark motion picture epic.


  Student Reviews:



Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis (Japanese Anime 2001) (109 minutes)

"Metropolis is the new milestone in anime. It has beauty, power, mystery and above all... heat. Images from this film will stay with you forever." James Cameron

In the industrial tri-level world of Metropolis, Duke Red is a powerful leader with plans to unveil a highly advanced robot named Tima. But Duke Red's violent son Rock distrusts robots, and intends to find and destroy Tima. Lost in the confusing labyrinth of Metropolis, Tima is beginning a friendship with the young nephew of a Japanese detective. But when Duke Red separates the two innocents, Tima's life - and the fate of the universe - is dangerously at stake.


Student Reviews:

this review is flash intensive and may take some time to load at over 10MB - but it is worth it!

Masters Research Paper:

this paper is 10MB so it takes a while to load on Acrobat - be patient!

On Your Mark (Studio Ghibli 1995)

In a futuristic Megacity, a pair of Policemen take part in a raid on a religious cult’s temple. While searching through the rubble they find a starved and weak young girl, with angelic wings. Though they revive her, she is carted off by a biohazard unit, and put under examination. After much deliberation, they realize that she has simply gone from one prison into another. Together they hatch a plan to free the girl, and show her the blue sky she belongs in. You would think that by that synopsis, and the stunning pics, that this was a one-shot hour-long feature film. And if you did so, you would be mistaken. Done back in 1995, and paired up in theatres with Mimi wo Sumeseba, this animated short was the music video presented for the popular Japanese music duo, Chage & Aska. Running only six minutes, forty seconds long, and featuring not a word of dialogue, this animated short manages to tell a touching and amusing story, with only music and imagery to guide it along. The animation is crisp, as all Ghibli fare, but the music is every bit as fantastic as the visuals; Chage & Aska are no J-POP idols of the week, they’ve been around for a good long while, and as such know how to SING. I rate this right beside Mononoke Hime for best of all time simply because of what it achieves, with so little to work with.




 Student Reviews:





Theme 2: Modern Film and its Vision of Architecture of the Future  

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) (2 hours 30 minutes)

Brazil is a surrealistic nightmare vision of a "perfect" future where technology reigns supreme. Everyone is monitored by a secret government agency that forbids love to interfere with efficiency. Johathan Pryce and Robert De Niro star with Michael Palin in this chilling black comedy directed by former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. When a daydreaming bureaucrat becomes unwittingly involved with an underground superhero and a beautiful mystery woman, he becomes the tragic victim of his own romantic illusions.



Student Reviews:

Edward Hosken link

Masters Research Paper:

Blade Runner (1991) (117 minutes)

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) prowls the steel and microchip jungle of 21st century Los Angeles. He's a "blade runner" stalking genetically made criminal replicants. His assignment: kill them. Their crime: wanting to be human. The story of Blade Runner is familiar to countless fans. This cut is director Ridley Scott's own vision of his sci-fi classic. This new version omits Deckard's voiceover narration, develops in slightly greater detail the romance between Deckard and Rachael and removes the "uplifting" finale.



Student Reviews:

Masters Research Paper:

The Fifth Element (1997) (126 minutes)

Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman star in acclaimed director Luc Besson's outrageous sci-fi adventure. An extravagantly styled tale of good against evil set in an unbelievable twenty-third century world.



Student Reviews:

Masters Research Paper:

Theme 3: The Architecture of Outer Space  

Silent Running (1971) (90 minutes)

As this science fiction classic opens, botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) has spent 8 years aboard the space freighter "Valley Forge" preserving the only botanical specimens left from Earth under huge geodesic domes. When he receives orders to destroy the project and return home, Lowell rebels and hijacks the freighter, while plunging the craft into the gaseous rings of Saturn. From that moment on he has only the trees, the gardens and two drone robots to keep him company on his greatest adventure of all. You HAVE to think of this film as a "period" piece. It immediately preceded Star Wars and many of the people working on the sets for Running were also involved in Star Wars. It also speaks to a political time where the world is still involved in the Vietnam War and the US and Russia are still taunting each other with nuclear weapons. The budget was a mere $1M.


Student Reviews:

Masters Research Paper:

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (148 minutes)

2001: A Space Odyssey is a countdown to tomorrow, a road map to human destiny, a quest for the infinite. It is a dazzling, compelling drama of man vs. machine, a stunning meld of music and motion. To begin his voyage into the future, Kubrick visits our prehistoric ape ancestry past, then leaps millennia into colonized space, and ultimately whisks astronaut Bowman into uncharted realms of space, perhaps even into immortality. And meet HAL. Douglas Trumball, who is involved in the sets for this film, goes on to direct Silent Running and then become involved in the Star Wars saga.


Student Reviews:

this review is image intensive and may take a while to load, but it is worth the wait!

Masters Research Paper:

Outland (1981) (110 minutes)

Io, Jupiter's innermost moon, hosts mining colony Con-Am 27, a high-tech hellhole. There Marshall O'Neil probes some mysterious deaths, among the miners. In pursuit of the truth, he is alone. In Outland, writer/director Peter Hyams depicts a chilling extension of today's corporation-driven world. Dehumanization is vividly evoked in the environments of production designer Phillip Harrison and special-effects wizard John Stears.

screen captures


Student Reviews:

Masters Research Paper:

Super Structures: The Making of the International Space Station (2000) (52 minutes)

Modern civilization has been built by the unlimited imaginations of those who have been undaunted by what seems to be insurmountable obstacles and challenges. In 1998 construction began 250 miles above the earth on the International Space Station. Astronauts have been doubling as construction workers on one of the largest projects ever conceived. It will take 45 space missions to provide the materials necessary to build the station. In the end it will weigh over 1 million pounds and cover the size of two football fields.

  Other Miscellaneous Links:  
(fantastic sci-fi film course homepage from Clemson University -- great links and reading references for a wide range of films)

this site has a comprehensive list of dozens of sci-fi films and a good database of general information about the films as well as an image gallery for most








Pedagogic Objectives:
The course is intended to develop a critical perspective of the use of architecture in film. Students will learn to examine both the medium of film and the form and style of architecture as they relates to the development of both film media and culture. Students will engage in research to understand the choices and expression of architecture used in film, as well as the relationship between the idea of the future and its relationship to both built and natural environments.

Completion Requirements:
The course will be run in a seminar format. Each week we will view a film, discuss its relevance to architecture, culture, environments, and the perception of all three. Some of the discussions will take place in a “for credit” mode. Attendance is mandatory. Two missed classes will constitute failure of the course.

There will be 2 assignments.

Assignment #1: The Review 30%
A web style review of the terms' films based on the use of architecture in the film. With the exception of the first week, students will be divided into groups in such a way as all of the films are addressed. The review will be due for formal in class presentation the week following the viewing. It will be discussed by the class. The reviews will be posted on the tboake UWSA website.

Assignment #2: (B.Arch.)The Video 70%
The major work will be the creation of a Music/Architecture 'video' taking a piece of music of choice and create a visual/animated/video piece that relates selected architecture to the music. The project exposes students to a scaled down version of the process of selecting/designing the architectural set for film. The requirements and media will be left quite open. You may work in teams of up to 2 students or alone. You may select your own piece of music (minimum 3 minutes in length, maximum 10 minutes). You are to create a “video” that uses architecture and architectural images in such a way as to support the music, and vice versa.

Alternate Assignment #1: (M.Arch.)Research Essay60% (M.Arch Video is worth 40%)
M.Arch. Students will be responsible for a 5,000 word research paper on a selected film as well as a 20 minute presentation based upon their research that will serve as the class introduction for the film. Essays will address the history of the film, precedents and initiatives in the filmmaking and use of architecture in the film, influences of the film, and relevant factual information about the film. The research paper is to be submitted in full essay format with proper footnoting and a bibliography of references.



I purchased most of these books through amazon.com. Students in the course are welcome to borrow any of the titles for a limited time for use in preparing their presentations, web reviews or research papers.

Deitrich Neumann, editor. Film Architecture from Metropolis to Blade Runner. Prestel, 1999.

Mark Lamster, editor. Architecture and Film. Princeton Architectural Press, 2000.

Donald Albrecht. Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies. Hennessey + Ingalls, Santa Monica, 2000.

Maggie Toy, editor. A.D. Architectural Design Profile no. 112. Architecture and Film. Academy Group Ltd. 1994.

Bob Fear, editor. A.D. Architectural Design Profile no. 143. Architecture + Film II. Wiley-Academy. January 2000.

Bob Fear, editor. A.D. Architectural Design Profile no. 150. Architecture + Animation. Wiley-Academy. 2001.

Francois Penz, editor. Cinema & Architecture: Melies, Mallet-Stevens, Multimedia. British Film Institute, 1997.

Thomas Hine. Movie Houses. Architectural Record. 04.02.

Terry Smith, editor. Impossible Presence: Surface and Screen in the Photographic Era. University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Bizony, Piers. 2001: filming the future. Aurum Press Limited. London. 1994.


last updated August 30, 2011