Posts Tagged ‘Architecture’

Aalto (2020)

Dir: Virpi Suutari | Finland, Doc 103min

This comprehensive biopic about one of the greatest designers of the 20th century is both an affectionate tribute to the work of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and a touching love story. Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto (1898-1976) and his architect wife Aino Aalto shaped the modern world of design through their cutting edge buildings, furniture, textiles and glassware in much the same way as America’s Charles and Ray Eames and even Britain’s Terence Conran.

Virpi Suutari digs deeps into the archives with her writer and award-winning editor Jussi Rautaniemi (The Happiest Day in The Life of Olli Maki) to take us on a cinematic journey into life of a man whose designs were boosted by rapid economic growth in Finland and encompassed the lofty Finlandia Hall in Helsinki and the practical Paimio Sanatorium. For over five decades, from 1925-1978, the Aalto modernist aesthetic gave rise to iconic creations such as the Beehive light-fitting (1959), and the 406 armchair (1939) which remain essential style markers for the conoscenti. And even if you couldn’t afford a house designed by the Finnish luminary you could at least have one of his curvy Savoy vases (inspired by a Sami woman’s dress). These timeless modern creations could be made on an industrial scale but still retained a sense of simple luxury rooted in Finnish heritage from sustainable local materials such as birch wood, and glass blown in the littala factory.

Finnish documentarian Virpi Suutari shows how Alvar and Aino were not only talented architects but also a popular and cosmopolitan couple whose designs would become classics, defined by their practicality and precision. The Savoy vase won the Karhula-littala design competition in 1936 and would go on to be an iconic and elegant everyday item.

The film then travels further afield to show how Aalto’s civic and private buildings have stood the test of time and still associate well with their natural environment, from the private Villa Mairea in the late 1930s, to a university in Massachusetts, a pavilion at Venice Biennale and an art collector’s house near Paris, these were not ‘starchitect’ projects sticking out of the places surrounding them, but elegant and practical “machines for living” that provided for every eventuality. Aino and Alvar co-founded their furniture design company Artek in 1935, Aino becoming its first design director with a creative output that included textiles, lamps and interior design with clear and simply style, and this made way for complete design package, from lighting to door handles.

Opting for a straightforward chronicle approach Suutari shows how Aalto first set up a practice in his home town of Jyväsikylä in 1921 working on schemes that followed the predominant Nordic classism of the time. Meeting and marrying Aino Marsio in 1925 was the turning point, personally and stylistically, and after the birth Johanna later in 1925 (son Hamilkar would arrive three years later) the couple set off for Europe to discover the Modernist International style. But the groundwork for the practice was founded in Functionalism, and the Paimio tuberculosis sanatorium (1929-1933) was precisely that – providing a user-friendly and practical solution to healthcare (Aalto also designed most of the furniture with the famous Paimio chair devised to assist patients’ breathing).

From then on designs became more fluid with the increased use of natural materials and spatial awareness. The concept once again went from the outside inwards, with interiors and even small details such as fixtures and fittings all forming part of a cohesive aesthetic. One of Aalto’s main achievements was the invention of the L-leg system that enabled legs to be attached directly to the table, he also pioneered the practice of bending and splicing wood, leading to the curved look of the tables and stools. This also meant that furniture could be created on an industrial scale, through defined product lines that were also patented.

Aino and Alvar enjoyed a close partnership in work and in love, with Aino’s travels to source ideas for Artek often taking her away from home until her early death from cancer in 1949. During these times apart the couple kept in touch by a constant of letters, and these epistolary exchanges are woven into the narrative expressing a certain freedom that hints at an open marriage but also a healthy flexibility that helped to keep their relationship alive, according to Suutari’s take on events. This is a love story that brims with positive vibes, and clearly the couple drew contentment and creative energy from their secure family life and love for their children.

After Aino’s death, Alvar was not to be alone for long, he soon married young architect Elissa Makiniemi and the couple would go on to design a villa just outside Paris on their return from Venice. La Maison Louise Carre (main pic) was completed in 1959, for art collectors Olga and Louis who had rejected Le Corbusier deeming his concrete style too austere. Aalto again created a complete package for the couple, with garden design, garage and interiors (now open to the public since since 2007).

Enlivened by family photographs and plentiful archive footage, diagrams and painstaking research, Aalto is a pithy yet concise undertaking that will satisfy professional as well as dilettante appetites. We are left with an impression of the artists as warm, creative and compassionate individuals who would change the face of Finland not just for the few but for the many who continue to celebrate his design legacy all over the world. MT | PREMIERED AT CPH:DOX 2021

A New Environment: Heinrich Klotz on Architecture and New Media | Doclisboa 2019

Dir.: Christian Haardt; Documentary; Germany 2019, 77 min.

This portrait of German Art Historian, Architectural Theorist and publicist Professor Heinrich Klotz (1935-1999) is a collage of archive material from German TV and Radio programmes, as well as Super Eight images shot by Klotz. After lecturing at the University of Marburg, Klotz founded the German Architectural Museum in Frankfurt/M in 1979. Eleven years later he founded and became the first director of the Centre for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe, a position he gave up a year before his death to found the Museum for Contemporary Art in Karlsruhe, which is a Museum for Collections. 

As it befits an academic, the documentary is told in chapters, bookended by a sort of preface/epilogue by Klotz. Here he calls himself a member of the “white” generations of Germans, who had seen war as children, and were exempted from military service because they had life experience of war and were therefore inadequately equipped to deal with it a second time around. Klotz’s sole tribute is to his wife.

His approach to life is pragmatic and functional – even though he would later criticise Modernism for having erected functionality as a dogma. In chapter one, A New Environment, he discusses urban regeneration, particularly with reference to  Frankfurt/M that only began in the middle of the 20th century. In the immediate post-war period (1945-1955) functionality was primarily a practical consideration: people needed to be re-housed after wartime destruction. By the same token, he bemoans the three decades where apartment blocks were merely “white boxes”. There are images of Frankfurt’s old town, and his own house which he renovated to save a Renaissance ceiling, after moving to the city from the countryside.

In chapter two, Functionalism, he criticises the concept of the “Märkisches Viertel” in West Berlin, a “Trabantenstadt”, which was erected in the countryside after the old city had been declared obsolete by the planners. But, like the modern buildings at Kottbusser Tor in Berlin, the “Märkisches Viertel” was inhuman: instead of “buildings of the future”, these projects were like consumer goods: empty and devoid of style. Klotz reminds us that the Bauhaus architecture of the 1920s and 30s was built on the premise of a “classical Modernity”, and that Buildings like the Neue Gedenkbibliothek or the Philharmony in West Berlin were erected in a democratic tradition, unlike “Container Cities” such as the “Märkisches Viertel”.

Chapter three sees Klotz visiting Disneyland in “Post Modernism and Kitsch”. He calls it an artificial paradise built against the impact of the new grey cities. But at the same time, the permanent music (muzag), drives him mad. He feels he can only be passive, no interaction is possible. Chapter four, Interactivity, bears witness to the first interactive TV Art in the Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe. The visitors could watch themselves moving on the sofa on the TV next to them. Jeffrey Shaw’s “bicycle ride through NY, features simulations, illusion. When “cycling” through the city, the visitor is confronted by huge letters, explaining what he would see, rather than actual buildings and parks. He has no desire to visit old-fashioned museums where the experience is passive, instead he looks for Playfulness. Then he goes a step further, discussing Adorno, quoting “After Auschwitz it is not possible any more to write a poem”. But Klotz himself hopes for a new Utopia, unlike Modernism which created a dogma, but in a democratic way.

Although this is a rather arcane and esoteric documentary, it certainly confirms Klotz as an original thinker, something rather unusual in post-war Germany. First time director Christian Haardt, who was a student and associate of Klotz, does his best to celebrate his mentor. AS

Brasilia: Life After Design (2017) *** | East End Film Festival 2018

Dir: Bart Simpson | Doc | US | 90’

In Brasilia: Life After Design, Bart Simpson takes a novel approach in  exploring the social, economic and political aftermath of modernist ‘starchitect’ Oscar Niemeyer’s inventive urban planning project that created Brazil’s new national capital in 1960, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on high plateau in the country’s centre-western region, it comprises a metropolitan area now estimated to be the Latin American country’s third most populous. It is divided into various economic districts (Banking, Embassy etc) it moved the seat of government away from Rio de Janeiro and into a more central location. The film asks the question? Can you create a perfect city from scratch? What emerges is interesting. Although you can in theory, when the human element is added, it doesn’t always go according to plan.

Niemeyer and his partner Costa wanted to create a utopian city, designing Brasilia on a cross-axial grid and allowing for generous green areas where mid-sized trees where planted into aligned avenues to give a ‘ready made’ environment from the outset. A Monumental Axis accommodated government, monuments and institutions and a Residential Axis housed the inhabitants. Costa’s intention with housing superblocks was to have small self-contained and self-sufficient neighborhoods and uniform buildings with apartments of two or three different categories, where he hope to facilitate the integration of upper and middle classes sharing the same residential area. But sadly Brasilia has not been the success story originally intended for various reasons.

And this is in part due to the region’s hostile landscape. Niemeyer and Costa worked with government support to create the ‘Plano Piloto’, an innovative built environment intended to reshape the way people interact and behave within its confines. Rather than an organic city, Brasilia was imposed on its terrain, over a period five years. And despite its sophisticated architecture and status as a capital city, all the problems of contemporary Brazilian society soon surfaced there despite best laid plans – from unemployment to crime and social divide. Brasilia has failed to accommodate its burgeoning population.

So how is life after design for the people that live there? We meet a street vendor who is struggling to find a clientele due to the vast open boulevards; a mother whose job is a difficult commute to from her kids’ school; economic instability and social alienation and a general lack of neighbourly-ness induced by the built environment, despite high quality architecture. A building can look good but be impractical or hostile to live in. So a success on the drawing board, can actually be a disaster when it hits the reality of the streets.

Stunningly shot on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, Simpson’s documentary is chockfull of sophisticated facades and impressive building designs, capturing the city’s geometric shapes, pleasing symmetry and glamorous skylines. But on a personal level there are clearly concerns for those who have made it their home. Simpson’s film offers fascinating insight for travellers, historians, designers and those interested in its themes, although thr lack of a distinct dramatic arc may make it less absorbing for mainstream viewers. MT



City Visions – Cult classics in the Metropolis

For the upcoming CITY VISIONS STRAND at the Barbican – Andre Simonoveisz looks at how the social impact of the metropolis is reflected in the cult classics from the roaring twenties to the year 2000. 


In the beginning there was the city as a growing, permanently moving, uncontrollable juggernaut: Walter Ruttmann’s BERLIN – SINFONIE EINER GROSSSADT (1927) looks at Berlin for twenty-four hours and finds nothing but badly regulated chaos: everything is in motion, but somehow the humans are not the masters of the action but victims of the industrialisation, which enslaves them. After we see workers in the morning, on their way to the factories – shown like demons with their smoking chimneys – Ruttmann cuts abruptly to a herd of cows. But the film lacks any social commentary: rich people in posh restaurants and hungry children in the poorer districts, signify nothing, and are shown in the same superficial way as the delicate legs of a little girl, and the muscular legs of a cyclist. In the end the film is a victim if its own dogma of showing speed at any cost: the viewer is forced to watch, and has no time for any reflections of his own.

l-amour-l-apres-midi-1Paris, the city were the seventh Art was born, is naturally the setting for the most emotionally charged movies. Whilst many American productions are set in the city of light, we will concentrate on three Parisian filmmakers, and their view of the city they love –or hate. Eric Rohmer, who lived for decades above the offices of his production company “Films du Losange” (which he founded 50 years ago with Barbet Schroeder) in the fashionable 16th arrondissement, set many of his films in Paris, a very gentle Paris as shown in his debut film Signe du Lion (1962). He continued his view through to his Six Moral Tales, and the last of this series L’amour l’apres-midi: a celebration not only of Paris, but of large cities that allow covert liaisons to be conducted in clandestine corners. When Frederic (Bernhard Verley), a lawyer, meets his girl friend Cloe (Zouzou), his wife Helene (Francoise Verley) is meanwhile expecting their second child in a western suburb of the metropolis. Frederic sings Paris’s praises: “I m part of the great throng of people, leaving the Saint-Lazare Station, getting lost in the many little side streets nearby. I love the metropolis. The provinces and suburbs depress me. And in spite of the chaos and the noise I love being part of the masses. I love these masses like I love the sea, not to go under, loosing myself, but to be lone rider on the waves, seemingly following the rhythm of masses, but only to the point that I can follow my own way if the force of the waves dwindle. Like he sea, the masses thrill me and help me to dream. I have nearly all my ideas of the streets of the city, even the ones connected with my work.”

Two or Three Things

From his office in the Rue de la Pepiniere (8th arr.), near the Boulevard Haussmann, he often goes shopping, flirting with the beautiful shop assistants; endlessly discussing the colours of a shirt – and making love to Cloe, whilst his wife gives birth to their son. Frederic lives a gentle life and work seems to be only a vehicle for meeting people and having coffee with them in a café round the corner. Rohmer’s Paris does not exist any more, we suspect, that it was mainly part of Rohmer’s imagination – but it was wonderful, nevertheless.

Now we go five years back in time to Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (2 or 3 Choses Que Je Sais D’Elle). His anti-consumerist portrait of Paris makes one wonder: did Rohmer and Godard really go to see the same films, never mind writing together for “Cahiers du Cinema”? TWO OR THREE is the antidote to Rohmer’s romantic diary of a man with too much time on his hands – and on top, Godard produced it five years EARLIER. The mind boggles. Paris, by the way, doesn’t get very good grades neither. But one has to know that the “elle” of the title is Paris, undergoing a change for the worse. Rising prices and crass materialism mean that many housewives turn to part-time prostitution, whilst their husbands work in their offices. Needless to say; the husbands hate their jobs and their wives hate being prostitutes and it is all the fault of the giant advertisement boards we can see at length. The narrative follows the housewife Juliette (Marina Vlady), whose child is at nursery, whilst Juliette turns her flat into a part-time brothel. Then she shops for clothing, is accosted by a pimp, who offers her protection for ten percent of her earnings, and in the evening we see her playing happy family. Next we encounter her in a room with another woman, wandering around naked with air flight bags over their heads, to fulfill the sick phantasy of an American called John Bogus. There are off- narration containing agitation and poetry, whilst high-rise buildings rise into the sky, and people are hurrying through the streets. And DOP Raoul Cotard gives the film a Kodachrome-like image, further depicting the alienation of the Parisians, running aimlessly around in the raising tide of consumerism.


Twenty-eight years later, the children of the adult Godard protagonists were most likely languishing with their parents in the cynically called HLM (Habitation à Loyer Modéré) blocks in the newly formed ‘banlieu’ of Paris, were Mathieu Kassovitz’ LA HAINE is set. These bleak high-rise blocks are even worse than the worst of the UK’s so called ‘estates’. Criminality is the norm, particularly among the teenage boys. The film tells the story of three of them: Vinz, a Jew, Hubert, a black boxer and Said, an Arab. They hang out together, terrible bored. They are not ring leaders, but move along the peripherie of the occasional small riots, staying mostly at the Youth centre, waiting for something to happen: their way of life. After an Arab youth is shot, something is going to happen: a major riot. After the school of Vinz’ sister has been burned down, his grandmother warns him “to stay out of it.” On a short trip to Paris, the trio run into trouble with the police. Hubert, being the least violent of the them, draws the attention of the police because of his skin colour. In Mathieu Kossovitz’s 1995 version, Paris has become the citadel of consumerism, Godard warned about. The only difference is that the prostitutes are now real professionals, because the housewives who stay at home can afford to have a good life on one salary – the rest of the undesirables has been “deported” to the banlieu. (London lagging some twenty years behind these developments). The young guys feel rightly that they are now in a different country: banks are the new cathedrals of the city. Shopping malls, full of goods, whose functions they can only guess. The huge advertisement boards have vanished, no need for incitements to buy are needed: shopping is the only game in town. Away from their concrete jungles, the guys react with bewilderment, then, when the police turn on them with hatred. The ending might be predictable, but the film is not: it is about a generation alienated from the society, but it is society itself who has made this choice.

David Lynch had shown in TWIN PEAKS how nightmarish the suburbs can be – but Los Angeles in MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001) is a ‘city of angels of death’, in a cinematographic, absurd way, of course. To ponder the plot would be to miss the point of the film, it is the ultimate “McGuffin” movie, where all clues end in a cul-de-sac. Still, some sort of narrative develops: Betty (Naomi Watts), is a Hitchcock blond, who is staying as a guest in her aunt Ruth’s apartment in, whilst auditioning for a film role. Rita (Laura Elena Harring) is a brunette, type Rosalind Russell, who is about to be murdered in her limousine, but crawls out the wreck at Mulholland Drive and lands up with Betty. The girls now audition together, meet sinister detectives, a rotten corpse and have lots of lesbian sex. All this explains nothing, but that’s not the point. But LA is the real star of this movie, together with the music, and the permanent quotes of Hollywood’s history. LA has become the studio backdrop for all living in this city, were all genres, but particularly thrillers, are permanently played out – for the living, who are cops, detectives –are so simply victims. The lack of narrative in MULHOLLAND DRIVE coincides with the lack of any rationale in this city – when the whole cplace has become a mega studio, so many stories will collide, and nobody will ask for any logic. Lynch’s film is therefore full of dreams, and they are, more often than not, much more realistic than what’s going on with Betty and Rita. And since every landmark in LA has dozens of movie connections, and many more are in the making, the border lines between life, dream and cinema have vanished. You can have a nightmare like Betty and Rita, but you will wake up, telling your friends, that you have had this awful dream/saw this nightmarish film, and life will go on. Most of the time. AS




Copenhagen Architecture x Film Festival 27 – 30 March 2014

Pomerol_Herzog_de_Meuron_HD_1-960x540 copySome of the the World’s finest filmmakers are Danish: Carl Theodor Dreyer; Lars von Trier; Thomas Vinterberg; Nicolas Winding Refn and Susanne Bier. The Danes also excel in architecture, design and the spatial arts. With this in mind, COPENHAGEN ARCHITECTURE X FILM FESTIVAL will open its doors for the first year of what aims to become an annual event. Offering 80 films and events. including first-run as well as older releases showcasing  architectural space as only cinema can. Copenhagen Architecture Festival x FILM is built around 6 strands: Cinematic and Architectural Space; Landscape and FilmPersonal SpacesArchitectural Processes;  Ritual, and Modernism.

oscar-at-niteroi_still_04-960x540 copyThe inaugural festival presents the world premiere of Heinz Emigholz’ entire trilogy of DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM, the 21st part of his monumental series PHOTOGRAPHY AND BEYOND. All three films will be shown including the final part: THE AIRSTRIP, hot from Berlinale 2014with an an introduction by the filmmaker himself.

Wim Wenders’ 3D project CATHEDRALS OF CULTURE (2014) also comes fresh from its Berlinale 2014 World premiere and there are other treats in store: KOOLHAAS – HOUSELIFE  that takes a looks at the designs of legendary architect Rem Koolhaas and MICROTOPIA, Jesper Wachtmeister’s documentary study about a group of designers whose work focuses on the use of recycled and industrial products in order to minimise waste and human footprint. Dieter Reifarth’s HAUS TUGENDHAT (2013) explores the fascinating history of Mies van der Rohe’s functionalist villa from private ownership in the thirties to official functions under the Germans and Russians to its current status as a stylish backdrop to films such as Hannibal Rising.

niemeyer27shouse2-960x540 copyTHE NEW RIJKSMUSEUM, Oeke Hoogendijk’s prize-winning documentary is a massive undertaking that charts the controversial renovation of one of the World’s oldest and best known museums. Angel Borrego Cubero’s documentary masterpiece THE COMPETITION (2013) explores the working relationship of star-architects Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Dominique Perrault and Zaha Hadid’s through the tense process of tendering for the design of a new Arts Museum in Andorra.

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There will be a chance to revisit the past with DOG STAR MAN, Stan Brakhage’s experimental sixties piece that prioritises the visual to create the concept of an ‘optical mind’, and Werner Herzog’s acclaimed sci-fi documentary FATA MORGANA (1971), that imagines the world’s most remote corners as another planet.  Critic Sophie Engberg Sonne looks at Wong Ka Wai’s films in the context of his greatest muse: Hong Kong: this artist-city double-act will be illustrated with excerpts from his oeuvre including HAPPY TOGETHER and    THE CROWD, King Vidor’s psychogeographical 1928 silent epic, based in New York; and Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s haunting and sinister documentary ABENDLAND, that takes a voyeuristic look at the vast continent of Europe from the night skies.


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