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

last updated February 2, 2008


Arch 443/646:
Architecture and Film

Course Home Page Portal


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.

Below is a list of potential films to be included in the course. Given that the term consists of 12 lectures maximum, and the final class will be taken by the showing of the film productions of the current term, each course will likely view 10 to 11 films taken from the list below.

The "plan" is to have a different selection each year, each with a different "theme". The first offering of the course in 2002 looked at a series of three themes and served as an introduction to the medium. Subsequent courses may focus on themes of: early modern films, architecture of the future, science fiction in film, the metropolis, zero-gravity architecture (space), the architecture of the super-hero, intergalactic building, famous buildings in film, etc.

link to full listing of potential films

Film Name and Details Reviews:

Theme 1:
Early Film and Its Use of Architecture as Significant Set

 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.




The Golem (1921) (86 minutes):

In 16th century Prague, Rabbi Loew creates a terrifying giant golem from clay to protect his people from their persecutors. Employing sorcery, he brings the artificial man to life, endowing him with human emotions. Famulus, Loew’s evil assistant, manages to take control of the golem, commanding it to perform sordid criminal acts culminating in the kidnapping of the Rabbi’s beautiful daughter, Miriam. The monster, outraged by his vile misuse, rebels and a deadly rampage ensues. With high, angular sets by famed architect Hans Poelzig and full of wonderful imagery captured by the camera of Karl Freund, this silent classic captivates the eye. Masterfully combining terror and pathos, Wegener’s stiff-limbed portrayal of the golem clearly influenced Boris Karloff’s performance in Frankenstein. This 1920 version of The Golem is considered definitive among the film’s many productions and is an unforgettable horror masterpiece.


Student Reviews:

Diana Zepf link

Masters Research Paper:

Waxworks (1923) (83 minutes):

Filmed in Germany by famed director Paul Leni, this film is about a writer who visits a mysterious wax museum to do a write-up on the exhibits. As he spotlights each wax character they come to life to reenact their famous lives. The lives in questions are the most famous murderers and barbarians of all time, Jack The Ripper, Harroun al Rasdchid and Ivan The Terrible. The stars of this film are the who’s who of early German cinema; Emil Jannings as Raschid, Conrad Veidt as Ivan and Werner Krauss as The Ripper. Similar in style and set design as “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”.



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.

I have this film in its "common" release as well as the rerelease in 2002 of the restored version.



Student Reviews:

Erik Boyko link

Masters Research Paper:
Bryan Jin link (2.0MB)
powerpoint presentation (6.1MB)

Sunrise (1927)

SUNRISE starring JANET GAYNOR GEORGE O’BRIEN VHS An attractive woman from the city, on vacation, stays in a small farming community and dazzles a young married farmer. The wicked woman suggests that the man's deceptively dowdy-looking wife might "accidentally" drown. Can he, will he go through with it? The scene changes; in unexpected company, the man gets a kaleidoscopic taste of what the actual city is like. The dramatic climax comes in a fearsome storm and its aftermath. A beautifully done silent classic.



Just Imagine (1930)

Very rare 1930 science fiction film about futuristic 1980 New York where airplanes have replaced cars and features a combination of booze jokes, sci-fi, lewd sex, vaudeville jokes. Babies are gotten through vending machines, and a trip to Mars proves Martians to be twins, (Each set has a good over-sexed one, and an evil homicidal one.) Pepper this oddity with bad puns, miniature effects, and musical numbers and you got a bizarre wacky film! It stars El Brendel, Maureen O'Sullivan & John Garrick.

This is the VHS version. Very strange movie but with some quite interesting presentations of futuristic architecture as well as lifestyle.



The Black Cat (1934) (66 minutes)

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugose star in this shocking horror classic of Satanism and murder. At a time when films often promoted modern architecture as a major attribute of fast-paced, modern life, here it became a distincitive feature of European decadance, a direct result of the horrors of World War I. Hjalmar Poelzig's ultramodern villa with Corbusier style ribbon windows is located above a World War I cemetary on the walls of the ruined fortress of Marmaro. "A masterpiece of construction built upon the ruins of a masterpiece of destruction." What was considered by many to be a wicked, shameless film, mercilessly satirizing celebrated European achievements in modern architecture, classical music, and film, became the most successful Universal Studios film of 1934.



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:

Jonathan Wong link

Masters Research Paper:
Christine Leu link (8.0MB)
powerpoint presentation 4.7 MB

Theme 2:
Animated Film's Take on the World of the Future


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!

Duncan Bates link

Vivien Liu: website link

Masters Research Paper:

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

On Your Mark (Studio Ghibli 1995) (6 minutes)

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.










  Theme 3: Modern and Contemporary Film and its Vision of Architecture of the Future -- Dystopia  

Soylent Green (1973)

A future which is possible, but which none of us wants to think about in these days of holes in the ozone and global warming appears in "Soylent Green." New York, with 40,000,000 people, perpetual smog, and constant hot, hot temperatures is grim, to say the least. Charlton Heston does an outstanding performance as Thorn, a harried, overworked police officer who uncovers the horrifying secret of Soylent Green. There is much to like in this movie, a well-crafted look into the near future. One of the most frightening aspects of this video is the state-sponsored suicide clinic, "Home." A poignant aspect of this video is that Edward G. Robinson was actually dying of cancer during the filming and succumbed just a few months later.


Student Reviews:

Jonah Humphrey link

Masters Research Paper:
Matthew Tsui link 8.6MB
powerpoint presentation 10.0MB

Playtime: Jacques Tati (1973) (119 minutes)

Jacques Tati, the choreographer of the charming, comical ballet that is Playtime, casts the endearingly clumsy Monsieur Hulot as the principal character wandering through modernist Paris. Amid the babble of English, French and German tourists, Hulot tries to reconcile the old-fashioned ways with the confusion of the encroaching age of technology.

Interesting view of 1960's (Modern) Paris. Intriguing filming, sets and a highlight of the "sounds" of modernity.



Student Reviews:

Diane Skilton link
Alana Young link
Tammy Chau website link

Masters Research Paper:

Alphaville (1965)

A cockeyed fusion of science fiction, pulp characters, and surrealist poetry, Godard's irreverent journey to the mysterious Alphaville remains one of the least conventional films of all time. Eddie Constantine stars as intergalactic hero Lemmy Caution, on a mission to kill the inventor of fascist computer Alpha 60.


Student Reviews:
James Arvai website link
Federica Martella website link


Masters Research Paper:
Olivia Keung link

Diva (1982) (118 minutes)

Modern noir meets high opera in the French suspense flick Diva. Delivery boy Jules has an opera obsession. He spends his small disposable income on sophisticated sound equipment and manages to bootleg a live performance of his favorite diva, Cynthia Hawkins (played by real-life opera singer Wilhelmina Wiggins Fernandez). But Jules is spotted making the recording by shady investors who want the tape. As if that weren't enough, a second cassette, filled with enough evidence to topple an international drug and prostitution ring, makes its way into Jules's mailbag. Writer-director Jean-Jacques Beineix does a terrific job of adapting Delacorta's pulpy novel for the screen, keeping all the excitement while adding a layer of depth. A movie to make even a dedicated opera hater appreciate a perfectly sung aria, Diva has enormous loft apartments, thugs galore, gorgeous visuals, and a corker of a chase scene.


Student Reviews:

Anna Jarvis link
Elizabeth Myers website link

Masters Research Paper:
Olivia Keung link

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
Neil Brun link

Mike Votruba website link

Masters Research Paper:

Graham Wolff
powerpoint presentation 10.0MB


Blade Runner (1982) (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.

The version we will be viewing is the out of print original cut (only available on VHS) that includes the voiceover narration by Harrison Ford and some footage that was cut from the DVD release. (I have both editions available for the class).



Student Reviews:

Gabriel Friedman link

Masters Research Paper:

Ava Franzolini link (600KB)
powerpoint presentation 6.9MB

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:

Aaron Nelson website link

Masters Research Paper:

Batman (1989) (126 minutes)

Fifty years after Batman's debut as a comic strip in 1939, Warner Bros. turned the theme into a major motion picture with a $27M budget. The film was produced at the Pinewood Studios outside London, which provided spacious soundstages and a 95 acre backlot for the creation of an ambitiously complex city set. Eventually the 400 m long set became the most expensive outdoor set built in Europe since Cleopatra. Created in an astonishingly short time it is also one of the most compelling urban visions in the history of filmmaking.



Student Reviews:


Masters Research Paper:
Vince Plouffe link (850KB)
powerpoint presentation (542 KB)

Dick Tracy (1990) (105 minutes)

A flawed but stylish adaptation of the Chester Gould comic strip by director Warren Beatty, who also stars in the title role. The minimalist plot involves a battalion of baddies who confront the intrepid detective in a series of strung-together vignettes. Al Pacino is a comedic if overblown standout as Big Boy Caprice, and Madonna simply smolders as aggressive blonde bombshell Breathless Mahoney. Shot in bright, primary colors, this also won Oscars for Best Art/Set Direction and Makeup (for those inventively hideous criminals).



Minority Report (2002)

Set in the chillingly possible future of 2054, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report is arguably the most intelligently provocative sci-fi thriller since Blade Runner. Like Ridley Scott's "future noir" classic, Spielberg's gritty vision was freely adapted from a story by Philip K. Dick, with its central premise of "Precrime" law enforcement, totally reliant on three isolated human "precogs" capable (due to drug-related mutation) of envisioning murders before they're committed. Inspired by the brainstorming of expert futurists, Spielberg packs this paranoid chase with potential conspirators, domestic tragedy, and a heartbreaking precog pawn. Making judicious use of astonishing special effects, Minority Report brilliantly extrapolates a future that's utterly convincing, and too close for comfort.



  Theme 4: The Architecture of Space: Contemplating a Zero Gravity World  

Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924)

A Soviet sensation upon its heavily publicized release in 1924, Aelita, the Queen of Mars is now a curiosity of post-revolutionary Russian silent cinema, a bit laughable in its revolutionary zeal not only on Earth but on Mars as well! Despite a cool reaction from critics, the film was such a hit with the Soviet public that many Russian babies born in '24 were named Aelita, and the Cubist designs of the Martian sets--heavily influenced by the avant-garde "constructivist" style--would in turn influence science fiction films in the years to follow (most notably the Flash Gordon serials). With costume designs performances that are truly out of this world, Aelita was the 1924 equivalent of a Spielberg spectacular; now it's a museum piece, unlikely to raise anyone's pulse, but it's startling to think that this film was even possible in 1924 Russia.



H.G. Wells: First Men on the Moon (1964)

H.G. Wells' fantastic account of life on the moon is vividly brought to the screen by special effects master Ray Harryhausen in this amazing sci-fi epic featuring unforgettable extra-terrestrial creatures. The film begins with a team of United Nations astronauts planning an upcoming moon mission. The astronauts are both confused and intrigued by a man (Judd) who claims he, his fiancee and a scientist journeyed to the moon 65 years ago and were attacked by "Selenites," grotesque, human-like ant forms that live in immense crystal caverns. Now it is up to the U.N. team to attempt a lunar landing that could be more horrifying than ever believed possible.

The Ray Harryhausen special effects again take center stage and they still hold up, even today. This film represented a technical and stylistic challange for Harryhausen because it was shot in the widescreen Panavision format, which did not allow for the use of traditional stop-motion animation techniques. Consequently, blue screen superimposing was used throughout and this lends a real sense of scope and spectacle to the film. The art direction and design are well thought out and are first rate, making the underground lunar empire seem all the more probable on the otherwise airless moon.



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:

Solaris (1979) (169 minutes)

The Russian answer to 2001, and very nearly as memorable a movie. The legendary Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky made this extremely deliberate science-fiction epic, an adaptation of a novel by Stanislaw Lem. The story follows a cosmonaut (Donatas Banionis) on an eerie trip to a planet where haunting memories can take physical form. Its bare outline makes it sound like a routine space-flight picture, an elongated Twilight Zone episode; but the further into its mysteries we travel, the less familiar anything seems. Even though Tarkovsky's meanings and methods are sometimes mystifying, Solaris has a way of crawling inside your head, especially given the slow pace and general lack of forward momentum. By the time the final images cross the screen, Tarkovsky has gone way beyond SF conventions into a moving, unsettling vision of memory and home. Well worthy of cult status, Solaris is both challenging art-house fare and a whacked-out head trip.



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.


Total Recall (1990) (124 minutes)

This Schwarzeneggar film is set in the future (but filmed in Mexico City) and speaks about travel to Mars and vacations that are the result of brain implants. It makes interesting use of present day modern architecture to speak of an architecture of the future (all in concrete...) and presents a view of life on Mars and living conditions on the planet.


Student Reviews:
Andrea Krejcik website link




Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002) (142 minutes)

I guess you can't have a course about film and architecture of the future without at least one of the Star Wars set... I picked this one as it has some of the most intriguing sets and use of digital/computer assistance in the production of the architecture of so many types of places in the future.



  Theme 5: The Architect in Film  

The Fountainhead (1949) (115 minutes)

Architects tend to receive strange portrayal in movies, and to talk about the subject, one has to begin with this one as it does make reference to the ego and characteristics that architects either have to live up to or overcome. Much is written about this film in texts about architecture and film (Lamster).



The Draughtsman's Contract

"I try very hard never to distort or dissemble," says Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a draughtsman of considerable talent contracted by a certain Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) to make 12 drawings for her absent husband of their English estate. While Mr. Neville aims for fidelity in his drawings, infidelity in private is quite another matter. Then the film becomes a cerebral puzzle when objects start appearing mysteriously in the subjects of Mr. Neville's various drawings: a ladder that wasn't there before, a pair of boots standing in a field. Mr. Neville's penchant for realism is stymied by these clues, which may or may not suggest the murder of Mr. Herbert. Peter Greenaway seems to have directed this, his first art-house success, with the aim of exploring the failings of perspective in art and casting his doubtful eye on the possibility of "faithful" drawings such as those by which Mr. Neville makes his living. Greenaway was, after all, an art student, and must have known that drawing machines like the one Mr. Neville uses in the film (which is set in 1694) led not only to the invention of photography, and therefore of film itself, but also to the renouncing of perspective that informs so much of 20th-century painting.



The Belly of an Architect (I1987) (119 minutes)

Stourley Kracklite, played by Brian Dennehy, is a man with a prodigious ego, lust for life and may seem initially to be less than a sympathetic protagonist. He is an architect, an artist with a vision and a mission.From the beginning, his passion for his intellectual mentor,a fictional 18th century French architect, Etienne-Louis Boullee, and the scientist Sir Isaac Newton, provokes thinly veiled ridicule and skepticism from his Italian colleagues. Even
faced with a young and ruthless nemesis, Kracklite remains indomitable. His belly, the center of gravity, becomes a metaphor for his frailty, his humility and his humanity.

Student Reviews:
Anne-Marie Armstrong website link

Masters Research Paper:
Julia Farkas link

Indecent Proposal (1993) (116 minutes)

This is the counterpoint to the Fountianhead -- the architect as complete underdog without any money, power, charisma. Woody Harrelson (better known for his role in "Cheers") plays the architect/small pracitioner/also professor (you have to love his lectures) who is struggling against the money and power Robert Redford offers as he purchases the affections of the architect's wife.




last updated February 2, 2008