Architecture on Film: Mock-Ups in Close-Up: Architectural Models in Film, 1919-2012

Thur 18 April 2013 7.00pm

  • Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996; Michael Hoffman) © Michael Hoffman/Oliver Stapleton
  • Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980; Stanley Kubrick) © Stanley Kubrick/John Alcott
  • Tobias Moretti in Speer und Er (2005; Heinrich Breloer) © Heinrich Breloer/Gernot Roll
  • Ben Stiller in Zoolander (2001; Ben Stiller) © Ben Stiller/Barry Peterson

A screening of Gabu Heindl and Drehli Robnik's film, Mock-Ups in Close-Up: Architectural Models in Film, 1919-2012, accompanied by an introductory lecture and Q+A with the directors.

This event was kindly supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum London.

Mock-Ups in Close-Up: Architectural Models in Film, 1919-2012

Architect Gabu Heindl and film-theorist Drehli Robnik present their ongoing research project, mapping the appearance and use of architectural models across narrative cinema. An ever-growing collage-film constructed of a chronological sequence of clips from over 160 films (from The Fountainhead to Die Hard, Alain Resnais to Tim Burton, comedy to sci-fi), Mock Ups in Close Up takes us on a historical journey through architecture's filmic caricature, by charting the use of the model as an unsung, silent supporting character.

Mock-Ups in Close-Up is a collection of excerpts from an increasing number of narrative films that feature architectural models. In chronological order (from 1919 to 2012), the two-hour long video includes classics as well as recent American comedies and more obscure material. Some of the models figure quite prominently in the films, others appear more randomly. Without using narration, the compilation attempts to push the inclusion of all mock-ups to the extreme - until traction occurs, or until history (including that of architecture and its applications) again becomes relevant through the archives of randomness.

- Gabu Heindl and Drehli Robnik

Austria 2007-2012, Dirs. Gabu Heindl, Drehli Robnik, 130 min

Programme notes by Gabu Heindl and Drehli Robnik

Mock-ups in Close-up is an ongoing research and video project, which compiles in chronological order scenes (currently 170 clips) from feature films featuring analog architectural models. A collage of "things to think through" the project has something of the quality of a database come psychedelic visual journey, tinged with a playful paranoia at the cinematic omnipresence of mock-ups, and what they might mean.

Many of our mock-ups in close-up are destroyed in the course of "their" scenes. As drastic as that may seem, this destruction is simply an extreme manifestation of the general iterations of power – from masculine "greatness" to violent force – that models on celluloid make manifest. When the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired protagonist of The Fountainhead (USA 1948) for example, is shown standing in front of a colossal mock-up of a high-rise apartment block, he visualises reckless individualism in the image of “a house like a man”. The Hawk Plaza built by developer Alonzo Hawk in Herbie Rides Again (USA 1972) offers a satirical take on such a constellation, as the camera is forced to pan up in order to capture the full height and grandeur of the H-shaped model of twin towers at their unveiling. The paternalistic presumption of power over space is made litteral in Le mani sulla città – Hands Over the City (1963), Francesco Rosi’s thriller regarding property speculation in Naples, as dozens of planners, patriarchs, politicians, and profiteers huddle around a model of a new city quarter. This is one of cinema´s many skeptical takes on classic architectural scenes; a scene made most iconic in the well-known photograph of Le Corbusier holding his hand over a model of his Ville Radieuse.

In Beat Girl (UK 1960), an architect presents a model of his City 2000. Inspired by notions of the ideal city (such as Corbusier's Plan Voisin) with City 2000 he claims to have eradicated through planning the cause of modern neurosis: “too much contact with other people.” His "beat girl" daughter complains: “That crazy city of yours —what’s it got to do with me and my life?” In so doing this figure anticipates for a moment the growing source of criticism towards architecture and top-down planning of the film's time: the 1960s' youth protesters and counterculture. Taking this crime thriller as a starting point we can determine three forces denoted by its mock-ups: the male gendering of architecture, especially strident in the very few scenes with female architects (eg, Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day, USA 1996) that appear in the wider project; the increasing use of mock-ups after 1960 for projects that are not architectural at all (such as planning heists and missions in gangster and war movies); and a retrospective function for models which is less about planned futures than about the reconstruction of past crimes.

"Papa ist doch nicht schuld an dem Unglück! – The disaster wasn´t Papa´s fault!" These words of a girl introduce a courtroom dispute over the model of a railway viaduct and serve as an all-too symptomatic headline for the avoidance of the reconstruction of political crimes in 1950/60s melodramas from former Nazi countries. Here, the Fritz Lang-connection under the cypher "M" – from Metropolis and M to Mabuse and Maharaja – is significant. Close to the beginning of our compilation, Lang´s Tower of Babel model from Metropolis introduces the uncontrollable momentum of meanings as well as Oriental potentates that find their echo in a 1959 clip wherein a Maharaja orders a guilt-ridden German architect to build him a murderous Indian Tomb in Lang´s eponymous film. Here the guilt attached to German planning and building power is externalized/orientalized; projected eastward. In contrast, the 1965 East-German Chronik eines Mordes – Chronicle of a Murder, projects this guilt and responsibility westward, with former Nazis located solely in West-Germany and Nazi crimes literally covered up under an iconic model of an "economic miracle" single-family home.

Today, more than just reminders/remains, many models act as "memories" or a form of “consciousnesses” in their own right – no longer rational, but offering gateways to virtual worlds instead. In Rinne - Reincarnation (Japan, 2005) a film is to be shot in a hotel that was once the scene of a murder. The crew gathers for a planning session around a model of the hotel, which later seems to suck us in – only to transport us into the foyer of the real hotel itself. The model as a mind-machine makes dream and reality, past and present, inside and outside indiscernible. Such a dramatisation of problematic boundaries also causes crises of orientation in relation to interiority and scale. In several scenes the exact size or location of the mock-up becomes apparent only retroactively; mindgame movie style, we end up feeling implicated into a space/situation more deeply than we had at first thought.

And then there are those sublime scenes in which Fred Flintstone or fashion-model Zoolander – embodiments of the self-aggrandizing child-man who, in neoliberalism, replaces the developer-patriarch of old – fail to understand that the model presented to them is only a miniature. Their disregard of the principle of scale and of the great intentions condensed in the instrumental little object explores, by way of a gag, power issues connected to urban renewal similar to those literally toyed with already by Jacques Tati. At the end of Tati's 1967 Cours du soir, a byproduct of his Playtime shoot in “Tativille” (his urban-scale stage-set built near Paris), high-rise façades surrounding an office block turn out to be ten-meter-high mock-ups mounted on wheels. These miniatures of modernist urbanism that can be literally pushed aside are, finally, also instances of how every power game contains within it its own unforeseeable, playful moves.