City Dreamers Documentary Highlights Four Women Architects Who Rethought the City

City Dreamers is a documentary by filmmaker Joseph Hillel that underlines the ever-changing city of tomorrow and the life and work of 4 women architects who reconsidered the urban environment. Phyllis Lambert, Denise Scott Brown, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Blanche Lemco van Ginkel are inspiring pioneers that observed and shaped the city of today and tomorrow.

Debuting last week at the Cairo International Film Festival for its MENA Premiere, City Dreamers is an 80 minutes Canadian documentary that was first released in 2018. The film tackles the course of the inspiring careers of Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Denise Scott Brown, architects, planners, educators and activists that have worked with some of the greatest architects of our time, like Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi. Leaving marks on several cities across North America and Europe, these women who are still active, and have more than 70 years of experience each, are united by a similar vision and dream of “a fundamentally human and inclusive city”.

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Courtesy of Joseph Hillel

Not his first venture in the world of architecture, filmmaker Joseph Hillel wrote, produced and co-directed his first documentary, Regular or Super, Views on Mies van der Rohe, in 2004. This award-winning film was highly recognized around the world. Read on to discover the director’s statement for his latest documentary City Dreamers.

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Courtesy of Joseph Hillel

After the Second World War, few women had access to the very masculine profession of architect, even though there was no lack of work. Many European centers had been destroyed, while cities in both Europe and America were struggling to cope with their burgeoning populations and automobile traffic. The city needed to be rethought. Dreaming of a more human urban environment, the four protagonists of our film broke into this boys’ club and began creating the city of tomorrow. Their story is that of women in modern society and of a world that was becoming more open and inclusive. City Dreamers follows four women whose careers intersect, resemble and complement each other. Denise, Phyllis, Blanche, and Cornelia, now between the ages of 87 and 97, are the heart and soul of this documentary. Although our four engaged citizens are seen in a historical context, they are resolutely part of the modern world.

The quality of city life depends on a variety of sociological, economic and other factors. While issues such as urban sprawl, traffic, density, heritage preservation, green spaces, and ghettoization existed before the Second World War, it was only with the sudden growth of cities after the war that we really began to grasp their scope and complexity. The experience of these four women exemplifies that growing awareness: they were pioneers seeking understanding and solutions, and their originality may well stem from the fact that they were some of the rare women in what was a male-dominated world. The challenges facing our cities have not changed much since then. Instead, they are scaling up and becoming increasingly complex as our cities grow at an accelerating pace. What will our cities look like? What will it be like to live in them?

Part of the answer can be found in these women’s long experience of the changing city. Another part lies in the hands of citizens who, like them – like us – must strive to determine how we can “live together” in our cities. This concern and active engagement are necessary at a time of growing social inequality, increasing ghettoization of rich and poor, worsening racial and religious tensions, and, most importantly, the looming environmental crisis. They are necessary because today’s city, once again, needs to be rethought. 

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Cite: Christele Harrouk. "City Dreamers Documentary Highlights Four Women Architects Who Rethought the City " 01 Jan 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Courtesy of Joseph Hillel


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