Multimedia in JSAH

Artículos, Académica

Multimedia in JSAH

Countless architecture DVDs are produced every year, the numbers increasing exponentially, filling more and more shelves in architecture libraries. Scholars are increasingly involved in their production and new hybrid genres are emerging, combining film with specialized texts. Perhaps the most impressive example of this is the extraordinary Arquia collection put together by the Fundacion Caja de Arquitectos of Madrid. This substantial and growing collection constitutes a serious curatorial effort to identify some of the best films of recent years and present them along with an essay by a noted architect or historian—for example, Joseph Rykwert, Rafael Moneo, Juan Navarro Baldeweg, Alejandro Zaera Polo, Josep Quetglas, Benedetta Tagliabue. The combination of film and text, sometimes with the addition of new documentation, allows for rethinking both the films and their architectural subject. In a relatively short time, the DVD medium has moved from simple conversion of existing films or production of promotional material by architects or clients to a scholarly medium in its own right.

BEATRIZ COLOMINA Multimedia Review Editor, JSAH



Arquia/documental, documentary film collection, DVDs with accompanying text, each €18, Fundacion Caja de Arqui-tectos, Madrid, fq_site/new_documentales.asp

1. (2 films, 2 discs) Marc-Henri Wajnberg, director
Oscar IMiemeyer: Un arquitecto Comprometido/Oscar Niemeyer, un architecte engage dans le siecle Belgium, 2000, text by Josep M. Botey, Portuguese with Spanish subtitles, 60 mm.

Geraldo Motta, director

Lucio Costa: Brasilia y la Utopia
Moderna/The Line: Lucio Costa and
the Modern Utopia/O risco: Lucio
Costa e a Utopia moderna
Brazil, 2003, text by Josep M. Botey,
Portuguese with Spanish subtitles, 76 mm.

2. Daryl Dellora, director
Jorn Utzon: El Limite de lo Posible/ The Edge of the Possible: J0rn Utzon and the Sydney Opera House
Australia, 1998, text by Rafael Moneo, English with Spanish subtitles, 56 min.

3. Nathaniel Kahn, director
Louis I. Kahn: Mi Arquitecto/Louis I. Kahn, My Architect: A Son’s Journey
USA, 2004, text by Antonio Juarez, English with Spanish subtitles, 116 min.

4. (2 parts, 2 discs) Manu Rewal, director
Le Corbusier en la India, 1a Parte:
Ahmedabad y El Capitolio de
Chandigarh/Le Corbusier en Inde, 1re
partie: Ahmedabad et Chandigarh
Le Corbusier en la India, 2a parte: EI Capitolio de Chandigarh/Le Corbusier in India, 2nd part: The Capitol of Chandigarh
India/France, 2000, text by Josep Quetglas and M. Cecilia O’Byrne, English and French with Spanish subtitles, 52 and 48 min.

5. Mirjam von Arx, director
Norman Foster: Construir el Gherkin/
Building the Gherkin
Switzerland, 2000-2005, text by Luis Fernandez Galiano, English with Spanish subtitles, 90 min.

6. Fredrik Gertten, director
Santiago Calatrava: El Socialista,
el Arquitecto y la Turning Torso/
Sossen,Arkitekten och det
Skruvade Huset
Sweden, 2005, text by Josep Maria Montaner, Swedish and English with Spanish subtitles, 60 min.

7. Arun Khopkar, director Charles Correa:Volumen Cero/ Charles Correa: Volume Zero
India, 2009, text by Joseph Rykwert and Anatxu Zabalbeascoa, English with Spanish subtitles, 58 min.

8. Markus Heidingsfelder and Min
Tesch, directors
Rem Koolhaas: Mas que un
Arquitecto/Rem Koolhaas:
A Kind of Architect
Germany, 2005, text by Eduardo Arroyo,
German, English, and Dutch with Spanish
subtitles, 97 mm.

9. Hartmut Bitomsky, director
Hans Scharoun: Arquitectura
Der Baumeister Hans Scharoun
Germany, 1993, text by Jose Morales, German with Spanish subtitles. 65 min.

10. Christoph Schaub and Michael
Shindhelm, directors
Herzog & De Meuron: En China: Nido de Pajaros/Bird’s Nest: Herzog and De Meuron in China Switzerland, 2008, text by Alejandro Zaera-Polo, German, English, Chinese with Spanish subtitles, 88 min.

11. Murray Grigor, director
Sir John Soane: Arquitecto Ingles,
Legado Americano/Sir John Soane:
An English Architect, An American
USA, 2005, text by Juan Navarro Baldeweg,
English with Spanish subtitles, 62 mm.

12. Rax Rinnekangas, director
Konstantin Melnikov: La Casa de
Melnikov, La Utopia de Moscii/The
Melnikov House, A Moscow Utopia
Finland, 2007 text by Gines Garrido. Finnish with Spanish subtitles, 58 min

13. Rax Rinnekangas, director
Alvar Aalto: Villa Mairea: La Esencia
de una Casa/Villa Mairea,
The Essence of a House
Finland, 2009, text by Anton Capitel, Finnish with Spanish subtitles, 50 min.

14. Rax Rinnekangas, director
Tadao Ando: La Casa Koshino/
Tadao Ando:The Koshino House
Finland, 2009, text by Alberto Campos Baeza, Finnish with Spanish subtitles, 59 min.

15. (2 films, 2 discs) Gustavo Cortes
Bueno, director
Enric Miralles: Aprendizajes del arquitecto
France/Spain, 2000, 60 min.
Bigas Luna Studio, director
Enric Miralles: Estado de las Obras
Spain, 2002, text by BenedettaTagliabue and Josep M. Rovira, 35 min.

16. Gabriel Petit and Claude Haim,
Antonio Gaudi: Un Arquitecto Mesianico/Une architecte mesianique Antoni Gaudi: The Messianic Architect France/Spain 2007/2010, text by Daniel Giralt-Miracle, 52 min.

17. Marc Petitjean
Renzo Piano: Visita de obra/Renzo piano, architect au long course
France, 1999, text by Peter Buchanan, 52 min.

18. Timothy Sakamoto Richard Neutra: VDL Casa Experimental/VDL Research House
USA, 2007/10, text by Juan Coll-Barreu, 40 min.


The documentary collection presented by the Fundacion Caja de Arquitectos of Madrid in 2008 comprises films devoted to architecture and architects. The main aim of this new program is the dissemination of films in the field of architecture that have not come out on DVD in Spain. The high documentary quality and architectural interest of these films has been confirmed by previous recognition and in some cases by prizes awarded in international film festivals. Each release contains additional material, such as images, lectures, interviews, and audio material that contextual-ize die film within the current architectural scene. Each also comes with a booklet containing a biography, list of prizes, synopses, plans, and graphics, as well as a printed and filmed commentary by a Spanish architect whose work relates to the subject of the documentary. Films are continually being added to this series.

The great strength of such a collection is to offer insight into the lives and works of architects. The parallel risk is to reinforce stereotypes. It is surely significant that in all the documentaries in the collection reference is made to only two women architects, Denise Scott Brown and Aino Aalto, and that both appear as background figures—-half hidden behind their respective companions and professional colleagues. In the film on Villa Mairea it is somewhat tendentiously asserted, in passing, that Aino Aalto laid out the kitchen and the garden, reducing her contribution to these two areas.

Despite its scant treatment of women architects, the Arquia collection contains extraordinary films that allow us to live the human experience of being an architect in different geographical and cultural environments. The documentary Jem Utzon. El Lbnite de lo Posibk is particularly moving. In it we are privy to the Danish architect’s difficulties in creating the magnificent architecture of the Sydney Opera House in his studio on the odier side of the globe (Figure 1). At the time of the competition, Utzon was presented as a visionaiy architect capable of reinforcing the identity of a young country like Australia with powerful architecture. And yet during die subsequent development and execution of the building, the architect would come under relentless attack due to the jealousy of the engineering profession and the xenophobia of local architects, and diese forces would get him removed from the project in 1966. The film stresses how Utzon found the answer to the roof structure, something the engineers had been incapable of resolving in five years of work. This sparked off the problems that were to come, since in order to safeguard their position not only did the engineers betray him, but, according to the architect’s collaborators, they raised doubts about him to die client and even “sneered at him.” In a one-sided fight, the fragile architecture studio—a place of creativity and a laboratory of ideas—succumbed to the strong business ethos of Ove Arup and a new bunch of nationalist politicians. When things became impossible, Utzon exited the stage with elegance, and die building was finished widiout him—and widiout some of the radical ideas and marvelous details he had worked carefully on for years. “I could have built diis with any engineer. No engineer could have done so without me,” was Jorn Utzon’s forceful affirmation on abandoning Sydney Harbor and the already forceful presence of his unfinished building forever. At the end of the film, we see him many years later in his peaceful retreat, with a smile trying to recall his Sydney Opera House project as a true act of love.

Another magnificent documentary in the collection brings us Le Corbusier’s major works in Ahmedabad and Chandigarh. We have to cast our minds back to Figure 1 Jem Utzon (at left) with model of the Sydney Opera House (from Jem Utzon: El Limite de lo Posible) and imagine the difficulties of the trip to India and the grueling conditions that the architect would put up with for years. Despite everything, the somewhat embittered sixty-four-year-old architect, who had managed to build very little in France, would devote himself entirely to this great adventure in a far corner of the world. Particularly surprising is Le Corbusier’s passionate defense of the controversial tapestries he designed for a particular spot inside the High Court in Chandigarh. The architect desperately defended the integrity of his work as an inalienable right, made all the more poignant by his claim, made to his staunch defender and patron, President Nehru, that he was “undermining his health in the Punjab projects.”

Anyone who has visited the capital of Chandigarh will have sensed the exceptional emotion of the place and the forceful poetry of the architectural landscape, which Le Corbusier was unable to see completed in its entirety. The vast empty space facing the Himalayas with die powerful Assembly, High Court, and Secretariat around it overawe as very few monumental complexes do: in this twentieth-century masterwork, East and West converge. The documentary whets one’s appetite to visit the place. The same feeling is stirred by the evocative images shown of the Association of Mill Owners, the Sarabhai House, and the Shodhan House in Ahmedabad. But the film goes beyond being an advertisement for the architecture, embedding the projects in an ongoing discourse through the short but magnificent texts byjosep Quet-glas and others that accompany the DVD.

To work far from home in an unfamiliar environment and culture is a challenge

for the architect, but it can also be the only opportunity to build on a large scale. The DVDs devoted to Utzon in Australia and Le Corbusier in India are about such difficulties and achievements. And although it does not involve a land that is that remote, the DVD on Calatrava’s work in Sweden brings together the inconveniences and misunderstandings of designing and building at a distance. In the first image of this DVD we see the architect painting a series of small watercolors, looking up and complaining that the sound isn’t loud enough. Next, he replies in anger when they ask him to comment, without explanation, on the role played by Johnny Orback on Turning Torso, the Malmo skyscraper. “I think I’ve spoken very clearly in the museum,” he grudgingly answers. “You shouldn’t consider him a failure. He’s a hero and a martyr to the misfortune of being surrounded by weak people. He always backed me up, but people weren’t equal to the circumstances.” This introduction creates suspense. Who is this Orback, a martyr and a hero according to Santiago Calatrava? Little by little we come to realize that he was the managing director in Malmo of HSB, a Swedish cooperative traditionally devoted to creating accessible housing for workers. Orback confesses that, “captivated” by a small marble sculpture by the Valencia architect, he decided to commission Calatrava to turn a 62 3-foot-tall, 54-story tower into Turning Torso.

The documentary gradually reveals a set of events that boded ill from the first: apparently the plans did not arrive in time, the budget overran, they could not contact the architect, and the local technical team did not get on with the one in Zurich. The building work was advancing, albeit haltingly, when a meeting was called at City Hall at which all the tension that had been building up became obvious: the delegates do not understand why HSB has embarked on this extremely expensive luxury housing project. The disagreement with Orback is profound, and the justifications he presents to the members of the cooperative only make his dramatic, isolated situation worse. “They say I’m building a monument to myself. But it’s not true,” he says, and he defends the commissioning of Calatrava by saying that Turning Torso is like a Formula One car: it is exceptional now, but in the future it will be the norm. The meeting culminates in his sacking. And now, without a developer devoted to such a extreme idea, with the building three years behind schedule, and with losses of €40 million, the work draws to a close. At the end of the film we see, standing beside the Turning Torso model at MoMA, Santiago Calatrava who, geeing up a haggard Orback, contentedly comments, “Sweden’sno place forvisionaries!”

Some of architecture’s finest offspring are born in the territory of interbreeding, beyond the purview of Western culture. Emerging countries receive and transform foreign influences with limitless strength and energy. It is interesting that five of the thirteen DVDs in the series bring us singular buildings or the careers of significant architects that have taken place in the so-called BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China. And this is leaving aside the fact that Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, and Louis Kahn have also completed some of their most important buildings in these countries, as reflected in the documentaries in the collection. In these films we can appreciate the processes by which, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the fusion of modern architecture and local tradition has produced buildings that are symbols of identity and renewal for emerging nations and their peoples.

The birth of Brazil’s national identity coincided with the creating of its modern architecture by architects and planners Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa. The first DVD in the collection recounts this adventure. For the young innovators of the new generation, the world of nature inspired a telluric vision very much in keeping with the urban design championed by Le Corbusier. The architecture and revolutionary ideas of that Swiss-French architect, inscribed in his collaboration on some the Gustavo Campanema Palace (Ministry of Education) in Rio de Janeiro (1936-39), would provide a basis for international assimilation and the creation of a local architecture of great expressive power and formal exuberance.

It is particularly exciting to witness first hand, in images of the period and accounts from those involved, the way Brasilia, the most emblematic new modern city, was conceived and carried out. Only the strength of a young nation, the unstoppable creative spirit of a few individuals, and the magical convergence of circumstances made this titanic piece of work possible. Not only was an urban landscape created where there was previously nothing, but a radical break with tradition was made as well. As in other DVDs in the collection, the human side of the main figures emerges in the documentary with the same force as does their work. It is moving to hear Lucio Costa recalling the dramatic death of his young wife, for which he always felt he was responsible. The episode becomes chilling when the architect recounts diat a drawing of a bloody dagger that Le Corbusier gave to them before the fatal accident became an awful portent. It is equally moving to hear the soft lament of a lucid, aged Niemeyer in the grip of nostalgia one rainy Sunday afternoon listening to old songs in the studio. “I’m tired of laughter and tears, I’m tired of life.”

In the mid-twentiedi century, India— like Brazil—decisively supported and created a favorable atmosphere for the architecture and urban design of Le Corbusier. At the time the country was opening a door to modernity, and a number of local architects contributed to this by taking a firm and positive stand. Outstanding among diem was Charles Correa, in whose work Western modern rationality and the magic of Oriental meanings coexist in har-mony. Brought together in this DVD compilation of his life and work are his reflections and his creations, which even more than fifty years after their making, are surprising in their topicality. In some of his designs we encounter an open-ended sense of freedom in the use of forms that makes him the precursor of the contemporary language of complex angles. His designs’ integration in the environment proceeded from a spirituality that sought harmony with the cosmos.

Konstantin Melnikov’s house is, notwithstanding its small size, one of the best-known modern buildings in Russia. It was built in Moscow in 1927, and its unusual architecture resulted from a mixture of influences, innovations, and traditions. We get to know this dwelling in detail in the video, and we are told the story that gives us an idea of the personal revolution of its maker, at odds with the official policies of the Soviet Union. In 1929, the year Mel-nikov finished his house, Stalin banned modern architecture and decreed the return to classicism. The innovative, individualist young architect would be severely punished by confinement to his own creation for life. Now prisonlike, his house, a strange modern twin tower, became the architectural expression of the isolation and solitude of its inhabitant. The slow pace and repeated imagery of the documentary, reinforced by the monotonous voice of the narrator, produce a feeling of fatigue and claustrophobia. Like a Mobius strip, the walls of the two cylinders seems to transmit the continuous movement, without beginning or end, of the circumscribed life of the architect and his family. Unclassifiable and imposing, at odds with its time and place, this house was to be the repository of a life dedicated to dreaming unbuilt architecture. Still lived in by one of the architect’s descendents, it is intact down to the last detail, just as it was when Melnikov died in 1974 at the age of eighty-four.

One of the most interesting documentaries in the collection narrates the incredible story of the building of Herzog and De Meuron’s Bird’s Nest (Figure 2). “China is like a magnet,” die Swiss architects maintain. Once they are declared winners of the design competition for the Olympic stadium in Beijing the camera follows them everywhere. There is a very amusing and significant scene in which De Meuron is seen doing everything possible to get someone to give him a spade so he can participate in the politically important groundbreaking. Nobody pays him the slightest bit of attention. Finally he gives up and exclaims with a smile, “I’m the architect!” In the meantime leading politicians and civil servants take great pains to shovel the required spadeful of earth in unison; it is the official photo that will remain for posterity. The architects are not in it.

The documentary refers to the difficulties of working in a country with such an unfamiliar culture, and to the strange methods of the client, who was forever testing the architects and even setting traps to verify their abilities and strengths, testing their resistance. Herzog and De Meuron, who had already had a hard time with projects in Russia and the United Arab Emirates, formed a team with two individuals who were crucial to their understanding of the local culture: former ambassador Uli Sigg and artist Ai “Wei Wei. From the first, both would be essential to the project, ensuring that understanding and rapport between the architects and the Chinese government was not lost at certain critical moments. The film documents difficult moments, as when the price of steel shot up on the commodities market and the client began to consider alternative materials for the framework, such as plastic. In spite of everything, Herzog and De Meuron would not make concessions. Despite the large challenges, die work was brilliandy finished in only four years, winning the admiration of die world and the architects* recognition abilities of the Chinese.

Rem Koolhaas is today an architect-cum-theorist, as was Le Corbusier during the twentieth century. Controversial, possessed of a high media profile, with strong ideas and emblematic works, the Dutchman defines himself as “an architect who writes, a writer who builds.” At the beginning of this extended documentary, he assures us that “at the age of fourteen I wanted to be a Brazilian architect.” And he goes on to describe the work as a journalist and alternative filmmaker that has marked his unusual way of understanding and making architecture. He also speaks of his political interests and his many influences, which extend from Yves Klein to Anto-nioni and Pasolini and from Constant and the Situationists to Le Corbusier, Dalf, Malevich, and many others. Koolhaas displays an endlessly independent turn of mind and takes a critical position vis-a-vis political context that has led him to exclaim “Fuck context!” In 1975, trusting in the collective intelligence of the multidisci-plinary group, he joined with Madelon Vriesendrop, Elia Zenghelis and Zoe Zenghelis to found OMA. In 1998 he created AMO as a response to the constant schizophrenia the architect experiences in his relationship with the client and his lack of control over his interests. Koolhaas’s ideas and career trajectory are recorded in the documentary, and some of his more important buildings are represented by documents, commentaries, and exceptional images. These include the Floirac House in Bordeaux, the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin, the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, and (more extensively) the Casa da Musica in Porto. The vibrant, emotive text accompanying the CD is written by Edu-ardo Arroyo, Koolhaas’s former assistant, who passionately describes his adventures as a young Spanish architect who lived through the ups and downs of the daring architectural designs of the OMA studio: “The lines of research Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, Oscar Niemeyer and a few Russians left open converge, and are extended and resolved in OMA’s spatial designs, thus closing the conjectural brackets they opened.The documentary on the building of Norman Foster’s so-called Gherkin in London has something of the suspense movie about it. Over the weeks ofwork, we are made privy to events by all those involved on the team. Developers, architects, assistants, and the client are all indispensable actors in a thrilling architecture reality show, as we delve into demanding situations, disagreements, the pressures, the moments of frustration, the distribution of roles, the power, and the helplessness of one and all. Yet Foster hardly appears in the documentary.

It would seem that he drives the great design machinery without dirtying his hands, with subtle elegance and absolute authority. We only see him involved in cultural or social activities, relaxed and wise, above the mundane tensions experienced by all of his team on the building. The illuminating text by Luis Fernandez Galiano that accompanies the DVD points out diat the movie is both heroic tale and comedy of manners, as pedagogical in its recording of the processes of implementation and decision-taking as it is perceptive in the account of the key individuals, a crowd of executives, bureaucrats, designers and contractors: from Norman Foster, who argues with clipped, chilling courtesy, to the almost sinister municipal planning director—all take shape with empathy and a sense of humor, concocting with their indecision, phobias, and disencounters a living, vibrant soap opera.

Likewise, the documentary on Mcl-nikov’s house, Villa Mairea, by the same director, provides beautiful images and graphic documents to help us understand Aino and AJvar Aalto’s marvelous home. Yet we might make a similar criticism of each: we are given a variety of perspectives of the residence but unfortunately we are left wanting an analysis of its context in the work of its creator and in the his ton’ of architecture.

In the documentary on Scharoun, the mythical figure emerges as the powerful creator of a radically personal and in many ways unclassifiable body of work. The German architect represents the modernist project’s many other directions, at a remove from the orthodoxy established by the so-called International Style. The buildings are introduced with spontaneity by the people who live in and enjoy them. The users of his designs—be they public or private—emerge as the true protagonists of Scharoiin’s architecture; they embody the humanism of architecture as a spatiotemporal experience. The architect never appears (we are only shown photos of his face over the years). He is present in the singular planning of his organic architecture and in the infinite details he elaborated. At one point in the DVD we are shown a sequence of many different handrails, which gives us an idea of the architect’s unlimited creative repertoire. In contrast to the serial production of functionalist architecture, Scharoun emphasized how each architectural situation is different and unique, like the person who inhabits it.

The documentary of Sir John Soane orchestrates the opinions of a generation of architects—Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Richard Meier, Charles Jen-cks, Michael Graves, Philip Johnson— who saw in the neoclassical English master a fecund inspiration for the 1970s revision of the modernist project. Soane’s exciting trip to Italy inspired his own controversial reinterpretation of the classical. We are told about Soane’s visit to Palermo and the Villa Palagonia, with its marble floors, mirrored ceilings, and fantastic baroque monsters of wild transgression—magnificent spaces bathed in Sicilian light that became fixed in Soane’s memory. We accompany him at the decisive moment of the trip when he visited the ruins of the Doric temple in Agrigento.

Back in London, the Yellow Room, prototype of the famous “silk parachute” dome of the Breakfast Room, and the Tivoli Corner of the Bank of England expressed the revolutionary English architect’s new vision of the classical world. With the help of several contemporary designers, this documentary takes us through such representative pieces of postmodern architecture as Meier’s Getty Center and Venturi and Scott Brown’s National Gallery in London. This excellent study reveals how Soane inspired those American architects who established links with history and took an unbiased look at the classical world on their way to making a critical revision of the modernist project.

The passionate and controversial life of Louis Kahn is revealed to us through the eyes of his son. Louis Kahn: Mi Arquitecto is a beautiful first-person narrative built around the discovery of an almost unknown father. The man and his complex, secret-filled life are eloquently revealed through his works of architecture. The magnificent script and excellent photography intertwine human drama and architecture as the inseparable life and work of the architect.

Many of the films in this collection recount the adventure of conceiving and building an outstanding work of architecture, sometimes in remote countries and unfamiliar cultures. But the documentary by Kahn’s son brings us closest to understanding the emotions of experiencing architecture and of being an architect.

This useful collection of DVDs provides data, documents, and living testimony that illuminates these buildings and their contexts. They will undoubtedly be of interest to students, architects, experts on architecture, and the interested public. It just so happens that watching the documentaries you begin to feel a burning desire. And it is then that you start fantasizing, and you decide to embark on the journey that will lead you to experiencing the architecture where it is.


Univcrsidad Politecnica de Madrid

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