While much of the world’s great architecture is seen through our own eyes or via a still photo, many marvels are also seen behind the film camera lens. Much of the world’s great architecture has been used within iconic films, or in some instances, has even been created for sets for these particular films. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here’s our favourite pieces of architecture seen in the world of film through the ages.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Big Lebowski follows Jeffrey "the Dude" Lebowski on a wild goose chase to deliver ransom money for the ‘other’ Jeffrey Lebowski, aka The Big Lebowski. Throughout the Dude’s wild ride, he ends up in some brilliantly designed homes, including Jackie Treehorn’s House and The Big Lebowski’s Mansion.
The colonial-style mansion features chequered-tiled hallways and grand archways amongst a massive Beverly Hills property, with the Greystone living room a highlight of the house, with its open-plan, texturally elegant styling that features high ceilings, wooden flooring and grand chandeliers. Jackie Treehorn’s house is a contemporary masterpiece, and was even utilised for Marvel as Tony Stark’s house in recent films.
Blade Runner (1982)
A cult classic and dystopian sci-fi film in every sense, Blade Runner depicts a futuristic Los Angeles that contains streetscapes of irregular sculptures, monolithic ancient Greek-esque architecture and neon-heavy skyscrapers. The work conducted by industrial designer Syd Mead resulted in a set that was a pioneer for the science fiction genre.
The Ennis House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature works, features within the movie as well, used as Rick Deckard’s apartment. Only the exterior was utilised for the movie, with scenes such as Harrison Ford’s character looking upon the city, with the interior of the apartment a set directly inspired by the house.
Ex Machina (2015)
Known for its themes of artificial intelligence and humanity, the independent film won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but it's the identification of the Norwegian Juvet Landscape Hotel that ultimately wins Ex Machina a spot on this list.
Using a cabin with an exterior covered in wooden cladding, a rear that utilises floor-to-ceiling windows and sitting within an intense environmental landscape, the cabin and the ‘residence’, a house that sits above the cabins, were utilised by the crew. Both were designed by Norwegian practice Jensen & Skodvin Architects, that work within various sectors throughout Europe.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Awash with colour and a testament to a classic era of architecture, The Grand Budapest Hotel is quite the sight, even on the film posters. An art nouveau building that captures a time period with its characteristic nuances like its extensive use of curved forms.
Unfortunately though, the hotel is not a real building, with Director Wes Anderson creating a nine-foot-high model for establishing shots. The interiors, created within film studio’s are vibrant and beautifully depicted, but for those who want to stay in Gustave H’s hotel, unfortunately, you can’t.
High Rise (2015)
Based on J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name, High Rise depicts a class struggle within a tower, with those on the lower floor seen as lesser beings, and those at the top as the societal elite. Created by an arrogant architect that fits out the tower with supermarkets, gymnasiums and restaurants, the tower is a testament to the Brutalist architecture period. Concrete pillars and thin oblong windows feature heavily amongst the tower’s interior, but it's the upper level garden juxtaposed with brutalist concrete walls that create a stunning visual on the big screen.
The Incredibles (2005)
The only film on this list that is a cartoon, the Brad Bird-directed film features a range of architecturally outstanding buildings that don’t travel too far outside of the realms of fantasy, despite the caricatured nature of the film. The Parr residence acknowledges the Googie architecture period, with Edna’s mansion tipping its hat to 20th century avant-garde, with references to contemporary design seen throughout.
A big budget film created during the cultural revolution of a post-war Germany, Metropolis was truly ahead of its time. Inspired by the Manhattan skyline and the industrial stylings of the time, the cityscapes of the movie are astounding, but it's the Tower of Babel that transcends the time period the movie was devised within. Circular in shape and likened to its Biblical namesake, the tower doubles as Fredersen’s headquarters and is directly influenced by the art deco, gothic and futurist architecture movements.
A critically-acclaimed film renowned for Bong Joon-ho’s attention to detail, Parasite depicts a class struggle, especially within its architecture. With the upper classes perched above the lower, the set – that was built from scratch for the entire film – features a stunning house owned by the Park family that is minimalistic in character.
Juxtaposed with the basement dwelling of the Kim family – that features a bathroom with a toilet that stands above the ground on an elevated step – and we can clearly spot the difference between the two families within the movie.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
To be fair we could’ve picked any Bond movie and rattled off various examples of the utmost quality in an architectural context (Elrod House, Trellick Tower), but ultimately we decided on Daniel Craig’s second movie in the James Bond series, Quantum of Solace. Festival House Bregenz was designed by Wilhelm Braun, and is a modernist building inspired by futurist principles.
The ESO Hotel, that houses those who work at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile’s Atacama desert. Sitting snugly within a desert depression, the largely horizontal building is four levels high, and is home to an indoor garden that shields tenants from the desert climate. In Quantum, the hotel is the meeting place of villain Dominic Greene and General Medrano, where Bond leaves Greene to die and the hotel is blown up. Thankfully though, that was a replica, and Auer + Weber’s creation remains standing to this day.
Star Wars (1977)
The final film in this list, George Lucas’ work as a director shaped the Star Wars universe, and subsequently inspiring architects worldwide as seen within various projects. Given the different planets and ships seen within the original trilogy, prequels and sequels, we’re going to name a few of our favourites.
The Cloud City outpost is an innovative residence for the residents of Bespin, who are unable to live on their planet due to toxic gases. The saucer-like shape of the outpost is an ingenious design, that contains the city concourse, administrative chambers and mining quarters. The Grand Convocation Chamber located on Coruscant and seen within the prequels is a stunning piece of architecture, even if it isn’t real. 100 metres high in the air and seating over 1000 pods for delegates from across the galaxy, it is said that ancient designers outfitted the room with lavender as it is one of the few colours in the Republic that does not contain negative connotations.
The Death Star is one of, if not the most recognisable piece of architecture that was created solely for film. Ominous and equally breathtaking, the Empire’s headquarters is built around a core that powers the whole site, but ultimately would lead to its demise approximately three times. If there’s anything that architects can learn from the series, don’t leak the plans to rebel scum.