Berlin has a lot of fun pretending to be other cities in movies. Its varied architectural portfolio can stand in for most European cities. Recent development has also brought rapid change to the city and reinvention on an enormous scale. Berlin is now in the possession of a large cache of contemporary work and it was this end of the built spectrum that Aeon Flux directors were attracted to when looking to cast locations for the film.
Originally envisaged with Brazils capital in mind, the production team turned to two of Berlins newest architectural assets - The Baumschulenweg Crematorium and the Tierheim Animal Shelter – in order to echo the ethereal quality Niemeyer achieved at Brasilia. The film is not a dirty apocalyptic vision of the future, nor is it cold and sterile. There is beauty, abundance and health but there is also an uneasiness. The absence of hustle and bustle, the lack of clutter and disorder here creates an unnerving disquiet. This sense of artificial calm is reinforced by both buildings who have in common a characteristic simplicity.
The Treptow Crematorium Hall of Condolence by Axel Schultes and Charlotte Frank, is an unadorned space with the proportions of a memorial but the intimacy of a gravesite. Its measured hospitality is suited to a place of reflection – acoustic treatments encourage quiet contemplation and the paired back detailing allows the clever use of light and shadow to feature – but this restraint looks underhanded and slightly sinister in Aeon Flux’s world. The Tierheim Animal Shelter by Dietrich Bangert also commands simplicity but for other reasons altogether. A facility with such a high traffic load needs functional spaces with hardwearing surfaces and robust assembly. The skill is in conjuring such practicalities into spaces that are heartening and life affirming for both people and animals alike. Bangert uses a circular plan, splayed walls and sculptural forms to create visual interest and frame external spaces.
You may have noticed that science fiction movies feature prominently in any list of films starring architecture. You would think that of all genres, sci-fi would be the one to avoid connections with things so grounded in reality that they actually exist. Granted, advances in CGI technology will probably mean that we will see fewer real buildings used in film but it is an interesting observation anyway. I think it should be taken as a compliment. Architects might complain about the way they and their work are portrayed in film (it is always the disfunctional family who live in a modern home and architects are usually the sensitive bystander in movies, rarely the hero) but at this shows that contemporary design is seen as having a future.