Everyone loves a good story, whether reading a book or watching a movie. The characters, the narrative, period, and setting help us vicariously become a part of the contrived world. Every little detail adds value, but the architectural setting, an important factor in the story, is often overlooked by the audience with more emphasis laid on the characters, their dialogue and storyline.
“Architecture has a strong link with the movies in terms of time progression, sequencing, [and] framing...”
~ (Christian De Portzamparc, n.d.)
Peeping in the clouds, high rises have certainly etched the skyline to define the modern world. A typical residence in a city, it hosts repeating units of accommodation. These, when enveloped into a storyline, get personified to play a crucial part in the plot. As seen in the movie “Trapped” the high rise transcends from an ordinary abode to a captor. The disrupted connectivity from the outside world induces claustrophobia into the main character, who gets stuck at one of the top floors of a newly built skyscraper. Detached from necessities, the plot subtly questions the solitude of a multistorey.
“No good ever comes from putting up walls. What people mistake for safety is in fact captivity”
~ Louise Penny (Penny, n.d.)
This sense of minimal permeability is also portrayed in stories where basements form the auxiliary backdrop. Basements serve different purposes and largely lack visual permeability creating a distinct sphere of occupancy. They were used as a refuge area during the wars, a period of heightened fear of attacks, stressing the culture of fear-and-hiding, affecting everybody. Max Vandenburg, a Jew from the story 'The Book Thief’, took shelter in the basement of Hans Hubermann's house to procure safety from the Nazis. Hunkering down in the basement, he is consumed by the despair of the cold dark space. Apart from becoming a fine line between safety and danger, the basement creates a sense of gloom and despair and subsequently becomes a seat of creativity and artistic expression for Max when he starts writing books to preserve his sanity.
Similar architectural elements which introduce a particular narration are also observed in nuances like the staircase. In movies like 'Titanic' or ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, the female protagonist descends the stairs with majesty and flamboyance, compelling other characters to regard her in reverence as if she is a celestial nymph descending from the heavens.
These smaller nuances like the staircases, build up to create a setting. A good enough narrative is backed up by detailed setting, architecturally pronounced, to highlight the mood of the film and the approach that one is supposed to take, towards the characters.
One could see this, through a slow burn FX series, 'Devs' gives glimpses of a thriller branching into futuristic sleekness. Separated by a clearing from the main building, the Devs lab, the center of the narrative, holds a simple warm tone to the exterior but effortlessly transports one to the real essence of the thriller through the lustrous metallic interiors. The stark difference is reminiscent of the secretive works that the building hosts. Derived from a working set into the script as the Devs Lab, this cubic shaped, half sunk building carries within a floating workspace. This immersive lab asked for a future seeking environment. Primarily holding a classified workspace, references from NASA’s vacuum chambers reflect in the floating inner workspace, moreover pronouncing the overtly ambitious project that Devs supported. For building a space that represents the future still embedded within the present, vivid and atypical color use enhances the scenes; bouncing red light onto reflective surfaces irrefutably throws Sergei, the protagonist in the case, into a clueless disposition.
The larger setting matters more often in cases where the visuals are imaginative or the supposed audiences have little to no backdrop references to truly recognize the moods of various scenes.
The interior set of 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari' first expressed the link between architecture and cinema. Through its exaggerated sets, the film marked a new expressionist film movement. Well-known for its distorted and anti-realism characters, expressionism began to be vastly spread in Germany, expressing their distress after World War I. Elements of this distorted depiction of reality began to emerge in German cinema through the themes of paranoia, fear, and schizophrenia. Its vivid and surreal backdrop paintings reflected the dark and twisted time of Germany. Slanting buildings, unusually shaped windows, a disturbing landscape of the town, and the contrasting colors indicate the narrator's mental state. The shape and form of Dr Caligari's cabinet convey his reserved nature and creates an eerie effect in the space through shadows. The rays on the asylum's floor in the climax indicate various strands of the narrator's fantasies.
Reality is consequential from the architecture it dwells within. It curates us to respond in different ways, bringing in matters of fear, wonder or elements of a surprise other than hosting the usual chain of events whose impact resonates in stories we read, watch and pursue.
-Written by Laxaree Sawant, Khushi Pednekar, Isha Keni
Christian de Portzamparc. (n.d.). Brainy Quote. Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/christian_de_portzamparc_555809
Penny, L. (n.d.). Louise Penny Quote: “No good ever comes from putting up walls. What people mistake for safety is in fact captivity. And few things thrive in ...” Quotefancy. Retrieved December 25, 2021, from https://quotefancy.com/quote/1363086/Louise-Penny-No-good-ever-comes-from-putting-up-walls-What-people-mistake-for-safety-is
Francois Penz,“Film studies: when cinema acts as an encyclopedia of architectural spaces”, 13 August 2020. https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/film-studies-when-cinema-acts-as-an-encyclopaedia-of-architectural-spaces
Daniel Portilla, "Films & Architecture: "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"" 04 Dec 2012, https://www.archdaily.com/300945/films-architecture-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari> ISSN 0719-8884
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) https://www.intjournal.com/0813/the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari
Mithun Sheth, “Architecture in cinema”, January 16, 2019 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/space-conception/architecture-in-cinema/
The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) Official Trailer #1 - German Horror Movie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAtpxqajFak
Devdutt Trivedi, “How architecture inspires cinema – and the other way round”, 03 May, 2016 https://scroll.in/reel/807541/how-architecture-inspires-cinema-and-the-other-way-round
Natasha Levy, “Less exclusive buildings "are actually some of the most interesting" says Devs production designer”, 12 June 2020 https://www.dezeen.com/2020/06/12/devs-set-design-interviews-mark-digby/
Sweta Akundi, “Devs’ review: Alex Garland's thriller is stylish and slick, despite its flaws”, 11 April, 2020 https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/hotstar-devs-sci-fi-mystery-show-review-style-above-emotions/article31317470.ece
Devs 2020 series Explained in HINDI | sci-fi | Ending Explained | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HZ1JDXj_cc