Session #14: The Architectural Essay Film, with Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

 Photo © 2016 Stefanos Levidis

Friday 31 March 2017

Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

11:00–4:00 | [Free event: Book here]

This special collaboration with the Bartlett School of Architecture is in two parts. An introductory talk by Penelope Haralambidou (Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), defining the ‘architectural essay film’ by looking at historical examples but also examining its emerging role in architectural design, will be followed by a screening of a selection of films made by Bartlett students using film as part of their architectural practice and research. The event will conclude with a discussion with some of the authors/filmmakers/designers.

The Architectural Essay Film, Penelope Haralambidou

As all its advocates agree, the ‘essay film’, a genre which sits somewhere between documentary and fiction, is very difficult to define. But in her opening talk, Penelope Haralambidou will go even further to suggest the existence of a subgenre: essay films that more specifically focus on urban or architectural design subject matter, what she calls the ‘architectural essay film’. Questioning and probing, but often also deeply infatuated by, the cities and buildings they portray, these films are wide-ranging historically and geographically, for instance: Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera and Alain Resnais’s Toute la mémoire du monde; Patrick Keiller’s London and Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself; Wim Wenders’s If Buildings Could Talk and Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine’s Barbicania, to name but a few. Although some of the directors above have either trained as architects (Keiller and Bêka) or have a long-term interest in buildings and architects (Wenders and Andersen), there has been no attempt to link these essay films through their common attention to architecture.

Recent advancements in digital technology have brought the two disciplines of film and architecture closer than ever before. As a result, drawn architectural form – the domain of the architect – and the camera, together with lighting, scripting and editing – the domain of the film director – have merged into compatible software platforms. By adding the dimension of time, architects can explore the storytelling potential of their designs and start flirting with the world of filmmaking. Used as both a creative and critical design tool, film can generate an affective relationship with architecture, a form of empathy with the building.

Haralambidou will present work by students in the MArch Unit 24 at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, which has as a main focus the relationship between film and architecture. The short films use filmmaking as a design tool and practice led research in architecture. Created in an academic environment, these architectural film projects share a speculative, self-reflexive, and boundary-breaking approach, which comfortably places them in the essayist film tradition.

Fictional Constructs, Kairo Baden-Powell, 2014

Wates House, Daniel Cotton, 2014

The Long Now Foundation, Nico Czyz, 2016

Agitprop, Liam Davis, 2014

The Embassy of the Displaced, Stefanos Levidis, 2016 

An Anatomical Embassy, TJ Brook Lin, 2016

Weaving the Ineffable, Angeliki Vasileiou, 2015

The Making of an Architectural Essay Film: Student Films

In this second part of the event, five student filmmakers will talk about specific aspects of the making of their most recent work, considering how these processes of making are essayistic responding to the work will be Grant Gee, Filmmaker, (Patience (After Sebald), ‘Innocence of Memories’).

The architectural essay film can arguably investigate the director’s attitude reflected on architecture, as Penelope Haralambidou argues when claiming how this genre has the potential of ”revealing a link between our perception of the built environment and the structure of intellectual processes” (Harlambidou, 2016). This session will consider the process of making, or being in the making, as such a site where subjectivity, thinking and spatiality could be investigated or questioned. What aspects of the making of an architectural essay film could prompt such discussion?

Five filmmakers from the Bartlett Film+Place+Architecture Doctoral Network, all creating films as part of their ongoing PhD research in architectural design, have been asked to identify a moment during making, and briefly discuss what about these experiences could contribute to the film in question being considered as an architectural essay film. Followed by screenings of these films, the session aims at contributing to the definition of the architectural sub-category of the elusive genre of the essay film.

Blue, Sander Hölsgens, UK 2017, digital, 7 mins

Calcata, Anna Ulrikke Andersen, UK 2017, digital, 15 mins

Cycle 1: The Imprint and the Hand, Phuong-Trâm Nguyen, UK 2016, digital, 5 mins

Austerlitz in London, Henrietta Williams, UK 2016, digital, 8 mins

m i s – m e e t: habitual gestures for the slightly unfamiliar, Bihter Almaç, UK 2016, digital, 6 mins

Dr Penelope Haralambidou, Senior Lecturer, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, is acting director of the MPhil/PhD Architectural Design programme and MArch Unit 24 coordinator. Her current work lies between architectural design, art practice and curating, experimental film and critical theory and has been published and exhibited internationally. She is the organiser of the symposium Architecture | Essay | Film, April 2016, and author of ‘The Architectural Essay Film’ (ARQ, volume 19 issue 03, 2015) and Marcel Duchamp and the Architecture of Desire (Routledge, 2013). She has contributed writing on themes such allegory, figural theory, stereoscopy and film in architecture to a wide range of publications.

The Unit 24 website can be found here: