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Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Review: The Architecture of Image

The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema by Juhani Pallasmaa
Rakennustieto Publishing, 2008

I am interested in the ways cinema constructs spaces in the mind, creates mind-spaces, thus reflecting the inherent ephemeral architecture of the human mind, thought and emotion. The mental task of buildings and cities is to structure our being-in-the-world and to articulate the surface between the experiencing self and the world. But doesn't the film director do exactly the same with his projected images?
This snippet from Juhani Pallasmaa's introduction to his analyses of five films by four directors (Rope and Rear Window by Hitchcock, Nostalghia by Tarkovsky, The Shining by Kubrick, and The Passenger by Antonioni) paints a clear picture of the architect/writer's intentions. Much variety comes with each director's unique way of telling a story, their formal qualities, techniques, lighting, settings, and other inherent film variables. The differences, for example, between the controlling hand of Hitchcock or Kubrick and the improvised and location-inspired approach of Antonioni lead to different analytical approaches. (I should fess that having not yet seen this or any other Tarkovsky film I did not read Pallasmaa's essay on Nostalghia; seeing each film, to me, is necessary for understanding and appreciating the author's ideas, though others may disagree.) Both of Hitchock films, for example, include architectural drawings by the author, responding to the director's reliance on precise sets, framing, lighting and camera movements to convey the appropriate meanings and emotions.

A consistent thread through the book, even though the essays span close to ten years and most were previously published elsewhere, is painting. This stems from the author's personal history but also from the overlap with film in that each artform illustrates architectural space, be it real or imaginary. Some of the most enlightening moments in this highly enjoyable book stem from comparisons of the films to specific paintings, in some cases clearly intentional on the part of the director. This influence and overlap of different forms of expressions is ultimately what the book is about, though Pallasmaa does not push the cross-disciplinary borrowing or rationalizations prevalent in the nineties. His emphasis instead is on the shared qualities of architecture and film, and, as an architect, what the former can learn from the latter towards an increased quality of our being-in-the-world.

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