The sights of Metropolis are so stunning that everything else about the picture fades into the background, enabling the film’s all-consuming mythological status to take over. The 1927 film’s amazing, cutting-edge special effects and futurist vision have become tremendously iconographic and made the picture a standard of influence in science-fiction cinema. It was a technical classic of the Silent Era by Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang. Lang went out to make a film that was more expensive and grandiose in scale than anything that had come before, employing roughly 25,000 extras, massive sets, and scenes never seen before in a motion picture.

An Architectural Review of Metropolis (1927) -Sheet1
Metropolis Poster (1927 film)_©Boris Bilinski

In the Making

Fritz Lang’s silent sci-fi classic is most known for its wonderful female robot, Eve, but it’s the set design that takes your breath away. It includes a cloud-scraping contemporary Tower of Babel, an industrial workers’ production hellhole, and super-modern, master-of-the-universe-style offices, all of which reflect the designers’ in-depth knowledge of the very latest European architectural advancements. All of the buildings displayed are horrifying, whether they be interpreted as Art Deco, Bauhaus Modern, or Expressionism. The whole impression is oddly Gothic, gloomy, lengthy, and chiaroscuro. It’s also rather frightening.

An Architectural Review of Metropolis (1927) -Sheet2
The Tower of Babal_©Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Foundation, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Otto Hunte, art director and production designer, led Lang’s team of set designers, which included Karl Vollbrecht, who was recognised as “film architect,” and Erich Kettelhut. Lang and Hunte enlisted the help of cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan, who devised a method for projecting Metropolis actors into small sets using mirrors. This daring experiment with “futuristic” buildings and newly discovered filmmaking methods contributed to Metropolis having a lasting impact on real-life architecture.

Storyline

Two people from each class fall in love in a futuristic city that is strongly split between the working class, who lives in deplorable conditions but is the driving force behind the city’s work, and the upper class mostly comprised of city planners and their families. One of them is a prophet from the working class, a lady who gives the city’s workers hope. She foresees the arrival of a saviour, one who would reconcile societal divisions and usher in a new age for the city.

An Architectural Review of Metropolis (1927) -Sheet3
The Underground City of workers_©UFA GmbH

The other is the mastermind’s son from the city. The prophet, however, is abducted by a mad inventor who wants to use her to power a robot. The prophet’s physical appearance is replicated for the robot. The robot causes plenty of issues for the working class as a result of the insane inventor’s commands. The son of the city’s genius and the prophet will have to stop the robot and its insane inventor from causing additional issues for Metropolis, while also achieving the aim of making Metropolis a harmonious place.

Cityscape

Skyscrapers constructed of polished stone soar into the stratosphere in the movie, dwarfing the small humans – who are horrifying but beautiful – halfway between brutalist and art deco. The skyline is crisscrossed by angular bridges carrying a never-ending stream of similar black motorcars, while biplanes buzz overhead. “I peered into the streets – the dazzling lights and the enormous skyscrapers – and there I created Metropolis,” Fritz Lang said of his trip to New York in 1924. “The structures appeared to be a vertical sail, sparkling and incredibly light… hanging in the black sky to dazzle, divert, and mesmerise,” he added.

An Architectural Review of Metropolis (1927) -Sheet4
The Upper City_©UFA GmbH

With all of that, there’s a splash of Gothic: the cathedral and the mad scientist’s lair, both of which have been lost by the years. Then there are the machines, with their massive mechanical clock arms, exposed brass and copper pipes, and unexpected bursts of steam. It’s a completely realised image of the future, yet it’s based on what was technically achievable in the 1920s. Everything has a useful function as well as an aesthetic appeal. The interiors are modernist, with art deco elements such as this magnificent clock design, which has a face divided into 10-minute blocks for the ordinary employees and a smaller 24-hour clock above it for the more sophisticated businessmen.

Conclusion

Almost a century has gone by since Metropolis was released, and it has captivated more than just young children in random waiting rooms. Throughout the decades, it has inspired a variety of cultural works. Numerous artists and media workers have been impacted by visual impressions from the film. Numerous films, particularly urban-dystopian scenes, borrowed in numerous ways from Fritz Lang’s masterwork. Many artistic works were inspired by Metropolis’ famous structures and cityscape, as well as its underlying vertical segregation of people. The basis of these characteristics, founded on Babylonian Architecture and the related mythology of urban terror, emphasise the significance of this work: Metropolis serves as a media bridge between the past, present, and future.

Gothic Influences in the movie_©UFA GmbH

Opinion

The link between cinema and architecture may also be utilised to highlight the filmmaker’s ambitions for the city’s future. These can be aspirational ideals, but in many cases, filmmakers utilise their art to depict dystopia and terror, expressing their rising fears about our changing world. In the name of progress, our scientific and technical advancements might be perceived as unnecessarily sacrificing our quality of life. Both Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner depict similar views for our respective civilizations’ futures. The architectural set works in tandem with the storyline in each of their films to offer grim views of the future.

References:

  1. Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Metropolis (1927 film). [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolis_(1927_film)
  2. Pooky.com. (2020). [online] Available at: https://www.pooky.com/2016/03/03/industrial-meets-art-deco-how-metropolis-helped-design-the-future
Author

A recently graduated architect, Mohit has a quest to understand the Art and Architecture of our cities. He believes in designing things by understanding the larger context and blending them into the larger environment.

Write A Comment