The 30 Architecture Docs To Watch In 2013

With awards season in full swing, Hollywood’s sparkly razamtaz occupies our television screens. But what about the unsung, architectural heros of film?  What about the films that are less ‘Schindler’s List’ and more ‘Schindlers Hauser’, less ‘Wrath Of Kahn’ and more ‘Louis Kahn’.  We look past the panoply of stars to bring you 30 of the best Architecture which will provoke, intrigue and beguile in 2013.

Feature-length Documentaries (in alphaetical order)…

1. Architects Herzog and deMeuron: The Alchemy of Building & The Tate Modern (2009)

Director: Beat Kuert. 25 mins & 52 mins, respectively.

This documentary traces the journey that 2001 joint-Pritzker Prize winners Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron undertook when they began designing a new addition to the Tate Gallery in London, the largest contemporary art museum in the world. The documentary explores the pair’s design process, from the beginning stages (when it was first proposed to convert a disused power station into the new gallery) to when the Tate Modern opened in 2000.

You’ll like this if you’re into…Herzog & de Meuron, LondonAdaptive Re-UseCultural Architecture 

Buy on Microcinema DVDs

2. Antonio Gaudí (1985)

Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara. 72 mins.

With little verbal narrative, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s documentary lovingly lingers on the works of innovative architect, Antonio Gaudí (1852 – 1926).

You’ll like this if you’re into…Antoni GaudíBarcelona

Watch on Vimeo 

3. Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio  (2010)

Director: Sam Wainwright Douglas. 60 mins.

Featuring interviews with architects like Peter Eisenman, and Michael Rotondi, this documentary explores the life and legacy of architect and public-interest-design pioneer Samuel Mockbee, who helped found the radical design/build program, the Rural Studio at Auburn University, in one of America’s most impoverished communities.

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You’ll like this if you’re into…Public-Interest DesignDesign/BuildRural Studio.

Buy at Citizen Architect 

4. Eames: The Architect and the Painter (2011)

Directors: Jason Cohn & Bill Jersey. 84 mins.

Narrated by James Franco, this documentary offers a glimpse into the marriage of Charles and Ray Eames, a marriage of art and industry, and the design history that came from it.

You’ll like this if you’re into…Design, Mid-Century Modernism.

Watch on PBS, Buy on First Run Features 

5. Great Expectations (2007)

Director: Jesper Wachtmeister. 52 mins.

A pretty groovy survey of the visionary, unconventional architecture and architects of the 20th century.

You’ll like this if you’re into…Le CorbusierBuckminster Fuller

Buy it on Amazon, 

6. How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster? (2010)

Directors: Carlos CarcasNorberto López Amado. 78 mins.

A documentary on the exponential rise of Sir Norman Foster and his “unending quest to improve the quality of life through design.”

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You’ll like this if you’re into… Sustainability.

Buy on Dogwoof 

7. Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner (2008)

Director: Murray Grigor. 90 mins.

Infinite Space traces John Lautner’s never-ending quest to create “architecture that has no beginning and no end.” The doc, narrated by Lautner himself, follows the famous architect from his early days, when he broke free from his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, to go West and find success designing world renowned homes in California.

You’ll like this if you’re into…Mid-Century Modernism.

Watch Trailer on YouTube. Buy at John Lautner Foundation.

8. Kochuu: Japanese Architecture (2003)

Director: Jesper Wachtmeister. 53 mins.

KOCHUU, which translates to “in the jar,” refers to the “Japanese tradition of constructing small, enclosed physical spaces, which create the impression of a separate universe.” The documentary not only explores contemporary Japanese architecture but also reveals the strong influence it’s had upon Scandinavian architecture, and modern architecture in general.

You’ll like this if you’re into…Japanese Architecture ,

Watch the Trailer on YouTube . Buy at Icarus Films 

9. Loos Ornamental (2008)

Director: Heinz Emigholz. 72 mins.

Adolf Loos (1870 – 1933) was one of the pioneers of Modernism, preferring minimalism and open space at a time when ornamentation and intricacy was king. This quirky documentary is an homage to Loos and features still shots of 27 of his buildings, in order of their construction.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Vienna, Adolf Loos, Minimalism 

Watch on YouTube. Buy at Facets DVD 

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10. Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

Thom Anderson is annoyed. Why? He feels that Los Angeles has been continuously misrepresented in film for decades. Using a vast collection of carefully chosen clips from film through the ages, he makes the case for taking another look at Los Angeles and its identity.

You’ll like this if you’re into Architecture in Films, Los Angeles, Urbanism

Watch on YouTube 

11. Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture (2010)

Director: Mark Richard Smith. 97 mins.

This doc is an in-depth look at Louis Sullivan, a man and architect who stood on the edge of two centuries – never quite fitting neatly into either (and never quite understood by the public as a result). The film not only traces Sullivan’s eventual influence on American architecture in general, but also focuses on his tremendous influence on one of America’s great masters, Frank Lloyd Wright.

You’ll like this if you’re into, American ArchitectureFrank Lloyd Wright

Watch the Trailer on YouTube. Buy on Amazon

12. My Architect  (2003)

Director: Nathaniel Kahn. 116 mins.

The director of this film, Nathaniel Kahn, is also the son of the subject at-hand: Louis Kahn. The documentary is Kahn’s poignant search to understand his father, a man who, while known around the globe for his architecture, led a less-than-satisfactory personal life (fathering children by three different women and living in debt). He would eventually die bankrupt and alone in 1974, but with a tremendous architectural legacy. The film, which was nominated for an Academy Award, features interviews with , and Philip Johnson as well as imagery of all of Kahn’s classics, including The Yale Center for British Art and The Salk Institute.

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You’ll like this if you’re into…Louis Kahn

Watch on Vimeo. Buy on Amazon.

13. Philip Johnson: Diary of an Eccentric Architect (1997)

Director: Barbara Wolf. 55 mins.

This documentary is a treat for any architect: a guided tour of Philip Johnson’s work by the bespectacled man himself, including a long, lingering look into Johnson’s “diary” — the famous “Glass House” he designed and lived in. The doc also offers a fascinating peek into this master architect’s eccentric creative process.

You’ll like this if you’re into…Philip JohnsonThe Glass House, Modernism

Watch Trailer on YouTube. Buy on Amazon 

14. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011)

Director: Chad Freidrichs. 83 mins.

In 1954, the newly constructed Pruitt-Igoe towers in St. Louis, Missouri, designed by WTC architect Minoru Yamasaki , were “radiant examples of Corbusian rationalism,” symbols of the promise of Modernist architecture to renew our cities, particularly for lower class residents. A mere two decades later, the towers, hotbeds of violence and crime, were spectacularly demolished – becoming potent symbols of both social housing and Modernism’s supposed failure.This fascinating documentary challenges this typical narrative, providing an expansive, poignant look at both Pruitt-Igoe’s shortcomings and triumphs, showing us what they have to teach us about America itself.

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You’ll like this if you’re into…Social housingModernismUrban PlanningSt. Louis

Buy at 

15. Regular or Super: Views on Mies van der Rohe (2004)

Directors: Patrick Demers, Joseph Hillel. 56 mins.

A look at the works of Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and the tenet that explains them all: Less Is More.

You’ll like this if you’re into…ModernismMies Van Der Rohe

Buy on Amazon 

16. REM (2013)

Director: Tomas Koolhaas

Scheduled to come out this year, REM, a film directed by Koolhaas’ son, Tomas, has been over a decade in the making. As Tomas told us in an interview, ”It took [...] ten years of shooting various projects until I felt ready to tackle this piece and bring the idea to Rem. I had to be sure I was ready because I knew I wouldn’t get a free pass from him. He is not the type of man who would get behind my project merely because I am his son. I knew I had to have a concept that was very different from, and more compelling than any that had been done before.” So what sets the doc apart? According to Tomas, it’s not just a collection of pretty images, but “a rare insight into the reality of the hidden internal life of the buildings.”

You’ll like this if you’re into...

Watch Trailer and Clips at ArchDaily.

17. Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect (2008)

Directors: Markus Heidingsfelder, Min Tesch. 97 mins.

An overview of Pritzker-Prize Winner Rem Koolhaas’ creative process – which is directly, and rather surprisingly, related to his journalistic background. For Koolhaas,  a building is like a piece of writing, with a plot, episodes and suspense. The documentary also explores Koolhaas’ theories on architecture and urbanism, his inspirations, style and influence on other architects.

You’ll like this if you’re into...

Watch on ArchDaily 

18. Schindlers Häuser (2007)

Director: Heinz Emigholz. 99 mins.

And now for something completely different! This doc takes the form of a ‘cinematic photo album’ showing 40 of Schindler’s L.A houses, chronologically from 1921 to 1952. Emizholz reframes Schindler’s works by slowly panning shots and thought-provoking angles. Narration is cast aside in favor of real time sound from the houses. Filming for all buildings took place in May 2006, creating a subtext about urban living in LA and the decay of architecture.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Rudolph SchindlerLos AngelesModernism

Buy on Amazon 

19. Sketches of Frank Gehry by Sydney Pollack (2005)

Director: Sydney Pollack. 83 mins.

While Pollack is probably better known for his films, such as Out of Africa and Tootsie, this documentary deserves note as his last directorial effort before passing away. As Pollack and Gehry were close friends, the documentary has the aura of an ‘extended chat’ between the two men. Artists, critics, Gehry’s psychoanalyst, and even, bafflingly, Bob Geldof contribute to this chat. The film is more than a look at his work, it is a concise view of the man.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Frank GehrySydney Pollack, Postmodernism  

Buy on Amazon

20. Unfinished Spaces (2011)

Directors: Benjamin MurrayAlysa Nahmias. 86 mins.

The story starts in brave new revolutionary Cuba. Castro, eager to bolster the ego of his new state, makes the grand gesture of commissioning three new schools of art. A trio of young visionary architects are called upon and soon construction starts on their radical designs. However, Soviet utilitarianism becomes popular in the fledgling communist state. The new schools, now seen as bourgeoisie and elitist, begin to lose public and political favor. The plans are abandoned, leaving the buildings incomplete. The architects, after fleeing into exile, have only recently been invited back, 40 years on, to finish the now decrepit and misused buildings.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Cuban ArchitectureRoberto GottardiRicardo Porro Vittorio GarattiEducational Architecture

21. Urbanized (2011)

Director: Gary Hustwit. 82 mins.

75% of the world’s population is expected to live in urban centers by 2050. With this in mind Gary Hustwit, following his previous works Helvetica and Objectifiedadds Urbanized to his design trilogy. Urbanized, which looks at the design of urban centers, shows Huswit city hopping to 40 different locations to talk with those in the know, including architectural heavyweights like  and .  

You’ll like this if you’re into… Urban Planning, Sustainability, Urban Design.

Watch Trailer on YouTube. Buy on Amazon

22. Visual Acoustics (2008)

Director: Eric Bricker. 83 mins.

Dustin Hoffman lends his dulcet tones to narrate this exploration of the work of architectural photographer Julius Shulman. Shulman, trained in neither photography nor Architecture, became the man who defined L.A glamour. Photos of beautiful people in plate glass living rooms made postwar America hungry for modernism. Shulman was never in any doubt of his genius as a photographer, and this documentary follows him right up until his later work with Frank Gehry. 

You’ll like this if you’re into… Photography, Julius Shulman, Mid Century Modernism, Los Angeles  

Watch trailer on YouTube. Buy on Amazon 

23. The World of Buckminster Fuller (1974)

Directors: Baylis GlascockRobert Snyder. 85 mins.

Stitching together clips from several lectures, directors Baylis Glascock and Robert Snyder keep their input to a minimum – no narration, no interviews, no talking heads. With Bucky in the driving seat, this doc is at times fascinating, at times rambling. It is, however, also an undiluted portrait of the ideas and theories of this visionary architect.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Buckminster Fuller, Googie Architecture

Buy on Amazon

Short Docs/Made for Docs

24. Frank Lloyd Wright (1998)

Director: Ken Burns, Lynn Novick. 146 mins.

If someone penned the story of Frank Lloyd as fiction, it would be accused of being too Hollywood. This highly regarded Ken Burns doc balances the man, his work, and his legacy. Rebellious beginnings, his rise to prominence, his early work, his misdeeds and mistresses, the tragic slaying of his family, the fall from grace, followed by his triumphant eleventh hour return as the master of American architecture.

You’ll like this if you’re into… American ArchitectureFrank Lloyd Wright

Buy on Amazon

25. First Person Singular: I.M. Pei (1997)

Director: Peter Rosen. 90 mins.

First Person Singular is a broad look at the life and work of I.M. Pei. Narrated frequently by the architect himself, the doc takes on his early life in China, his education at MIT and Harvard, and tours through some of his more recent, celebrated work. Bach, suitably, provides the soundtrack as Pei draws parallels between their work, both using several variations on a simple theme.

You’ll like this if you’re into… I.M. Pei 

26. Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City (2010)

Director: Judith McBrien. 60 mins.

A city in the nineteenth century was a crowded, dirty, ugly place to be. Having proved his talent at designing buildings Daniel Burnham, broke the mold by dreaming up beautiful and efficient designs for entire cities, contributing to the birth of modern urban planning. There are several cities today that still bear the mark of his plans. This documentary examines his life, including his planning of the gargantuan World Columbian Exhibition in 1893.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Daniel Burnham, Urban Planning  

Watch Trailer on YouTube. Buy on Amazon

27. Vertical Expectations – The Shard (2011)

Director: Simona Piantieri. 26 mins.

With the Shard growing taller above the city of London, local resident Simona Piantieri took a deep look at the architectural and social significance of the building in her, rather derelict, London neighborhood. Taking a look at the mainly Qatari-backed building through the eyes of local residents, activists, and academics, this short documentary throws light on the nature of urban redevelopment and those who really benefit from it. Sometimes beautiful and sometimes foreboding, shots of the building rising over the skyline provide the backdrop for the conversation.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Skyscrapers, Urban Planning, London, Renzo Piano

TV Series

28. Architecture School (2008)

Directors: Michael Selditch and Stan Bertheaud

A group of fourth year students from Tulane University School of Architecture are challenged to design and build a low-cost, single-family home in post-Katrina New Orleans. This six-part series follows their quest from design stage to construction. Come for the interesting development of an idea to completion, stay for the awkwardly realistic portrayal of studio life.

You’ll like this if you’re into… New OrleansPost-Disaster Architecture 

29. Architectures (a.k.a Baukunst) (2001-2005)

A highly regarded and comprehensive collection of DVD’s produced by the European public television channel ARTE. Each episode deals in depth with a different significant architect and his work. 

You’ll like this if you’re into… Modernism 

Buy on Amazon

30. Dan Cruickshank’s Adventures in Architecture (2008)

Enthusiastic historian Dan Cruickshank goes globe trotting, to take us to what he considers to be the world’s most thought provoking architectural sites. Each of the 8 episodes covers a theme, such as beauty, power or disaster.

You’ll like this if you’re into… Religious Architecture 

Buy on Amazon


Cite: Rackard, Nicky. "The 30 Architecture Docs To Watch In 2013" 28 Jan 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>
  • Patrick H

    Wow, great list. I’ve only seen a couple of these. Thanks for the suggestions.

    • Vanessa Quirk

      Glad they’re helpful, Patrick! Thanks for commenting.

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  • Rafa

    “The Socialist, the Architect, and the Twisted Tower” would be a good addition to this list, as it’s a somewhat less flattering portrayal of an architect.

  • Youssef Lahraichi

    amazing i want them all

  • Neal Kessler

    I might be inclined to add, although admittedly a bit of a stretch, Man on Wire. Much if the film discusses the building of the World Trade Center and obviously the building plays a starring role.

  • Aris Vr

    Take a look at my full list right here:

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  • Hallie

    Vidal Sassoon (2010)

    Sassoon, who once-upon-a-time wanted to be an architect himself, led the revolution in modernizing hair inspired by modern architecture. Incredible footage of his ultra-sleek salons of the 1960s is worth the viewing alone.

  • Ashley

    Nothing related to the role of Women in Architecture? I respectfully submit the BWAF Documentary, A Girl is a Fellow Here: 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. Available here:

  • Pedro

    “A vida é um sopro” – documentary about Oscar Niemeyer.

  • Chansoo

    Great list, Thank you!

  • Janine

    Great list, but I would add The edge of the possible about Jorn Utzon + the Sydney Opera House, it’s a super documentary!!!

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  • Kiran

    Another good film is Incessant Visions, a documentary on the life and work of Erich Mendelsohn.

  • Katrina Fairley

    The World of Buckminster Fuller- Fuller was not an architect. Bucky was a writer, a lecturer and patented the geometry for geodesic domes. The geodesic domes shown in this film were designed by actual architects. Thomas C. Howard of Synergetics, Inc in Raleigh, NC, architect and engineer designed the Ford Rotunda dome, the USIA trade fair domes, The American Society of Metals (ASM) dome, and the Climatron geodesic greenhouse. The Kaiser Domes were designed by Don Richter. And the Montreal Expo dome was designed by Bucky’s partner architect Shoji Sadao and Geometrics, Inc. Bucky’s son-in-law Robert Snyder neglects to mention this in the film. Bucky did not design any actual dome. The concept of the geodesic dome was one of Bucky’s favorite lecture topics.

    • Sean

      Where in the article does it say he is an architect? What Bucky did was important to architecture, therefor relevant. He also did build a dome, with his students at Harvard in Rhode Island, it is still there today. Fuller pushed the original design and made the mathematical calculations of the dome and made it possible for his peers to do the structural work that they did.

      What is your grudge against fuller for?

  • Anne

    I loved My Father the Genius- a quirky, sometimes funny spmetimes uncomfortable look into visionary architect Glen Small’s chaotic family life. Its also one of the few ways to see his incredible drawings!

  • Héctor Cota Cota

    Mas información sobre portal de preferencia traducido en español

  • Mike L

    Great list! Would command the film ‘coast modern’ as well.

  • Landscraper

    His name is Antoni Gaudí – NOT Antonio

  • Pascal

    You forgot a masterpiece: “Koolhaas Houselife”. Haven’t you seen it?

  • Ali ….

    I saw some of them and completly enjoy them …. I should see rest of them … tnx for the list

  • August Rustle

    It is indeed a great compilation brought in a single page. Thank you so much for the list. I deeply appreciate the work of the architects in shaping the outlook of our world and making it as elegant and beautiful as it can be. Myself being a civil engineering major, i would like to know if there are such documentary films about the civil engineers too, apart from the ones that are broadcasted by discovery and national geographic channels…