Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Entertainment’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ directed by James Gunn is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining and visually spectacular movies of recent years. The movie is based on the Marvel Comics series and was produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It features a cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro. The story revolves around a group of extra-terrestrial misfits who are on the run after stealing a coveted orb and find themselves in the most unusual situation of having to save their own galaxy. Like most of the movies based on futuristic themes, Guardians of the Galaxy also has a lot to offer to people with keen interest in art direction and architecture.

Kyln - This cylindrical shaped 360 degree structure required almost 100 tons of steel across its three levels and was later extended by around 200 feet in post-production stage
Kyln – This cylindrical shaped 360 degree structure required almost 100 tons of steel across its three levels and was later extended by around 200 feet in post-production stage

The first interesting building that caught my attention was the space prison named The Kyln where the Guardians initially meet. Apparently it was one of the largest buildings constructed during the production of the movie and it was later transformed into the Collector’s lab or Taneleer Tivan’s museum of curios. This cylindrical shaped 360 degree structure required almost 100 tons of steel across its three levels and was later extended by around 200 feet in post-production stage. The byzantine prison includes a series of steel corridors that connect cells to bays which are built on a steel frame on wheels. The structure is shown in great detail in one of the best action sequence in the movie.

Xandar, the most Earth-like planet in the galaxy and the one the prime antagonist of the movie, Ronan, wants to destroy, is a stark contrast to an otherwise dark environment in the film. This planet with the brightest environment was created almost entirely on computer. The credits of the film suggests that most of the structures on this planet draws inspiration from the works of renowned Valencia based Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, specifically the white concrete, gorgeous steel and glass arch of the Liege train station designed by him in Belgium. Interestingly, this building has also appeared in films such as Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, featuring Benedict Cumberpatch and Lorna’s Silence (2008). Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia was also one of the locations of the film Tomorrowland starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. Moreover the climax of the film Faust (2000) was shot in Bach de Roda Bridge designed by Calatrava himself.

The credits of the film suggests that most of the structures on Xandar draws inspiration from the works of renowned Valencia based Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava -Liege Station,Belgium
The credits of the film suggests that most of the structures on Xandar draws inspiration from the works of renowned Valencia based Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava -Liege Station,Belgium

It must be said that the overhead visuals of the cities in the planet of Xandar with people walking, looks straight out of a 1950’s futuristic architectural drawing which one might find in Disneyland’s World of Tomorrow exhibit back in the fifties. It’s beautiful and bright setting is certainly a metaphor for the happy, peaceful planet that it is. However, the planet looks too clichéd and feels out of place amongst the rest of the galaxy.

Framestore, the VFX team behind Guardians of the Galaxy built Knowhere with an astonishing 250 unique models of buildings, pipes, railings, and lights, assembled into a 1.2 billion-polygon world
Framestore, the VFX team behind Guardians of the Galaxy built Knowhere with an astonishing 250 unique models of buildings, pipes, railings, and lights, assembled into a 1.2 billion-polygon world

The most spectacular element in the movie is undoubtedly the mining outpost in the movie “Knowhere”, which is actually the decapitated head of an ancient celestial being. Framestore, the VFX team behind Guardians of the Galaxy built Knowhere with an astonishing 250 unique models of buildings, pipes, railings, and lights, assembled into a 1.2 billion-polygon world. The team remarked that the structure was so complex because there was a huge amount of geometry to contain in one space. The first glimpse of Knowhere is one of the most visually spectacular scenes in the movie.

It is said that the director and the production design team were inspired by the look of greasy industrial mining towns and built both the Boot of Jemiah and the Collector’s Lab with an eye towards inspired dirtiness. The Collector’s lab which also appears in the post credit scenes of the movie is expected to be shown in further details in the upcoming sequel of the movie.

The Dark Aster- It's minimal and brutal, a stark grey colourless world devoid of any set dressing whatsoever, and relying purely on its heavy concrete-like architecture to convey its tone and function
The Dark Aster- It’s minimal and brutal, a stark grey colourless world devoid of any set dressing whatsoever, and relying purely on its heavy concrete-like architecture to convey its tone and function

Another interesting structure although not a building is the Ronan’s ship – the Dark Aster which is said to have been inspired by a mausoleum. Here’s what director James Gunn had to say about Ronan’s ship:  “It’s minimal and brutal, a stark grey colourless world devoid of any set dressing whatsoever, and relying purely on its heavy concrete-like architecture to convey its tone and function.” This can be compared to many of the fascist or soviet structures appearing in dark futuristic movies such as Christian Bale starrer Equilibrium.

The fact that this movie has given great attention to very minute details can be explained by the fact that even the floor lamps and planters in the movie were product designs by Austrian architect and designer Martin Mostböck. His new floor lamp- “The Edge.01” and the planter – “Arrow” are featured in the blockbuster movie.

Overall the movie is a visual treat for the audience and is a pleasant experience for people with an eye for production designs and architecture. I really hope that the upcoming movies in the Guardians of the galaxy series continue providing a visual treat for the spectators.

Futuristic Architecture

Optimization of Indian building design using genetic algorithm


The energy performance of a building depends on a high number of parameters. It is determined by its response as a complete system to the outdoor environment and the indoor conditions. Improved levels of performance require the coherent application of measures which altogether optimize the performance of the complete building system. Given the number of individual attributes that have to be combined to make a single building, the number of possible designs is very large, and determining the most efficient one is a complex problem.

Optimization of building energy performance is more complex in the case of Indian buildings. While in some cold European regions only heating energy consumption is usually considered, the Indian climate makes it essential to consider both heating and cooling energy uses. Varying some parameters of the building over their ranges of practical values can have opposite effects on heating and cooling energy consumptions. It is evident that an insulated building envelope helps in reducing the heating demand. But in summer, the outdoor night temperature being generally lower than the required indoor temperature, un-insulated but high thermal capacity walls allow for the evacuation of the heat stored in the building during the day, leading to the reduction of air-conditioning need. One important question is raised: what is the wall composition that leads to the lowest energy consumption in both seasons? The answer is not straightforward.

The main characteristics of the two sided problem are: a large multi-dimensional space to be searched, a range of different variable types and a non-linear objective function. Using genetic algorithms to solve such problems is a good alternative that allows us to identify not only the best design, but a set of good solutions.

Design variables

In cold countries there is not a real need for summer air-conditioning except where internal gains are high such as concert halls or opera houses. Our situation being different, in the present work, the objective function can be taken as being the sum of the heating and air conditioning energy loads.

In order to find the optimal design of a building, we have to compare the energy performance of a large number of configurations, which needs the computation of the heating and cooling loads for each of them. In the optimization approach, we propose to use a simplified procedure that is more straightforward and easier.
The losses across the envelope and the gross free gains depend on the lateral surface of the building, the type of used partitions as well as glazed surfaces on each of the facades. The shape and the dimensions of the solar protections have direct impact on the amount of the solar free gains received by the glazed areas. The vastness of the optimization problem would itself be a problem; therefore we have defined a set of possible configurations, by combining different cases of these design variables, taken inside reasonable values. The resulting set of configurations defines the space of research of our problem.

While keeping a constant volume, we can vary the dimensions of the building envelope and its shape. We can consider a simple cell-test having a rectangular shape with a fixed volume V or similarly a fixed floor area. For the opaque partitions i.e. walls and roofs we can consider different types of roofing (based on their insulation) and different kinds of walls (with different inertia and levels of insulation). Facades of the building can also be glazed, for such a case we can choose between simple and double glazing that differ by their transmission.

An efficient solar protection should allow for minimizing the cooling load without excessive increase in the heating load. This means that the shadowed portion of the glazed area should be as large as possible in summer and as low as possible in winter. Knowledge of the shaded part is necessary to compute the gross solar gains. The efficiencies of different sun shading devices can be adjudged from there “solar factors”; they are defined as the ratios of the received solar radiation in the presence of the shadowing device over the radiation that would be received in its absence.
Courtyards are considered ‘the spaces through which a building breathes’. They are an efficient element of passive feature in a building. However there is an optimal size for a courtyard; a very large courtyard breaks the unity of the building while a small one becomes more like a duct. A building with a given foot-print needs a courtyard that is a fixed percentage of the foot-print area. This criterion may form one of constraints in our case.

Genetic algorithms

Genetic algorithms have proved their efficiency in dealing with different optimization problems such as the optimization of building thermal design and control and solar hot water systems as well as the design of thermally comfortable buildings and the control of artificial lights. These techniques belong to a class of probabilistic search methods that strike a remarkable balance between exploration and exploitation of the search space. Genetic algorithms are initiated by selecting a population of randomly generated solutions for the considered problem. They move from one generation of solutions to another by evolving new solutions using the objective evaluation, selection, crossover and mutation operators.
A basic genetic algorithm has three main operators that are carried out at every iteration:

  • Reproduction: chromosomes or solutions of the current generation are copied to the next one with some probability based on the value they achieve for the objective function which is also called fitness.
  • Crossover: randomly selected pairs of chromosomes are mated creating new ones that will be inserted in the next generation.
  • Mutation: it is an occasional random alteration of the allele of a gene.

While the selection operator for reproduction is useful for creating a new generation that is globally better than the preceding one, crossover brings diversity to the population by handling the genes of the created chromosomes and mutation introduces the necessary hazard to an efficient exploration of the research space. It makes the algorithm likely to reach all the points of research space. Before developing a genetic algorithm, we must choose the encoding that will be used to represent an eventual solution of the problem by a chromosome where the value of each variable is represented by one or several genes. The quality of the developed algorithm depends essentially on the adopted encoding strategy and its adequacy to the used crossover and mutation operators, while respecting the nature of variables and the constraints of the problem.

The developed algorithm

In this work, a genetic algorithm needs to be developed in order to provide a method for obtaining a set of optimal architectural configurations. There are few things which are quite clear even before we start, for example, having a large southern facade is beneficial because it is the sunniest in winter and the least in summer. But it is not desirable to have a building with a large lateral surface because it increases the heat loss through the envelope. A compromise needs to be worked out in such type of area.


The energy problem presented in this paper is particularly interesting. While it is relatively easy to find the best characteristics of a building under winter or summer conditions separately, tackling the two problems simultaneously is more complex. There is a trade-off that has to be done between the two seasons requirements. An optimization algorithm coupling the genetic algorithms’ techniques to the thermal assessment tool needs to be developed for Indian buildings. This algorithm further can be used to identify the best configurations from both energetic and economic points of view. Genetic algorithms represent a simple and very efficient approach for the solution of non-linear combinatorial optimization problems. Although Genetic Algorithms find good solutions without exploring the whole space of research, yet they need the evaluation of a large number of building configurations. The algorithm presents also the big advantage of converging not only toward the best solution but toward a set of configurations all of a high quality and diverse enough to allow the user to choose the most adequate one to his personal considerations that are not necessarily quantifiable. The fact that the required result is a set of very good solutions (and not the best one) means that good evaluation accuracy is sufficient.

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies- Aeon Flux


Aeon Flux

Aeon Flux location -  Baumschulenweg Crematorium, Berlin

Well Aeon Flux‘s fictional city of Bregna would once again(Quite similar to what i had written about the movie equilibrium) remind one of the works of Albert Speer in Germany and the Soviet architects . Well, this forces one to think whether the futuristic architecture would end up like the fascist architecture. A friend of mine recently pointed out that in Hollywood it’s always the villains who have the best taste in architecture and decor, and this is often specifically true for science fiction. Well it certainly seems like the architecture of the so called villains of the 20th century are inspiration for Hollywood film makers working on futuristic architecture

The future city of Bregna was built as a utopian haven but quickly reveals itself as a dark dystopia, its superb architecture suddenly taking on a more chilling nightmare feel.

Aeon Flux

Many of the buildings used in the movie are actual exisitng buildings in Germany. For example the now disused 1935 Berlin Windkanal or aerodynamic testing wind tunnel for German aircraft, built in 1932 and now designated a technical landmark is widely seen in the movie. After WWII the Soviets removed all the equipment from the building , leaving only the tunnel behind. It stands in for the “maze” and government complex in the film.

Aeon Flux location - Benjamin Franklin Kongresshalle

The Benjamin Franklin Conference Center Kongresshalle, above, by Hugh Stubbins with Werner Düttmann and Franz Mocken, 1957. It has been renamed House of World Culture, but Berliners call it the ‘pregnant oyster’. Its roof, which has been rebuilt after a collapse in 1980, is the setting for a nighttime battle between Aeon and guards.

Aeon Flux location - Tierschutzheim by Daniel Bangert

Numerous scenes in the film were shot in the Tierschutzheim Berlin by Dietrich Bangert, above. The building is actually a large, privately-funded animal shelter complex.

Aeon Flux location - MexicanEmbassy, Berlin

Berlin’s modern concrete and glass Mexican Embassy, above, was a public marketplace in the film. It was designed by Francisco Serrano in collaboration with Teodoro González de León and completed in 2000.

Aeon Flux

The Volkspark Potsdam, 2001, popularly known as the BUGA Park, also includes the biosphere used as a tropical greenhouse in the film. Its recreation area, with standing concrete planes, appeared during the assassination mission sequence.

Aeon Flux

The scene above was shot at the Radsporthalle (Velodrom) by Dominique Perrault at the Landsberger Allee in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg. 1995-96.

Aeon Flux, Bauhaus Archiv

Aeon Flux

Bauhaus Archiv, which served as the exterior of the building where Aeon and her sister Una live.

So now lets conclude with some world’s from the Bauhaus archive”: “The museum building is a late work of Walter Gropius [1883-1969], the founder of the Bauhaus. It was planned in 1964 for Darmstadt and was built 1976-79 in modified form in Berlin. Today, its characteristic silhouette is one of Berlin’s landmarks.”

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – The Fifth Element

Well in my pursuit for futuristic architecture in movies, I stumbled upon this not so famous Hollywood flick by Luc Besson, The Fifth Element. But surprisingly this movie manages to portray a rich multi layered world world that talks extensively on the possibilities of future architectural developments within existing cities. The film certainly offers a thought provoking vision of the future of Manhattan two hundred and fifty years from now.

The movies plot starts with Earth’s water reserve falling drastically as a result of the planetary exportation in order to serve distant planets following the colonization of the Solar System.

As a result, following a logic similar to the one we saw in Gilliam’s cult sci-fi movie Blade Runner, real-estate developers excavated down the earth, slicing the island into vertical canyons and instead of replacing structures constructed new additions to the existing ones not only on top but also below the old buildings. This changed the notion of a single street and ground plane for circulation, so hovering craft were envisioned to roam into stratified layers throughout the verticality. With the street layer stripped back, once-hidden infrastructures of subway shafts and city utilities are suddenly revealed giving the city a sometimes chaotic machine-like appearance .

The movie also manages to portray Zorg’s powerful capitalist status through the elements of architecture. The tower he lives in is like a literal translation of being at the top of the hierarchy. The building is one of the tallest in the city but not the most prominent. Well as a matter of fact, the New York of 2259 seems to lack such a central vertical element.

Fifth element vertical growth is indeed a distinct trait of 20th century New York, due to the physical constraint of the land and the ever growing population of this city. In the year 2259, the viewer is told, the world has a population of over 200 billion and New York City has become the capital of the world. The city has, like in the past, been forced to grow taller, as a result, the metro transportation system is forced to be integrated vertically into the building .

What is important about the Luc Besson’s future New York is that no matter how much it has changed, it still remains visibly recognizable as New York.

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Brazil

Well cult movies have a way of their own in explaining things and Director Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is now different. Brazil was a sci-fi comedy cult movie released in 1985. Through this movie Terry intends to create an eclectic style. The film was shot on location at various places in Europe to create this mood. The architecture of the movie Brazil is as varied as its themes. Architectural expression takes on various forms and styles. Styles range from the decadence of Ida Lowry’s house to the brutalist interrogation space of the ‘Ministry of Information’. Gilliam sequences the plot of Brazil to move through these spaces and distinguish the intensity of the film. The spatiality of the sets highlight the themes of the movie.

During the time Brazil was released Post Modernism was a significant architectural style and had influence on Brazil’s set design. The courtyard in front of the Ministry of Information can be linked to Arata Isozaki’s design of MOCA in Los Angeles. MOCA has characteristically large monumental public spaces and over-scaled urban artifacts similar to the space in front of the Ministry of Information building. Robert Venturi and the post modernists of the 1970’s and 1980’s coined the phrase that ‘function follows form‘. With the use of post modern architecture, artificiality is integrated as a subplot within Brazil. Mrs. Ida Lowry’s apartment is an exhibition of her wealth and caste within society. Her apartment was filmed in the Liberal Club located next to London’s old Scotland Yard, a wealthy and well protected area of the city. Similar to Ida’s apartment Dr. Jaffe’s surgery room, where Ida Lowry receives her cosmetic treatment, exudes a certain decadence as well. The scene was shot in the home of Lord Leighton, a Victorian artist and collector, and is extravagantly decorated.

In the scene where Sam visits Mrs. Buttle to return her receipt for her husband, we see the difference between the aristocratic society and the working class society. Modern economical building types are used to depict the living conditions of the society that are poor. For example, the modernist courtyard that Sam visits before going to Mrs. Buttle’s apartment is testimony to this idea. The courtyard is derelict and inhabited by impoverished children. The architectural form of these buildings shares some resemblance to Le Corbusier’s Unite de Habitation. The hard concrete façade is characteristic of both apartments in Brazil and the Unite de Habitation.

Additionally we see that these influences of architecture affect the mood of the scenes. Architecture is used to express cinematic ideas. The restaurant where Sam, Ida, Mrs. Terrain, and Shirley eat lunch was filmed in Buckinghamshire’s Mentmore Towers. The restaurant scene portrays the lack of sensibility of the upper class in Brazil. A terrorist bomb detonates while the group is dining and not a single person acknowledges that the event takes place or attempts to help the people injured.

Continuing that architecture is used to express cinematic ideas, Sam’s apartment filmed at the Marne la Vallee in France, a huge apartment complex designed by Ricardo Bofil, depicts the problems of functionality. Sam’s house is functional to the point that it is inept for living. The extreme functionality of the house actually negatively affects Sam’s life. This is the case when his alarm clock neglects to go off, his toast is burnt, and his coffee is spilled. Similarly, the enormous space where Sam is lobotomized depicts the over-bearing strength of mechanized industrial society on the human psyche. The scene was shot on location in a cooling tower at a South London power station. During Sam’s escape scene the stunt man who rescue Sam descend a distance of 170 feet onto 9 inch wide metal bridges that are 40 feet above the ground. The enormous space emphasizes the scale to which society has succumbed to total dominance over the individual. The space is empowering and extremely intimidating. The Records Department where Sam works is the ‘container’ where he becomes a ‘cog’ in the machine of society. Filming of this scene took place at an abandoned grain mill in the Docklands of London. The mill was painted gray to create a dull and uneventful space. The giant holes in the ceiling are the bottoms of giant twelve story grain silos. The significance of Sam’s work place shows that the worker’s humanity is mediocre within the realm of Brazil’s bureaucracy.

Architecture in Movies

Minority Report – Architecture and the movie

Minority Report is probably the one film  that attempts to portray not only an exciting narrative set in a futuristic milieu, but also visualizes a credible future based on the predictions of today. Based on themes like ‘free will’ vs ‘determinism’ ,  ‘utopian’ vs ‘dystopian’ – the movie tries to predict the plausible dominant norms of a future society that would exist in 2054.

Washington of 2054 has evolved into three distinct zones: the Washington Capitol area where the monuments are present; the “bedroom community” across the river that has developed vertically ; and the decaying part of the city that has not kept up with the technological advances afforded by the rich.

While government buildings are hostile, and metallic; the grass in the city is still green, and historic row houses still stand proud presenting the post-modernist possibility of harmony between the old and the new.

The integration of infrastructure and cityscape presented so well by such films as Metropolis (1927) and The Fifth Element (1997) has been perfected here. A transport network of magnetic levitation vehicles is seamlessly built into the facades of most of the new buildings . It seems that the buildings and the vehicles exist to complement each other. Inclining highways form part of the façades dropped like waterfalls and merging with horizontal roads. The network of highways functions in all three dimensions , as the road surface totally abandons its dependence on gravity.Such seamless flow of traffic would be able to take care of any amount of traffic judiciously because of limitless possibilities in the use of the third dimension of space.One must however question the feasibility of such vehicles when considering the rest of the still horizontal city, where the viewer is clearly shown that the old road network still exists. A point to ponder for the future for Urban Planners, eh??

Architecture in Movies

Architecture in Movies – Blade Runner

The Oscar winning director, Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult sci fi movie, Blade Runner, has become the most credible cinematic futuristic manifesto of the 20th century. The film potrays a future Los Angeles and offers a deep insight into the future of architecture and urbanism, while also providing information on contemporary realities and trends.

The film devicts that by the year 2019, Los Angeles will be a city that supports a population of over 90 million people. The colonization of the elite to utopian “off-world” planets has resulted in the large scale immigration of the upper class, leaving the city populated by a mainly ethnic underclass( mainly Chinese people). The cityscape is in a state of urban decay and has become totally synthetic. The middle-class suburbs have been overtaken by the city administration, transforming them into a huge industrial zone, while huge mega-structures now dominate the center of the city.

Syd mead, production designer of Blade Runner talks about the motive and inspiration behind the set design:
“I took the two world trade towers in New York City and the New York street proportions as a .today’ model, and expanded everything vertically about two and a half times. This inspired me to make the bases of the buildings sloping to cover aboutsix city blocks, on the premise that you needed more ground access to the building mass.”

As metropolis and blade runner work on similar themes, a comparison between them seems appropriate. Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner share a sense of urban gigantism and geometrical form. While the “New Tower of Babel” dominates the skyline of Metropolis, here it is the pyramid of the Tyrell Corporation headquarters that serves as the city’s nucleus. The building’s presence is overpowering, in it evokes a strong sense of financial power. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) like Metropolis (1927) reveals class structure through its vertical architecture.

The Los Angeles of 2019 is essentially a city of contradiction; high rises, pyramids and glass towers intermingle with revival architecture, historical buildings, and the debris of past urban sprawl. The visual layering of architectural typologies from various cultural pasts creates a post-modern image of a globalized world.

Due to the drain of wealth that accompanied the mass immigration, the city becomes a place where the whole economic process is slowed down. The removal of old buildings begins to cost far more than the construction of a new ones. Instead of tearing down buildings or dismantling established technologies, modifications and additions are thus added to existing structures. What results is a deeply layered city, where new use has grown over and subsumed Los Angeles’ architectural history (the film utilizes such historical Los Angeles buildings as the Bradbury Building, Union Station and the Yukon Hotel for several of its most important scenes).

New structural elements extend through old buildings to support new construction above; while ducts, signs and service pipes run, snake like, over the old façades . As the cables and generator tubes delivering air and waste go up the old buildings, the street level becomes nothing more than a service alley to the Megastructures above.

“Things are retrofitted after the fact of the original manufacture because the old, consumer-based technology wasn’t keeping up with demand. Things have to work on a day-to-day basis and you do whatever necessary to make it work. So you let go of the style and it becomes pure function. The whole visual philosophy of the film is based on this social idea” Syd Mead.

The aesthetic of retrofitting is very similar to the adaptive façade concept of Archigram’s Peter Cook. His 1978 Trickling Tower project [Fig. 10] starts its existence as a polished steel Megastructure. Over time, the appearance of the building changes as new elements are added, and uses changed. Also, the externalization of infrastructural services (heating, cooling, water, gas) brings to mind Richard Rogers’ and Renzo Piano’s Pompidou centre, 1977 .

The thoughtfulness of the underlying concept, and the layering of images and associations, makes Blade Runner one of the most discussed and influential films of our times.
The film remains a compelling reminder of just how nasty life in the twenty-first century may eventually become. It depicts a road humanity is heading down now : class separation, the growing gulf between rich and poor, and the population explosion; but as such, offers no solutions.