L'appartement - 1996

Vincent Cassel in L'appartement

L'appartement - starring Monica Belucci and Vincent Cassel featured a Guimard inspired Art Nouveau apartment that did more for French Tourism in the 1990's than the Tour de France. And without the performance enhancing drugs.

 

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Fracture 2007 - The Sherman Residence

© Grant Mudford
© Grant Mudford

2007’s release Fracture, starring Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins didn’t receive many industry accolades. Surprising, given the stellar performances and the stylish production. Reviewers complained that it should have been better than it was, or that the plot was unoriginal or predictable. No matter. To those with an interest in the built environment, the casting of Peter Tolkin’s Sherman House made the film infinitely watchable. Restrained and elegant, the house provided the perfect crime scene, complicit in the murder of its hostess. 

This film pits the generations against each other. An upstart young lawyer (Gosling), against a methodical aeronautical engineer (Hopkins) charged with the murder of his wife. For the most part, generation Y comes off inadequate and ill prepared, outplayed by the more experienced party.

 

Hopkins is pitch perfect in his role. Delivering with a steely conviction and calculating intellect, he brings an authenticity to the material which could have been a bit cliched in someone else's hands.  The Sherman house also delivers. As an extension of Hopkins character, its precise lines and  considered floor planning amplifies the staged events that it's owner sets in motion.  A clock-based artwork installation added to the centre of the house by the production team for the film reinforces the sense of chilling premeditation.

 

The Fast and The Furious 2001 - Davis Residence

Paul Walker will probably be most often remembered for his association with the Fast & Furious series. His popularity grew with the franchise, as did the sophistication of each production. Over the years the cars became more high tech, stunts became more elaborate and the plot more extreme but it is the very first release, 2001’s The Fast and The Furious though, that is, for me, the most memorable. You guessed it – because it featured a fabulous house.

David Fowler’s 1963 commission for the Davis family in Beverly Hills featured in the film as headquarters for the police investigating a spate of high speed truck robberies.  The building, named Ridgetop, featured a distinctive round plan, custom furniture, scalloped eaves and concrete blocks sporting an elliptical motif which appeared throughout the house on metal entry gates, glazing and partitions. Photographed by Julius Shulman and featured in Architectural Digest soon after its completion, the house was the height of 60’s sophistication and a beautiful example of Californian Mid Century Modern design. Sadly it was demolished to make way for a new housing development in the mid 2000’s.

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Body Double 1984 - Chemosphere

© Joshua White
© Joshua White

Long missing from this discussion is a post about John Lautner’s most recognisable building – the groundbreaking, distinctive and iconic structure, The Chemosphere. Now an LA architectural landmark, the building has taken five decades to earn its status and has achieved it largely as a result of the film industry’s fascination with its futurist aesthetic. The house can be spotted in countless features on both the big and small screens and is referenced in many more - including Charlies Angels and the Iron Man series.

©Joshua White
©Joshua White

Perhaps the best use of the house is 1984’s Body Double starring Melanie Griffith. Certainly not looking its modernist best in the film (the house is completely refitted with gawdy 80’s décor), it is interestingly cast as an appealing residence for someone suffering from claustrophobia, a trait used to a murderer’s advantage as the plot develops. Perched on an extreme slope with 270 degree views overlooking the city of LA, the whole scenario would not quite have worked had the occupant been suffering from vertigo.

© Joshua White
© Joshua White

The house was purchased in the late 90’s by Benedikt Taschen, of the Taschen publishing house, who commissioned Escher GuneWardena Architecture to complete a full refurbishment to return the building to its former glory. Lucky them. They did a beautiful job.    

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Twilight 2008 - Hoke Residence

© Skylab Architecture
© Skylab Architecture

Built speculatively by Skylab Architecture in association with local developers – a method of showcasing a fledgling practice’s work without the need for a sympathetic Client (which was possible in the boom times of the early 2000’s) – the Hoke Family purchased the house not long after completion and were approached by the film production team after the house featured in an architectural publication. The decision to proceed is possibly something they have come to regret considering the fanatical nature of Twilight fans.

Whether you are a fan of the series or have reservations about telling teenagers that love is like the feeling of wanting to devour someone (surely teenage girls have enough unhealthy food associations?) this building is a standout.

 

© Skylab Architecture
© Skylab Architecture

The house is bright and spacious with large panel windows opening to the trees, much like the house described in the original book. A perfect choice for the modern vampire coven wanting a change from the traditional foreboding castle. However the book actually casts the house as a predominantly white, turn of the (last) century mansion with a converted rear façade of glass looking out onto the forest. In fact, the Hoke House uses a mix of timber cladding, glass and cast concrete - a much warmer palette better suited for film yet retaining the concept of a unconventional contemporary space for this group of ‘vegetarian’ vampires. We are meant to like the family and approve of the choices they have made (they fill their lives with music, art & good design rather than succumb to their less sophisticated desires) and the use of natural materials throughout the house emphasizes the Cullen’s connection with nature and gives them another layer of humanity, something the described pure white interior scheme would have struggled to do.

© Summit Entertainment, Temple Hill Entertainment & Maverick Films
© Summit Entertainment, Temple Hill Entertainment & Maverick Films

Digital enhancement aged the newly planted landscape design in order to fit the required lush forest location as well as deleting any indication of neighboring buildings to create more isolation. The characteristic cast insitu columns supporting the house are not visible in the film however they are an important compositional element of the design. Not only striking at ground level but they also allow the rooms above to cantilever into the adjacent tree canopy giving the effect of intimacy with the forest and providing privacy for the occupants. 

 

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El Hombre de al Lado 2009 - Curutchet House

© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales
© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales

To say this film is about a dispute between neighbours would be to undersell it completely. When one of the houses in question is Le Corbusier's Casa Curutchet and the two parties represent polar ends of the social spectrum – a pretentious, supercilious businessman and his crude, slightly menacing neighbour, this Argentinian film takes the premise to a whole other level. 

 

© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales
© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales

Interestingly the house plays itself - a famous building that designers make pilgrimage to see - but has it occupied by a successful furniture designer Leonardo (the businessman, played by Rafael Spregelburd) and his family, who on the surface only just tolerate the interest but privately quite enjoy the notoriety. Until, of course, the dispute with the neighbouring Victor (Daniel Aráoz) escalates and the constant scrutiny becomes oppressive. As the story develops however, more is revealed of each character and we come to question who is in the wrong and wonder at how two people can miscommunicate so effectively.

© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales
© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales

We get to see a good deal of the house, particularly the entrance ramps and first storey terrace, which provides an excellent study of the three dimensionality, the framing of external spaces and the interlocking volumes, for which the house is renown. Even if you are unfamiliar with the building, the house is clearly the work of a design pioneer and this authentic genius underscores Lenardos deficiencies as the film progresses - his unfounded arrogance, his ineffectuality and eventually his cowardice is contrasted against Victor's up front familiarity, and in the end, reliability.

© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales
© Aleph Media & Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales

The house, located in La Planta Buenos Aires, actually accommodates the Buenos Aires professional association of architects, the Colegio de Arquitectos and is open to the public for tours.

 

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Le Mujer de mi Hermano 2005 - The Schmitz House

 © Felipe Assadi
© Felipe Assadi

Translated as My Brothers Wife, the title of this film seemingly gives away most of the plot. But don't be fooled, this is not some melodramatic soap opera with obligatory love triangle. The film plays on pre-conceived notions and stereotypes to keep the audience guessing throughout - misled by their own misconceptions about family, relationships and human behaviour and it makes for an interesting journey. The use of the beautiful Schmitz house in the film is no exception. Modern buildings in film are routinely cast as homes to cold, controlling individuals and Peruvian Director Ricardo de Montreuil uses this fact to great effect, making us believe that the occupants will fit the mould.

 © Felipe Assadi
© Felipe Assadi

The house, designed by Filipe Assadi & Francisca Pulido, located outside of Santiago, Chile is cast as the home of two of the central characters, husband and wife Ignacio and Zoe. We already know there is domestic trouble afoot so when we are introduced to their home with its cool interconnected boxes of off-form concrete and curtain glass, we guess that sociopathic behaviour will follow. 

But nothing ensues. Ignacio is distant and particular but not unkind and certainly not unlikeable. Zoe is sulky and self obsessed but really does try to engage with her husband. For a while it seems that infertility is the source of the disconnection, then adultery but neither quite fits. Even more confounding - they enjoy their house, where they entertain friends and family. The pool in particular is highlighted, its inside/outside connection (a glass floor panel lifts to permit entry to the pool from indoors). It is elegant and warm and the simple plan arrangement with sophisticated detailing seems to suit their respective personalities well. The intrigue created by this paradox is captivating. 

 © Felipe Assadi
© Felipe Assadi

A surprising revelation and a terrible secret eventually explains the source of each of the brothers torment and the house, as in reality, is without fault.

 

Thanks to Felipe Assadi for permission to use images. See their portfolio here 

 

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French Postcards 1979 - Villa Savoye

©Hans H. Münchhalfen/ARTUR IMAGES
©Hans H. Münchhalfen/ARTUR IMAGES

Swiss born Le Corbusier became a French institution following his immigration in 1930, and the Villa Savoye on the outskirts of Paris, stands as a testament to his pioneering architectural thinking. The first modernist building to be given historical listing in France (and interestingly the first while the original architect was still alive), the house is a beautiful example of the International style, of which the French are understandably proud custodians. All the more effective then that when the house appeared in the 1979 release French Postcards, it was filled with American kitch.

©  Paramount Pictures
© Paramount Pictures

French Postcards has the house owned by a language school director who teaches her exchange students about French culture and encourages them to forget their coarse American perspective however she herself holds a secret love of all Americana. The more we get to know her, the more obvious her hypocrisy becomes and the glimpse into her private world and its' décor is the most revealing. Her public façade is of a polished Parisian intellectual - composed and self-possessed and yet we know she dances around in Levis when she thinks no one is around. The same applies to her house. From a distance it is a sleek, elegant lesson in restraint – a white unadorned box sitting on slim supports. The interior however is all cowhide and shagpile. There is a bit of a twist for modern audiences though - the furniture chosen to fitout the house is intended to be cheezy and represent the tastes of a past generation (one of her students comments that the style reminds him of his parents house) but the scheme includes some classic American mid century design pieces –

Harry Bertoia’s wire backed diamond chairs, Milo Baughman’s curved ply office furniture and a Herman Miller coat stand. Well before Mid Century Modern had a name, the Director calls it “Eisenhower style”. 

 

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Never Let Me Go 2010 - Andrew Melville Hall

© DNA Films, Film 4, Fox Searchlight Pictures
© DNA Films, Film 4, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartbreaking novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go is an agonising account of our world, had society chosen a particular ethical path, if human engineering technologies had become available in the 1960’s. James Stirlings student accommodation hall at the University of St Andrews in Fife, plays a tiny role in the film but it is a crucial one, not only in providing specific historical context but also commentary about human diminishment.

Haunting is a word overused by film reviewers but so applicable here that I am forced to use it. Technically science fiction, the story is presented as a historical account so it is impossible to distance yourself by hiding behind a remote fictional plot. Instead it feels distressingly real. Institutionalised since birth, the characters (who were cloned to provide society with a supply of transplant organs) do not rage against the system, at least, not in the way you expect them to. This resignation is particularly disturbing. Assisted with the conversion of the novel to screenplay by Alex Garland (whose work carries recurring themes of society gone wrong and studies of human behavior in isolated groups) Ishiguro ensured the film didn't stray too far from his original vision, so those who enjoyed the book will not be disappointed.

© DNA Films, Film 4, Fox Searchlight Pictures
© DNA Films, Film 4, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Built in the late 60's, the building is a clear member of the Brutalist approach - prefabricated concrete and expressed repetitive forms with blocks of mass, giving the building an imposing presence. With so many examples of failed attempts at low cost housing in this style (where deteriorating materials, security issues and blank canvasses for graffiti artists have inhibited the growth of positive communities), it is no wonder that the association with urban decay has made brutalist buildings an easy target for film makers. Exaggerated perspectives and vacant spaces in these buildings can make for menacing, life denying backdrops.

Never Let Me Go's treatment of Andrew Melville Hall is no excepton. It is cast as the hospital where donors recover following organ harvesting. Without site context and the careful omission of any of the communal areas, the building looks bleak and miserable. Tightly cropped views of the repetitive window elements evokes a battery typology which speaks of mass production and the generic, faceless human stock housed in the facility.

We do not get to see the way the building sits so comfortably in the site that it looks to have grown from the local geography and we do not get to experience the impressive vistas of the surrounding landscape framed by the buildings' strategically placed openings. It is a shame because the building is a rare example of the successful application of this philosphy. The expressed patterning of windows and forms were not intended to disempower but to unify, expressing the many equal individuals that make the whole. While this ideology may not have worked well for social housing, it is quite appropriate for student accommodation.

 

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The Passenger 1975 - Casa Mila

© Roland Halbe/ARTUR IMAGES
© Roland Halbe/ARTUR IMAGES

Gaudi's famous apartment building, Casa Mila is at it's whimsical best in this film which explores identity, chance and choice. Director Michelangelo Antonioni is renown for his use of architectural landscapes and structural composition so it is no surprise that such a cinematic building would feature in one of his films.

The Passenger stars Jack Nicholson, portraying a grisled worldweary journalist, David Locke, who is sick of himself and of his situation. After chancing upon an opportunity to assume the identity of another hotel guest (whom he discovers dead) he makes a split decision to walk away from his life. Too easy? Quite. Filling in his new identity, Locke goes about keeping the dead mans appointments and duly discovers that he has become an arms dealer. 

 

© Compagnia Cinematografica Champion & Les Films Concordia
© Compagnia Cinematografica Champion & Les Films Concordia

The schedule takes him to Barcelona and he finds himself wandering around the Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera, “The Quarry”), in pursuit of an attractive young woman (played by Maria Schneider) whom he hopes can assist him. This extraordinary building with it’s organic limestone facade and gothic detailing provides an eerie background to the scenes which follow where Locke begins to grapple with the implications of what he has done. Filmed before its major facelift in the early 1990’s, the building wears 60 years of grimy city fallout. It’s dark menacing complexion, at once ancient and alien, creates a surreal presence and serves as an ominous warning - this is not only unfamiliar territory but very dangerous ground.

© Roland Halbe/ARTUR IMAGES
© Roland Halbe/ARTUR IMAGES

A long sequence is captured on the undulating roof of the building where the two navigate to a spot where they can sit and chat. The building’s unusual proportions means that while they are up on the roof we inadvertently witness a domestic argument on a balcony below. This odd, unnerving interjection, which bears no relevance to the rest of the story, is typical of Antonioni’s direction. Famously layered with unanswered questions, his films have in common a rhetorical quality – asking viewers to reflect on the subject matter long after they have left the cinema.

 

© Compagnia Cinematografica Champion & Les Films Concordia
© Compagnia Cinematografica Champion & Les Films Concordia

Casa Mila’s uniqueness underlines the films concepts of individuality and character. This is identity theft before the cyber age, and it is interesting to think about what that meant in 1975. In some ways stealing someone else life at that time was easier to pull off (a matter of replacing a photograph in a passport) but in many ways also much harder, with less opportunity to manipulate evidence and a society that is more reliant on personal connections and face to face meetings than we are used to today. So which is more reliable? Are we now too dependent on technology to record who we are? 30 years later The Passenger is still posing questions to ponder. 

 

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Bottle Rocket 1996 - The Gillin Residence

 ©Doug Newby
©Doug Newby

Wes Anderson looked to his home state of Texas when casting the critical location for his first feature film Bottle Rocket, written with friend Owen Wilson. They needed a house which not only reeked of privilege and good breeding but could also cater for the numerous internal and external shots which were scripted to occur at the house. Enter the Gillin Residence, the last house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed before his death and also his largest in the Usonian style. 

 ©Columbia Pictures Corp
©Columbia Pictures Corp

Owen and Luke Wilson both star in this cute film about a group of friends, each with various issues preventing them from being functioning members of society. Owen Wilsons character, Dignan, is an enthusiastic man-child with dreams of becoming a crack thief. He enlists his friend Anthony, a recently released mental health patient, to be his accomplice and together they set up camp at their mutual friends house to talk strategy. Their friend Bob, is another non event – he is funded by absent parents and is tormented by his older brother who also still lives at home. Maturity is not thick on the ground here people.

 ©Columbia Pictures Corp
©Columbia Pictures Corp

The Gillin Residence was cast as the house shared by the brothers and it is here that the three celebrate their marginal success at pulling off a heist (a ludicrous event at a bookshop which is laugh-out-loud funny). They go on to plan the next robbery while sitting around the Wright-designed furniture using hard copy plans, stop watches and scale rules - all in the Rat Pack tradition, with the exception of a juvenile argument about who gets to hold the handgun. Wrights presence is everywhere  -  the textured bricks, the detailed soffits and the copper finishes - and all evoke imagery of 1960's cool, befitting Dignan's vision of himself as Dean Martin in the original Oceans 11.      

 ©Doug Newby
©Doug Newby

An entrepreneur who made his fortune in the early years of the lucrative oil industry, John Gillin began to invest in art in the 1950’s. So when it came to commissioning his largest piece, he turned to the profession's leading light. Gillin was a commanding fellow by all accounts and testament to this Wright, famously conceited and protective of his work, allowed him to be heavily involved in the process and even design some elements himself.

 ©Doug Newby
©Doug Newby

In the end the house is the only element of the scenario which keeps it's cool. The team's big score is executed with all the precision of a march-pass of puppies and the absurdity that we have come to associate with the Anderson/Wilson brand of humour. The house does not escape from the fallout of the group’s ridiculous escapades but even when gutted of furnishings it still retains its dignity. It stoically waits for more sensible occupants to return.

 

Thank you to Doug Newby from Architecturally Significant Homes for permission to use images.

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Transformers 3 2011- Milwaukee Art Museum

 ©Paolo Rosselli/ARTUR IMAGES
©Paolo Rosselli/ARTUR IMAGES

When casting locations for the third installment in the Transformers series, Michael Bay turned to Milwaulkee's beautiful Art Museum on the shore of Lake Michigan, to provide some aesthetic relief from the grisly mechanics of the Autobots. Santiago Calatravas first building in the United States steals the show with its' vaulted cathedral-like entrance hall and dramatic sail roof. The wings on the roof form an operable brise soleil which elegantly opens and closes throughout the day, giving Optimus Prime a lesson in grace.

 

 ©Paolo Rosselli/ARTUR IMAGES
©Paolo Rosselli/ARTUR IMAGES

It is surprising that Calatravas particular brand of magic is not seen more frequently in feature films. His characteristic sculptural volumes and expressed skeletons create a striking spectacle that has infinite cinematic potential, but apart from the odd sighting in advertisements, Calatravas buildings remain largely unrecorded by fictional film. Possibly it has to do with timing and the locations of his work - the combination of easy logistics and industry incentives hadn't quite come together until the Transformer franchise took up the challenge with it's enviable production budget. The Spielberg series has a history of using ambitious locations having filmed in Jordan, Egypt, and China in the previous chapters so a building close to home was not too much of a stretch.

 ©Paramount Pictures
©Paramount Pictures

The film is essentially another installment in the campaign between the Autobots and the Decepticons and again has Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) paired with an outrageously beautiful girlfriend (this time Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), whom he supposedly met when she was working at the Whitehouse. She now works for billionare Dylan Gould, played by Patrick Dempsey whose auto museum is housed in the Art Gallery. Sam describes the building as ‘the starship enterprise’ and Dylan responds that it leaks. One guess who turns out to be a bad egg. The star lineup in this movie includes Buzz Aldrion (yes) and Hollywood heavyweights John Malkovich and Frances McDormand, who compete to get the best lines. McDormand wins with “We cannot entrust national security to teenagers. Unless I missed a policy paper. Are we doing that now? No? Good.” Somewhat undermining the whole premise of the movie.

Given the prevalence of transport facilities in Calatrava's portfolio, an auto display is quite a believable use and probably a good suggestion for curators of the museum. It's also no wonder that most of Calatrava's celluloid credits have been in car advertisements. Transit centres, bus stations and bridges all provide plenty of mesmerizing opportunities to film beautiful cars gliding by a graceful background. His sculptural forms also evoke a sense of movement and the flashing by of repetitive structural elements reinforce notions of speed and momentum. If Victor Gruen can have a phrase to describe the effect his designs have on consumers then perhaps there should be one to describe Calatravas influence on auto sales. Just a thought.

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Nurse Betty 2000 - The Stahl House

 ©Thomas Spier / ARTUR
©Thomas Spier / ARTUR

Commissioned by the Stahl family as part of the Case Study house scheme (a program sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine throughout the 1950 & 1960’s, which was intended to bring modern design to the middle classes), this house has been used in countless film and television productions, in part as a result of an iconic photograph taken of the house in 1960 by Julius Shulman.

©Gramercy Pictures & Pacifica Film
©Gramercy Pictures & Pacifica Film

The photograph has become an intrinsic part of mid century American identity. It speaks of post war possibilities, of industry and of reinvention. It captured for the first time the fresh lifestyle aspirations of a new generation. The site (thought to be unbuildable before Pierre Koenig came up with his radical structural scheme) is also partly responsible for the house’s popularity. Suspended over the city lights of Los Angeles, the dramatic setting is just made for film.

©Gramercy Pictures & Pacifica Film
©Gramercy Pictures & Pacifica Film

2000’s release Nurse Betty is one of the many films to feature the Stahl House but it is particularly interesting because it plays on the house’s real iconic status in modern culture. Renee Zellweger plays Betty, a waitress from Kansas City who becomes delusional after witnessing the horrific murder of her husband. A hospital soap opera fan, she becomes confused between her own life and that of her favourite characters and comes to believe she is the ex fiancée of the cardiologist in the TV series. Bettys understanding of the world outside of Kansas is informed by TV and movies so when she finally tracks down her ‘cardiologist’ and finds him living at the Stahl House, it all fits in to place - this is how wealthy people live in LA. This connection is confirmed by the recreation of Shulmans famous image, a task which earned Shulman further admiration from cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier who found the myriad of glass reflections somewhat of a challenge.

©Gramercy Pictures & Pacifica Film
©Gramercy Pictures & Pacifica Film

With a resurgence in popularity of mid century design the house is more sought after than ever. Following a few decades of domestic life it has now moved into retirement but true to its generation, it is not planning on slowing down.

 

The Stahl House offers occasional tours. See www.stahlhouse.com

 

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Aeon Flux 2006 - Tierheim Animal Shelter & Baumschulenweg Crematorium

©Paramount Pictures
©Paramount Pictures

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.

©Paramount Pictures
©Paramount Pictures

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. 

© Werner Huthmacher/ARTUR IMAGES
© Werner Huthmacher/ARTUR IMAGES

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. 

© Klaus Frahm/ARTUR IMAGES
© Klaus Frahm/ARTUR IMAGES

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. 

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The Anniversary Party 2001 - The Schaarman Residence

© Fine Line Features
© Fine Line Features

It took Alan Cummings and Jennifer Jason-Leigh 6 weeks to cast this LA location for their pet project, The Anniversary Party, which they wrote, stared in and directed together. The entire film is set at the house so it was an important element to get right. The production team eventually chose the Schaarman House by Richard Neutra. A classic mid century Californian party house in LA.

© Fine Line Features
© Fine Line Features

With its linear pool, feature walls of stone and timber and stepped platforms staging the transition between inside and out, the house provided enough variation to keep the film visually interesting.

Neutras skill in inviting light into an interior was also used to great advantage. The perceptible change in light as the day progresses records the passage of time and provides pace to the dramatic events unfolding at the party.

© Fine Line Features
© Fine Line Features

The film documents a party organized to celebrate the sixth anniversary of two pretentious spoilt Los Angeleans – a writer and an actress. It emerges, of course, that things are not what they seem and that the couples relationship is laced with secrets, jealousy and resentment. The other parts were written mostly for the directors friends including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Kline and Jennifer Beal. Jason-Leigh managed to convince old friend Phoebe Cates (Klines’ characters wife as well as in real life) to come out of retirement to play the part of Sophia Gold. The fact that she gets the best lines probably made the task of convincing her much easier – “Well you weren't fine when you went all Sylvia Plath on me last summer in Connecticut!”

© Fine Line Features
© Fine Line Features

The set decoration used on the film is quite interesting and reflects the way minimal houses are generally lived in – as apposed to being staged for a photo shoot. Familiar objects, personal photographs and items with texture and colour can make a space comfortable and cosy.  Jason-Leigh used personal items including old photographs of herself with Phoebe Cates to add authenticity to the set

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The Glass House 2001 - The Mataja Residence

© Tim Street-Porter
© Tim Street-Porter

Casting for the title role in this teen thriller came via helicopter. Having had little success in traditional methods of location selection, the production team took to the air in search of a suitably edgy, unconventional house in which two recently orphaned children (played by Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan) would be uncomfortably accommodated with their new guardians. 

© Tim Street-Porter
© Tim Street-Porter

The building needed to be glamorous and fashionable to initially seem like good fortune but as more is revealed about the children’s dire situation the house needed to take on a more sinister quality. The answer came when Belzberg Architects's Mataja Residence was spotted perched atop a craggy mountain overlooking Mullholand Canyon. A sharply contemporary design, it’s angular roofs and jagged plan (which in reality allow it to cap the ridge with a language similar to that of the rocky natural terrain) could provide a menacing element for film while the salubrious car accommodations fitted well with the recurring car and driving motif throughout the story.

© Tim Street-Porter
© Tim Street-Porter

The house is not particularly glassy - it’s most prominent feature is the integration of the natural rock boulders, which give internal spaces character and a sense of grounding. The use of formed concrete also provides a strong connection with the site and a palette of materials compliant with fire standards which limited the use of combustible materials.

 

© Tim Street-Porter
© Tim Street-Porter

If the interior seems a bit disappointing in the film, it’s because only exterior shots were filmed on location, the rest was filmed on a purpose built soundstage at Sony pictures, to a design slightly heavy handed with metaphors – overhead walkways and vertical strip windows conger up a prison vernacular, but then perhaps this obviousness is warranted given the target teen audience.

 

Thankyou to Belzberg Architects for permission to use photos. 

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Chloe 2009 - The Ravine House

© Drew Mandel
© Drew Mandel

Toronto is another chameleon city which often stands in for other locations, however in the 2009 release Chloe, Toronto stars as itself. Director Atom Egoyan's obvious affection for his home city is evident and some of Torontos unique architectural assets are on show, including the Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind and Frank Ghery's Art Gallery of Ontario, but the real star is the house used to portray the home of central characters Catherine and David Stewart (Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson) which they share with their increasingly distant son. 

Drew Mandel's Ravine House provides the setting for some major events in the film (including the active participation in the climax - an incident with a window which will have architects reaching to confirm glazing certificates). If you have watched the film you might not recognise the house from the outside. That is because the owners requested that the production team hold something back to ensure the backdrop remained ficticious (and that they weren't forevermore living in a film set). Exterior shots were of an alternative house by Stephen Teeple.

The plot tells the story of a prostitute (Chloe, played by Amanda Seyfried) in need of a genuine connection with a woman. She needs a mentor, she needs a mother - but she only knows one way to have relationships.  She meets Julianne Moore's character whose secret anxieties and self doubt lead her to question her perfect life and suspect her husband of infidelity. The story is the train wreck that follows. 

© Tom Arban
© Tom Arban

The use of the house in this film avoids the usual stereotypes associated with modern houses in film. It is not cold or uncomfortable. It is thoughtful and well considered which suits Julianne Moore's character well - her attention to detail and her high standards - but somehow you suspect that if you opened a cupboard, the contents would be all jumbled. Much is made of the hard surfaces and layers of glass but it is also glamorous and tranquil, as though under different conditions the house would provide an elegant sanctuary. The fault is with the inhabitants, not the house.

© Tom Arban
© Tom Arban

While the film is a mainstream remake of French film Nathalie by Anne Fontaine, it is not a sanitized version and those who were attracted by the R rating will not be disappointed. The encounter between the two women is largely unnecessary though - the chemistry between them is enough to indicate that their relationship has escalated - but it's certainly a good way to get the punters in. 

 

Thanks to Drew Mandel for permission to use photographs.

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L'appartement - 1996

Vincent Cassel in L'appartement

L'appartement - starring Monica Belucci and Vincent Cassel featured a Guimard inspired Art Nouveau apartment that did more for French Tourism in the 1990's than the Tour de France. And without the performance enhancing drugs.

 

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Fracture 2007 - The Sherman Residence

© Grant Mudford
© Grant Mudford

2007’s release Fracture, starring Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins didn’t receive many industry accolades. Surprising, given the stellar performances and the stylish production. Reviewers complained that it should have been better than it was, or that the plot was unoriginal or predictable. No matter. To those with an interest in the built environment, the casting of Peter Tolkin’s Sherman House made the film infinitely watchable. Restrained and elegant, the house provided the perfect crime scene, complicit in the murder of its hostess. 

This film pits the generations against each other. An upstart young lawyer (Gosling), against a methodical aeronautical engineer (Hopkins) charged with the murder of his wife. For the most part, generation Y comes off inadequate and ill prepared, outplayed by the more experienced party.

 

Hopkins is pitch perfect in his role. Delivering with a steely conviction and calculating intellect, he brings an authenticity to the material which could have been a bit cliched in someone else's hands.  The Sherman house also delivers. As an extension of Hopkins character, its precise lines and  considered floor planning amplifies the staged events that it's owner sets in motion.  A clock-based artwork installation added to the centre of the house by the production team for the film reinforces the sense of chilling premeditation.

 

The Fast and The Furious 2001 - Davis Residence

Paul Walker will probably be most often remembered for his association with the Fast & Furious series. His popularity grew with the franchise, as did the sophistication of each production. Over the years the cars became more high tech, stunts became more elaborate and the plot more extreme but it is the very first release, 2001’s The Fast and The Furious though, that is, for me, the most memorable. You guessed it – because it featured a fabulous house.

David Fowler’s 1963 commission for the Davis family in Beverly Hills featured in the film as headquarters for the police investigating a spate of high speed truck robberies.  The building, named Ridgetop, featured a distinctive round plan, custom furniture, scalloped eaves and concrete blocks sporting an elliptical motif which appeared throughout the house on metal entry gates, glazing and partitions. Photographed by Julius Shulman and featured in Architectural Digest soon after its completion, the house was the height of 60’s sophistication and a beautiful example of Californian Mid Century Modern design. Sadly it was demolished to make way for a new housing development in the mid 2000’s.

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Body Double 1984 - Chemosphere

© Joshua White
© Joshua White

Long missing from this discussion is a post about John Lautner’s most recognisable building – the groundbreaking, distinctive and iconic structure, The Chemosphere. Now an LA architectural landmark, the building has taken five decades to earn its status and has achieved it largely as a result of the film industry’s fascination with its futurist aesthetic. The house can be spotted in countless features on both the big and small screens and is referenced in many more - including Charlies Angels and the Iron Man series.

©Joshua White
©Joshua White

Perhaps the best use of the house is 1984’s Body Double starring Melanie Griffith. Certainly not looking its modernist best in the film (the house is completely refitted with gawdy 80’s décor), it is interestingly cast as an appealing residence for someone suffering from claustrophobia, a trait used to a murderer’s advantage as the plot develops. Perched on an extreme slope with 270 degree views overlooking the city of LA, the whole scenario would not quite have worked had the occupant been suffering from vertigo.

© Joshua White
© Joshua White

The house was purchased in the late 90’s by Benedikt Taschen, of the Taschen publishing house, who commissioned Escher GuneWardena Architecture to complete a full refurbishment to return the building to its former glory. Lucky them. They did a beautiful job.    

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Twilight 2008 - Hoke Residence

© Skylab Architecture
© Skylab Architecture

Built speculatively by Skylab Architecture in association with local developers – a method of showcasing a fledgling practice’s work without the need for a sympathetic Client (which was possible in the boom times of the early 2000’s) – the Hoke Family purchased the house not long after completion and were approached by the film production team after the house featured in an architectural publication. The decision to proceed is possibly something they have come to regret considering the fanatical nature of Twilight fans.

Whether you are a fan of the series or have reservations about telling teenagers that love is like the feeling of wanting to devour someone (surely teenage girls have enough unhealthy food associations?) this building is a standout.

 

© Skylab Architecture
© Skylab Architecture

The house is bright and spacious with large panel windows opening to the trees, much like the house described in the original book. A perfect choice for the modern vampire coven wanting a change from the traditional foreboding castle. However the book actually casts the house as a predominantly white, turn of the (last) century mansion with a converted rear façade of glass looking out onto the forest. In fact, the Hoke House uses a mix of timber cladding, glass and cast concrete - a much warmer palette better suited for film yet retaining the concept of a unconventional contemporary space for this group of ‘vegetarian’ vampires. We are meant to like the family and approve of the choices they have made (they fill their lives with music, art & good design rather than succumb to their less sophisticated desires) and the use of natural materials throughout the house emphasizes the Cullen’s connection with nature and gives them another layer of humanity, something the described pure white interior scheme would have struggled to do.

© Summit Entertainment, Temple Hill Entertainment & Maverick Films
© Summit Entertainment, Temple Hill Entertainment & Maverick Films

Digital enhancement aged the newly planted landscape design in order to fit the required lush forest location as well as deleting any indication of neighboring buildings to create more isolation. The characteristic cast insitu columns supporting the house are not visible in the film however they are an important compositional element of the design. Not only striking at ground level but they also allow the rooms above to cantilever into the adjacent tree canopy giving the effect of intimacy with the forest and providing privacy for the occupants. 

 

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