“Urbanism on Screen” Online Course

Course dates: 3-28 August 2020

grayscale photo of city buildings

Schedule breakdown

3 modules / 30 hours each including

  • lectures/discussions  (3 meetings)

  • reading/watching 

  • studying/writing

  • final assignment in the form of an essay

Duration: 2-4 week long

Course overview

This course will introduce you to the history of cinema, architectural theory and urbanist discourse, presenting them as a field of intertwined correspondences, where some films are set against the backdrop of modern cities, while others (other film scripts) speculate on transformations of urban form yet to come. Film, taken as a historical document, never failed to capture urbanity at large, filtered through subjective visions and impressions on city form, capturing its infrastructural outgrowth and architectural change, be it Italian neorealism’s bombed-out sceneries, ran-down shacks and dockyards of the 1970s crime films, depicting urban sprawl at its edge, or the post-modern, fragmented metropolises in Blade Runner, Dark City and Run, Lola! Run! Architecture and cinema has always been a perfect match, however rarely has the latter been considered a tool/medium fit for critical analyses of urbanism. Architects like Bernard Tschumi, Kevin Lynch, Lebbeus Woods, Juhani Pallasmaa, or the Superstudio group employed filmic language (screenplays, narrative, editing/montage, cinematographic techniques) as both concepts and formal devices, searching for its counterparts in their own domain. However, in cinema, we were able to see depictions of the contemporary city and its future renditions, whose role is way more important than that of backdrops to the story. Taken as case studies, instances of filmic architecture will be investigated on the basis of their contextuality (role in the plot), historical styles, solutions and aesthetics they evoke, mimic, or mock, and cinematographic strategies chosen in order to convey a particular perspective on built environment.

A number of 20th century concepts, which made considerable impact on our urban life: Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s collage city, Rem Koolhaas’s manhattanism, Paul Virilio’s overexposed city, Charles Jencks’s writings on postmodern architecture, or Ignasi de Solà-Morales’s terrain vague, alongside many others, will be discussed in conceptual and theoretical terms, and subsequently reframed as film settings against which action unfolds. Far from simple backdrops, locations in the films chosen for our case studies engage with characters’ storylines, trigger retrospections, conditioning them and becoming habitats vital to the cinematic plot.

In the case studies taken from both cinema and literature, students will be able to engage in a discussion on built form, while developing an ability to think critically about particular resolutions, occurrences and tendencies in urban planning, as presented from the vantage point of scripted narratives. Here, cultural forms have always stepped in as commentators. These provide an interesting insight into architects’ and urban planners’ concerns, harnessing opportunity to depict not just static forms, but the “inner-city” dynamics and urban life at large.

Course objectives

During the course, students will be introduced to urban and architectural concepts as pictured and commented upon in cinema and through cinematic lens (in the case of architectural projects). Reflecting on urban metamorphoses, buildings’ programmatic changes, reconstruction, urban renewal, sprawl, among other economy-led evolutions and revolutions that regulate urban infrastructure. Cities on screen are, in the largest number of cases, either idealized or demonized renditions of themselves, transforming in the course of architectural history from a Moloch Metropolis (Fritz Lang) into all-permeating settings that mirror our social condition (Larry Clark). Framing them against the architectural and urbanist discourses, uncovers an additional layer of meaning to film interpretation.

During the lectures/workshops and assigned cultural texts and films, central concepts to the history of architecture will become familiar to participants. Each subject will be approached in a similar fashion, with a chosen theoretical/historical architectural essay taken as an initial point for group discussions. These will act as conceptual frameworks for an extended study of film texts and literature, where these concepts are played out – mocked, extrapolated, critically examined, equipping participants with competences and knowledge to freely address issues in this tripartite (cinematic, architectural, urbanist) field of convergences.

For more information, please contact us on urbanstudies@lcir.co.uk.

Registration fee: 150 GBP 

Register on https://registration.lcir.co.uk by 31 July 2020