Architecture and Cinema: a visual dialogue

Architecture and cinema share a deep connection, both disciplines are based on visual composition, spatial narrative and the creation of atmospheres to convey messages and emotions to the viewer. In this article, we will explore how contemporary architecture has played a leading role in some of the most iconic films of our time, analysing each case in depth.

Blade Runner and the Bradbury Building: A journey to the Los Angeles of the Future

In the 1982 neo-noir science fiction film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, the city of Los Angeles is transformed into a dystopian cityscape of the future. In this context, the Bradbury Building, a Victorian-style architectural landmark built in 1893, becomes a central element of the narrative. Its imposing brick façade, elaborate wrought-iron staircases and skylight-lit interior create an atmosphere of mystery and decay that defines the film’s setting.

Architectural highlights:

Style: Victorian

Year of construction: 1893

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Architect: Lewis Sullivan

Features: Brick façade, wrought-iron staircase, skylights, skylights, central atrium.

Meaning in the film: The Bradbury Building works as a portal between the present and the dystopian future presented in Blade Runner. Its timeless design, while not contemporary in the strictest sense, contrasts with the futuristic elements of the city, creating a sense of disorientation and alienation in the viewer.

The International and the Guggenheim Museum in New York: A spy thriller at an architectural icon

In the espionage thriller The International, directed by Tom Tykwer in 2009, the plot unfolds in a number of iconic European settings, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York. This building, designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and opened in 1959, becomes the setting for a thrilling action sequence. Its unique design, with its spiral shape and innovative use of space, brings dynamism and visuality to the scene, creating an atmosphere of tension and danger.

Architectural highlights:

Style: Organic Modernism

Year of construction: 1959

Location: New York City, United States

Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright

Features: Spiral shape, continuous ramps, skylights, use of reinforced concrete and glass.

Meaning in the film: The choice of the Guggenheim Museum as a setting is no accident. Its bold, avant-garde architecture reflects the complex and dangerous nature of the world of international espionage depicted in the film. The action sequence in the museum symbolises the struggle between order and chaos, between reason and unbridled ambition.

Villa Malaparte and Le Mépris: The drama of a love affair in a masterpiece of modern architecture

In the dramatic film Le Mépris, directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963, the Villa Malaparte, an imposing modernist house located on the cliffs of Capri, Italy, takes centre stage in the story. Designed by Italian architect Adalberto Libera and completed in 1942, Villa Malaparte is a masterpiece of modern architecture, characterised by its bold design, its integration with the natural surroundings and its breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea.

Architectural highlights:

Style: Italian Modernism

Year of construction: 1942

Location: Capri, Italy

Architect: Adalberto Libera

Features: Geometric shapes, use of reinforced concrete, panoramic terraces, infinity pool, integration with the landscape.

Meaning in the film: The Villa Malaparte, with its imposing architecture and privileged location, becomes a symbol of beauty and sophistication. However, this external beauty hides a darker reality: the moral decadence and superficiality of the characters who inhabit the villa.

High-Rise and the Balfron Tower: An urban dystopia in a brutalist building

The 2015 psychological thriller High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, features a fictional Brutalist-style residential tower that becomes the setting for a struggle for power and survival.

The film uses the Woermann Tower in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, and the Alexandra Road Estate in London, UK, as morphological references for its fictional building complex.

However, the Balfron Tower in London, a real example of 1960s brutalist architecture, is a prime example in terms of typology and use. The Balfron Tower, with its exposed reinforced concrete structure, repetitive windows and monolithic design, creates an oppressive and alienating atmosphere, just like the one reflected in the theme of the film.

Architectural highlights:

Style: Brutalism

Year of construction: 1967

Location: London, United Kingdom

Architects: Ernő Goldfinger and Alison Smithson

Features: Exposed reinforced concrete structure, repetitive windows, monolithic design, brutalism.

Meaning in the film: The Balfron Tower, both in its fictional representation and its actual presence in the film, symbolises the dehumanisation and alienation of modern society. The brutalist design of the building reflects the violence and chaos unleashed inside the tower, while its isolated location in a London slum represents marginalisation and neglect.

Ex Machina and the Hotel Juvet: A sci-fi thriller in a minimalist hideaway

In the science fiction film Ex Machina, directed by Alex Garland in 2014, the action takes place in a house that corresponds to the Hotel Juvet, a minimalist boutique space located in the mountains of Norway. This building, designed by Norwegian architect Jørn Utzon, is characterised by its contemporary design, its integration with the natural environment and its use of noble materials such as wood and stone. The Juvet hotel creates an atmosphere of calm and isolation that contrasts with the psychological tension that unfolds in the film.

Architectural highlights:

Style: Nordic Minimalism

Year of construction: 1997

Location: Valldal, Norway

Architect: Jørn Utzon

Features: Minimalist design, integration with the natural environment, use of noble materials, large windows, panoramic views.

Meaning in the film: The Hotel Juvet provides a perfect setting for the film Ex Machina, as its minimalist design and secluded location reflect the introspective nature of the story and the loneliness of the protagonist. The space also symbolises the boundary between the natural world and the artificial world, between reality and simulation, a central theme in the film.


Architecture and cinema, two disciplines that share visual language and the ability to tell stories, establish a constant and inspiring dialogue. The films discussed in this article demonstrate the richness of this exchange, where contemporary architecture, with its constant evolution and its ability to reflect the challenges and aspirations of today’s society, will continue to be a source of inspiration for filmmakers seeking to explore complex themes and create stories that resonate with audiences.

Cinema has the power to bring buildings and architectural spaces to life, allowing the viewer to experience architecture in a unique and sensory way.

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