Through the lens: Architecture as a co-star in dystopian cinema 1927 – 2012, Fenesan Oriana is a paper written in the year 2016 submitted in support of a course (History of contemporary architecture) at Politecnico de Milano and can be found on ISSUU to read. The essay discusses the parallels between architecture and cinema, dystopian cinema in specific. The author discusses the position of architecture starring in dystopian films and how it captures the Zeitgeist of the era. To make her points with examples, the author chooses to pick three dystopian films that use the architecture of three different styles as a backdrop. Art Deco and the movie Metropolis (1927), Brutalism and the movie Dredd (2012) and lastly Post-modernism and the movie Blade runner (1982).

Article in Focus: Through the lens- architecture as the costar in dystopian cinema
Through the lens ©Issuu

The author begins by setting up a relationship between architecture and films and how the two have co-evolved since the film production was born. She also talks about how filmmakers have been influenced by the architecture of their time and got the inspiration to create dystopian worlds in the movies they make. And apart from the link between architecture and cinema, the author also reiterates the similarities and differences between these two professions. The readers are asked to ponder on how the two arts use drawings in the form of storyboarding and sketches, to achieve the vision and how both use movement in space and time to create or accentuate an emotion. However, the two artistic endeavours have different ways of achieving similar results as the two are fundamentally different in their existence.

An important point that is made here is that architecture, like other arts, has been capturing the Zeitgeist of an era since the time far from memory and cinema, like painting and photography too, attempt the same. But cinema, (as painting and photography) does that while giving us a take on architecture as it uses architecture to achieve its goal. 

The author invites us to acknowledge that films have been influenced by the movements like the Bauhaus and architects such as Mies Van Der Rohe and by casting architecture in this immersive world-building, the films allow the audience to experience the architecture of their time through the movies they watch. This is how films create perceptions of architecture for the audience.

The author takes us through the synthesis of modernist utopia, it’s criticism and evolution of dystopian vision. There’s a lot to unpack here as the author cites Manfredo Tafuri, writer of Progetto e Utopia, his work on the ideology of modern architecture. According to him, architecture in the 60s was in a condition of crisis. Around the same time, many artists started questioning the foundations of modernist utopia and many experiments were carried out by the architects of the time that used dystopia constructively. This led to the evolution of dystopian architectural style, products of which were mostly placed in the centres of power. The author raises a pertinent question about a unified method for dystopian architecture and links utopia and dystopia while exploring the definition of dystopia. The description suggests that unrealised utopias give birth to dystopia. One paves the way for another and the two states are eternally linked to each other in a cyclical process, around which society and architecture move. 

Later, the author looks at the vision created through the lens of Metropolis, Dredd and Blade runner and makes starking remarks on the architectural styles one finds while investigating the cinematic worlds of these films. She explains all the three styles that play a leading role in the creation of cinematic themes and emotions. Art Deco, Brutalism and Postmodernism are defined and analysed in detail from the points of view of cinema, architecture and society. Among the very few images in this paper, the ones used to describe the visions of these movies are the most useful for the reader’s ease of understanding.

Analysis of the three films that the author chooses to discuss, discloses how cinema holds the mirror to the society and captures the Zeitgeist of an era. Cinema achieves the same goal with the help of its ancestral art form, architecture. Metropolis, Dredd and Blade Runner, all three have been inspired by and have used architectural styles of their time to express the condition of society. 

The author points out that Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is highly inspired by the Art Deco skyscrapers in NewYork City. It is an interesting revelation that Art Deco, a style that in itself had no political or philosophical intent unlike other art movements before and after it, was used in Metropolis to express a political take of the filmmaker.

In the discussion about brutalism and the movie Dredd, the author points out how Mega-City One, a fictional location where the film is set, is inspired by Le-Corbusier’s vision for Paris, “Plan Voison”. Brutalist architecture that plays a central role in the film is used to evoke a negative emotion. The film presents the brutalist style of architecture as oppressive. The projects of this style in the real world met with a similar fate as in the film.

The author uses Blade Runner to discuss Postmodernism, a forever debatable style. But to define this style and its cinematic expression, the author adopts two words from Fredric Jameson’s essays. The words are – schizophrenic temporality and spatial pastiche. At this point, the paper becomes the most intriguing and complex at the same time. This section beautifully explains how Blade Runner uses temporality and pastiche that define postmodernism in its approach while designing the society and character of cinematic 2019 Los Angeles. 

While making these judgements, the author presents samples for writing movie reviews with an architectural point of view. This unintended learning is an important one, however, as it only serves for better discourse, if more architects could analyse the visual and architectural in the cinematic universe and write about it. 

The paper is an engaging read for the chosen topic. It is a suitable preliminary encounter into the discourse for those who wish to begin their study around films and architecture and how the two work together in cinema but find the books and in-depth research papers overwhelming.

The paper could have been richer in its value if the other two styles of architecture and the films that represent them, were analysed and discussed with the same rigour as postmodernism and Blade Runner.

This paper does a good job of establishing a solid impact of architecture and space-making in films and how it reinforces our visions about our futures, whether dystopian or utopian. It, however, fails to make a substantial contribution to the subject area as the findings were made mostly based on the secondary study and not primary research. Nonetheless, the author is successful in delivering a compelling narrative around the quote from Christian de Portzamparc she begins her essay with, that says “Architecture has a strong link with the movies in terms of time progression, sequencing, framing, all of that”.


Priyamvada is an architect, writer, and artist. She is passionate about the discourse around architecture both as a profession and as an art form. This brings her to architectural writing. She is an invested learner of film criticism, architectural theory and is attempting to practice abstraction through her paintings.