Call for entries

6th Budapest Architecture Film Days, March 2014

Deadline: 31th October, 2013.

Do you have a film on architecture? The Budapest Architecture Film Days is now accepting submissions for its 6th edition to be held in Budapest in March 2014. We are looking for works in all genres, forms and lengths related to design, architecture and built environment. Entry is free.

The mission of the film festival is to generate a dialogue between architectural practice that finds inspiration in cinema, and cinema borrowing its subjects from architecture and the city. For more information about the festival please visit For related questions please contact

Please find the steps of submitting a film below:

1 – Fill out the online submission form
2 – Send your film via an online file-transferring platform (dropbox, wetrasfer, etc.) to

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Gyakornoki felhívás

A Kortárs Építészeti Központ gyakornokot keres, heti 1-2 napos rendszeres munkavégzésre a  Budapesti Építészeti Filmnapok 2014-es kiadásának megvalósításához, rugalmas időbeosztásban.

Amit szeretünk:
– nyitottság és rugalmasság
– jó kommunikációs készség
– magabiztos angol nyelvtudás
– érdeklődés az építészet, design iránt

Várható feladatok:
– internetes adatgyűjtés, adatrendszerezés, fordítás
– kommunikáció, kapcsolattartás filmforgalmazókkal
– irodán kívüli feladatok (szórólapozás, plakátelhelyezés)
– részvétel a kommunikációs és közönségkapcsolati feladatokban

Honoráriumot nem tudunk fizetni, de a gyakornoki program során betekintést nyerhetsz a fesztivál működésébe, megismerheted a programszervezés és a kommunikációs munka rejtelmeit, és megnézheted az összes vetített filmet. Az elejétől fogva csapattagnak tekintünk és fontos, érdemi feladatokban vehetsz részt.

Építész, művészettörténész, szociológus, kulturális és design menedzser hallgatók (vagy már végzettek) jelentkezését várjuk, illetve bárkiét, akit érdekel a téma. A jelentkezést a címre küldd szeptember 15-ig!

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May 27: Vacant Films: Torre David and Unfinished Italy

KÉK presents the next event of the Spring Architecture Film Series:
Vacant Films: Torre David and IUnfinished Italy
May 27., 8pm, Müszi (1085 Budapest, Balaha Lujza tér 1.)

Torre David

2013, 22 mins, colour, Venezuelan film with English subtitles

R: Urban-Think Tank

Torre David, a 45-story office tower in Caracas designed by the distinguished Venezuelan architect Enrique Gómez, was almost complete when it was abandoned following the death of its developer, David Brillembourg, in 1993 and the collapse of the Venezuelan economy in 1994. Today, it is the improvised home of a community of more than 750 families, living in an extra-legal and tenuous occupation that some have called a vertical slum. Urban-Think Tank, spent a year studying the physical and social organization of this ruin-turned-home. Where some only see a failed development project, U-TT has conceived it as a laboratory for the study of the informal. This film is a call to arms to architects and everyone – to see in the informal settlements of the world a potential for innovation and experimentation, with the goal of putting design in the service of a more equitable and sustainable future.

Befejezetlen Itália

2010, 33 mins, colour, Italian film with English subtitles
D: Benoit Felici

In his diploma film the young director tells us about hundreds of public buildings left unfinished, embodying a unique architectural style throughout Italy. The uncompleted buildings were left behind by an era uncertain about its future and loaded with political corruption, but getting beyond their physical borders – these buildings have become the new scenes of human ingenuity. The unfinished as the source of creativity is without doubt worth being screened, now as a journey through Italy. The film has won student awards and was announced as winner in the category of short films or documentary at several film festivals in the last two years.

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May 6: Small and Smart: Contemporary Slovenian Architecture on Film

KÉK presents the next event of the Spring Architecture Film Series:
Small and Smart: Contemporary Slovenian Architecture on Film
May 6., 7pm, Kino (1137 Budapest, Szent István krt 16.)

The Slovenian Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) in cooperation with the Institute for Architecture and Culture (ARK) prepared a series of short films on contemporary Slovenian architecture. The six films will be introduced by lectures of Jeff Bickert, the project’s curator (ARK) and Dr. Petra Čeferin (director of ARK).


The features buildings:
Terrace houses on Jurčkova Street, Ljubljana, 2099 – architect: Jože Peterkoč
House D, Ljubljana, 2005–2008 – Bevk Perović Architects
Waste recycling plant, Pivka, 2005–2007 – Dekleva Gregorič Architects
Square and open-air altar, Brezje, 2005–2008 – architects: Maruša Zorec and Martina Tepina
Biotechnology Faculty, Ljubljana, 2006–2010 – architects: A biro
Stožice Sports Park, Ljubljana, 1997–2010 – Sadar + Vuga Architects




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April 29: Christoph Draeger & Heidrun Holzfeind: Tsunami Architecture

KÉK presents the next event of the Spring Architecture Film Series:
Christoph Draeger & Heidrun Holzfeind: Tsunami Architecture
60 min, 2012, with English subtitles
April 29, Toldi mozi, 7pm – in presence of the directors


The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was one of the worst natural catastrophes in history. While international attention has faded, post-tsunami challenges continue to have an impact on affected communities. In the winter of 2010/2011, Draeger and Holzfeind took a three-month trip to the five countries most affected–Thailand, Aceh/Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India– to investigate the current state of architecture built or reconstructed in the aftermath of the tsunami. Using video and photography, the artists documented the long-term effects of the disaster through conversations with survivors, eyewitnesses, aid workers and rescue personnel. 

“We were interested in how the flood of aid money has transformed the affected regions, rebuilt and refashioned local economies and shaped communities. How has architecture built after the tsunami been able to respond to the individual needs of affected communities? How were these communities able to participate in the recovery process? How have these structures been adapted over time by their inhabitants, and how did architectural interventions alter societal and communal structures?” (Draeger/Holzfeind)

The film will be introduced by the directors, Christoph Draeger and Heidrun Holzfeind.
Bfore the screening, we’ll show excerpts from Heidrun Holzfeind’s Colonnade Park and Christoph Draeger’s The Last News.

More information: and


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April 15: Mission Statements – The Architecture of Diplomacy

KÉK presents the next event of the Spring Architecture Film Series:
2011, 60 mins, colour, Dutch film with Hungarian subtitles
D: Jord den Hollander


In 1991 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands decided to promote national architecture abroad. All over the world new embassies were realised by prominent Dutch architects. After 20 years the Dutch government stopped the project for economic and political reasons. The Ministry of Foreign affairs declared on April 8th 2011: ?We will move away from the traditional image of an embassy as a building with a flag and a mission staff.? The film Mission Statements tells the story of four of the most outspoken new embassies and shows the background of the buildings and presents a stunning view behind the curtains of daily life in the embassies.

Mission Statements – the architecture of Dutch diplomacy from Joep Mol on Vimeo.

Interview with Jord den Hollander:

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Sascha Waltz: two ways, to alleviate the difficulties

Interview with Sasha Waltz director of Dialoge 09 – Neues Museum, this year’s opening film. Article only available in Hungarian and in German from the Goethe Institut Budapest’s Website:


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Greetings from Denver

Design Onscreen–The Initiative for Architecture and Design on Film is honored to co-sponsor the 2012 edition of the Budapest Architecture Film Days.  We congratulate the team of enthusiastic Hungarian architects who have worked so hard to ensure that this year?s Budapest festival offers a stimulating mix of excellent design films from around the world.

Design Onscreen is a nonprofit foundation based in Denver, Colorado and dedicated to producing, promoting and preserving great films on architecture and design.  Founded in 2007 by documentary enthusiasts Kirk Brown and Jill Wiltse, Design Onscreen?s documentaries include: Modern Tide: Midcentury Architecture on Long Island (2012); Desert Utopia: Midcentury Architecture in Palm Springs (2011); Contemporary Days: The Designs of Lucienne and Robin Day (2010); William Krisel, Architect (2010), Journeyman Architect: The Life?and Work of Donald Wexler (2009) and Hella Jongerius: Contemporary Archetypes (2009).

We thank Budapest Architecture Film Days for including two Design Onscreen?s films in this year?s line-up. Desert Utopia: Midcentury Architecture in Palm Springs details the stunning architecture in California?s leading modernist mecca and explores the history of some of the era?s most original architects, including Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, John Lautner and E. Stewart Williams. Using rare archival footage and special access to many private homes, Desert Utopia offers an inside look at a community whose appreciation for architecture has created veritable nature preserve of modernist treasures.   Hella Jongerius: Contemporary Archetypes focuses on the creative process of one of the world?s top designers and her work for Vitra, Maharam and Royal Tichelaar.  In addition, the film explores the ?dance? inherent in any relationship between modern designers and manufacturers?each learning from, and bending with, the other. This film premiered at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Museum of Arts and Design in 2009.

In addition to producing films, Design Onscreen also showcases the best in architecture and design films at festivals and series around the world. Since 2009, Design Onscreen has co-produced successful annual fests in Palm Springs and Denver, as well as co-sponsoring other new fests in Moscow and Toronto.

In May 2012, we?ll be presenting our biggest and most ambitious fest yet ? a 10 day, 20 film, 40 screening architecture and design film festival in Auckland, New Zealand, in partnership with Rialto Cinemas.

We?re delighted to witness and support the spread of these types of film festivals around the world.  Wherever we go, we see that these film screenings offer ideal settings for people who are passionate about architecture and design to gather in in-person (rather than just on the Web) to share ideas, opinions and projects. In each location, we find that these festivals bring together and often strengthen the local design community.  We hope that the same is true in Budapest this year!

We also thank Jord den Hollander and his team at the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (AFFR) for providing such a great and pioneering example of how to produce a truly excellent architecture and design film festival.  AFFR has also provided a valuable forum and connection point for those of us who organize the many new festivals of this type now blooming around the world.

So thanks for supporting great films on design, and we hope that you enjoy the 2012 Budapest Architecture Film Days. May this festival will continue to grow and prosper for many years to come!

Please visit for more information on our organization.

Heather Purcell Leja
Executive Director
Design Onscreen — The Initiative for Architecture and Design on Film

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This year’s themes

Movement and architecture

Dancing in the rebuilt Neues Museum and on the waving steel sheets of Frank Gehry, freerunning in Copenhagen and skateboarding in a run-down housing estate. Keeping off the grass in Eastern Hungary and jumping on the roof in the Hudson Valley. Starchitects, bloodthirsty pensioners, and a hidden camera. Why do Danish traceurs want to move to a playground and why don?t Józsa skaters just go back to theirs? Poetic images, graceful motions, the delicate play of the muscles. Take your skateboards and sod off or I?ll get my axe.

Memories of modernism

Did modernism really die on March 16, 1972, with the demolition of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing complex as Charles Jencks claimed? Or is it just that the image of the collapsing blocks has become an icon for the history of architecture, obscuring the social factors? How is it possible to preserve the heritage of modernism in Palm Springs and how was it possible to destroy it in New Orleans? This section recalls the micro- and macro-utopias of modernist architecture from the beginnings of the Bauhaus to Victor Gruen?s experiments with the shopping towns and the car-free cities.

Everyday life of buldings

The HQ of B&B Italia in Milan, the Antwerp railway station, the buildings of the Dutch embassies are all extrovert buildings. The first was used by Renzo Piano to experiment with turning the structure inside out as a preparation for the Pompidou Centre, the second aimed to proclaim the wealth of Leopold II and Belgium, while the carefully designed embassies wanted to embody the attitude and architecture of the Netherlands in foreign countries. But after a while, all buildings start to live their own lives, due to their interactions with the employees, the travelers, and the locals. These three films tries to map these connections, either through the eyes of the company workers, or by exploring their political backgrounds, or being inspired by literary references.


One film about an architect, one about a desgner, and one about an architect / designer / filmmaker couple. Where do the fields end and where do they overlap? Is it possible to find common points in the working methods of Hella Jongerius and Norman Foster and in the way Charles and Ray Eames ran their studio, decades before? How much should we know about them beyond their works, how much they wanted or want to reveal about themselves, and what do their creations reveal about them?

Post cities

Critical situations?in the settlement, in the flat, in the metropolis; on a Caspian oil platform, in the kommunalkas of Saint Petersburg, and on the streets of Detroit. These three levels also correspond with the domains of the secret, the private and the public. Just like the hellish Russian communal apartment, the kommunalka; the once closely guarded Azerbaijani settlement of oil workers is the heritage of the USSR. Now, for the first time, we can get an insight into the history of its founding, decline and unexpected revival, due to the skyrocketing oil prices. This factor, however, on the other side of the world, played a major role in the collapse of the Detroit motor industry, calling for a movie that would literally project the city?s roaring past onto its troubled present.

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Cats in the middle of the sea

Article only available in Hungarian.

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Interview with Jord den Hollander architect, director and head of the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (AFFR)

How did you as an architect become a festival organizer?

In 1999 in Rotterdam we organized a symposium on the topic of the image of the city. We showed the obvious films, like Metropolis, Blade Runner and we found out that there was lot of interest in the topic. I toke my chance and the year after we organized a very small event with only architectural films. We had about 8 documentaries and feature films. Since then we have grown immensely into an organisation that shows more than hundred documentaries and feature films. We also keep a database with many films that help similar festivals in the programming. I helped many other festival to start, was involved with Budapest, after I went to Russia, I did a festival on film and architecture in Warsaw.

Photo: Frank Hanswijk

Who is watching architecture films?

Everybody love films and everybody lives in a house makes use of the public space. Architecture and film are the most influential art forms of the 20st century and it will be of the next century and the combinations of both disciplines are very important.

You were educated both in architecture and film. Do you see some overlaps in the working methods of these professions?

JdH: The process for me is the same because in both disciplines there is structure and meaning expressed in a different way. Everybody is looking at architecture the way it expresses itself though aesthetics, the material, the space but there is a meaning, a storytelling too and if you know that second layer architecture becomes very interesting. When you start a project it helps when you can make use of that other layer. Like in the film it is never straightforward. There is always a tension, a conflict like in architecture. I am teaching in both disciplines too and you can see that architects become better architects if they know how to work with film. In architecture it is about space and in film it is about time. But when you combine both, the way architecture translates in time you can put emotions in architecture and you can add structure to film.

How you became involved with the Budapest Architecture Film Days?

JdH: I was invited because of a film and I liked your festival and the people. When I came you had this wonderful venue, people drinking and dancing and laughing and screaming and I said wow this is the place where I belong. What I liked about your festival that you did it without any money. But of course you don?t start a festival for money. Look at our festival, we bring people from all parts of the world and they want to tell and exchange ideas about what they are doing and the atmosphere is so important. I travel all over the world to meet people who are willing to work and have a goal in their thoughts. Otherwise life is boring. We are in the world to move ourselves and to be active.  Of course it is always about love and it is always about good food and drinks and this is a topic that matters us all, everybody love films and everybody lives in a house makes use of the public space. Architecture and film are the most influential art forms of the 20st century and it will be of the next century and the combinations of both disciplines are very important.

Daniella Huszár and Noémi Soltész, 8 October, 2011.

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Interview with Francisca Mu?oz, founder of Arquitecture Film Festival Santiago (AFFS)

AFFS will be the first Architecture Film Festival in South America. Why did you decide to organize a film festival dedicated to architecture? What was your main objective?

AFFS: The members of the collective AFFS of Chile have followed with great enthusiasm and admiration the development of the architecture film festival Rotterdam AFFR and the similar initiatives in Europe to start off this triggering event. As architects, we were interested in the discussion that was generated around these festivals and it seemed that film was an excellent platform to broaden the reflection on architecture beyond the academic and technical world of the professionals directly tied to the field. Our initial incentive, then, is to inspire a broader public to reflect on the city through film. We want everyone to realize that architecture is alive, which is part of their daily lives, and it directly affects us and influences our social relations.

The Festival will be held in 2012 October. Could you uncover some of your plans for us?

AFFS: Our programming content shares many of the same aspects as those of the festivals that take place in the world, nevertheless, we want to put a distinctive stamp on our exhibition, giving priority to content created in Latin America and Chile, providing a new space of visibility to the creators of the continent. In the medium term, we are committed to the promotion of film production that incorporates architecture as a protagonist, however, we hope that the four-day long festival will be more like a Celebration of Architecture, where the public can participate not only in the projects, but also lectures, urban tours, installations, and other activities, experiencing the city in a unique way.

What issues in architecture and urban planning fascinate people the most these days? What are the most relevant questions of this field in South America or in Chile nowadays?

AFFS: Within the general public, the most relevant discussions today in Chile and South America are related to excessive urban growth, poor integration of cities and the lack of green areas. In some groups that are more ?conscious? ? academicians and also citizens – there is concern about the issue of heritage. For example, in recent days, the construction of a giant shopping mall in the city of Castro caused great commotion in the media and social networking sites. The criticized construction is taking place in a historic part of the city, very close to 1 of the 16 Chilean churches in the World Heritage list by UNESCO. This landmark case shows that architecture can become a subject of common interest; it can receive the critical eye of the ordinary citizen, and be deconstructed by a technical, academic, and why not say, egomaniacal eye.

Julia Oravecz, March 9, 2012.

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Don?t ya know the big D is burnin??

Article only available in Hungarian.


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Kommunalka – Labyrinth of a residental community

Article only available in Hungarian.


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Railway station as agora

Article only available in Hungarian.


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Pruitt Igoe ? Whose death?

Article only available in Hungarian.


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Interview with director Chad Friedrichs of ?The Pruitt-Igoe Myth?

J.T.: You?ve done films on presidential lookalikes and enigmatic musicians. What inspired you to do a film on Pruitt-Igoe?

C.F.: I was doing some research on how to decorate my home that I just bought in mid-century style. In the process of researching modern architecture, I came across Pruitt-Igoe. It was fascinating to me because encoded into this idea of modern architecture was the idea that you could have social change come about and Pruitt-Igoe was viewed as this failure of it. And then slowly as I researched it I came to decide it was a much deeper story than an architectural one.

J.T.: You make tremendous use out of the archival footage, and it is effective in helping tell the story. Can you tell us about the process of going through and picking out stock video and photos?

C.F.: We had made a couple of arrangements with local archives and we gradually accumulated wonderful footage over time. So that?s one of the reasons the film took 4 and a half years to make. In a way it opened up new creative avenues I hadn?t considered going into the film. Obviously there are a bunch of old images of Pruitt-Igoe in decay, and there are few of Pruitt-Igoe when it was brand new, but having access to all of this wonderful old footage all of a sudden opened up a new way of storytelling. And, in a way for me, it humanized the project and the experience of the residents who lived there.

J.T.: How did the process of making this film change your overall perception of the Pruitt-Igoe legend?

C.F.: Well, I guess one thing is that it makes me think of it in terms of other than a legend, other than this myth we are addressing in the film. Now, whenever I approach Pruitt-Igoe, I try to think of it in terms of not too different from the impact that was taking place in St. Louis during the day. Before, I looked at Pruitt-Igoe as a stand-alone entity. Now I will think of it as something that was deeply affected by St. Louis? decline in the post-war years. That would be number one. Number two, I tend to think at it from a resident?s perspective as opposed to something viewed from the outside. I think that?s how people approach Pruitt-Igoe for the first time is that as an outsider and viewing it as a homogenous experience where residents lived the same way. We know that many of the residents had diverse experiences in Pruitt-Igoe. Some turned to crime, as is the legend, and others lived very profitable and normal lives in Pruitt-Igoe. So those are the two big differences I?ve taken away is viewing in its context and thinking of it from the perspective of those who lived there.

Justin Tucker, April 05, 2011

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Interview with Jord den Hollander director about the film Mission Statements

Tell us about your new film, Mission Statements, The Architecture of Diplomacy.

JdH: After finishing my last film on Africa, I had the idea to make a film about the Netherlands because everybody was talking about the identity of the country because of the immigrants. They said that they have knocked our identity but we are all the same, we are all individuals and I thought of a means to tell this story. The Dutch government in the 90s started the programme of promoting Dutch architecture through commissioning embassies. A couple of new embassies developed in Africa and South America and then the government suddenly had to respond to that question: if you want to build in another country and you want to show your face what do you show? I had a plan to film a couple of embassies that could tell that story. So here again architecture was used to tell a story other than just a building.

You not only show how the architects communicate history and identity through architecture but also how people make use of these symbols that makes the film very humorous.

JdH: We started shooting with idea not only showing the building but the thoughts behind it through the story of the architects. But I also wanted to show how the average Dutchmen who live in those icons accept these. You see that there is a conflict because these average Dutchman might not be interested in culture that much because they are diplomats they used to talk to people they are not interested in space and suddenly they were confronted with this conceptual idea of bringing out architecture with all these ideas, links to historical facts. All these different levels came in and you could see that the people normally not used to that now using it as means of dialogue. There are lots of things to laugh in the film because you see that conflict.  In the end you come to the conclusion that it is so good the use culture as means for understanding another world.

The same dialogue happened between the client and architect?

JdH: The client was very open and liberal and they choose the best architects they could think of. If you ask someone to come up with an icon to your country you have to think about that. All the architects started with finding out how they could relate to that country and not bring themselves in. When someone is only talking about themselves is boring. But if you ask the other, there is a dialogue. And the architects all understood that they have to do something with what already existed there. So they made use of traditional architecture, of historical facts. In Berlin Rem Koolhaas made use of the epic history of Berlin and the East West divide. The buildings show an adaptation towards the other countries, it is completely different from the embassies that were built in the 19th century where people really wanted to express their identities.

Daniella Huszár and Noémi Soltész, October 8, 2011.

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Shopping Town USA – Victor Gruen and the Shopping Mall

Anette Baldauf, co-director of the film The Gruen Effect on the legacy of Victor Gruen

 Victor Gruen was one of the most influential architects of the twentieth century: He is regarded as the father of the shopping mall. How fundamentally his concept would change the world was something that not even this immigrant from Vienna, who was noted for thinking big, could have foreseen. In the nineteen fifties, Gruen built large-scale “shopping towns” in the suburban sprawl of the United States. Based on the model of European city centers they were not only to facilitate shopping but also to strengthen social ties in the isolated suburbia with a mix of commercial and social spaces. However, in the context of an increasingly consumption- and speculation-driven economy the polyfunctional shopping center turned into a gigantic sales machine, which had a formative impact on the development of cities all around the globe. Thus, in architecture, the Gruen Effect describes the maelstrom introduced by seductively designed sales spaces that makes us give up purposeful shopping and get lost in the shopping experience. Since the principles of the shopping mall have little by little been transferred to downtown areas, today this phenomenon produces the city as the place of commercialism, the staging of lifestyle, distinction and event; it outlines the creation of a type of downtown, which serves the gods of consumer culture and defines consumption as the prime principle of urban planning.

 Already in the interwar period Victor Gruen, born Viktor David Grünbaum in Vienna in 1903, attracted considerable attention with the conversion of several small shops in Vienna. In 1936, renovating the shop of the textiles retailer Singer, Grünbaum moved the shop’s structure several meters behind the sidewalk thus creating an ambulatory space open to the public at the intersection between the street and the store. Framed by large shop windows and centered around a dramatically illuminated glass vitrine, the space created in the overlap area invited the passers-by to wrest themselves from the ongoing flow of movement of the street and to contemplate temporarily the textiles in the shop windows and the hustle and bustle of urban life.

 Two years after the Singer shop’s opening, the magazines Glas. Österreichs Glaserzeitung, Architectural Review and L’architecture d’aujourd’hui presented Grünbaum’s works in Vienna. The compilation of the projects – Bristol Perfumery (1935), Deutsch Men’s Fashion (1936), Guerlain Perfumery (1936), the already mentioned textiles retailer Singer (1936) and Richard Löwenfeld Ladies’ Fashion (1937) – illustrated a clear continuity of the Grünbaum interventions: Vast shop windows and dramatic glass fronts turned small shops into phantasmagorical display surfaces. They extended the concept of the shop window to the entire shop and defined it as a stage of urban life. At the same time, the interventions perforated the borders between theater and the everyday, street and shop, private and public space. In this interspace, the shoppers could be present and absent at the same time, here and simultaneously distancing themselves from the constraints of everyday life.

 Together with his first wife, Alice Kardos, and helped by a friend in the disguise of a SA trooper, Viktor Grünbaum successfully escaped from the Nazis on June 9, 1938, first to Switzerland and then to the USA. Just one year after his arrival in New York City he was asked by the businessman Ludwig Lederer, another refugee from Vienna, to design a boutique on Fifth Avenue together with Elsie Krummeck, then his second wife. Grünbaum, who called himself Victor D. Gruen after obtaining US citizenship, presented the following vision to Lederer: “To create an atrium open to the sidewalk along Fifth Avenue where rushed pedestrians can gather like in a refuge. … Six individual small glass cabinets would project from the two side walls and the back wall of this atrium, a full glass door in the back wall would offer both insight and entry to the shop´s interior … The atrium’s roof would consist of transparent glass and invisible sources of light on top would evenly illuminate the open forecourt. In the middle of the new outside space I envision a glass vitrine? this cabinet as well as the commodities on display will be lit by hidden, very strong spotlights like those used in the theater.?

 Supported by dazzling sketches created by the interior designer Krummeck and the licence of architect Morris Ketchum, Gruen’s plan saw its spectacular realization on Fifth Avenue in 1939. Gruen returned to his concept of the shop window as a stage space, which he had already pursued in Vienna, and addressed the passers-by as potential performers and shoppers by means of staging a theatrically illuminated scenery. Architectural magazines, trade journals and daily newspapers euphorically covered this new inspiration in the field of commercial architecture. The New York Museum of Modern Art integrated pictures of the shop into a guide to modern architecture, which was published by the museum.

 Fifteen years after the successful opening of the Lederer boutique in New York City, Gruen managed to translate the vision of the protective refuge into the fragmented housing developments of the booming US American suburban landscape. He enlarged the scale he had tested in Vienna and New York City by the factor one thousand and thus introduced the first local shopping mall and an urban experiment of hitherto unknown dimensions. Like the illuminated  glass vitrine, which had marked the center of the arcade spaces in Vienna and New York City, the block shape of the J. L. Hudson department store marked the center of the 44,000 square meter area in the suburbia of Detroit. In this shopping mall, Gruen extended the notion of the arcade by a spacious courtyard with fountains, benches, playful sculptures and colorful mosaics which was framed by the large windows of the shops surrounding it. At the interface between courtyard and shop windows, the arcade with its colonnades created an “essentially urban atmosphere”, as Gruen explained. In addition to this, a mix of about 100 shops and numerous social life facilities, such as conference rooms, a kindergarten and a zoo, confirmed the urban identity of the 30 million dollar complex.

 “Northland Center,” Gruen declared with enthusiasm on March 22, 1954, was the “first shopping mall of the future”. Two years after completing the regional shopping center just outside of Detroit, he opened the first fully enclosed and air-conditioned shopping mall in Minneapolis, where two department stores and 72 shops and social life facilities on two floors were organized around a wide roofed interior courtyard. Gruen argued that all major European cities were built on a solid combination of commercial and social spaces. In contrast to this, Gruen criticized, the American suburbs were monofunctional landscapes that consisted of conglomerations of individual homes. To strengthen social life in the bleak suburban sprawl Gruen suggested mixing in so called “shopping towns”. As a man of great vision the self-appointed “people’s architect” propagated building gigantic projects that combined commercial and social activities and marked crystallization points of suburban community life.

 It wasn’t easy to find sponsors for a project of this scale. Gruen had to advertise his ideas: He exploited the fears of the Cold War era and presented the hermetically delimited shopping mall as a bunker and evacuation zone in case of a Soviet attack. In the context of the aggressively propagated “philosophy of containment” the shopping mall soon offered a tangible symbol of containment, which combined two key functions: Toward the inside, i.e. toward the shoppers, it signaled safety, protection and refuge. It provided a meaningful affective anchor for the residents of the mushrooming suburban housing projects. Toward the outside, in the direction of the rivaling Soviet Union and the well-wishers of communism, the mall signaled the supremacy of capitalism: It was seen as material proof of the principles of social egalitarianism and freedom of choice inherent in consumerism.

 With its iconography of the bunker, the shopping mall provided the spatial translation of the foreign policy strategy of containment and at the same time it established the materialized precondition for further, subtler forms of social and cultural “containment”. The shopping mall supported the “containment” of women, who after the return of the male soldiers after World War II retreated from the employment market and devoted their labor power to child-rearing, housework and consumption. And it provided a guarded security zone for the mostly white residents of suburbia, which, although it simulated urbanity, at the same time ensured social homogeneity. Due to this constellation the history of the shopping mall is inevitably linked to the history of racial “containment” in the suburbs.

 Gruen had advertised the concept of the “shopping town” for the first time in 1943, in the frame of a nationwide competition for the design of a city in the year of “194x”, i.e. the then unknown year when World War II would end. In the mid-fifties, when Gruen was able to realize his dream, his shopping town symbolized something much larger than Gruen himself had originally in mind. Between Gruen’s first draft and the mushrooming of shopping malls fifteen years later, the role of consumption in the USA began to change in fundamental ways: Consumerism wasn’t any longer one but the driving force in postwar America. Within fifteen years the winning powers of commercialism and the greed for profit of real estate ventures had absorbed all the social spaces, which Gruen had initially inscribed into his own concept of the shopping center. The polyfunctional “shopping towns” turned into gigantic sales machines. In the nineteen fifties, Gruen had claimed that his “shopping town” eased the life of women in suburbia and integrated shopping into life. But while shopping paved the way for the age of post-industrialism, the shopping mall became the driving force of a new economy of consumption: The mall integrated life into shopping.

 In the nineteen sixties, when the white middle class escaped en masse from the mixed downtown areas into the segregated suburbs, Gruen turned to revitalizing neglected downtown areas. His architectural firm transferred the suburban building type of the shopping mall into the inner city, introduced the urban mall as an architectural prototype and eventually provided an essential contribution to the commercialization of inner-city areas. In the end of the nineteen sixties, when many US-American cities went up in flames, Gruen returned to Vienna. In a gesture, which could not have been more symbolic, the Vienna Chamber of Architects denied Gruen the job title “Architekt” because he had failed to finish his studies as a persecuted Jew in National Socialist Vienna. Yet, the Chamber insisted that Gruen used his title with “c”- as in English “architect” – and, ironically, donated the considerable amount of 10.000.- Austrian Schilling to the chamber. Gruen himself focused his attention on the concept of the cellular city. He founded the “Zentrum für Umweltfragen” (Center for Environmental Issues; 1973) and published the “Vienna Charter”, which, as a response to Le Corbusier’s “Athens Charter”, outlined the principles of a human-oriented city of utmost compactness and highest possible interrelation. In his Vienna office, he worked on a model for the revitalization of the Vienna city center.

 “All measures I proposed encountered open resistance on the part of the municipal authorities. The planning bureaucracy consisted of specialists, who were unable to think universally and who suffered from ‘car neurosis'”, Gruen wrote in his unpublished autobiography. In the mid-seventies he proposed to turn the entire city center into a mixed use, car-free zone and though the plan was rejected, the city transformed Kärntnerstraße and Graben into a pedestrian zone, which, over the years, turned into an exclusive shoppingscape. At the same time the first European shopping mall was built on the outskirts of the city of Vienna. Thus Gruen had to face up to the irony of his life: While he had tried to transfer the old European city center to US-American suburbia, the shopping mall had advanced into European cities and threatened to destroy his model of urban life. Gruen emphasized for the rest of his life that real estate firms had hijacked his concept of the ?shopping town? and reduced it to a mere “sales machine”. He “denied paternity once and for all” and refused to “pay alimonies for these bastard projects”.

 Anette Baldauf works as a sociologist and cultural critic. Her research focuses on urban development, feminism and social movements. She is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.


February 13, 2008.



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My playground – interview

Interview with Kaspar Astrup Schröder, director of the film My Playground, and Bjarke Ingels, founder of the Bjarke Ingels Group, Coppenhagen

My Playground is really two films, it isn?t only a film about Parkour, it is also a film about architecture and urban space and the relationships between people and the space they live in. Architecture doesn?t normally get looked at this way.

 Kaspar: When I started doing these test shoots with the Parkour teams I started composing my pictures according to the buildings and the space, with these guys moving within the space it became a totally different experience. This was something eye opening to me and it made the space much more alive and dynamic. There is a suburban neighborhood of garden homes flowing over a 10-storey building called THE MOUNTAIN which BIG designed in Orestad city just outside of Coppenhagen. I filmed the top Parkour team in Denmark, Team Jiyo jumping from roof to roof and did a short film. That is why Bjarke came on board I gave him the film and he was like, ?This is amazing , we have never seen our buildings in that perspective , I want to be more a part of  what you are doing?. From this we began the discussion about preserving space, exploiting space and how you show architecture in a film. So it was a journey for everyone to make a film on Parkour but also on architecture.

Bjarke: Apart from being a good way of showing the occupancy or the potential life of a building it was also amazing at explaining the space in a way of transmitting the experience of moving around the ?MOUNTAIN? much better than any sort of architectural photography. In a way Parkour guys running around becomes some kind of an exploration of space that by having the Parkour people in the foreground and the building in the background. You focus on the life that is lived in the building but you experience the space that wraps around it. I just had a feeling that it was a really awesome way of actually communicating the architectural experience maybe better than any other medium that we had come across and we started a dialog with Kaspar about trying to engage with the architecture at all stages of realization. In the office looking at the architectural models, going to the construction site and moving around the building in the making and afterwards inhabiting the buildings as they have become complete.

 How important is it to you both as filmmaker and as architect the publics experience of urban space that you film and you build and have you talked about that with each other?

 Bjarke: Whenever you do a building or an urban space you contribute to the future life of the city and in doing that you contribute the future of the culture and the lifestyle of the inhabitants and it is important to show architecture not as some static art form with the typical architectural photography that focuses only on how light falls on a wall.  My Playground is a film of course about Parkour but is also very much how public life and architecture are intricately linked. Architecture observes human life and attempts to accommodate it then human life evolves and misinterprets the architecture to expand the realm of possibility and in turn architecture observes the evolved human life and it is this continuous loop of building and living, building and living.

Tara Farrel, November 10, 2012


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