Architecture on Film: Sauerbruch Hutton Architects + Counter Music

A double bill of works by master Harun Farocki, examining architecture – from the micro to the macro – in order to interrogate the world. A dissection of the images of the ‘city-body’ meets a portrait of the labour of an architecture office.


06:30pm, Wednesday, 19 September 2018


08:30pm, Wednesday, 19 September 2018


Cinema 3
Beech St,
London, EC2Y 8DS



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£10.00 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


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A master at making images speak as a pioneer of the essay film, vanguard filmmaker Harun Farocki’s lifelong interrogation of how the world is constructed, articulated and perceived frequently led him to architecture, finding within the built environment material ripe for deconstruction. Following Architecture on Film’s presentation of Farocki’s In Comparison / The Creators of Shopping Worlds in 2010, for the 10th anniversary of the season we return to the filmmaker for a double bill exploring architecture from the macro to the micro, through two very different visual languages.

Counter Music

Counter Music dissects the ‘city-body’ through its own images - both machine and man-made. From sleeping humans to waking street lamps, Farocki explores the ‘veins of the city’ in split screen, finding drama in the mundane to portray ‘a story of a day in the life of a city’. 

France, Germany, 2004, Harun Farocki, 23 mins

Sauerbruch Hutton Architects

"Three months in an architects’ firm in Berlin. From the architecture down to the tiniest door handle, a questioning of matter and the verb."
— Harun Farocki

A film both made out of and about details and thinking, Sauerbruch Hutton Architects – Farocki’s final film – quietly observes the Berlin architectural office with an elegant precision that offers an analogy to his subject’s work. 

From the inherently ironic task of designing a Virtual Reality Centre to the search for the perfect door handle, Farocki’s final film is a subtle exercise in looking and listening, concerned with the negotiation of thinking and design, discussion and action, as a portrait of ideas becoming form. Using the tools of observational cinema over a three month period, he finds in the architect’s labour a place of constant questioning – a fitting mirror and coda, perhaps, to his own life’s work.

Germany, 2013, Harun Farocki, 73 mins

Programme Notes by Justin Jaeckle

Architecture on Film
began in 2008, programmed by The Architecture Foundation in partnership with the Barbican Centre, with a mission to broaden the discourse around the myriad intersections of architecture/the city and cinema/the moving image, whilst bringing quality and under seen cinema to London. To date, across 58 screenings, the ongoing bi-monthly season has included 118 films and over 30 UK premieres.  For the 10th anniversary screening we turn to Harun Farocki – a pioneer of interrogating the world through its images; a filmmaker who builds arguments though editing, contraposition and commentary, to construct critical cinematic objects.

Counter Music and Sauerbruch Hutton Architects approach the constructed world through two very different formal languages, illustrating the diverse means – whether through aggressive, didactic collage or candid, patient observation – that film, and Farocki, are able to help inform and infer an understanding of built and designed things. They share a perception of images, cinema, buildings and cities as all constructed entities. They share a fascination in the means though which things come into being, in the relationship between ideas and form, in design as an act of choreographing behaviour. These two films are joined, in Farocki’s canon, by multiple other investigations of architecture and the city, including his survey of brick making across the world, In Comparison (2009), and his examination of the psychological control mechanisms of the shopping mall, The Creators of Shopping Worlds (2001) (both screened for Architecture on Film in 2010). Other engagements include A New Product (2012) (on the ideology of the open office), Prison Images (2000) (on surveillance and control), Cine City Paris (1988) (on Paris as/in cinema), View of the City (1981) (on Berlin’s post-war reconstruction), and Buildings 1-2 (1978) (ruins vs non-ruins).

But Farocki’s concern is rarely for the urban or architectural per se, the built environment instead exists as a subject in his work for its ability to act as a corollary to power, control, money, decision-making, industry, technology, technique, labour, and, perhaps more than anything, an example of ideas concretely manifested. Farocki’s endeavour was one of training and practicing critical perception, studying the image by the means of the image itself, in order, most often, to interrogate the forces that constitute, control and reveal human relations in the world. Placing things side by side, on screen, his visual trains of thought give a form to thinking.

Farocki’s own words on Counter Music and Sauerbruch Hutton offer eloquent summations of his acute concerns. On Counter Music (2004), originally conceived as a two screen installation, subsequently recomposed as a split-screen single channel film:

“The city today is as rationalised and regulated as a production process. The images which today determine the day of the city are operative images, control images. Representations of traffic regulation, by car, train or metro, representations determining the height at which mobile phone network transmitters are fixed, and where the holes in the networks are. Images from thermo-cameras to discover heat loss from buildings. And digital models of the city, portrayed with fewer shapes of buildings or roofs than were used in the 19th century when planned industrial cities arose... Despite their boulevards, promenades, market places, arcades and churches, these cities are already machines for living and working. I too want to 'remake' the city films, but with different images. Limited time and means themselves demand concentration on just a few, archetypal chapters. Fragments, or preliminary studies.”

Farocki’s take on the ‘City Symphony’ sees him anthropomorphise urban networks as the ‘veins of the city’, an infrastructural conglomeration that wakes and sleeps alongside its enmeshed inhabitants. Dissecting the ‘city body’ through its own images, as well as those of cinema – images made by man, as well as those generated by the eyes of the engineered city itself  – he tells, in the film’s words, ‘a story of a day in the life of a city’. The film contrasts Walter Ruttmann and Dziga Vertov’s vivid and dynamic images of the city from the dawn of cinema, wherein ‘the mundane becomes dramatised’, with the comparatively existential CCTV and control images generated by the 21st century city, ‘shooting animals which have already been captured’. What results is a pan-historical reverie concerned with the industrial frameworks we have designed for ourselves to live within; an anatomy of images and the city.

If Counter Music concerns itself with cities as ‘machines for living and working’, Sauerbruch Hutton Architects (2013) forensically examines the labour of a contemporary architecture office, to better understand, and reveal, the processes, decisions and mechanisms that constitute and bring the city’s components into being:

“Three months in an architects’ firm in Berlin. From the architecture down to the tiniest door handle, a questioning of matter and the verb.”

A softer, gentler film that many in Farocki’s often acerbic and radical oeuvre, in Sauerbruch Hutton Farocki lingers in respectful, critical fascination on the practical apparatus and implementation of architecture. The film’s observational approach offers a subtle exercise in looking and listening, concerned with the negotiation of thinking and design, discussion and action, as a portrait of ideas becoming form. Thinking is the film’s subject, as well as the processes through which thinking is transformed into material – whether as a building or a door handle. The film presents a certain theatre of rhetoric and logic, through its, and the architect’s, ‘questioning of matter and the verb’. If, as Rem Koolhaas has said, ‘An architect writes scripts, but for people not for actors’, in Sauerbruch Hutton Farocki takes us to their writing room.

Humour makes recurrent incursions in the film, as the on screen architects oscillate between appearing as Issey Miyake-clad masters and curious children engaging in a game of materials and ideas. In both incarnations, control and power are manifested as a fence bounding thinking and possibilities. Will a producer veto the scripts the architects have so laboriously written for the built environment? When is a good idea actually a good idea, and for whom? As weeks of work come up against obstacles – both within and outside of the office – Farocki casts the architects’ labour as a somewhat fatalistic dilemma, the Sisyphean irony of which softly resides on the screen. By returning to the architects’ frustrated attempts to find an appropriate design for an oxymoronic Virtual Reality Centre, the film amusingly plays further with the frictions between ideas and their physical manifestation. The ideal Virtual Reality Centre, of course, would never be built.

In watching Hutton’s lengthy nuanced negotiations over the colour of a building’s cladding, we spend time observing a rhetorical game as it journeys towards compromise, through a resolution of diverging opinions, motivations and interests – perhaps the most prevalent underlying quality of the built environment itself, as a physical artefact of a multitude of negotiations. As we observe a chair undergoing revisions and prototyping, we think upon form as forever a product of decisions made, whilst watching a subtle game of soft power play out between strong willed individuals.

That Sauerbruch Hutton Architects would be Farocki’s final film has a certain aptness. As the film visualises the workings of intellect, discourse and problem solving, it feels like the filmmaker finds allies in his own practice of making thinking material. He finds in the architect’s work a place of constant questioning – a fitting mirror and coda, perhaps, to his own life’s work.

“The structures of these two architects appeal to me. They are lavish with ideas while remaining dedicated to ecological efficiency. They are playful without being arbitrary. They are bound to the formal language of modernity without being dogmatic.”

Farocki’s words on the architects could easily have been written about Farocki himself.