Architecture in Movies – The Matrix Trilogy

The 1999 Science Fiction Action movie, The Matrix, directed by The Wachowskis and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving is undoubtedly one of the most complex and entertaining movies of the late 20th century. The Matrix Trilogy began with the feature film The Matrix and continued with two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded in May, 2003 and The Matrix Revolutions in November, 2003. It features a cyberpunk story incorporating references to several religious and philosophical ideas. It also shows influences of various mythologies, anime and different martial art forms. Amidst all the breath taking visuals and action sequences this futuristic fantasy movie gives a lot of prominence to architectural styles and design. The Wachoski brothers’ keen interest in detailing was also evident in their recent release, Jupiter Ascending. The Matrix surprisingly contains many of the real world buildings along with the fictional virtual reality cities within The Matrix.

Mega City can be considered as a conglomeration of many cities fused into one large city with a gigantic downtown and an impressive skyline
Mega City can be considered as a conglomeration of many cities fused into one large city with a gigantic downtown and an impressive skyline

The most notable of architectural features in the movie is the Mega City, an enormous virtual city in which the inhabitants of the Matrix live. Mega City can be considered as a conglomeration of many cities fused into one large city with a gigantic downtown and an impressive skyline. The city was designed to represent an amalgam of major cities in the United States and Australia during the 1990s characterized by grey and utilitarian areas with small pockets of colour and entertainment. The cities that provided inspiration for the Mega City include Sydney (where most of the film as shot), Oakland (where some of the car chase sequences in The Matrix Reloaded were filmed) and Chicago (the birthplace of The Wachowskis). Hence we see yet another movie in which the major city is designed based on existing cities. Other examples include the Gotham City in Batman Trilogy and the fascist architecture inspired structures of Equilibrium.

The concept of the city in The Matrix is actually an archetype of the hyper reality theory developed by prominent author Umberto Eco, who wrote the popular novel, The Name of the Rose, which was filled with detailed description of the cathedrals of Italy. The hyper reality theory states that the virtual city constructed by the machines controlling the society is more convincing and realistic to its inhabitants than the real world itself.

The logic behind the creation of the harsh grey and uninteresting landscape was to ensure that the unknowing inhabitants of the Matrix did not question their living space given that they lacked an alternative. It can also be possibly said that the City is an inhabitant-unique environment, where no one sees things the same way. Other theories state that the visualization of the City could possibly be a result of the redpills’ experience outside of the Matrix. Further, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) describes to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) that earlier instances of the Matrix which were cheerier did not meet the expectations of the humans hosted within. The Architect later expands on that explanation telling Neo (Keanu Reeves) that the first versions failed because they were designed around the two extremes of perfect paradise and absolute hell that the human mind was unable to accept.

A map of Mega City later provided to the designers of the game The Matrix Online by The Wachowskis splits the city into four main districts Downtown, International, Richland and Westview
A map of Mega City later provided to the designers of the game The Matrix Online by The Wachowskis splits the city into four main districts Downtown, International, Richland and Westview

A map of Mega City later provided to the designers of the game The Matrix Online by The Wachowskis splits the city into four main districts: Downtown, International, Richland (ironically called the slums by the redpills), and Westview. The map shows that the actual shape of the city represents the Y-shaped symbol which can also be seen at the end of the code sequence in The Matrix Revolutions.

The beautifully designed mansion is based on the traditional designs and is lined inside with numerous Greek like statues and ancient armours and weapons
The beautifully designed mansion is based on the traditional designs and is lined inside with numerous Greek like statues and ancient armours and weapons

An architectural feature that stands in stark contrast to the modern or futuristic styles in the old fashioned Chateau or the Merovingian mansion located in the mountains. The beautifully designed mansion is based on the traditional designs and is lined inside with numerous Greek like statues and ancient armours and weapons. The Chateau provides the audience a real world atmosphere amidst all the virtual reality.

As mentioned earlier, many of the real world buildings and structures are either referred to or are seen in the film. The Sydney Tower is visible on the construct TV screen. In the famous roof top bullet scene the audience can catch a glimpse of the UTS Tower building. Other prominent buildings from Sydney that are visible include Martin Place and St. James railway station. Early drafts of the movie’s screenplay identified the city as Chicago and most of the street and landmark names referenced are from Chicago, such as Wabash and Lake, Franklin and Erie, State Street, Balbo Drive, Cumberland Ave, the Adams Street Bridge and the Loop Train. Apart from the cities of Sydney and Chicago, the film also refers to the Heathrow Airport, the United States Congress to name a few.

Overall we can say that The Matrix Series captures the design of a futuristic all inclusive city with great detail and accuracy. With the huge influx of population to urban areas, the future cities would in all probability end up resembling the Mega City of The Matrix with loose connection to the base city from which it expanded.

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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.

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.

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 – 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 – 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.

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??