The Line and The Reel

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    Adventures of Chinatown

    Gor Gevorkyan
    Feb 28, '21 8:21 PM EST

    Why Are Films Rarely Brought Up In Architecture?

                 Being a 4th year student in architecture school, there is a rarity of discussions about film. How has film, a piece of media that the world happily consumes, not form a conversation in architecture? Is it because architecture is a “serious major” that scoffs when inspiration is taken from fictional movies, or is it because no one has even dared to try to start the conversation?

                There are numerous films that use architecture to push or emphasize the narrative in hand. Lucky for you, I have currently watched and reviewed upwards of 550 films. Three films that use architectural insights effectively are Royal Tenenbaums, Talented Mr. Ripley, and Chinatown. These three films use architecture to form a setting that gives emphasis to the scene, provides a rock for a family that is about to crumble, and uses a town to describe the lifestyle of one’s life.


                 Royal Tenenbaums uses a three-story town house to explain the hectic dynamic of a family household. The Talented Mr. Ripley uses an Italian beach home to show the luxuries of Dickie Greenleaf. Chinatown uses architecture to recreate a 1940’s Los Angeles sandbox for the main character/investigator Jake ‘J.J.’ Gites to uncover a deep political corruption case. All three films have something in common and that is the usage of a character that does not speak… Architecture. Due to time, I will only focus on the movie Chinatown. I will make future detailed posts about the Royal Tenenbaums, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and any other film that suits my fancy.

                I am not presenting these films just because they use pretty architecture. What I am highlighting is how these movies present and interact with architecture. The materials of the buildings in Chinatown can explain a lot about where Jake Gitts is located. The four main settings that Jake Gitts visits to help uncover the case starts at a rich marble Los Angeles Mansion where the key evidence is found. Jake then moves on to a Police Department with a wooden interior where he begins to brainstorm. To further investigate the case, Jake is led to a dry desert farmhouse where a rich tycoon lives, Noah Cross. Noah brings up a young girl who plays a crucial role in this case. The ending of the movie is near, and Jake is stuck in a dark and wood chipped Chinatown looking for answers about this girl. Movie is over, did I tell you anything about the plot? Not completely, but what I presented about the film is Jake’s movement pattern, settings, and materials. Chinatown uses setting to perfectly convey what Jake is doing or thinking without the use of dialogue.  


                Why is this all important? By understanding how Chinatown uses materials, students can understand the narrative meaning of it visually. If one were to design a home or building that is inspired by the movie Chinatown, they could create a program based on Jake’s adventure in Los Angeles. Once the program is set, materials can be implemented to showcase each setting Jake visits. For example, marble could be used to bring emphasis to an entrance, wooden interior can darken an office to encourage brainstorming, and dry wood from the desert to make a backyard pavilion surrounded by a nice succulent garden. Yes, I know, materials are not architecture. However, materials are the soul of architecture. Without it, it would be similar to our faces having no features. By understanding how architecture is used from a film directors’ point of view, the student can learn to use architecture and cinema to sculpt a narrative with tone, presentation, and usage.

    • 1 Comment

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      It's not untouched at all, film and architecture have been fondling each other for nearly a century if not longer...

      Mar 3, 21 4:10 am  · 

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About this Blog

The archirects line and film directors film reel. Two very different ways of experessing ideas yet when working together can lead to magic. Students can use movies to inspire a project. By understanding how architecture is used from a film directors’ point of view, the student can learn to use architecture and cinema to sculpt a narrative with tone, presenation,and usage.

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