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Top 12 Movies About Architects

Digital Documentaries About Famous Architects

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How does an architect create? What inspires and drives the process? Learn about contemporary and historic architects in these twelve films—and don't forget the popcorn. For more terrific documentaries, also see our list of Top Movies About Architecture.

Note: Movies come in a variety of digital formats, including disc (e.g., DVD), download (e.g., iTune), subscription streaming (e.g., Hulu, Netflix), and cable on-demand.

1. First Person Singular: I.M. Pei

Chinese-American architect I.M.Pei gesturing, in front of podium, microphone, and back projection
Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei by Paul Hawthorne ©2004 Getty Images

Director: Peter Rosen
Year: 1997
Running Time: 85 minutes
Awards: Muestra Internacional de Programas Audiovisual, Spain

Have you been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio? The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.? If you have, you've stood in a building designed by Pritzker Prize Laureate Ieoh Ming Pei.

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2. How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster?

Over the shoulder view of Norman Foster sketching.
Architect Norman Foster from the movie © Valentin Alvarez.

Directors: Norberto López Amado and Carlos Carcas
Year: 2011
Running Time: 74 minutes
Festival Awards: San Sebastian Film Festival 2010; Berlin Film Festival 2010; Docville Film Festival 2010

The life of British architect Norman Foster began in 1935 Manchester, England. From humble beginnings, Foster became Sir Norman Foster, being knighted in 1990 Queen Elizabeth II. This film examines the rise and development of Foster's worldwide reputation through his architecture.

"I expect this documentary could be seen in 50 years," said director Amado, "and the audience could be able to recognize the person who is behind all these buildings."

Read the NY Times review by A. O. Scott, January 24, 2012 >>>
Architecture Photos: Buildings by Sir Norman Foster >>>

Source: Official movie press pages at www.mrfostermovie.com; Dogwoof Press Assets. Photo © Valentin Alvarez. Websites accessed October 1, 2012.

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3. EAMES: The Architect and the Painter

Charles and Ray Eames posing on a motorcycle, Ray driving and Charles smiling with his pipe.
The Eames press photo courtesy First Run Features ©2011 Eames Office, LLC.

Directors: Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey
Year: 2011
Running Time: 84 minutes

Narrated by actor James Franco, EAMES documents the love story and professional successes of a partnership that began with the 1941 marriage of Charles and Ray Eames. This film, the first since their deaths, has been a feature favorite at many film festivals.

Read the NY Times review by A. O. Scott, November 17, 2011 >>>

Sources: firstrunfeatures.com/eames, accessed October 1, 2012

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4. Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision

A dark-haired Asian Maya Lin, wearing dark-rimmed glasses.
American architect Maya Lin in 2003 by Stephen Chernin ©2003 Getty Images

Director: Freida Lee Mock
Year: 1995
Running Time: 83 minutes
Awards: Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature

The film traces the journey of Maya Lin, architect and sculptor, in her formative years -- in the decade following her winning design for the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

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5. Sir John Soane: An English Architect, An American Legacy

Photo of black and white engraving of 19th century English gentleman architect John Soane
English architect Sir John Soane by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Director: Murray Grigor
Year: 2005
Running Time: 62 minutes

Creativity rarely exhists in a vacuum. Architects pass ideas to the next generation. The influences of Englishman John Soane, 1753–1837, are brought to light by a new era of American architects, including Philip Johnson, Robert A. M. Stern, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Richard Meier, Henry Cobb, and Michael Graves.

Checkerboard Films has created another intelligent film about architecture.

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6. Rem Koolhaas: A Kind of Architect

Architect Rem Koolhaas in 2012 at age 67.
Architect Rem Koolhaas by Ben Pruchnie ©2012 Getty Images for Garage Center in Moscow

Directors: Markus Heidingsfelder and Min Tesch
Year: 2008
Running Time: 97 minutes

Dutch-born Rem Koolhaas, 2000 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, has always worked "in areas beyond the realm of architecture such as media, politics, renewable energy and fashion." This film captures him as a thinker, visionary, and "a kind of architect."

Source: OMA Website, accessed October 1, 2012.

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7. Philip Johnson: Diary of an Eccentric Architect

Architect Philip Johnson puts a branch of flowers in the buttonhole of his suit
Architect Philip Johnson photo by Pictorial Parade ©2005 Getty Images

Director: Barbara Wolf
Year: 1996
Running Time: 56 minutes

A 47-acre campus estate in New Canaan, Connecticut is the home of Philip Johnson's eccentricity. Born in Cleveland, Ohio in July 8, 1906, Johnson was a 90-year-old man when this film was made. He had completed his skyscrapers -- the Seagram Building and the AT&T Building -- and it was the simplicity of a Connecticut Glass House that gave him the most joy.

Source: Checkerboard Film Foundation, accessed October 1, 2012

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8. Sketches of Frank Gehry

Video cover of Sketches of Frank Gehry, a film by Sydney Pollack
Video cover photo courtesy PriceGrabber.com

Director: Sydney Pollack
Year: 2005
Running Time: 83 minutes

It's been widely reported that Frank O. Gehry asked his Hollywood director friend Sydney Pollack to make this movie. Can a filmmaker fairly document a friend's life? Probably not. But friendship can reveal other characteristics, as does this, the last work filmed by Pollack.

Read a Review at About.com >>
Read the NY Times review by A. O. Scott, May 12, 2006 >>>

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9. Antonio Gaudi

Black and white portrait of architect Antoni Gaudi, dark hair and dark beard
Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi by Apic ©Getty Images

Director: Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara
Year: 1984
Running Time: 72 minutes

The life of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí spanned two centuries of incredible growth and innovation in building design. From his birth in 1852, before the height of the industrial revoltuion, until his death in 1926, with La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona still unfinished, Gaudi's influence on Gothic modernism is felt even today.

The two-disc DVD set Criterion Collection includes additional background information, including Antoni Gaudi: God's Architect, a one-hour BBC Visions of Space documentary by director Ken Russell.

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10. My Architect

Black and white photo of architect Louis Kahn with his son, Nate, circa 1970
Kahn and Nate circa 1970 by Harriet Pattison ©20003 Louis Kahn Project, Inc., press photo

Director: Nathaniel Kahn
Year: 2003
Running Time: 116 minutes

Do you know what your Dad did when he went to work? Director Nathaniel Kahn took five years to figure out his father's life. Nate is the only son of American architect Louis Kahn, but he is not the son of Louis Kahn's wife. Nate's mother, landscape architect Harriet Pattison, worked in Kahn's office. Subtitled A Son's Journey, Nate's film explores his father's personal and professional legacy with love and heartbreak.

Read a Review on About.com >>>
Official website at www.myarchitectfilm.com/ >>>

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11. The World of Buckminster Fuller

Portrait of Buckminster Fuller as an eager, bright, elderly man.
American engineer Buckminster Fuller by Nancy R. Schiff/Getty Images ©2011 Nancy R. Schiff

Director: Robert Snyder
Year: 1971
Running Time: 80 minutes

The visionary Richard Buckminster Fuller has been called a philosopher, poet, engineer, inventor, and architect of the future. Academy Award winning director Robert Snyder examines the influential life of the master of the geodesic dome.

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12. Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright smoking and drawing in 1950
Wright smoking and drawing in 1950 by Jun Fujita ©Chicago History Museum, Getty Images

Directors: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Year: 2004
Running Time: 178 minutes

Some would argue that filmmaker Ken Burns is as famous as architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In this PBS Home Video, the masterful Burns explores Wright's life and works.

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