January 25, 2013


Sometimes it is better to head out to the cinemas as opposed to reading a book or listening to a lecture. A good movie that is educational and informative (for instance, a documentary) can enhance your architectural education. Sometimes, architecture students need a break from studio and a fresh way to learn more about the field.  I will be honest and must confess that this is quite difficult for students.  I understand the stresses and risks associated with deadlines and intensive course loads – time is money, and the stress can be overwhelming that a break is never an option.

Just before entering architecture school, I can vividly recall one of my high school trips for both my Politics and English classes to Downtown Toronto to attend the Reel Asian Film Festival. It was amazing to feel and see the energy, vibrancy, and hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto as a teen. That trip opened my appreciation to watching documentaries and films. I made a firm resolve to check out more of these events in my educational career. Naive I was, and I realized how impossible it was during university.

Now that I am done school, I actually have some spare time to watch documentaries and films and it feels great! (not intending to brag here) I find going to film viewings, conferences, workshops, are just means to take a breather from all these years in school, and explore and find what I would really like to research and focus on for graduate school.

Last night, I was at the Bloor Street Hot Docs cinema to attend an architecture film series presented by the Toronto Society of Architects. Their theme this year is Oppositions, which is a great way to show a double feature that juxtaposes between the polarizing extremes of a design issue. Last night focused on Top Down and Bottom Up – looking at the political forces that influence the built environment with the social economical implications that emerge. The film viewings exemplified how manipulating the built environment can impact citizens powerfully, for the better or worse. I would like to discuss briefly about the movies but not necessarily give out the plot line. You should check them out if they show up on TV or screened at another event.

Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of Rural Studio (2010)
Big Beard Films

I was quite interested in this documentary prior to attending. I recently explored the topic of Public Interest Design and Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio is one of the earlier advocates for architecture in this emerging design niche. There is so much press about Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio - I can easily recall the Mason’s Bend Community Center from one of my architecture books for it’s creative use of car windshields. It was quite interesting to take a closer look into the Rural Studio and the wide array of projects that came out of it. The film was able to show the unique design-build studio culture from Auburn University. The film was able to give fuller insight to what Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio was all about, how it began, its impact to the community, what was studying there like, and how it continues to serve as the base influence to many grassroots design movements and design-build studios. I was kinda shocked, as Yale Professor Peter Eisensman served as the "opposition" in the film discussing his critique regarding to the purpose and aims of Rural Studio and if architecture should be philanthropic or not. Ironically, Yale's architecture program does have the annual Building Project mandatory for freshman architecture students. For those that didn't know, the Building Project design-build studio focused on providing homes for families in need.

Up the Yangtze!  (2007)
Production Company: Eye Steel Films
Director: Yung Chang
I think this was a beautifully crafted film. Really polished documentary in relation to the previous which was more of a collage of videos. This documentary conveyed the story of a China in transition, looking at how the Three Gorges Dam was affecting and displacing huge populations. This was the counterpoint to the previous film, looking at major political forces acting upon a regional scale - impacting populations from the top of the political hierarchy, and creating negative conditions for those below. In contrast,  Citizen Architect tackled the issues from a grassroots stance for positively changing the lives of individuals and communities. This documentary effectively conveyed the effects infrastructure and the built environment from the experiences, views and issues of the locals as they anticipate the loss of their homes when the river rises.

For more information of the Toronto Society of Architects 2013 Film Series, Oppositions: Architecture on Film, checkout their Facebook fanpage and the Bloor Hot Doc Cinema website.

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1 comment:

  1. First day of architecture school we were shown short films of Toyo Ito's Mediatheque and Philip Johnson's Maison de Verre. We still remember it to this day, gave us an inspiring push into the subject.