Filmic Space: Parallels between transitions in film and architecture

Matthew Hynam, Jonathan Mosely

This paper examines the potential of bringing together filmic language and architectural language to describe the experience of moving through the complex fabric of the modern city. In particular the paper focuses on how the city might be read through the use of ‘filmic transitions’ such as cuts and dissolves and how this has the potential to open up a new hybrid syntax which designers can use to intervene within the city. Stephen Doesinger writes in his 1998 essay ‘Sim City’ that as we wander through the metropolis we mentally consume and edit space in a filmic manner due to our exposure to and understanding of the medium. ‘We are all the time making mental movies, and in a sense this is how we consume the city: layered, superimposed fragments loosely associated with faces and conversations, which we can then recall and re-consume later, when remembering .’

The exploration of filmic syntax within architectural research and practice has predominantly concentrated upon using filmic language to describe the experience of space. For example recent thinking by academic Richard Koeck considers the formation of space as a kinetic construct that can be read in a filmic manner . Beyond solely a description of space, there is significant potential for filmic syntax to be considered as a lens through which we could create and edit space itself. Graham Cairns has opened up the possibility of using filmic syntax within the creative stages of the architectural design process . Jonathan Mosley and Lee Stickells’ examination of how filmic concepts and spatial ingredients, including montage and narrative, can be combined to design space move these approaches towards practice, through experiments in the educational design studio 4 . Architect and theorist Bernard Tschumi’s thinking on the relation of space and event provides the structuring principle of bringing narrative to bear on the architectural design process but there is little explicit reference in practice to filmic narrative and filmic structures influencing spatial design. An exception to this is architect Jean Nouvel, who has been inspired by cinematic techniques and directly references them within his design process. His practice considers the experiential and temporal dimensions of architecture, evaluating spatial arrangements in terms of framing, duration, and sequencing . Of particular interest is the way that he draws comparisons between his process of considering space and the film maker who manipulates sequences of space.


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