The architecture of containment is a fascinating area. The spartan utilitarian spaces of prisons are among the most highly considered, sophisticated and expensive there are. It’s unusual for designers to create spaces for people who experience it against their will (well, mostly) and it is a tricky balance between creating sensitive, positive places for rehabilitation and community expectations about what punishment should look like. There are different approaches around the world: the US take a particular stance; the Norwegians have another. Hollywood, of course, has its own interpretation. And it is not concerned by such trivialities as the Geneva Convention.
Film often makes a mockery of architectural features. Glass facades are obliterated by gunfire, grisly murders are set against a white modernist palette, deconstructed stairs are the cause of nasty accidents or ludicrous slapstick, and you just know a tensile fabric roof will be shredded by the time 007 is finished with it.
There is one architectural feature however that has benefited from very complimentary treatment by the film industry, and surprisingly it is a sustainable one. Green roofs and other “architectural” green spaces have been popping up regularly in mainstream movies over the past decade: blockbusters including The Vow (2012) and Source Code (2011) utilized the greenscape outside Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park; last year the Vancouver Convention Centre was featured in both Godzilla and Robocop; and Kaspar Schroder’s 2009 uber cool documentary My Playground, about the sport of parkour (the art of bouncing off buildings made famous by the opening scenes of Casino Royale), features BIG’s Mountain Dwellings in Copenhagen. And we cannot forget two of the biggest film franchises in history: both of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises feature green roofs in their portrayal of Hobbiton – home of the virtuous and incorruptible Hobbits.
The work of a Production Designer has many parallels with that of an Architect. Both are tasked with bringing to life a conceptual environment, keeping true to that concept through budgets, time pressures, logistics and regulations. Both share a similar creative process, developing the ideas and then collaborating and coordinating with a team of professionals to give those ideas physical form. However, Production Designers are concerned with creating environments to be captured on film only for a matter of moments. Not something a standard Client is likely to request from an Architect.
While the freedom of not having to fully resolve building details – just making it look that way (not to mention the added bonus of avoiding the inevitable callbacks for defects), may seem appealing, consider having to dismantle everything you have created at the end of the process. Somewhat of an anticlimax you would think.
Not so, says Catherine Martin, veteran Production Designer, two time Academy Award winning Art Director, and the creative force behind the sets and costumes of Baz Lurhmann’s films.
Since the emergence of the modern multi-storey building in the late 19th century, screenwriters and art directors have embraced the high-rise building as both backdrop and prop in the drama of feature films. It’s easy to understand the fascination. The precarious nature of a skyscraper – their height, their reliance on competent engineering and emergency systems, and their all-controlling security – provide abundant opportunities for action and disaster. And all with a built-in view.
But while Hollywood loves a high rise, it hasn’t treated them well. Plot lines usually tap into a general scepticism about the kind of engineering feats which make them possible and often carry some underlying moral message about the dangers of technology and advancement.
You would think that of all film genres, Science Fiction would be the one least likely to feature real buildings. It stands to reason that production designers would want to avoid connections with things so grounded in reality. But in fact, there is somewhat of a tradition of using modern architecture as a foundation for the creation of fictional film worlds.
Science fiction relies on an audience believing in the world they are presented with. Clever camera work, perspective design, and temporary materials can only do so much. What often tips the balance in favour of using real, Modern buildings - rather than a temporary set - is the authenticity and atmosphere they provide the Science Fiction genre.
Read about Modern architecture in Sci-Fi films Blade Runner, Gattaca, Aeon Flux, and more, after the break...