Architecture on Film: Colossal Youth

30 March 2009 7.00pm

Colossal Youth

The third instalment of celebrated experimental director Pedro Costa’s filmic collaboration with the inhabitants of Lisbon’s Fontainhas slum, Colossal Youth, frames its characters' lives within a unique hybrid of documentary observation and fictional re-enactment. As their neighbourhood is razed around them, and the community transferred to a new government-planned settlement, the film posits a conflict between grand social architectural gestures and informal developments. A challenging film, whose grace and existential grandeur offer a rewarding meditation on place and people; an immersive experience from one of cinema’s most singular voices.

France/Portugal/Switzerland 2006 Dir. Pedro Costa 155 minutes

The screening will be introduced by film critic and writer, Jonathan Romney. Jonathan's review of Colossal Youth from Sight and Sound, can be read here.

Screening programmed in responce to the Barbican exhibition, Le Corbusier - The Art of Architecture.

Programme Notes

The Breathing of Ruins: A Work of Architecture Called “Colossal Youth”

By Ryoji Suzuki

I’d like to venture that “Colossal Youth” is not only a movie, but also actual architecture.  From my perspective, this is neither empty rhetoric nor simple fancy for the architectural theme is unmistakable from the opening shot. A building stands erect, looming in the murk. Looking up at it from our position close to the surface of the road makes for an overpowering angle. The wall of the building reveals gradations of change in shadow within the darkness. Pitch-black openings here and there look like eyes or mouths. And as we watch, pieces of furniture that seem as if they might have come from the bowels of the building are tossed intermittently from one of the openings. The building seems as if it is shrieking something, or vomiting something out. Before now I had never seen a movie that filmed buildings so much as if they were living flesh-and-blood creatures. If we can say that architecture too is to have its own experiences, in other words experiences “as architecture”, we would be speaking of exactly these kinds of moments. 
What we are watching is evidently a film, but if we set aside for a moment things like the words exchanged and the apparent stories within it, we are doing nothing but being inside the buildings. Perhaps the first reason we feel this way is because a prerequisite of Pedro Costa’s space is pitch darkness. Yet conversely it is “darkness” that has almost completely been eradicated from contemporary architecture when, at the end of the 19th Century, darkness was eradicated from the world as a result of the arrival of artificial light. In contemporary times, the sole cohabitation of architecture and darkness takes place within the movie theater. It’s entirely as if buildings trans-located their accumulated recollections mediating darkness directly to film, unchanged; a dramatic substitution that was perhaps destined. This must hence mean that when, not the light, but the darkness, is projected onto the screen, that screen becomes connected seamlessly with the darkness of the space, and a circumstance is created where the building and the movie are blended into one. And it is just these moments where film exists also as architecture that comprises the blissful encounter between the two.

Yet Fontainhas is a contemporary ruin – and we can’t think only about the architecture and avoid the issue of ruins. Since it was filmed in close quarters with the destitute inhabitants of Fontainhas, “Colossal Youth” is also a movie about ruins. Pedro Costa has lucidly provided two contradistinctive types of contemporary architecture. One the one hand are the cheap, newly erected apartments provided to the people who have been chased out of their homes because of the redevelopment, on the other hand are the slums that are being destroyed. Both are made of reinforced concrete and are hence contemporary constructions. However the former are the very latest in commercial architecture, while the latter are ruins, the final form of the same thing, only deteriorated and fallen to pieces. And so the protagonist Ventura roams like Ulysses between these extremes. Ventura, who seems to harmonize with the jet black darkness of the slums, becomes in the white space of the brand-new apartments like a hideously marooned fossil bereft of anything he can rely on. Even though the weather is fine, beneath the disturbingly blackish sky the newly constructed apartments seem to be brutally white.

The viewer recognizes that the sight of the ruins becomes strangely more and more brilliant, even though they are immersed in desperate blockage and stagnation, and should seem hopelessly abandoned. What we are looking at are contemporary ruins which have risen to the same level as their “officially recognized” counterparts such as Roman or Romanesque, or perhaps they are elevated even above that standard. The idea of architecture only becoming architecture when it first falls to ruin was expressed by architect Louis Kahn. According to Kahn while buildings are being used by people and within society, their architectural nature is hidden and not manifested, and it is only when humans stop using them and abandon them, that for the first time intrinsic architecture is exposed to our sight. To say it in another way, the time when buildings first begin breathing energetically will be when humans become extinct and within Pedro Costa’s movies every shot is bound to this world of departed spirits.
Abridged from a translation by Jeremy Harley

Download programme notes here


Tickets for this event are no longer available.

Add to calendar

Add to iCal, Outlook, etc.

Architecture on Film

A bi-monthly series of film screenings that take a lateral look at architecture and the city, as represented and discussed across documentary, video art and the movies.

read more

Related Programme

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden

24 September 2008 6.30pm

Code 46 + Michael Winterbottom Q&A

24 November 2008 7.00pm

Los Angeles Plays Itself

21 January 2009 7.00pm

Colossal Youth

30 March 2009 7.00pm

Wonderland / Streamside Day

18 May 2009 7.00pm

Buckminster Fuller Meets the Hippies / Counter Communities

14 July 2009 7.00pm

In the Pit

28 September 2009 6.30pm

London / Driftwood + Patrick Keiller Q&A

Tuesday 17 November, 6.30pm

Public Housing

Thurs 28 Jan 2010 6.30pm

En Construcción (Work in Progress)

Mon 29 Mar 2010 6.15pm

Chain / Death By Chocolate

Mon 24 May 2010 8.30pm

True Stories

Weds 21 July 2010 6.30pm

In Comparison / The Creators of Shopping Worlds

Thursday 30 September 2010 6.15pm

Beijing / Midtown + Sarah Morris Q&A

Thurs 4 Nov 2010 6.15pm

Dark Days / Substrait

Mon 31 Jan 2011 6.30pm

Detroit Wild City / Detroit: City On The Move

Tues 8 March 2011 6.15pm / Mon 11 April 8.45pm

The White Slave / 1, 2, 3 Rhapsody

Mon 10 October 2011 7pm

Mur Murs / Get Out of the Car

Tues 29 November 2011 7pm

Style Wars / The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal

Tues 21 February 2012 7pm

Living in the City of Tomorrow / Die Bauten Adolf Hitlers

Tues 29 May 2012 7pm

Streetwise / The Houseless Shadow

Weds 17 October 2012 6.30pm

Le Centre Georges Pompidou / Cloud Island

Tues 11 December 2012 7.00pm

Chelsea on the Rocks

Tues 12 February 2013 7.00pm

Mock-Ups in Close-Up: Architectural Models in Film, 1919-2012 + Introduction and Q+A

Thur 18 April 2013 7.00pm

Drop City

Tues 9 July 2013 7.00pm

John Smith's London

Tues 24 September 2013, 7pm

Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, MoMA, 1972 + Q&A

Thurs 28 November 2013, 7pm

Rybczynski: Exploring Space + Introduction

Thurs 23 January 2014, 7pm

Post-producing Architecture: HLM, Habitations Légèrement Modifiées + Q&A

Thurs 13 March 2014, 7pm

The Competition + Q&A

Thurs 8 May 2014, 7pm

Torre David + Occupying Brazil + Mumbai + Gran Horizonte + Q&A

Thurs 10 July 2014, 7pm

The Airstrip: Decampment of Modernism, Part III + Two Museums + Q&A

Weds 8 October 2014, 7pm

The World + Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land

Weds 19 November 2014, 7pm

One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later

Weds 10 December 2014, 7pm

Bernardes + Q&A

Tues 13 January 2015, 7pm

My Winnipeg + Lettre à Freddy Buache + Cold

Tues 31 March 2015, 7pm


Tues 12 May 2015, 7pm

The Machine Stops + Fortress of Solitude + Q&A

Tues 23 June 2015, 6.30pm

The Iron Ministry + Songhua

Tues 14 July 2015, 7.00pm

Theory of Achievement + Gut Renovation + Q&A

Tues 15 September 2015, 6.30pm
Architecture on Film: Colossal Youth 1970-01-01T01:33:00Z 1970-01-01T01:33:00Z

A mesmeric feature film documenting the last days of an informal neighbourhood before its transfer to a planned development. Introduced by Jonathan Romney, Sight and Sound.