9 Must-See Movies at the 2019 New York Architecture and Design Film Festival

Experience an alternative means of engaging with architecture with this collection of incredible films.

Nathaniel Bahadursingh Nathaniel Bahadursingh

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For all you architecture and film buffs out there, the 11th edition of the New York Architecture and Design Film Festival is underway. Forming part of the month-long Architecture and Design Month dubbed Archtober, the festival takes place from the 16th to the 20th of October at the Cinépolis theatre complex in Chelsea.

It is comprised of 25 short and feature-length films revolved around all things architecture and design. Curated by festival founder, Kyle Bergman, it contains work featuring the likes of László Moholy-Nagy, James Turrell, and Frank Lloyd Wright. If you decide to attend the festival and are stuck on which showings to attend, here’s a list of some must-see movies you can use to help make your decisions. 

James Turrell: You Who Look by Jessica Yu

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu, this film traverses the work of artist James Turrell. For over 40 years, he’s been creating artwork that challenges our notions of seeing primarily through the manipulation of light and space. This journey through his immersive works is coupled with an original score by Jeff Beal. Combining art, technology, architecture and astronomy, this short documentary conveys the complex beauty of Turrell’s practice.

Miracle on 42nd Street by Alice Elliott

Miracle on 42nd Street is the untold story about the history and impact of the Manhattan Plaza apartment complex in New York City. It features a star-studded cast of the complex’s former tenants, including Alicia Keys, Terrance Howard, Donald Faison, Larry David, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito and Angela Lansbury, and is narrated by Chazz Palminteri. The film recounts the complex’s commercial failure in the 1970s through to its success after repurposing as subsidized housing for people who worked in the performing arts. Miracle on 42nd Street highlights how this transformation positively impacted the social and economic well being of the Manhattan Plaza’s surrounding community.

City Dreamers by Joseph Hillel

CIty Dreamers showcases the lives and work of Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, and Denise Scott Brown, four trailblazers whose accomplishments in architecture, landscape architecture, and planning have greatly shaped the cities we live in. Through original interviews, archival material, and incredible cinematography, documentary filmmaker Joseph Hillel uncovers their journeys in an industry and world that was far less accommodating for women. Given this increasingly urbanized world, the insights of these innovative women, who integrated social and environmental values into their work, are more relevant than ever.

The New Bauhaus by Alysa Nahmias

This film exhibits the innovative, multifaceted and highly influential artist László Moholy-Nagy and his establishment of the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937. Director Alysa Nahmias reveals how Moholy-Nagy and his school forever transformed design, photography, and arts education in America and beyond.

GOFF by Britni Harris

GOFF explores the life of architect Bruce Goff whose unconventional perspective challenged stigmas about the Midwest’s inability to produce innovative work. His exploration of unprecedented forms often resulted in polarized perspectives of his work. As a result of practicing in a conservative landscape and unapologetic desire to pursue avant-garde ideas, much of his work has been left to decay or completely forgotten. This documentary explores the metamorphosis, from destruction to renewed interest, of Goff’s endeavors.

Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience by Akira Boch

This documentary delves into the lives of Japanese American designers, Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, S. Neil Fujita and Gyo Obata, exploring how their experiences contained in Japanese internment camps during World War II impacted their lives and art. This period of intense hardship and discrimination is not nearly as acknowledged as their influence on American postwar culture, when in fact it’s this dark history that’s played a large role in forming what’s so widely celebrated.

Poetics of Living by Damien Faure and Caroline Alder

A Poetics of Living tells the story of The Open City, a utopian community north of Valparaíso, Chile that was founded by Chilean architect Alberto Cruz and the Argentinian poet Godofredo Iommi. Formed in 1971, the community of architects, artists and poets came together to develop a collection of eccentric buildings and their own built environment. A young architect narrates and guides the viewer through an architectural exploration in a place where habitable space becomes a poetic concept.

PUSH by Fredrik Gertten

This documentary sheds light on the global phenomenon of the commodification of housing and consequent lack of affordability. It’s told through the perspective of Leilani Farha, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. PUSH follows her quest to understand the radical change that cities all over the world are currently being faced with.

The Human Shelter by Boris Benjamin Bertram

The Human Shelter is a poetic journey investigating how we, as human beings, design and build our homes. The film explores the concept of the home and how individuals express themselves creatively within these spaces. Dwellings from across the globe from a lagoon settlement in Lagos to a six square-meter home in Tokyo are examined.

Click here to check out all 25 movies on show at the festival.

All images via ADFF

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