February 15, 2012
by Simon Battisti

Event: Architecture On Screen: Selections From the 2011 Montreal International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA)
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.03.2012-02.04.2012
Speakers: Ambassador Jarl Frijs-Madsen, Consul General of Denmark (introduction to A City Hall for All Occasions); Alexia Lalli, Director, Grand Central Terminal Centennial (introduction to Antwerp Central Station); Rick Bell, FAIA, Executive Director, American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (introduction to Le Corbusier’s Cabin); Thomas Fridstein, FAIA, RIBA, LEED AP (introduction to Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham & the American City); Kenneth Frampton, Associate AIA, Ware Professor of Architecture, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (introduction to Nakagin Capsule Tower: Japanese Metabolist Landmark on the Edge of Destruction); Q&A with directors Judith McBrien (Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City), Rima Yamazaki (Nakagin Capsule Tower: Japanese Metabolist Landmark on the Edge of Destruction), and Kerstin Stutterheim (Bauhaus: Model and Myth)
Organizers: CFA, FIFA (Festival International Du Film Sur L’Art), Muse Film and Television
Sponsors: Consulate General of Denmark in New York (reception for A City Hall for All Occasions)

The remarkable potential for cooperation between architecture and film was on display last weekend as the Center for Architecture held its third annual presentation of “Architecture on Screen.” The two-day festival showcased selections from Montreal’s Festival International du Film sur l’Art and highlighted a thoughtful array of ideas from the history of 19th- and 20th-century architecture and urbanism.

According to the Center’s director Rick Bell, FAIA, the films featured in “Architecture on Screen” are explicitly international in origin, recognizing the diversity of backgrounds in New York’s architecture community. The insight that such cultural exchanges offer was immediately obvious in Finnish director Rax Rinnekangas’ Le Corbusier’s Cabin, which portrays a sun-tanned, bohemian version of Corbu in his summer home on the Côte d’Azur—a man practically unrecognizable from his image in New York as the imperious architect of the United Nations.

The relevance of the architect’s life story is indeed a critical issue for films of this sort. The most interesting of the group deftly treated personal histories without reverting to clichéd narrative arcs. A City Hall for All Occasions tells the story of Copenhagen’s monumental civic building not only through the struggles of its architect, Martin Nyrop (1849-1921), but also through interviews with its present-day employees and caretakers, many of whom expressed deep affection for the building. In Rima Yamazaki’s Nakagin Capsule Tower: Japanese Metabolist Landmark On The Edge Of Destruction, we come to understand the story of Kisho Kurokawa’s aging masterpiece through the lives that animate the decaying icon. In interviews with both experts and the building’s residents, a crucial debate plays out through the personalities of those involved, describing the inherent paradox of preserving one of the few built works of the Metabolists, a group that sought to incorporate change and dynamic lifecycles into their designs.

In the Q&A that followed, audience members asked Yamazaki to shed some light on the quandaries of architectural preservation posed in the film, to which she simply replied, “Sorry, I’m a filmmaker.” Film’s great contribution to architecture is not to answer the tough questions, but to more clearly articulate what those questions are, and what are the stakes in their resolution. Perhaps even more importantly, film communicates questions about the built environment to non-architects, who may not design buildings they inhabit, but who experience architecture no less directly.

Simon Battisti is a designer at 2×4 Inc., in New York City.