Animating architecture

Last night I saw Unfinished Spaces (Alysa Nahmias & Benjamin Murray), a documentary about the Schools of Arts in Cuba that makes parallels between the chequered history of those buildings and the evolution of the Cuban revolution.  The screening was organised by the wonderful DocHouse, a fantastic London-based organisation.  The film, which is pretty conventional in its formal presentation (archive footage and photos, talking-heads interviews, a very literal soundtrack, etc) got me thinking about the representation of architecture and architects in documentary film.  Nathanial Kahn’s My Architect, an elegy for his emotionally and physically elusive father, immediately comes to mind, and I’m a fan of that film.  But, perhaps more interesting, and definitely more charming, is American Homes, an animated documentary that charts the history of residential architecture in the US.  The film is beautiful in its simplicity, I think.  But it also demonstrates the potential for the non-fictional use of animation.  The black-and-white line drawings enable a clarity in detail and the frame-by-frame nature of animation means that buildings can be constructed, and deconstructed, layer by layer and houses are built and dismantled before our eyes.  I particularly like the use of the little map in the bottom right hand corner, to help orientate us geographically as well as historically.  You learn a lot about American architecture through this film (or at least, I did) and I wonder if it would have been as effective in live action.  (I think not, but then I would say that…).

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