The built environment is nothing if not prominent in New York City, where everyone has something to say about any building or public space. It’s not the same in cities of lower density, but as the conversation about how cities look and feel becomes more mainstream and more pertinent, two filmmakers are working to create a series of documentaries about architecture.
Architecture school graduates and filmmakers David Krantz and Ian Harris of Arbuckle Industries released their debut film, “Archiculture” two weeks ago in mid-December. In that time, the film has already been shown at 130 screenings worldwide.
The film explores the massive gap between architecture education and the profession itself, through following architecture studio students for a year, and interviews with 40 industry professionals. Many of the interviews that did not make it into the final short documentary film are being released in the coming weeks as extras.
Epoch Times interviewed co-director and producer Ian Harris on the role of architecture and his discoveries during the filmmaking process. The interview below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Epoch Times: How did you two move from architecture to film?
Harris: In the architecture industry right now, roughly 50 percent of the students who come in don’t get licensed, so they don’t really know where people go but they know a lot of architects are doing different things with their training. So having gone through that, and obviously made this film about architecture, what architecture school does is really allow you to become a generalist.
The filmmaker is also sort of a generalist. So a building and a film, to us, are very similar.
Epoch Times: What made architecture a good storytelling subject?
Harris: The idea came from David Krantz, the co-producer and filmmaker and my business partner at Arbuckle. We worked in our first jobs across from each other and we would share stories about what architecture school used to be like, and you sort of realize there are general character typologies that pop up in a studio—like if you take any standard reality TV show.
Stereotypically you have the person who kind of tries to liven up the place, the stereotypically star architect student who just does great work. There are students that just do whatever the professor likes and gets good grades but among the class may not have the best design work. There are students that don’t know what they’re doing but they’re chugging away and are really driven. And then there are people who probably shouldn’t be in design school but liked science and math and were good at drafting.
Now in saying all that, we ended up not having enough character drama. We pulled back a bit and let the beautiful environment of the studio come through.
Is the petri dish of the architecture studio school the same as the real world, and are they being prepared for what the real world has to offer? So the film sort of evolved.
As a production company we specify in architectural filmmaking—that’s the long term goal.
It’s not just architecture stories about architects. It’s how people interact with and engage with the built environment. There’s pretty much not a lot of space that has not been touched by the hands of humans.
Epoch Times: What do you think the role of architecture is?
Harris: I’m pulling from a bunch of quotes from the film, but my main perspective is that it’s the ultimate manifestation of human activity—that’s architecture. A lot of times I feel that word embodies the built environment.
I think the main reason people are caring more and more about it is that we’re becoming more and more aware the built environment is the greatest user and consumer of energy.
We can change as many LED light bulbs as we want, but where we place jobs in relation to transit, and where we live in relationship to transit is the way we get exponential benefit for energy. As people begin to make that connection we begin to have a cultural shift and understanding that the built environment and design professions have a direct connection to geopolitical issues.
Epoch Times: How did the filmmaking shape that perspective?
Harris: Part of the reason we interviewed so many architects and non-architects was because it was surprisingly hard to find people to speak on camera critically of the profession and education. We kept trying to get that tension across between the profession and the education.
It’s interesting because the profession and the education, there’s a massive gap there and the profession knows it and the education side knows it. And there are a lot of different opposing viewpoints of how to close that gap—whether they should close that gap.
I have a specific perspective of what it should be doing: I think it should be more responsive to what the public wants and it should be more engaging.
If we don’t really have the public spaces where people are interacting in a way where they’re coming together in a random means and coming together on a level playing ground … I think that is a large part of why our society is so polarized politically [nationwide].
Watch: Pritzker Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban on architecture’s connection to power and social good, and role in disaster relief.
Watch: Architect, critic, author, and historian at Columbia University Kenneth Frampton on the past and future of architecture.