As creators and developers of the physical space, architects are perhaps one of the most creative individuals, each with their perspective, and a way of looking at things differently. We derive inspiration from the most unlikely origins and are on a journey of constantly figuring out our definition and meaning in this world of creativity. As ambitious visionaries, architects have a strong eye for detail and a tendency of focusing on the finer aspects from a visual perspective; other professionals that come somewhat close to having a similar characteristic are perhaps entrepreneurs and film directors. The latter group of individuals are, however, as inclined towards bringing visual finesse as the creators of spaces: architects. So at times, we can wonder how the most renowned and revered film directors would be like if they were to have chosen to be designers of structures rather than authors of the prime visual medium.

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The Direction of Denis Villeneuve_©voir.ca/nouvelles/actualite-cinematographique/2019/06/11/denis-villeneuve-pilotera-aussi-une-serie-tele-tiree-de-dune

Many recognized directors have integrated architecture and space as a supporting element, into their films. Films like Inception, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Playtime and most notably: The Grand Budapest Hotel; have been known to use architecture as the main or one of the more important characters within the films, becoming pivotal plot-driving points. Among the many well-known directors who have given their respective unique takes on cinema, the one who has gained recognition as one of the most versatile and adept directors of the 21st Century is, Denis Villeneuve (pronounced as deh-NEE vill-nuuv)

The French-Canadian filmmaker has grown into the most sought after and looked up to directors of the modern-day. Having directed films such as Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and most recently; Dune, Villeneuve has become a widely known name in international cinema. Given the meticulousness he attributes towards his filmmaking, imagining him as an Architect would be an interesting alternative to contemplate about.

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Arrival: The Setting dominates the Scene_©Jan Thijs- PARAMOUNT PICTURES / time.com/4677598/arrival-oscar-cinematography

As a personality, Villeneuve appears as an introspective and deep thinker. He is known to constantly challenge the filmmaking formulae that have been used for a long time and explore the truer motive towards what cinema stands for. His screenplays characterize his attempts towards making the audience empathetic towards his characters and mirror his introverted, intuitive, and feeling persona.

While as a filmmaker he has focused on darker elements and aspects, leading to a feeling of discomfort and unease for the viewer, as an architect that might not be the approach he would take. While he would still focus on leaving lasting impressions for the visitors of his structures, the feelings would be far more positive and peaceful; to leave a strong impact in the minds of visitors. 

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True Colours: Blade Runner 2049_©Alcon-  www.indiewire.com/2020/07/denis-villeneuve-deakins-blade-runner-influence-dune

Denis Villeneuve has showcased his sheer love for reading; given that he has adapted a few of his notable recent screenplays from famous science fiction books. Through his films, it is clear how inclined he is towards creating derivations, and stories from the world of literature. His filmmaking philosophy can be briefly underlined via a three-fold approach; entailing the major components of sound, cinematography and storytelling, which in architectural terms could perhaps be interpreted as the acoustical quality, spatial setting and the overall narrative that Architects as designers of space seek to exhibit.

Therefore, his spaces would be constantly striving towards creating an in-depth meaning and inducing curiosity within the visitors of his buildings, as well as breaking paradigms towards the existing norms of how people comprehend structures. How he explores the deeper darker layers to his characters, would perhaps resonate in his design; only in this particular case, they would be layers within volumes of space.

Of Lexical Interpretations and Shifting Patterns

Given Denis Villeneuve’s versatility, he does not conform to a particular film genre or style. Although he has shown his ability to keep shifting and working towards different experimentations, pivoted around a core idea that is representative of his constant belief and ideology. As an architect, he would be open towards healthy collaboration with a multitude of stakeholders, all of whom would induce eclectic origins to the way a designer would be different from its previous contemporaries. As a designer, he would make conscious efforts towards altering the architectural languages of buildings and given his fondness for the written word, he would make a great designer for cultural public spaces such as libraries. 

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Storehouse of the Lexicon _©Snohetta- www.arabcont.com/english/project-78

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina by Snohetta and the Seattle Public Library by OMA have both been representative of shifting approaches from the way libraries are typically designed. Although both have stood for completely different individual meanings, they have added definitions to their program, as well as given layers to the overall architectural design.

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Elemental congregation of details_©Office for Metropolitan Architecture- www.hoffmancorp.com/project/seattle-central-library/

Centers of Worship or Domains of Introspection

Given Villeneuve’s strong feelings on the depths of human psychology, his take would also entail religious architecture. His design would attempt to shift from the archetype of order and ornamentation, and be more bent towards the whole idea of transparency, raw and brutalist representation, as well as using the natural surroundings to their maximum potential.

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Church of Light: Signifying the Monochrome_©medium.com/@yuhangcao

The Church of Light by Tadao Ando and the Jubilee Church by Richard Meier are both examples of such design philosophies, aiming towards the core focus of religious spaces: inner peace, calmness and introspective thought. 

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Jubilee Church: Changing Paradigms_©Author (Varun Vashi)

Parallel Spaces: The Physical Indicators of Simultaneity 

As a person who likes to play with the viewer’s (user’s) curiosity, Villeneuve has experimented with the idea of simultaneous narratives in his films. His non-uniform approach to cinematography that encompasses off-centre frames, and inverted views; illustrate a breaking of traditional views and film shooting techniques.

As an architect, I believe he would attempt to do the same; a playful approach such as this will generate intrigue in people who experience such a space. 

His usage of thematic elements such as light & shadow, colour schemes, and music; is used in a way that brings the best out of his cinematic approach, that attempts a play on ambiguity and uncertainty. He tends to explore questions and human emotions via unstable environments and contrasts, to create paradoxical narratives. Villeneuve’s contradictory and simultaneous display is indicative of a set filled with disorder and disarray; thereby adding a sense of a method to the madness in his grave plotlines. This form of a playful and opposing structure would be an interesting take towards architecture, and may perhaps be an apropos design technique for public spaces such as museums and galleries.

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Simultaneous Movements_©Iwan Baan- www.archdaily.com

The MAXXI Museum by ZHA speaks of Zaha Hadid in every curve and every detail of its existence. The design of the entire building showcases elements that are resonant with how Villeneuve’s design technique might be like. 

Conclusive Opinion

Villeneuve is a prime example of a creative individual who has perpetually striven towards innovation. A person who is open to ideas, and is bent on developing his version or type of cinema. It would have been an interesting scenario if he chose to become a designer of building spaces. While we can only speculate, maybe it is a potential reality elsewhere. Then again, his contributions towards filmmaking in the 21st Century era of Cinema is noteworthy and each of his work is an admirable representation of a host of core human values, bent on seeking an understanding of what truly lies deep within, and far ahead.  

References:

  1. Fandor. (2018). Denis Villeneuve: Directorial Trademarks. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llXZ6xcnqOY&t=233s [Accessed 26 November 2021].
  2. StudioBinder. (2020). Denis Villeneuve and his Cinema of Ambiguity. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYvimGit3nQ [Accessed 26 November 2021].
  3. Little White Lies. (2021). A Beginner’s Guide to Denis Villeneuve. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bQILqpkH2o [Accessed 26 November 2021].
  4. The Take. (2017). You Know It’s Denis Villeneuve IF… [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoyPF49knzg [Accessed 26 November 2021].
  5. Like Stories of Old. (2021). Understanding Denis Villeneuve: Into the Dark Depths of Humanity. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKtWWbOvHDI [Accessed 26 November 2021].
  6. Ing. Jan Jileček (2019). 5 film directors and their psychological MBTI profile [Part II.] [online]. (Last updated 7 September 2019). Available at https://janjilecek.medium.com/5-film-directors-and-their-psychological-mbti-profile-part-ii-37dda3507d9d# [Accessed 26 November 2021].
  7. BRENT DUNHAM (2020). Denis Villeneuve and his Directing Style & Techniques. [online]. (Last updated 24 March 2020). Available at https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/denis-villeneuve-directing-style/ [Accessed 26 November 2021].
Author

A final year architecture student, currently studying in SVKM-NMIMS Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, Mumbai, he has allied interests towards architectural photography and writing. Having a penchant for films and philosophy as well, he is of the belief that architecture and design have the ability to capture the most pivotal moments in life itself.

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