Architecture is not just limited to buildings, skyscrapers, or city planning; it is all around us from the ergonomic design of a chair to a superhit movie that leaves an imprint on our minds. A movie has the ability to capture and present a myriad of ideas that would otherwise be lost in translation.

The relation between the two enables reflection on the importance of architecture, portraying it as an indispensable element that tells a beautiful story between time, space, and people. By breaking down and perfecting the different aspects of a movie’s visual architecture, people can be exposed to new images and videos that can transform their perspectives faster than their realities. 

There are different aspects of visual architecture that a movie can be broken down into as discussed below.

The Set

Some movie sets are designed to be mere backdrops that support a film’s events and bring the cast to life. But some movies have settings that are integral to the story; influencing characters, inciting action, and adding a new, captivating depth to the movie. The Oscar-winning Korean dark-comedy film, Parasite is the perfect example.  

Mr. Park’s villa was a symbolic character that contributed to the story of the film and expressed his thoughts, feelings, and mindset. Architecture played a core role in the movie, and in fact, the first floor and garden were physically constructed by the production designer to add an authentic feel to the character’s property. Minimal furniture was used so that audiences would not be distracted from being absorbed into the story.

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Minimal furniture on the set of Parasite sets an intriguing mood. ©

Another great example where the set played a vital role in setting the ambiance of the movie, was the 1980 horror film, The Shining. The story takes place in the snowed-in Overlook Hotel which is isolated from the rest of the world. The theme is carried forward inside, where the immensity and emptiness of the set, expose their vulnerable, abandoned, and insignificant characters, and ultimately giving the viewer a fleeting feeling that they may be absorbed into the clutches of isolation. 

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The Colorado Lounge of the Overlook Hotel, in The Shining. ©

The Props 

Anything that is movable or portable onset is considered a prop, and these play a crucial role in most movies, furthering the tone that the film is trying to set. Some props are so iconic that they become as popular as the movie itself, if not more. 

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The Golden Snitch in the Harry Potter Movies. ©

Back to the Future would have been incomplete without the DeLorean time machine – a retrofitted DMC vehicle with an impression-worthy flux capacitor. Without the perfectly designed snitch, the first Harry Potter movie would not have been able to capture the thrill behind capturing the walnut-sized, golden Quidditch ball with fluttering wings. 

The City and Context

The use of motion picture and storytelling technology gave filmmakers an unprecedented advantage in the creation of their narratives, as opposed to live performances. While constructed sets are still used frequently, there’s now the opportunity to inculcate existing architectural features into the movie and use it to manipulate the mood and create a relatable atmosphere. The stories of the characters can be intertwined with the stories of the cities where the film is based. 

In the 1986 rom-com, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the city of Chicago became one of the focal points of the movie, taking its own character, and playing a supporting role that encouraged Ferris and his friends ‘day off’. Years from when the movie was released, it serves as a tribute to what Chicago once was, and what had changed.

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The Art Institute of Chicago as seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  ©John Hughes

Even in the movie The Shining, the opening scene features aerial shots of a car traversing through the overwhelming, deserted countryside to the Overlook Hotel, setting the theme of isolation from society early on. 

The Videography and Animations 

Unburdened by the limitations of physician sets, visual storytelling through animated sets can take on any imaginable form as desired by the creator. The liberty that this gives stimulates a creative flow of ethereal and captivating worlds and takes life in the imaginations of the audience. 

The use of an animated environment is sometimes paramount in creating the atmosphere of a movie, such as films where there is a need to morph between a dream state and reality, and ultimately create an ambiguity between the two worlds. This is seen in the Japanese sci-fi movie Paprika by Satoshi Kon, where dynamic environments and vibrant colors set the stage for the surrealist drama, where the audience enters a world that resonates with the film’s theme.

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The rich visuals of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. ©Patrick O’Keefe/Sony Pictures Animation

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is another film that’s quite complex in its visual language with the environment itself being rich with vibrant details. Every scene in the movie is subtly different from the other, and when woven together, it forms a masterpiece in graphic design. The audience gets absorbed into the fabric of an entirely new concept, finding the perfect balance between a comic book and graphic design aesthetic. 

By pushing the rendered styling to new limits, different dimensions are added to each character. It strikes the perfect balance between color, animation, and environmental design. It’s like watching architectural concepts come to life!  

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The rich visuals of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. ©Dave Bleich/Sony Pictures Animation

Visual architecture foments an awareness and helps people imagine the impossible or uncover what was previously forgotten and reimagine the world. Both cinema and architecture are artforms that emerge from the cocoon of collaborative efforts of creative artists. 

In both worlds, even a minuscule dot doesn’t exist by accident but is in fact placed with a specific motive in mind. When the two disciplines intertwine, the result is a masterpiece that can change the very foundation of a person’s perceptions.


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Team, E., 2020. In Discussion: Architecture and Film | RMJM Insights. [online] RMJM. Available at: <,or%20Knives%20Out%20(2019)> [Accessed 24 March 2021].

Young, H., 2015. Film Architecture: Use of Sets. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 24 March 2021].


Deeksha Kamath is a fresh graduate from Manipal School of Architecture and Planning, India, with a penchant for writing. She believes that words, when strung together beautifully, can evoke the greatest emotions in readers. With this precept, she aspires to proliferate her love for architecture, through her writing.

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