Films & Architecture: “Koyaanisqatsi”

  • 24 Jul 2012
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  • Films & Architecture

Koyaanisqatsi is the first from a saga of three films directed by . Followed by Powaqqatsi (Life in Transformation) and Naqoyqatsi (Life as War), Koyaanisqatsi got the subtitle of “Life Out of Balance”, showing us only through impressive images the confrontation between natural and human development processes.

The film frames urban landscapes in their different types, commercial, residential, industrial, or infrastructural, as an infinite repetition against nature. Talking somehow, already in the ’80, about the environmental issues that the development model represents in the way it was deployed at that moment.

What do you think about the current development model, have this changed from the last decades or still breaking the balance with nature?



Original Title: Koyaanisqatsi
Year: 1983
Runtime: 87 min.
Country: United States
Director: Godfrey Reggio 
Writer: Ron Fricke, Michael Hoenig, Godfrey Reggio, Alton Walpole
Cinematography: Ron Fricke
Soundtrack: Philip Glass



Koyaanisqatsi attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the “original” is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive.


That being said, my intention in-other-words, let me describe the bigger picture. Koyaanisqatsi is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value. Koyaanisqatsi is, after all, an animated object, an object in moving time, the meaning of which is up to the viewer. Art has no intrinsic meaning. This is its power, its mystery, and hence, its attraction. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning, their own value. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value Koyaanisqatsi might have comes exclusively from the beholder.


The film’s role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning. If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of Koyaanisqatsi is whatever you wish to make of it.

This is its power.


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Previously posted on this section…

Cite: Portilla, Daniel. "Films & Architecture: “Koyaanisqatsi”" 24 Jul 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
  • Maykel Dominguez

    The man-made will always fall short of the God-made.

  • Dickie Smaber

    This is one of my favorite movies (if you can speak of a movie). The combination of footages together with the beautiful music of Philip Glass is truly unforgettable and set the standard for a lot of documentaries and movies afterwards. I remember seeing it for the first time and it left me breathless.

    It is a long sit (and maybe a bit slow compared to the fast paced films we have nowadays) but it’s well worth the sit. Switch off the lights. Put the volume up loud and immerse yourself.

  • amonle

    Now if only had Coppola been able to follow through with Megalopolis. Koyaanisqatsi was supposedly a major inspiration. Ron Fricke was lined up as DP.

  • joh m

    put this movie in the time capsule. it can explain what happened…

  • Dan

    Oh, what about that architectural orgasm in Koyaanitqatsi with the demolition of Pruit Igoe? Finally satanic brutalism got what it deserved!!