At the end of the ‘Encounters Documentary Festival’, I was left feeling somewhat perturbed by how unenlightened I was on certain issues. There were some truly eye-opening documentaries; from Finding Fela to I, Afrikaner to Rebel Architecture, all very captivating in their narrative and depiction. Inspirational- yes, akin to the burning sensation in my chest as I watch footage of Ray Eames meticulously position pieces on her miniature film set. Riding on the wave of the film festivals in the past few months, we have put together a list of 10 very stimulating architecture documentaries that are definitely worth seeing.
*click titles to watch trailers
10. Unfinished Spaces (2011)
In the wake of the Cuban Revolution, Castro commissions three young architects to design an ambitious Art School. The project was subsequently abandoned and the architects exiled. Forgotten for decades, the building has been rediscovered and is now considered a Cuban masterpiece.
9. Regular or Super: Views on Mies van der Rohe (2004)
This is an informative introduction to one of the most influential architects that ever lived. It explores his entire body of work and highlights his famous mantra “Less is More”. A very well composed film with beautiful cinematography, evocative jazz horns and commentary from the likes Rem Koolhaas and Liz Diller.
8. Xmas Meier (2013)
Many may argue that Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church rejuvenated the Tor Tre Teste district the same way the Guggenheim gave new life to Bilbao, some may disagree. A few filmmakers go through this working-class Roman district during the Christmas season to carry out their own unadulterated post-occupancy evaluation.
7. Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner (2008)
As a modernist architect based in Southern California, Lautner’s work is a bit swanky… naturally. A showcase of seemingly endless cantilevered slabs, rim-flow pools and interiors that seem to merge harmoniously with the landscape. This film looks at some of the highlights of Lautner’s career, featuring renowned residences like the Goldstein Residence and the Chemosphere House.
6. Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011)
Simply put; this film is about one of the earliest multi-disciplinary design practices. When Charles and Ray were not designing moulds for stack-able plastic chairs, there were trolling around with engineers at IBM or sometimes working up film sets on the Paramount lot. They lived their dream, and their dream was masterfully presented to us in this documentary about two weirdos that enhanced the lives of each of us in one way or the other.
5. Gehry’s Vertigo (2013)
This unorthodox approach takes the viewers up to the roof of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum. The film follows the window cleaners and their climbing teams; detailing their technique and their difficulties while showcasing the complexity and artistry in the detail of Gehry’s work.
4. Inside Piano (2013)
Comprising separate sub-plots, this feature goes deep into three of Renzo Piano’s masterpieces and shares the everyday ins and outs of their inhabitants. A refreshing film, jam-packed with the idiosyncrasies of everyday people dealing with the banality of everyday life.
3. The Competition (2013)
All the despondence, reprehension and gibberish that could possibly fit inside 99 minutes… enough said. A definite must-see.
2. How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster? (2010)
Successfully charming in its subtle pontification, this delightful masterpiece looks back into Norman Foster’s life and childhood; his personal relationships, struggles and most importantly his passion for architecture. The film outlines the ethos of Foster and Partners and takes you on a philosophical journey through all the different phases of the protagonist’s evolution over the past 50 years.
1. REM (scheduled-2014)
Arguably the most anticipated architecture documentary in recent history, this film by Tomas Koolhaas promises to be a bona fide portrayal of the projects and operations of the colossus that is OMA. The film is very well shot and if the trailers are anything to go by, we might be confronted by a subtle eeriness to the picture; with shots that make routine “Monday meetings” resemble John Woo hostage negotiations… or maybe that’s just OMA.