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The International 2009 -Autostadt Groupforum and The Phaeno Science Centre, Wolfsburg Germany

©Dennis Gilbert/view / Artur Images
©Dennis Gilbert/view / Artur Images

Director Tom Tykwer’s feature film about the corporate banking world features a host of beautiful buildings across the world and style spectrums from neoclassic civic structures to high tech high rises and famously includes a shootout in New York’s Guggenheim Museum (filmed in an exact replica of the interior spiral space built in an old automotive warehouse outside of Berlin), but it is two contemporary buildings who’s screen presence outshine the others. Europe’s automotive theme park, Autostat (Car city) and the Phaeno Science Centre both in Wolfsburg, Germany are imperative to the plot but neither play themselves and this is used to full advantage by the production team.

©Werner Huthmacher / Artur Images
©Werner Huthmacher / Artur Images

Built following the success of Hanover’s car expo in 2000, the Autostat is an automotive fan’s nirvana (and their partners nightmare) located adjacent to the Volkswagon factory in Wolfsburg. With pavilions from most of the major European manufacturers, you can test drive 4WD models on a specially constructed track, the kids can drive the scale model cars, you can view every VW model on the market and see famous cars in the auto museum. You can even pick up your pre-ordered custom built Volkswagon from the impressive car storage towers with an odometer reading of zero, should such a thing be important to you. 

The owners of the park hold themselves to the same standard in commissioning buildings as their clientele do in purchasing cars - the buildings are quality, fit for purpose, cutting edge design and using the latest technologies. Producers of the International chose the main entry pavilion called the ‘Groupforum’ as headquaters for the corrupt international bank the IBBC, supposedly in Luxemburg. Following the murder of his associate during investigations of the Bank Agent Salinger, played by Clive Owen, begins to loosen a complex knot of criminal dealings across the globe. 

©Werner Huthmacher / Artur Images
©Werner Huthmacher / Artur Images

The Groupforum’s distinctive form allows viewers to orientate themselves as the action cuts between cities. Unfortunately we do not get to see the enormous rotating doors in action (apparently the largest in the world), but the glass envelope is used to full effect, captured in 65mm film to emphasise its sharp lines and crisp geometry. At one stage the facade fills the frame and dominates Clive Owens tiny figure as he ascends the entrance stair. The sharpness is juxtaposed against the investigator’s slightly rumpled figure and we are told something of the futility in an individuals attempt to penetrate the slick machine of a banking system. Devoid of visitors and exhibits the size of the Groupforum’s main hall does not make sense – particularly not as a foyer to a bank. It is overscaled and decidedly empty, a fact not lost on audiences as they see Owen’s character making his way to the Banks reception area. Not only is the building intimidating but also hollow and meaningless. Using the building in this way makes a mockery of that well used architectural device of using glass and perforated materials to express transparency and openness. The modern banking world couldn’t be further from this. Ironically, on film the building becomes a set. It is there as a front, giving the impression of accessibility and disguising the fact that the real business is directed by select few and occurs in the safety of ‘clean’ rooms – sound proof and bug proof spaces now commonplace in modern multinational organisations. 


©Werner Huthmacher / Artur Images
©Werner Huthmacher / Artur Images

The nearby Phaeno Science Centre by Zaha Hadid is cast as the headquaters of Calvini Defence, weapons dealers with whom the bank is attempting to make a deal. The building is transported using CGI to a cliffside location in Lago Iseo, Italy. An unbelievable building in an unbelievable location is perhaps overdoing it a bit – the gravity defying, organic forms are already worlds away from average construction. The addition of such a dramatic site takes it to another level. The kind of money and influence required to make such a thing achievable tells us that these people operate outside standard boundaries. Their morals reside there too. 

In reality the opposite is true – this amazing building is also a public one, designed to host hundreds of visitors a day and couldn’t be more accessible. The City of Wolfsburg commissioned Hadid to complete the project following an international competition intended to provide the city with a signature building. It is only right that a place where magic is explained by science is housed in a building where fantasy is made possible.


Both buildings are located in the city of Wolfsburg - adjacent the central railway station.


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Comments: 1

  • #1

    Beth (Tuesday, 23 October 2012 14:04)

    The special edition DVD has an interesting documentary about the making of this movie. It talks about architecture as one if the characters.