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The 7 Best Architecture and Design Documentaries to Stream Now
Any of these nonfiction films are sure to inspire and delight.
Films about architecture and design—or even just featuring characters who play architects and designers—have always captured the imagination of Hollywood, with examples ranging from Cate Blanchett’s passionate architect in last year’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette to the 1980s film noir Body Double, whose sets featured such iconic buildings as John Lautner’s Chemosphere House. But as documentaries about architecture and design prove, real life can often be as dramatic as fiction. As film festivals around the world—like the Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF), to name one—temporarily shift to online viewing only, there are plenty of docs out there that can be streamed at your leisure. So start with seven of our favorites below to create your own personal film festival at home.
A 2011 ADFF festival entry and Peabody Award winner, this film chronicles the extraordinary collaboration—both personal and professional—of Charles and Ray Eames, the husband-and-wife team behind the Eames chair, which was declared by Time to be “the greatest design of the 20th century.”
Designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1910, New York City’s original Pennsylvania Station, with its majestic staircase and acres of travertine marble, was considered an architectural marvel. This film is the fascinating account of why the building was torn down in the mid-1960s and how the resulting outcry led to the creation of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
A well-respected art dealer in England, Mould is most well known for being half of the detective team of the popular Fake or Fortune? television show. In this new series of short videos, he takes viewers around his house and discusses the various works he has on display, including pieces by Cedric Morris and Vanessa Bell. But the real star of Art in Isolation is actually Duck End, his restored 17th-century manor house in Oxfordshire. So come for the art, and stay for the glorious architecture.
A captivating look into the relatively unknown Polish sculptor Stanislav Szukalski, who during the 1930s and ’40s designed monumental works that were highly symbolic and sometimes disturbing in their iconography. He was a complicated artist, dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism, yet when he was asked by Hitler and Göring to create a monument to the two of them, he sketched Hitler as a pug-nosed ballerina in a tutu.
Often referred to as the “architect to the stars,” Williams designed such landmarks as Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles and the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The architect became more of a household name, however, when Frank Sinatra showed off his Williams-designed home on national television. But life was far from easy for an African American working at a time when racism was entrenched in American life—this is the story of how Williams persevered by dint of his sheer talent and determination.
Part collaborative space, part play space, part educational space, part local hangout, the Lego House in Billund, Denmark, is a whimsical, futuristic edifice meant to inspire and awe. Some of its many unusual features include the Tree of Creativity—made of 6.3 million Lego bricks!—and a restaurant where visitors are served by Lego robots. Watch this film to see how all the pieces fit together.