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Charlotte Neilson

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Through the Lens: When Hollywood Designs Prisons

00:00 - 9 February, 2015
Through the Lens: When Hollywood Designs Prisons, The Sky Cell in Game of Thrones uses dizzying height to trap its prisoners, with the added "benefit" of providing psychological punishment. Image © Home Box Office
The Sky Cell in Game of Thrones uses dizzying height to trap its prisoners, with the added "benefit" of providing psychological punishment. Image © Home Box Office

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.

Through the Lens: The Social Implications of Green Roofs in Film

00:00 - 14 January, 2015
Through the Lens: The Social Implications of Green Roofs in Film, "Hobbiton," the home of the virtuous Hobbits. Image © www.bonvoyadventuretravel.com
"Hobbiton," the home of the virtuous Hobbits. Image © www.bonvoyadventuretravel.com

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.

A Conversation with Academy Award Winning Set Designer Catherine Martin

00:00 - 5 June, 2013
A Conversation with Academy Award Winning Set Designer Catherine Martin, Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures, Bazmark Films & Village Roadshow
Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures, Bazmark Films & Village Roadshow

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.

Through the Lens: Why High-Rises Need A Hero

00:00 - 13 May, 2013
Through the Lens: Why High-Rises Need A Hero, Mission Impossible. © Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions & Bad Robot
Mission Impossible. © Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions & Bad Robot

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. 

Through the Lens: Sci-Fi & Architecture

00:00 - 12 April, 2013
Through the Lens: Sci-Fi & Architecture, Screenshot of Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin Center in the film Gattaca. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Screenshot of Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin Center in the film Gattaca. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

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...

Through the Lens: Art Deco's debt to Agatha Christie

00:00 - 22 March, 2013
Screenshot from "Evil Under the Sun." Image Courtesy of Carnival films, LWT & Picture Partnership Productions
Screenshot from "Evil Under the Sun." Image Courtesy of Carnival films, LWT & Picture Partnership Productions

This article comes courtesy of Charlotte Neilson, the author of the fascinating design blog Casting Architecture. Her column, Through the Lens, will look at architecture and production design in TV and film.

The categorisation of period architecture generally remains firmly in the realm of the professional or amateur enthusiast - let’s face it, you can go through life without knowing the difference between a Corinthian and Ionic column without too much inconvenience. Oddly, however, most people are able to name a few of the main features of Art Deco architecture fairly easily - the curved corners, stylised forms, the use of bakelite and chrome, the transport motifs.

It’s interesting that this period is so much more familiar to us, considering it spanned quite a short timeframe compared to other architectural styles; the Arts and Crafts and Art Noveau movements, for example, which both occurred in a similar time frame to Art Deco, are much less known to the wider community.

It’s possible of course that Art Deco is just more omnipresent because of its universal appeal, or its uniqueness, but I think most of the credit should go to Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

Learn more about Agatha Christie’s contribution to Art Deco, after the break...

Final Preservation: What Cinema Has That Architecture Doesn't

00:00 - 5 February, 2013
Casa Malaparte, given new life by Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt. Image © Flickr User CC Sean Munson. Used under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>Creative Commons</a>
Casa Malaparte, given new life by Jean-Luc Godard’s film Contempt. Image © Flickr User CC Sean Munson. Used under Creative Commons

This article comes courtesy of our friend and cenephile Charlotte Neilson, the author of the fascinating design blog Casting Architecture, which discusses architecture and production design.

The life of a building - a few hundred years, if a building is lucky - is just a blip when compared to the billions of years required to shape the natural landscape. Even briefer is the work of a film maker: a pursuit created for momentary entertainment, which reaches completion in just a couple of hours. Strange then, that film has often stepped in to preserve buildings who have met an early demise.

While Architecture and Film have always had an uncomfortable relationship (be it the movie industry’s portrayal of modern buildings as cold and soulless - and usually associated with less than savory occupants or the stereotyping of Architects themselves as delicate, impractical types), the inclusion of a building in a feature film can often become an important part of a building’s story. And sometimes its last bastion.

More on Architecture preserved on Film, after the break...

From Psychopath Lairs to Superhero Mansions: How Cinema and Modernist Architecture Called A Truce

00:00 - 19 December, 2012
Chemosphere, by John Lautner - the architect whose work has been most used (and abused) by Hollywood. Photo © Joshua White/JWPictures.com
Chemosphere, by John Lautner - the architect whose work has been most used (and abused) by Hollywood. Photo © Joshua White/JWPictures.com

This article comes courtesy of ArchDaily friend Charlotte Neilson, the author of the fascinating design blog Casting Architecture, which discusses architecture and production design. Charlotte is not only a dedicated cinephile but also an honours graduate of the University of Newcastle, Australia.

We all know that psychopaths prefer contemporary design. Hollywood has told us so for decades. The classic film connection between minimal interiors and emotional detachment (see: any Bond adversary) or modern buildings and subversive values is well documented - and regrettable. The modernist philosophy of getting to the essence of a building was intended to be liberating and enriching for the lives of occupants. Hardly fair then that these buildings are routinely portrayed with villainous associations. 

What the representation of Modernist architecture in film tells us about our society, after the break...

JH House / Bernardes + Jacobsen © Leonardo Finotti. Ben Rose House, 1952-54, designed by A. James Speyer. Image via Mid-Centuria. The Elrod House by Architect John Lautner. Image via Expoint Realty. Image via Flickr User CC Chris Lott.. Used under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>Creative Commons</a> + 8