In science fiction movies, imagined futures and alternate environments become real places populated by humans. But even an existing cityscape becomes a fantastic spectacle in the hands of a talented director, which is why many of these films used real, existing architecture.
Have you visited the new Architizer yet? Feeling a little lost in the architectural references: Art Deco, Modernism, Parametric? We may have a fun and easy solution for you, especially if you're a film buff. For your architectural edification and enjoyment we've gathered all the motion pictures that help exemplify modern architectural styles—from the turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau all the way to today's digital designs. So grab your popcorn and check out our list below.
Futurism (1909 - 1914) + The Fifth Element (1997)
The dense skyscrapers and rapid (even dangerous) transportation of the Fifth Element echoes the urban aspirations of the Futurists. Photo: via scifiinterfaces.wordpress.com
Though the buildings themselves of The Fifth Element seem to have a uniquely eclectic style, there's no question that the New York City of the 23rd century is a Futurist's dream come true. The movie itself is set in the far future and tells a classic story of good versus evil with a healthy dash of comedy, romance, and sci-fi quirkiness. The opening scenes of the movie (after a brief flashback to 1914) take place in New York, a city which has been scaled up to titanic proportions. Flying cars race through the air, buzzing among the towering skyscrapers. Innumerable walkways connect these immense structures, giving the sense that the city abounds with movement outside and within.
Architect Antonio Sant'Elia (1888 - 1916) also envisioned towering and interconnected forms that a Futurist society would inhabit. Photo: TintoMeches via en.wikipedia.org
The Fifth Element's New York City is the spitting image of what the Futurists wanted the future to look like. As the Art Nouveau demonstrated, the turn of the century was an experimental time for architecture. The Futurists (initially all Italian) were obsessed with factories, noise, speed, violence, and danger. These ideas embodied all the most exciting aspects of the new machine age that they were beginning to experience. Electricity, the internal combustion engine, and other advancements left the Italians convinced that the future would be fast, industrious, and bold.
Fascist Architecture (approx. 1922 - 1942) + Equilibrium (2002)
Equilibrium was primarily filmed in Berlin to make use of its old Fascist architecture. Photo: wallpapersus.com
Fascist architecture isn't easy on the eyes, and its effect in Equilibrium is no exception. This film stars Christian Bale as an elite enforcer in an Orwellian state that has outlawed emotions and demands total obedience from its citizens. His character battles his way through a fortress-like city deep within the ruins of a war-torn metropolis. The film was primarily shot in Berlin in order to make use of its decrepit East German buildings as well as left-over Fascist architecture from the Nazi's reign in the ‘30s and ‘40s. This architecture is built on an inhuman scale, features little ornament, and designed with oppressive symmetry and regularity.
The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was finished in 1943 though was intended for a 1942 world exhibition in Rome. Photo: Blackcat via it.wikimedia.org
It's hard to miss the message in the austere forms endorsed by Fascist leaders: The state is the dominant force in all facets of public and private life. Fascist architecture was most prominent in Italy and Germany, with Italy's Benito Mussolini being the first to come to power in 1922. Fascist architecture in Italy was born of the complex reconciling between modern rationalist architecture (think: modern materials like steel, glass, etc.) with classical Greek and Roman architecture. The resulting style manifested itself in buildings like the Palazzo (seen above), which echoes the Colosseum but with rectilinear symmetry and bare surfaces. Nazi Germany also adopted an grim classicism that was meant to signify the Nazi party's strength and stability. Both countries, though especially Germany, deployed Fascist architecture on an imposing scale that could host enormous political rallies.
Modernism (early 20th century - present day) + Playtime (1967)
Playtime take a humorous angle at a world of modernist design, architectural and otherwise. Image: via patchofyellowwall.files.wordpress.com
Ever wanted to step into a world of pure modernist living? Then Jacques Tati's Playtime might be just what you need. The movie features next to no dialogue, instead relying on situational humor and slapstick comedy to portray the absurdities of the modern world. Tati constructed a massive set that included an airport, offices, a trade exhibition, apartments, a royal garden, and a “carousel of cars” (all immaculately modernist of course). The clean minimalism of the modern European city belies its deep irrationalities that Tati cleverly highlights for comedic effect.
Mies Van der Rohe's 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, built 1949 in Chicago, Illinois. Image: ThatOneGuy via skyscrapercity.com
The idea of architectural modernism spans the last 100 years and features a wide range of architects and architectural styles. That being said, "modernism" usually refers to the minimalism and use of modern materials as typified by the architect Mies Van der Rohe. Though he had many contemporaries who we would call modern architects (Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, Louis Kahn, and Buckminster Fuller, just to name a few), it was Mies's glassy, rational style that captured the term "modernism" in the popular vernacular. His approach to design ("less is more") was rooted in the art of construction, focusing on the details of a building's structure and facade.
Article by Zachary Edelson