If buildings could speak, what would they say about us? This is the starting point for a new film series that premiered in 3‑D at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. Six international directors, helmed by New German cineaste Wim Wenders, give voice to six iconic buildings.
In Wenders’ music-infused episode at the Berliner Philharmonie, the director puts his skill for evoking place to good use. His floating lens reveals Hans Scharoun’s modernist building from unusual perspectives, including that of a maintenance technician on the aluminum-clad roof and a piano tuner in a rehearsal room. These images unfold with ease to the venue’s disembodied female voice: “As buildings, we have more influence on the world than you let yourself think.”
This idea is picked up in the Halden Prison episode, deep in the remote Norwegian woods. “I am the difference between being a prisoner and being you,” states Erik Møller’s prison, the “world’s most humane”, as a new inmate passes through her front gate. And of the feces-smeared isolation cell: “This is what happens when people have chaos and frustration in their heads and in their hearts.”
Robert Redford’s episode at the Salk Institute explores the collaboration between architect Louis Kahn and polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk. Redford compares the striking Southern California facility to a monastery where inhabitants are devoted to higher ideals. His meditative scenes draw from staff and researchers who liken the building to a living organism capable of nurturing discovery.
More comparisons are visible throughout: to great machines (the Centre Pompidou, Paris), to steamships (the National Library of Russia), even to simple houses (the Oslo Opera House). The result is a thoughtful collection of visual essays that is for the most part even-handed and engaging – a bold approach that highlights architecture usually relegated to the background scenery.
The series is opening at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto on Friday, December 19. Programming details available here.