Six Architectural Documentaries You Need To Watch

Architectural documentaries and films are created to give the viewer a behind the scenes insight into the mind and work of a starachitect, design movement, or even a concept tackling the world and our cities. They’re made to provide the ‘real’ story from real life circumstances with in depth interviews and stories to show us how it was really made. With this in mind we’ve collected some of the top documentaries featuring the great minds of contemporary architecture.

 

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How much does your building weigh, Mr. Foster? (2010)

From humble beginnings in Manchester to becoming one of the world’s most renowned architects, How much does your building weigh, Mr Foster? provides insight into the mind of arguably the world’s greatest living architect. The documentary looks at Norman Foster’s entire career, narrated by the director of London’s Design Museum, Deyan Sudjic. The film captures Foster’s best known works including HSBC’s Hong Kong headquarters, Berlin’s Reichstag and the Millau Viaduct in France. The film received its namesake from a question posed to an up and coming Foster by Buckminster Fuller, whom he studied under while at Yale.

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My Architect: A Son’s Journey (2003)

Nominated for an Academy Award in 2004, the documentary explores filmmaker Nathaniel Kahn’s quest to learn about the father he barely knew through examining his works of architecture. As the illegitimate son of Louis I. Kahn, considered by many architectural historians to have been one of the most important architects of the second half of the twentieth century, Nathaniel interviews his father’s famous peers and examines his most iconic works. Kahn, who died bankrupt and alone returning from a business trip in 1974, is most famously known for his works such as the Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban (National Assembly Building) Bangladesh, First Unitarian Church Rochester NY and the Phillips Exeter Academy Library, Exeter, New Hampshire.

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Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005)

Directed by Academy Award winner Sydney Pollack, Sketches of Frank Gehry follows the life and work of Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Gehry’s works such as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall are amongst the world’s most recognisable buildings, with Gehry known for his experimentalist style. Pollack is able to construct a candid portrait of Gehry’s career, creative process, inspirations, and how his sketches become “living things”. The documentary also includes interviews with a range of his powerful clients from Bob Geldof to Michael Eisner, with Pollack even interviewing Gehry’s therapist.

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Unfinished Spaces (2011)

Unfinished Spaces tells the story of the revolutionary design of the National Art Schools in Cuba and their eventual abandonment and fall into ruin. Commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1961 the schools were conceived as world-class training centres for artists, dancers, musicians, and actors. Directors Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray explore how even though construction was halted in 1965 and many structures have fallen into ruin, the complex has hosted young talents from across Cuba for over 50 years. The film interviews the three visionary architects behind the project, Ricardo Porro, Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti, discussing the atmosphere of Cuba at the time and how they strove to create an entirely new language of architecture.

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 Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect (2008)

The documentary explores the life of Pritzker Prize winner and starchitect Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas is known for his creative and visionary ideas, creating some of the most intriguing modern architecture around the world. It examines the designs of Koolhaas’s Rotterdam-based firm OMA and his most famous work such as the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, Netherlands Embassy Berlin and the Casa da Música in Porto, Portugal.

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First Person Singular: I.M. Pei (1997)

Renowned Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei leads viewers through some of his most famous creations such as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Louvre Pyramid in Paris and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. Retiring from full-time practice in 1990, Pei is both a Pritzker Prize and AIA Gold Medal Winner, now primarily consulting from his sons’ architectural firm. Filmed over a two-year period, he speaks candidly about his life, formative years in China, his education at Harvard and MIT, and his approach to design and architecture.