Architecture in Movies – Interstellar

It is very interesting to note that movies which consider architecture as an essential element of the film fall under two categories, fantasy and futuristic. Though people may argue that futuristic movies are quite similar to fantasy ones, we have to admit that futuristic movies are made with much more scientific reasoning and backing and surprisingly the architecture elements of such films are generally derived from the past. We have seen how many of the futuristic movies take inspiration from the fascist architecture styles of the Nazi or Soviet era. But here is one movie based on a futuristic story line which has chosen to ignore this clichéd architectural representations and have gone for a much more simplistic approach (After all, Less is More).

Christopher Nolan’s 2014 Science Fiction film Interstellar tells the story of a crew of astronauts who travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity. The incredibly talented star cast of the movie include Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Michael Caine and Matt Damon.

Christopher Nolan had revealed in television interviews how he would have chosen architecture as an alternative career option. He had demonstrated his knowledge in the domain of architecture earlier in movies like Dark Knight Series and Inception. His approach has always being quite simplistic and grounded to reality, whether it was designing the city of Gotham in Batman movies or the spherical futuristic abode of humans in Interstellar.

So, many of you might be wondering what is there to talk about if the architecture style in the movie is quite simplistic and real. Well this is where we should not underestimate a man of Christopher Nolan’s calibre.

TARS
TARS

First let us discuss about the articulated machines present almost throughout the movie – The sleek grey acerbic robot named TARS (Voice by Bill Irwin). These rectangular slabs of shiny metal that walk, talk, have a sense of humour and operate like a cross between a Swiss army knife and an iPhone. Their blocky fragments can disconnect and rotate to perform a variety of actions, from pushing buttons to cart-wheeling across alien planets.  It also relates strongly to the architecture style of Mies van der Rohe, widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusiner. Nolan explained in an interview how he honed in on the idea and asked the art designer of the film, Nathan Crowley who is a very big fan of modern architecture, “What if we designed a robot as if Mies van der Rohe designed a robot?” We can see how the machines of the movie are quite different from the anthropometric robots that we generally see in fiction (Like C3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars).

One of the most fascinating yet confusing part of the movie is the scene involving the Tesseract
One of the most fascinating yet confusing part of the movie is the scene involving the Tesseract

One of the most fascinating yet confusing part of the movie is the scene involving the Tesseract. (Spoiler Alert!) This appears when Coop (Matthew McConaughey) jumps from the space craft and is drawn into a black hole. Inside this black hole Nolan envisages an Escher-like architectural structure representing a single moment in time – the scene in which Coop leaves his daughter. Maurits Cornelis Escher is a Dutch graphic artist known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints which feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.

Inside this black hole Nolan envisages an Escher-like architectural structure representing a single moment in time
Inside this black hole Nolan envisages an Escher-like architectural structure representing a single moment in time

Most of the other architectural features in the movie like the spaceship, the travel pods, and the station of Dr Mann (played by Matt Damon) are based on real scientific elements and have also taken inspirations from classic science fiction movies like 2001 Space Odyssey. These spaces focus more on functional aspects. Even the futuristic abode of humans shown at the end of the movie is quite simplistic from an architectural point of view. Most of the buildings shown are similar to any modern day buildings we find around us. Be it the houses near which the kids play baseball or the interiors of the hospital where Coop meets his aging daughter, Murph. Of course the shape of the terrain and the play of gravity makes them look fascinating.

Overall we can say that Christopher Nolan has tried to provide a simplistic treatment to the architecture elements in the movie. Considering the already complicated plot and scientific elements in the movie, we can assume that he wanted the buildings to be as near to present day structures as possible. These simplistic elements help make the movie easy to relate to for the audience.

LUDWIG MIES VAN DER ROHE

Introduction:

  • Born in Aachen, Germany on 27 Mar. 1886
  • Trained with his father, a master stonemason
  • Worked in the family stone-carving business
  • At 19, he moved to Berlin before he joined the office of Bruno Paul in Berlin (the art nouveau architect and furniture designer)
  • At 20 he received his first independent commission,
    to plan a house for a philosopher (Alois Riehl)
  • Entered the studio of Peter beherns in 1908 and remained until 1912
  • Opened his own office in Berlin in 1912 and married in 1913

Inspirations:

  • Dutch Architecture
    • 17th century interiors – crystal clear with precisely framed walls and openings
    • Had an inner affinity with Mies’s balancing of plane surfaces
  • Father’s Workshop
    • Correct placing of brick upon brick and stone upon stone
    • These early experiences probably the reason for his fanaticism with pure form and great care in the use of building materials
    • 1909 – Turbinen Fabrik – showed the strength of expression possessed by iron and glass
    • Could be brought out by an artist/architect who understood their possibilities
    • Also learnt careful handling of new materials, particularly in his later works
    • Free ground plan
  • Expressionist Movement
    • Art Nouveau – Gaudi’s expressionism – biomorphic and osteomorphic fantasy
    • German movement – mysticism; emotional extremes in art
    • W.W. I – economic deprivation – 1918-21 + following years
    • Almost nothing built – a world of imagination and fantasy
    • Crystalline, prismatic forms
    • Mies – 1919-21 – glass walled skyscrapers
    • Prismatic, star shaped massing to reflect light like a crystal
    • Foreshadowed his glass walled skyscrapers
  • Peter Behrens
    • 1909 – Turbinen Fabrik – showed the strength of expression possessed by iron and glass
    • Could be brought out by an artist/architect who understood their possibilities
    • Also learnt careful handling of new materials, particularly in his later works
  • F.L. Wright
    • Free ground plan

Biography:

  • Studied the architecture of the  Prussian Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Frank Lloyd Wright
  • After world war I – began studying the skyscraper
  • Designed two innovative steel-framed towers
    encased in glass
  • One of them – Friedrichstrasse skyscraper, designed in 1921 for a competition
  • Never built, although it drew critical praise and foreshadowed his skyscraper designs of the late 40s and 50s

Statements:

  • Less is more
  • I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good
  • Technology’s essence is the main field of architecture

CASE STUDY ONE: GERMAN PAVILION, INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION, BARCELONA, SPAIN, 1929.

General features:

  • No function other than to look worthy of the country it represents
  • Honey coloured golden onyx, green Tinian marble and frosted glass were the basic materials used
  • Had a sculpture named the German flag
  • Starting of the modern movement

CASE STUDY TWO: FARNSWORTH HOUSE, ILLINOIS, 1946-50:

General features:

  • The house is situated in the midst of meadows and trees on a large natural plot.
  • Principle of minimalism
  • Floods and insects were main problems tackled
  • A vacation residence for a doctor
  • One enters the home by climbing a low, broad set of stairs to a sparse deck, then another, similar set of stairs to the outdoor porch

CASE STUDY THREE: Seagram Building, New York, 1954-58:

General features:

  • The Seagram Building is a skyscraper in New York City
  • In collaboration with the American Philip Johnson
  • It is 516 feet tall with 38 stories
  • It stands as one of the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and a masterpiece of corporate modernism

“I remember seeing many old buildings in my hometown when I was young. Few of them were important buildings. They were mostly very simple, but very clear. I was impressed by the strength of these buildings because they did not belong to any epoch. They had been built there for over a thousand years and were still impressive and nothing could change that. All great styles passed, but…they were still as good as on the day they were built.”           – Mies Van Der Rohe.

CASE STUDY 4: S.R.CROWN HALL

General details:

  • S. R. Crown Hall is generally considered to be one of Mies’ greatest works
  • Mies considered Crown the clearest statement of his philosophy of a universal space building.
  • Crown is home to IIT’s College of Architecture; inside the building, free-standing partitions suggest spaces for studios and exhibition.
  • the building houses the architecture school
  • The wings to the east and west. It is a Upper Core is organized about an axis that runs north/south, with no Permanent partitions or formal separation of spaces. The building itself is organized on two floors, with the main floor raised about 6 feet above grade to allow natural light and ventilation into the lower level through clerestory windows.
  • creating symmetrical  single open hall
  • oak-wood partitions
  • Built of hollow clay tile, the chases are finished in plaster painted white.
  • Circulation consists of a hallway that is U-shaped in plan

INFERENCES:

  • His love for simplicity
  • Trying out innovative materials
  • Structural details
  • Spending lot of time on design
  • Glass and steel
  • Furniture details(layouts)

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Influence of Frank Lloyd Wright on younger generation architects

A research on the Influence of Frank Lloyd’s Influence on younger generation architects. This was also a part of a class presentation for History of Modern Architecture class. The pattern followed is a brief description of an architect and then the influence on Frank Lloyd Wright on him. Do go through the slideshow at the end.

Influence on Dutch Architects

  • Hendrik Petrus Berlage
  • Gerrit Rietveld
  • Robert van ‘t Hoff

Hendrik Petrus Berlage:

  • Born in Amsterdam in 1856
  • Considered the “Father of Modern architecture” in the Netherlands
  • The intermediary between the Traditionalists and the Modernists
  • Berlage’s theories inspired most Dutch architectural groups of the 1920s, including the Traditionalists, the Amsterdam School, De Stijl and the New Objectivists.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence on Berlage:

  • A visit Berlage made to the U.S. in 1911 greatly affected his architecture.
  • From then on the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright would be a significant influence.
  • Lectures he gave when returned to Europe would help to disseminate Wright’s thoughts in Germany.
  • 1913 Den Haag (ZH) .Influences of Wright’s work are present in the design of this house in the form of the projecting roofs.
  • 1927-1935 Den Haag (ZH): Municipal Museum. In the style of Frank Lloyd Wright

Gerrit Rietveld

  • A Dutch furniture designer and architect.
  • One of the principal members of the Dutch artistic movement called De Stijl
  • Strongly influenced by Charles Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence on Gerrit Rietveld:

  • Rietveld Schröder House. His love for basic geometry was greatly influenced by Wright. Other influences in this specific case include:
    •Cantiliver
    •Breaking the box
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence on De Stijl:
  • The social and economic circumstances of the time formed an important source of inspiration for their theories, and their ideas about architecture were heavily influenced by Berlage and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Robert van ‘t Hoff and Frank Lloyd Wright:
  • In 1913 van ‘t Hoff was given a copy of a German translation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio by his father.
  • This made a profound impression and in June 1914 he travelled to the United States to see Wright’s work in person, visiting the Unity Temple, Taliesin, Midway Gardens, the Larkin Administration Building and Wright’s suburban houses in Oak Park, Illinois.
  • Van ‘t Hoff and Wright discussed collaborating on a project for an art gallery on Long Island, New York that van ‘t Hoff had become involved with through his relationship with Augustus John, but the project did not progress and van ‘t Hoff returned to Europe.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence on Van’t Hoff:
  • Van ‘t Hoff’s first work on returning from the United States was the Villa Verloop – a summer house in Huis ter Heide whose design bore the unmistakable influence of Wright’s Prairie Houses.
  • The Villa Henny:It was a highly idealistic and experimental house in both design and execution.One of the earliest houses to be built entirely out of reinforced concrete.
  • The Villa Henny made full use of the aesthetic freedom this presented with a flat roof, overhangs, receding walls and a highly geometrical outline that presented an unambiguously modern profile compared to the rustic naturalism of his earlier designs.

Willem Marinus Dudok:

  • Willem Dudok was born in Amsterdam in 1884
  • Dudok’s early style grew out of the Amsterdam School
  • List of major buildings / works:Public Baths, Hilversum, 1921, Abattoir, Hilversum, 1923, Dutch Hostel, Paris,1926-38, Town Hall, Hilversum, 1928-30, Bilenkauf Store,Rotterdam,1928-30, Vondel School, Hilversum, 1929.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence on Dudok:

  • Dudok borrowed extensively from Frank Lloyd Wright and the American Prairie School. He utilized the brick architecture and the dramatic asymmetrical massing of geometrical forms common to this style.
  • The overhanging eaves and other elements of his landmark City Hall were clearly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

Mies Van Der Rohe:

  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, along with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of Modern architecture.
  • He created an influential 20th century architectural style, stated with extreme clarity and simplicity.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence on Van Der Rohe:

  • After 1923, Mies’s style shifted, and he came heavily under the influence of Dutch neo-plasticism and Russian suprematism.
  • The former influence, along with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, drove Mies to experiment with independent walls and ceilings arranged in an open, pin-wheeling manner.
  • The latter influence drove Mies to consider the reduction and abstraction of these elements into dynamic and contrapuntal compositions of pure shapes in space.
  • Mies was enthralled with the free-flowing spaces of inter-connected rooms which encompass their outdoor surroundings as demonstrated by the open floor plans of the American Prairie Style work of Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • These experiments culminated in one of Mies van der Rohe’s most significant works, the German Pavilion built for the Barcelona World Exposition in 1929.

Walter Gropius:

  • A German architect
  • Founder of the Bauhaus School
  • Along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Influence on Gropius

  • The plan of the Cologne building was axially designed in the Beaux-Arts tradition, but the major influence was predominantly that of Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • Gropius and Meyer were influenced by Wright’s style especially in the horizontality and the wide overhanging eaves, but also in the symmetry, the corner pavilions, and the whole spirit of Wright’s concept.

Le Corbusier:

  • Swiss-French architect, designer, urbanist, writer and also painter, who is famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called Modern architecture or the International style.
  • He was a pioneer in studies of modern high design and was dedicated to providing better living conditions for the residents of crowded cities.

Influence of Frank Lloyd Wright on Corbusier:

  • The plan and interiors of the Schwob house in Switzerland closely resemble that of Frank Lloyd Wright. Le Corbusier’s notion of Free plan was greatly influenced by Wright.
Conclusion:

The salient features of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design that inspired the architects to follow include:

  • His structural systems
  • Horizontality
  • Cantilevers
  • Breaking the box
  • Furniture designs
  • Fluidity of spaces
  • And last but not the least “Organic architecture”

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