Architecture Documentaries To Watch In 2015

Following our top 40 Architecture Docs to Watch in 2014 and our favourite 30 Architecture Docs to Watch in 2013, 2015 is no exception! Our latest round up continues to feature a fantastic range of films and documentaries telling the tales of unsung architectural heroes and unheard urban narratives from around the world. This entirely fresh selection looks past the panoply of stars to bring you more of the best architectural documentaries which will provoke, intrigue and beguile.

From a film which explores one man's dream to build a cathedral (#4) and a simultaneous history of and vision of Rotterdam's future (#7), to a tour of the world's last surviving squatter town in Copenhagen (#14) and A Short History of Abandoned Sets in Morocco (#16), we present - in no particular order - thirty freshly picked documentaries for you to watch in 2015.

1. The City Dark (2012) / Ian Cheney

After moving to New York City from rural Maine, Ian Cheney asks a simple question, "What do we lose when we lose the night?" Blending cutting-edge science and poetic footage of the night sky, Cheney unravels the implications of a globe glittering with lights, exploring ideas which suggest increased breast cancer rates, disrupted ecosystems, and a generation of kids without a glimpse of the universe above. The City Dark is the definitive story of earth's disappearing night sky. [English]

2. Precise Poetry: Lina Bo Bardi's Architecture (2014) / Belinda Rukschcio

This Italian-Brazilian architect "created poetry through architectural precision." In this story, told in a series of interviews on the eve of her 100th birthday, Bo Bardi's colleagues and friends recount the sociopolitical constraints and personal events that would lead to the timelessness of her work. This film also guides you through Bo Bardi's most important architectural projects in São Paulo and Salvador da Bahia. [Portuguese, English subtitles]

3. The Infinite Happiness (2015) / Ila Bêka + Louise Lemoine

After living in the 8 House by Bjarke Ingels Group for around a month, Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine recount their subjective experience of living inside this experiment of 'vertical village”' in the style of a diary. Just like LEGO, the film builds up a collection of life stories all interconnected by their personal relation to the building, drawing the lines of a human map which allows the viewer to discover the building through an inner and intimate point of view. [English]

4. El Loco de la Catedral - The Madman and the Cathedral (2009) / James Rogan

This is a story about one man’s dream to build a cathedral. In 1963, Don Justo Gallego Martinez laid the foundation stone of a cathedral. A peasant, with no architectural training, no construction experience and no tools, he turned his back on the fields and started building. He had no blueprints and no planning permission. He had not even seen many cathedrals. All he had was the unshakeable conviction that God wanted him to build a cathedral.

Nearly fifty years later, the shell of the building is complete, covering the 20x50 metre plot. Some 8,000m2 have been built or are underway. They include a complex ensemble of cloisters, offices, lodgings and a library. There is even a dome (modelled on St Peters) rising to some 40 metres and some 12 metres in diameter. Justo is now in his eighties and the cathedral is only two-thirds finished. The miracle of his achievement is matched only by the miracle he needs to finish his project. [Spanish, English subtitles]

5. Five Master Houses of the World (2009) / Rax Rinnekangas

This series of five independent documentary films (each around an hour long) tell the stories of five outstanding private houses on different continents designed by the world's leading architects in the 20th century. [English]

6. Pina (2011) / Wim Wenders

Is it dance? Is it theatre? This film, which Germany's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 84th Academy Awards 2012, tells a story about people, movement, and space in a cinematic eulogy.

7. Rotterdam 2040 (2014) / Gyz La Rivière

You can not look ahead without considering your past (something that hasn’t always been Rotterdam’s strongest feature). At high speed, La Rivière reconstructs the history of Rotterdam from the time before the bombings until now, and expands the developments to the year 2040 (100 years after the bombing and the 700th anniversary of the city). Although the film deals with architecture and urban renewal, it is actually a film about people. The subjective experience of the city by its (future) occupants mainly determines the parade of architectural blunders and suggestions for the future. All tongue-in-cheek. [English]

 8. Concrete Love (2014) / Maurizius Staerkle-Drux

This is "the first and only documentary about one of Germany's preeminent architects, Gottfried Boehm. Being the only German laureate of the Pritzker Prize, he is also the patriarch of an architecture dynasty to which his sons Stephan, Peter und Paul belong. But with the death of his wife Elisabeth, a key source of inspiration for all four Boehms, the family loses its emotional lodestone. The film paints an intimate and pointed portrait of the complexity and inseparability of love, art and architecture." [English]

9. Urban Poetry (2015) / Joe Gilbert

Premiering this month, Urban Poetry a short documentary about the history of London's Brutalist Barbican Estate, as told by its residents. [English]

10. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011) / Werner Herzog

This film follows an exclusive expedition into the nearly inaccessible Chauvet Cave in France, home to the most ancient visual art known to have been created by man, providing a unique glimpse of the pristine artwork dating back to human hands over 30,000 years ago - almost twice as old as any previous discovery. [English]

11. Ordos 100 (2012) / Ai Weiwei

"Ordos 100 is a construction project curated by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. One hundred architects from 27 countries were chosen to participate and each design a 1000-square-meter villa to be built in a new community in Inner Mongolia. The 100 villas would be designed to fit a master plan designed by Ai Weiwei. On January 25, 2008, the 100 architects gathered in Ordos for a first visit to the site. The film Ordos 100 documents a total of three site visits, during which time the master plan and design of each villa was completed. As of this date, the Ordos 100 project remains unrealized." [English]

12. Megafactories: LEGO (2014) / National Geographic

A behind-the-scenes tour of the LEGO factory in Denmark. [English]

13. The Venice Syndrome (2013) / Andreas Pichler

"A Requiem for a still grand city. An illustration of how common property becomes the prey of few. An elegy to the last Venetians, their humour and their hearts." [Italian, English subtitles]

14. Christiania, 40 Years of Occupation (2014) / Robert Lawson + Richard Jackman

This film tells the story of a squatter community occupying an abandoned military base in the center of Copenhagen, Denmark. Christiania was born in 1971 when youthful idealism and a severe housing shortage incited hundreds of young people to occupy 85 acres of deserted brick buildings, woods, ramparts and canals as their home. Finding it politically unpopular to evict the young settlers, the Danish government declared Christiania a short-term social experiment.

Forty years later, Christiania is still standing. Through interviews with longtime Christiania residents and police and government officials, Christiania - 40 Years of Occupation explores consensus democracy, alternative building methods, drug policy and Scandinavian culture in a provocative and often humorous character study of this fascinating community. [English]

15. Mumbai: Maximum City Under Pressure (2014) / Markus Kneer + Daniel Schwarz

The new short Urban-Think Tank film examines the critical issues impacting on sustainable development in the megacity of Mumbai, and what can be learned from the economically and socially vibrant villages of informal neighborhoods that make up the city. [English]

16. A Short History of Abandoned Sets (2012) / Rä di Martino

Abandoned movie sets are scattered across the Moroccan deserts. In this film, two local kids, born not far from the almost abandoned film studios near Ouarzazate, rediscover them and reenact a few lines from movies that have been shot there: from an American horror movie to Lawrence of Arabia. All surrounded by the uncontaminated landscapes of the Draa Valley. [Arabic, English subtitles]

17. The Poor Man's Follies (2009) / Monica Carrozzoni + Fabrizio Vegliona 

"Welcome to Coney Island Finest, the Grand Canyon of New York. Home of Popular Culture. The cradle where the American dream flourished for many years. Original people fighting monoculture and bricks. Coney Island’s amusement park is the iron heart of the society of the spectacle. Pumping the beat. Join’ the big ride, the Cyclone, the first roller coaster. This is The Poor Man’s Follies." [English]

18. Double Happiness (2014) / Ella Raidel

This is a cinematic journey to China, where a clone of the Upper Austrian town of Hallstatt has been realised as a real estate project. The film tells of the copy planned in secret and of its discovery, of the motivation and the background for the construction of the fairy-tale-like replica in a region with a population of millions as a consequence of globalization. "In Chinese, 'Double Happiness' stands for marrying and the associated happiness for both sides. The duplicated happiness unfolds in parallel worlds of original and copy, real life and fiction, dream and reality."

19. The School as City (2012) / Moniek van de Vall + Gustaaf Vos

"At 80, Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger, one of the most influential designers of schools in the world, is still in a constant battle to see his ideas about the relationship between education and space implemented. This follows Hertzberger, who is unimpressed with the latest safety ordinances or the desire parents have to separate the school from the street and the surroundings. He believes that freedom of movement and maximum transparency are vital preconditions for healthy learning. Although he is disappointed with the discrepancies between his vision and reality, he also knows how to wield his authority, combined with a dose of humor, when confronting decision-makers." [Dutch, English subtitles]

20. Agoraphobia (2012)

"In October 2012, an international team of architects, urban planners and a small film crew spent five days in Turkey to study the urban transformation process in three cities: Ankara, Bursa and Istanbul. This is their story."

21. Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line (2012) / Muffie Dunn + Tom Piper

"In this documentary, intelligent commentary from the architects is complemented by remarkable cinematography and interviews with New York City planning commissioner Amanda Burden and other civic figures. Critics and theorists Mark Wigley, Anthony Vidler, and Mr. Filler, offer insights into the firm’s history, previous completed projects, and their unique process of reimagining the public identities of two major New York urban spaces." A film from the Landmarks and Explorations in 21st Century American Architecture series. 

22. Inspired By Shukhov (2014) / Natalia Arshavskaya

The work and life of Vladimir Shukhov, one the greatest - if not relatively unheard - architects of the 20th century, is explored in this Russian documentary. [Russian, English subtitles]

23. Reaching For The Sky (2013) / Mark Hemel

This film threads its way through the "personal and professional dilemmas of young architect Mark Hemel - the architect who built the highest television tower in the world." [English]

24. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011) / Chad Freidrichs

This film - which is told through archival footage and interviews - tells the story of the transformation of the American city in the decades following World War II, epitomised by the failed St. Louis housing development. It seeks to critique the myth of failure perpetuated by the infamous images of the complex's implosion and destruction. [English]

25. Antoni Gaudí (1984) / Hiroshi Teshigahara

In this film, a selection of impressive buildings by Gaudí is portrayed through the lens of Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara, from his housing schemes in Barcelona to the Cathedral of Sagrada Família.

26. Álvaro Siza: Transforming Reality (2012) / Michael Blackwood

In this film, the renowned Portuguese architect discusses his work and visits fifteen projects with architectural historian Kenneth Frampton - a person who considers Siza as one of the most important architects of our time. [Portuguese, English subtitles]

27. Microtopia (2013) / Jesper Wachtmeister

Several successful architects, builders and artists from different parts of the world propose a radical solution to living space in which all unnecessary things are removed and seemingly old and worn-out items are utilized. How much space, 'stuff' and comfort do we really need? How would you feel about carrying your home in your pocket or having clothes to live in?

For most of us, the word 'house' means stability, structure, and permanence. In an age of increasing population and technological gains, today’s mobile society has resulted in a dream for portable dwellings and dwellings in new settings and situations. On the sidewalk, on rooftops, in industrial landscapes and in nature we will see and feel how these abodes meet the dreams set up by their creators. [English]

28. María Elena (2014) / Rodrigo Lepe

María Elena is the last active nitrate city in the world, having been built in 1925. In the driest desert on the planet, this film ties together a fragmented, intimate and contemplative narrative where the stories that gave life to a "strange place in northern Chile" are revealed. [Spanish, English subtitles]

29. Metropolis (1927) / Fritz Lang

Starring Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and Fritz Rasp, this classic utopian vision of a future metropolis is a must-see. Since it was rediscovered and rereleased, 25 minutes of additional footage have been added. The acting, music, choreography and sets are now more spectacular than ever. [English]

30. Kowloon Walled City (1989)

This film of unknown origin, in German with English subtitles, explores the incredible Walled City of Kowloon. See part one of four here.

40 Architecture Docs to Watch In 2014


About this author
Cite: James Taylor-Foster. "Architecture Documentaries To Watch In 2015" 08 Mar 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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