The human mind is very receptive to pictorial and visual representations. When a visual perception occurs with the other senses activated, the associated memory tends to remain longer in us. This explains the significant impact film and architecture can have on our minds. The manifestations of the art forms – architecture and cinema have stood together and complemented each other through time and history. They’re two different art cultures that please our senses.
How many of us can imagine the movie Harry Potter on the moon, a setting rather different from the one in the movie? Would spiderman have become a city superhero if he had merely jumped from one tree to another amidst nature? If not for the skyscrapers and the urban setting, Spiderman would have become Tarzan’s brother. The spatial narrative of a movie plays a crucial role in giving it life and magic.
Space and cinema have been inherently bound to each other since moving images, and visual storytelling evolved. Spatial settings have the power and ability to take us back and forward in time through architectural styles and technology. Movie sets have often made us wonder if we could ever become a part of them. That’s the effect that an impeccably set design can leave us with. One such setting we as kids have wished to be a part of was “The Town of Shire” based on the favourite book “The Lord of the Rings”.
A Virtual set seeing – The Lord of the Rings
Production designer Grant Major and Movie Director Peter Jackson knew every nut and bolt of the story before making the film. Major broke down his design process, claiming that the book was his starting point. ”Tolkien himself was a descriptive writer, so among many other things, he wrote down the geography, mood, and feeling of a place in the story well.”
The trilogy has cosy hobbit holes, soaring towers, and majestic stone cities.
The movie is known for using various architectural styles to bring about the ambience and the atmosphere of the story to match the verbal depictions of the novel.
The Hobbit holes of Shire – Naturalism
Hobbit holes were curved houses with round windows built under hillocks, inspired by the ancestral habit of living in holes. These low comfortable house holes have been a part of Nordic Architecture and culture for some time. Tolkien built his Fantasy of Middle Earth based on this inspiration and brought them about in the movie as a representation of Futurism and Naturalism. The poorest lived in primitive. Burrows with barely one or no windows, while the rich constructed more luxurious versions of these holes, as Bilbo says in the movie.
Gondor and Minas Tirith – Roman Architecture
Gondor, and Minas Tirith were modelled after classical Roman/ Byzantine Architecture. The white city’s heavily fortified towers and classic stone architecture find their main reference in the medieval Roman period when the stone was the protagonist.
Rivendell – Art Nouveau
The Elves in the movie are portrayed as gentle beings known for their immortality, love for beauty, and sensitivity. Art Nouveau was a style that perfectly matched this elegance. Rivendell, the valley of the Elves, combined Art nouveau and Celtic designs. The architecture of Rivendell was perceived in a style that complemented the nature of the inhabitants. It was designed with a dominance of the free organic forms of the Art Nouveau movement, such as curves with dynamic, organic, and rich decorations to look like a blend of natural and manmade things. While Art Nouveau dominated the Rivendell set, there was also some Celtic influence. Celtic designs have fluidic patterns encased in rigid geometric shapes with arched and repetitive patterns/columns. Rivendell did have many arches and columns.
Scholars tell us that the Lauterbrunnen valley inspired Tolkien to create Rivendell when Tolkien took a trip to Switzerland in 1911.
The Citadel of Edoras – Norse and Roman Architecture
The riders of Rohan were much more simple and practical than their cousins in the South and East. The citadels of Edoras were inspired by the countryside architecture of Iceland’s Viking and Norse cultures.
Moria, Dwarves – Art deco
It helps better to understand the dwarves before heading to know about their structures. The dwarves were short fighters, amazing crafters, and skilled miners. Their very beginning was underground, and this explains why their halls were huge, majestic, and under the ground. Being miners, they were devoted to their rocks and treated them respectfully. The dwarven architecture was linked with rocky mountain mining and stone crafting. They crafted large cameras under the mountains, and their structures had plenty of monumental decoration to reflect their skills. The huge, rock-cut, decorated mines and halls of moria were inspired by the architecture of the Art Deco period.
Underground dwellings in Georgia, Jordan, and Turkey are some real examples that still exist today.
Isengard – Medieval Cathedral
The fortress of Wizard Saruman, Isengard, is a perfect example of architectural expressionism and symbolism in The Lord of the Rings. The towers signifying evil and corruption were designed keeping the Medieval Cathedrals in mind. The volcanic stone tower was based on Alan Lee’s illustrations in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. The tower’s architecture brought the idea of using the tower as a gathering point, symbolising local power.
Juan Yruela Castillo, (2020). Architecture & Filming. The Lord of the Rings. Available at: architecture-filming-lord-rings-juan-yruela-castillo
MSB Architects,(2015). Architecture In Pop Culture – LOTR’s Rivendell. Available at: architecture-pop-culture-lotrs-rivendell
Shari Raymond, (2014). An Interview with Grant Major – Production Designer of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Available at: an-interview-with-grant-major-production-designer-of-the-lord-of-the-rings-trilogy
Middle Earth Architecture, (2019)How to study, understand and compare the architecture of Middle-earth in relation to ours. Available at: something-about-dwarven-massive-architectures
TheworldTravelGuy. The Shire, sets of The Lord of the Rings. [Photograph]
Flickr.Hobbiton, sets of The Lord of the Rings. [Photograph]
Cezar Rizo. Minas Tirith. [Photograph]
Lotr.fandom. Rivendell. [Photograph]
Lotr.fandom. Edoras. [Photograph]
Lotr.fandom. Citadels of the Riders of Rohan. [Photograph]
Wiki Nerds. Mines of Moria. [Photograph]
Lotr.fandom. Isengard. [Photograph]