The Kuleshov Effect is a phenomenon which explains the tendency of an audience to derive meaning from sequential shots in film beyond their explicit content. It is often used when a series of shots is not chronologically or geographically ordered, or when large gaps in time or travel must be conveyed within a film. The effect, in its simplest terms, allows filmmakers to imply information through combinations of shots, or montage. This specific type of montage allows the filmmaker control, since information that is implied can intentionally mislead the audience, subverting their expectation for narrative complexity. Great filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Alfred Hitchcock, and Sergei Eisenstein have used this idea to craft the audience’s perception of their art. The question arises, then, can this be accomplished in architecture?
This project, which relocates and expands the capabilities of the Hong Kong film archive to the existing Central Market building, aims to give the architect the same level of control: the ability to craft moments through misdirection, disorientation, and reorientation. Essentially, the architect becomes the screenwriter, the director, and the cinematographer of urban experience. The project also allows mirrored glass to emerge from its invisible but ubiquitous state in the fabric of Hong Kong, alerting the public to uncurated narratives throughout the city they otherwise ignore. In using reflection to enhance the spaces of the intervention, the archive amplifies and unmasks those the city has already created at a multitude of scales. The result is not only an establishment of the relationship between architectural theory, film theory, and urban experience, but an argument for reflection key to an architectural Kuleshov Effect.
What prompted the project and the specific interest in cinema?
First, let me say that the studio prompt “Hong Kong: Kinesthetic Montage” was organized by Esther Lorenz, who was instrumental in my project. Her guidance and cultivation of my preexisting interests towards the completion of this project should not go un-credited.
From a personal point of view,there have only been two forms of artistic expression that have ever moved me so deeply that I feel they caused self-reflection: architecture and film. I think this is because the process of experiencing both forms of expression is an active one. This is easily proven in architecture: architecture is only truly experienced by someone moving through it, seeing it, taking it in, and reacting to it. It is not so easily proven by an audience member of a film, which some might argue is exceedingly passive. While there is no movement or call-response aspect to film-going per se, an engaging film is an extremely active experience. I think this is particularly true of films that rely on plot twists, since they require the viewer to constantly orient themselves within the film in order for the sleight to be successful. I wanted to explore the similarities between how an active audience in film engaged with the Kuleshov effect, a particular effect of montage used to leverage an audience, and how an active audience engaged with architecture. If a particularly powerful montage in film causes oneself to notice their active participation in a film, what in architecture causes the same self-identification? What about architecture could influence a viewer in the same way as a plot twist?
What role do the video sketches and final video hold in relation to the drawings?
Both the video sketches and the final video served as reference points for ideological consistency throughout the course of the project, and could be characterized in chronological order as experimentation, calibration, and representation, respectively. “Reflection,” the first video sketch that was made, was the result of an intense interest with plot twists in films and the way in which they were achieved, and whether or not a similar notion was latent in architecture. Montage, having been clearly established by architects and film theorists alike as existing in both media, had yet to provide a sufficient exploration, in my opinion, of what types of architectural elements or phenomena were analogous in architecture to Kuleshov-style montages in film. “Reflection” was about experimenting on a model scale with the mirrored surface as that missing piece — how to go about filming it, what effect each of those techniques had, its relationship with light and space, and its potential to leverage expectation or perception. “Angles of Incidence,” was about taking those ideas and seeing if they scaled. Being able to shoot on site in Hong Kong was both an introduction and a reintroduction in the sense that there was a high degree of scalability between my model experiment and the city, but the density, dynamism, and shear frequency of reflection in Hong Kong offered new and unexpected opportunities for exploration and intervention. The final video sketch, “Superimposition,” was really about taking conditions I found interesting at the scale of “Angles of Incidence,” and trying to maintain their cinematic power while switching their medium. I think “Superimposition” in particular, despite its more “sketchy” quality, is representative of the struggle of representing a collage of real and fabricated, static and dynamic, three- and two-dimensional. It was an experiment trying to achieve what celluloid and mirrors so easily do — the collapsing of complex spatiotemporal information into a two-dimensional product. I think each of the drawings carries that idea forward, and that each represents what was ultimately learned by the tension of scale and medium changes from video to video.
What define the specific framing and construction of the final renders?
Anyone who has seen a movie with a big plot twist is familiar with the feeling of realizing they’ve been had, and walking back through the film to appreciate where they went wrong. Throughout the course of the project this was referred to as orientation, disorientation, and reorientation: the audience forms a particular expectation based on the information presented, that expectation is subverted, and the previous expectation is identified as incorrect and amended to reflect the new information. The project posits that there is a threshold between disorientation and reorientation that makes the Kuleshov Effect visible. In film that threshold is largely temporal, but in architecture it is spatial, or a set of points. The framing of each of the renderings is, to varying degrees, trying to capture a particular threshold were the relationship of reflections and space causes disorientation. To put it in other words, each static drawing attempts to have a plot unto itself, something dynamic and puzzling that causes an audience to, like film, retrace their steps and understand the location in which they now find themselves. Each drawing tries to say “you’ve been had, now find the thresholds,” while still representing the architectural idea faithfully.
How do you as an architect perceive the medium of the moving image? To what extent do you relate to Schoning’s view of the ‘The production of images by cinema is the epitome of the physical construction of space by architecture’?
Sergei Eisenstein, the prolific Russian filmmaker and theorist, said that only architecture and film possess the ability as artistic media to capture the full “visual multidimensionality” of experience. He says this after describing the compositional merits of a child’s drawing, with its lack of consistent scale, perspective, or realistic coherence. I believe that what he finds most compelling about this type of art is that it disregards the classical indicators of what makes art look “real,” in favor of accurately representing the child’s point-of-view at each point in their route simultaneously. Using his example, the idea of capturing “visual mutidimesionality” becomes about understanding and trying to faithfully represent the sequence of experience as we “really” perceive it, rather than a static facsimile. Eisenstein truly understood the utility of sequence — and thus montage, chronology, story, etc. — as it relates to experience, and that both cinema and architecture are only powerful because of their common ability to harness it’s dynamic potential. I think as architects we have to approach projects with the same level of thoughtfulness, and fully understand point-of-view.
I think that conceit is obvious in Schoning’s view. To use an example akin to Eisenstein’s, architecture exists from all points-of-view simultaneously, during all conditions of light, all points of space, and all speeds and orientations — 300 people in a room do not share any one thing in common among all their experiences of that room, truly. Film, then, has the ability to take an architecture at it’s most emotional, its most provocative, and at the thresholds in the sequence that most epitomize it’s power, and consolidate them into one view. Cinematography in film can thus unleash that most powerful perspective from an architecture on that same group of 300 people, and ensure that the sequence they experience is consistent. That is a powerful tool for both the filmmaker and the architect.
What is your take on the relationship between architecture and film through elements as the stripe window and the architectural promenade in Villa Savoye?
As Caroline O’Donnell points out in her book Niche Tactics, one may recognize that a similar analysis to Eisenstein’s was done some eighteen years earlier in Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture. His examination stressed the idea of what the “architectural promenade,” wherein “architectural spectacle offers itself consecutively to the view.” O’Donnell’s writing, especially when read alongside Flora Samuel’s Le Corbusier and the Architectural Promenade, paint a picture of Corbusier’s promenade as “an architecture of initiation.” This refers to the idea that architecture could only be understood by moving through it in its entirety; the unfolding of each particular space was a result of the viewer’s active engagement with every point within the sequence of circulation, each of them “offering aspects constantly varied, unexpected, and sometimes astonishing.” Samuel goes on to say that the intended effect of this is to “resensitise [sic] people to their surroundings.” In less explicit terms, Corbusier posits that architectural elements and their arrangement “speak to” the viewer. There is something in this quote that Eisenstein’s aforementioned analysis lacks. The way in which Corbusier’s explanation not only privileges the ability of montage to surprise, but also its use as an orientation device, is much more homologous with Kuleshov’s description of audience orientation. Corbusien architectural ideas thus align with Kuleshov’s, namely, that architectural sequence and arrangement suggests an orientation—a spatial idea. This project took this common idea to be true, and used it to ask not only if an assumption about space can be precipitated by architecture, but can it also be subverted?
In the age of the super cut how can we talk and discuss the Kuleshov effect?
The “supercut,” is the result of the age of immediacy in which we live — but that is not necessarily meant as an indignity. The proliferation of the internet, easily-accessible phone cameras, cheap (or even free) video editing software has made the supercut into potentially the most accessible technique of making montage in the world. Sizzle reels, “Best-of” Youtube videos, compilations, and even videographic meme platforms like Vine, have eternally shifted the public’s relationship to montage. In most of these types of videos, there is truly no useful avenue down which one could pursue the Kuleshov Effect. The transitions between “scenes,” serve no real purpose other than to differentiate clips of the same general type from one another. However, the technologies that have made this shift possible have also changed both professional film making and architecture, and pursuing the Kuleshov effect through each of these stands to be more rewarding.
There are countless articles and essays on the internet-of-things, and the dissociation of the city center from a physical place to somewhere in the technosphere. Furthermore, there are arguments that such technologies increase the speed at which we live, and sometimes make the relationship between density and velocity in urban living mean something that it did not in a pre-digital age. Architecturally, those changes are opportunities to explore the urban Kuleshov Effect — the supercut of the city if you will — in ways that previously did not exist or where technologically prohibitive. What is Hong Kong but a physical embodiment of access, speed, and tenuously related spaces along line of circulation? Additionally, I think the Kuleshov Effect finds itself more and more intertwined today with the idea of “creative geographies,” or the cutting together of multiple places in order to create a perceived link between them. One can’t help but to imagine the effects of the aforementioned technologies in film without also including CGI/special effects, which serve almost as a supercut of the physical and digital, designed to evoke a sense of place, or an orientation. If anything, the Kuleshov Effect is alive an well, but inhabits a space between the digital and physical.
Are you interested in discussing this potential further and/or continuing a research on reflected surfaces?
I think so. Given the limited amount of time I was able to spend with the topic for this particular project, I’d love to revisit it. There are several characteristics or behaviors that reflective surfaces possess that I only touch on briefly in the design, and I think my biggest regret within the project was not getting to be as intentional or as thoughtful with those as I was with conditions I show in my renderings and videos. Had I had the means, it would have been interesting to see how the experimentation, calibration, representation arc I carried through with this project could have evolved or mutated had it been done two or three times over. The results from having the bandwidth to continually shift scales of experimentation and really further study the synthesis of model making, urban experience, and film making would be really fruitful in my opinion. I think the project also would have eventually had something more to say about the fetishization of glass as a building material, something I started to work into the project at a late stage, but never fully had time to comment on.
Beyond those ideas, it would also be interesting to look at the relationship of film, architecture and reflective surfaces across several cities. What about New York or Los Angeles would make the exact same type of analysis yield a different result? I think a comparative study would be incredibly fascinating, and could be extremely rich insofar as it could further expose differences in similarities in cinematic culture that are present in not only the filmic life of each place, but the place itself. I can’t help but think that architecturally there would be a lot to work with there.
Could/Should we start talking about architecture through film making tools?
On the contrary, I think a lot of architects are already doing so. While doing this research I was able to find writings on the topic of architecture and film from filmmakers, architects, and theorists like Corb, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergei Eisenstein, Auguste Choisy, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, and Caroline O’Donnell, who had already taken it upon themselves to understand architecture through the lens (if you pardon the pun), of film making tools. I think what is practiced far less often is actually using those same tools to communicate architecture. I mean this to say that those who I just mentioned are talking about architecture through the lens of film, but they do so in words, architectural diagrams, plans, section, etc. Very few of them are explaining through film itself. I think one of the joys and major epiphanies of completing this project was realizing just how much the drawings about the architecture worked when they had been preceded with a film about the architecture. The film easily established a kind of dramaturgy for the drawings to inhabit, and more clearly created a familiarity with the idea of architecture as film than anything I could have written or drawn. So using film as the communication tool, instead of just the tool for analysis, is definitely something that should be looked at more often — even for projects not directly related to film-making.
What is for you the architects most important tool?
Passion. While that is somewhat of a cliche answer, I don’t think I have ever seen someone do something better than when they are passionate about it. Passion is what drives someone to work on something beyond the bare minimum of what is expected, and beyond their preconceived notions of what the result might be. This project, for example, tapped into something with film that I had never gotten to formally explore and the result was a long overdue love affair with film analysis and film making I’d never otherwise had an excuse to play with. There were difficult days, but on the whole the entire project was something I was always genuinely excited to step deeper into, and had a lot of fun with. Truly, I think that is the strongest argument that passion is the best tool — fun. There is this tendency in architecture to take everything so seriously, especially when reading theory or trying to consolidate a series of dense ideas into a verbose architectural language. Passion helps to imbue that process with levity, or with a sense of play that I think is always very apparent to someone viewing the project, and is too often left on the cutting room floor at studio.