Daily Features

The 10 Best Architecture and Design Films

Kyle Bergman, founder of the Architecture & Design Film Festival, offers his insider picks for the best design movies of all time

By Anne Quito, Superscript November 21, 2013

 If you’ve ever caught yourself on an endless Netflix scroll spiral, then you’re familiar with that debilitating feeling caused by too many choices. With today’s bounty of films dedicated to the subject of architecture and design, the spectrum can be bliss or blight. We turned to Kyle Bergman, founder of the country’s largest film festival dedicated to architecture and design, for expert guidance. A trained architect, Bergman has seen over a thousand films since the Architecture & Design Film Festival began in 2009, previewing an average of 250 submissions a year.

Three design films on Bergman's list are My Architect, Helvetica, and Citizen Architect. © Respective Films


The Books

On Architecture, Film and Art Christine Bechtler

“The best films portray both the human and design story,” Bergman told Designers and Books. “In a certain way, still photography seems to have taken the human element out of architectural imagery. I think the film medium is able to bring this back—people engaging with spaces and environments.”

Presented in alphabetical order, (“ranking is hard, they’re all great in different ways”) Bergman shares an annotated insider’s crib sheet on the ten best feature-length films about architecture and design.

Antwerp Central
By Peter Kruger

Bergman: "This is a film about a train station. It starts slow, you’re not sure where you’re going at first but the revelation is wonderful. There’s also this element of magical realism, it’s not just a story of the building but the evolving history and culture connected to it."

Calatrava, God Does Not Throw Dice
By Catherine Adda

The Book

Santiago Calatrava Alexander Tzonis

Bergman: "I like this film because the director is able to explain Calatrava’s thought process vividly. There have been other films about Calatrava but this presents a real understanding. I love that part of it."

Citizen Architect - Samuel Mockbee And The Spirit Of The Rural Studio
By Sam

The Book

Rural Studio at Twenty Andrew Freear
Elena Barthel
Andrea Oppenheimer Dean
Timothy Hursley

Bergman: "This film showcases the design build process. It shows the architect Sam Mockbee empowering his students to use design as an agent for social change even in small, subtle ways."

Garbage Warrior
By Oliver Hodge

Bergman: "I like this one because it talks about a maverick architect, Mike Reynolds. He was a loose cannon, a bit of a troublemaker but intensely passionate about his work and this film captures it all."

By Gary Hustwit

Bergman: "Can you really make a whole movie on a font? This was a surprising one. It’s a design story that engages the audience from beginning to end. Gary told a great story."

Infinite Space - The architecture of John Lautner
By Murray Grigor

Bergman: "Beautifully shot. It’s not easy to show architecture well. This one is just seductively beautiful."

Monument to the Dream
By Charles Guggenheim

Bergman: "This is the story behind how the St. Louis Gateway Arch came to be built. We know how this story ends but the director is able to keep us at the edge of our seat throughout — is it going to make it, is this thing going to be built?. It’s a great example on the power of dramatic tension in storytelling. Nominated for an Academy Award. A classic."

My Architect
By Nathaniel Kahn

The Book

Louis Kahn: The Power of Architecture Mateo Kries
Jochen Eisenbrand
Stanislaus von Moos

Bergman: "It’s great not just because Louis Kahn is a great architect. This is about a son’s search for his father, a personal film with a universal human story."

Sketches of Frank Gehry
By Sydney Pollack

The Book

Frank Gehry: The Houses Mildred S. Friedman

Bergman: "With scenes shot with hand held camera, this is a portrait of Frank Gehry by his longtime friend Sydney Pollack. This was perhaps as much about Gehry as it is about the great director/actor. This is one of the few, if not the only documentary that Pollack directed."

Unfinished Spaces
By Alysa Nahmias and Ben Murray

Bergman: "This is a film about architecture and politics portrayed with such an even hand. It portrays the rise and fall of Castro through a building. This was screened at the Miami International Film Festival and the Havana Film Festival and was loved in both cities—an amazing feat considering political context."

The Architecture & Design Film Festival celebrates films on design and architecture and with the mission of deepening the conversation among diverse audiences around it. The annual festival was held in New York City last month and travels to Los Angeles on March 12-16, 2014 and Chicago on April 24-28, 2014. Kyle Bergman is its founder and director.

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