5 Movies You Must See as a Structural Designer

The summer holds the promise of long summer days and warm summer nights.  We can imagine nothing better than watching a movie outdoors under the stars. So there is no better time to present our 5 movies you must see as a (budding) structural designer.

Structural design and cinema seem to have little in common.  Structural designers create and realise long span bridges and towers that take us over waterways or shelter us from the elements.  Cinema is but an illusion, built on the phenomenon that our eyes perceive a series of still frames as a moving image.  Cinema is the make belief of structures.

However in same way structures and cinema are also similar.  Both rely on large teams of experts to realize a large budget project on time under the leadership of a director or the project designer. And both create three-dimensional spaces,  real or as an illusion.

The movies our team at the Form Finding Lab has chosen, are a personal selection; they are movies that have stuck with us.  They each feature ordinary and spectacular –real and imaginary- structures. Some are real,derelict and glorious, some rely on computer graphics, some use minimal amounts of materials but they are all awesome.

  1. Infrastructure (John Oliver, 2015)

“Infrastructure is like Legos,” says John Oliver “Building is fun, destroying is fun, but a Lego maintenance set would be the most boring fucking toy in the world.”

John Oliver demonstrates the sorry state of America’s neglected infrastructure includes that“hold your breath” bridges, killer potholes, a severe lack of inspectors and potential floods from our half-century old dams.  At the end of the movie Oliver presents a trailer for a new summer blockbuster movie about fixing cracks and less about explosions featuring our favorite actor Steve Buscemi.

Oliver makes us laugh amidst despair.

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Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpzvaqypav8


  1. Unfinished Spaces (Alysa Nahmias / Ben Murray, 2011)

After the revolution, Fidel Castro ordered the National Art Schools to be built on the site of a country club, a move to enrage wealthy capitalists.  The post-embargo material shortage resulted in the curved thin shell brick shell of the School of Modern Dance, designed by Ricardo Porro.  This shell reflected the sensuality Castro thought to be unique to the Cuban spirit. While four other schools were planned, the School of Modern Dance was the only one to come close to completion when Castro pulled funding from the entire project in 1965.  The movie “Unfinished Spaces” draws attention the restoration movement of this shell and its fate.

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The National Ballet School by Vittorio Garatti (image credit: archdaily.com.br)

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAKrsBwUNxc


  1. Hogwarts Great Hall (Films 1-6, 2001-2009)

The design for the Great Hall set in the films was based on the dining hall at Christ Church, Oxford and reminds me of our Princeton Graduate College Proctor dining Hall. The movie set can be visited outside of London (it’s open to the public). Computer graphics were used to create the vaulted structure we see in the movie.

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The architecture of the dining halls as depicted in the films (photo credit: http://www.cnn.com/videos/living/2017/06/26/harry-potter-20-anniversary-emarticke-orig.cnn)


  1. El arquitecto de Nueva York (Eva Vizcarra, 2015)

This Spanish documentary reflects on the life and work of the Spanish-born architect and builder Rafael Guastavino Moreno (Valencia, 1842). Guastavino and his company designed and build Catalan (also now referred to as Guastavino) vaults for prominent buildings in New York such as the Carnegie Hall, the subway station City Hall, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine or the Queensboro bridge. Rafael Guastavino died in 1908, but his son Rafael Guastavino Expósito took over the business of his father. Guastavino Company closed its doors in 1962 as they were not able to compete with the lower-cost concrete shell structures. This documentary tells the story of Guastavino’s life, the structures he built and how the New York Times referred to him as “the architect of New York” in his obituary.

Grand Central, Oyster Bar with Guastavino Vaulted Ceiling (credit eater New York)


Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Kd2SevAarM

  1. My Architect (Nathaniel Kahn, 2003)

Nearly 20 years after world renowned architect Louis Kahn died from a heart attack, his son, Nathaniel Kahn, documents his findings after embarking on a journey to gain a better understanding of who his father was. Being only 11 years old and being raised mostly by his mother when his father died, Nathaniel had only a hazy idea of who his father really was. Although the movie is centered on this emotionally-driven quest, it offers insights into the works and designs of Kahn. Design aspects of his buildings are explored, along with the religious and philosophical background to the choices he made in his designs.

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Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute (photo credit: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et- cam-salk-institute-louis-kahn-20161107-htmlstory.htmlhttps://youtu.be/3Mvxzb3FHws)


Link: https://youtu.be/3Mvxzb3FHws

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