Archipelago: Architecture and the Moving Image

Project

Archipelago by Davide Rapp examines the relationship between architecture and the moving image. In particular the selection of images challenge how architecture can be on the one hand the “support” for the development of a narrative whilst contemporarily it can be also be intended and explored as a “tool” for telling and explaining architecture.

Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg, 2018.
Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg, 2018.

What always struck me about this film was the sequence in which, thanks to new VR technologies, the protagonists literally enter Kubrick’s “Shining” and visit corridors and rooms of the Overlook Hotel.

This is the vertigo of being able to relook at films from another perspective, even spatial (which is what I try to do with my work).

Matrix, Andy e Larry Wachowski, 1999
Matrix, Andy e Larry Wachowski, 1999

We go back almost twenty years with another film in which a digital and fictitious reality overlaps with a real one.

I have always been interested in the white space in which Neo and Morpheus come together to get ready to return to the Matrix . It is the potential of an empty space, without orientation, in which numerous objects and props appear . After all, every project starts here, from white, from emptiness.

Friends, David Crane e Marta Kauffman, 1994-199
Friends, David Crane e Marta Kauffman, 1994-199

An epic TV series where Monica and Rachel’s apartment in the West Village in Manhattan is central to the narrative and set.

At the end of the series, when the protagonists empty the house, leave the keys in the kitchen and go out giving a last look, one realizes that the common scene of 236 episodes is actually a character that we loved and will miss.

And yet, empty, it promises new adventures for the new tenants who will have to enter. It is the destiny of every home, always.

Toys, Barry Levinson, 1992
Toys, Barry Levinson, 1992

A fairly unkown film, a jewel. In addition to the set designs being inspired by Michael Graves, the conference room recalls a space designed by superstudio where the walls gradually shrink forcing the protagonists to make decisions quickly. A clockwork meeting room, a temporary architecture that introduces the factor of time into what we consider the constant elements of a room, its limits, the walls.

The Founder, John Lee Hancock, 2016
The Founder, John Lee Hancock, 2016

In the most interesting scene of the film, dedicated to the founders of McDonald, the project of the speede kitchen system is unraveled by drawing with chalk on half a tennis court. A 1: 1 scale model to realize proportions and movements.

Singin in the rain, Stanley Donen, 1952
Singin in the rain, Stanley Donen, 1952

One of my favorite movies, one of my favorite scenes. To declare his love to Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly takes her to an empty movie studio and uses props, a wind machine and stage lights to recreate the right atmosphere. A metaphor for film fictions, but also a visualization of the endless possibilities in being able to recreate any environment indoors.

Suspiria, Dario Argento, 1977
Suspiria, Dario Argento, 1977

In the gym scene the use of a curtain transforms the space into a dormitory, students on one side, teachers on the other in a game of Chinese shadows that transfigures the space and returns the anxieties between neighbors on this side and beyond Wall.

Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola, 2006
Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola, 2006

In the opening scene of the ‘delivery of the bride’ a curtain is raised on the border between Austria and France. It is the idea that the threshold is not just a line but a real space: you enter one way, you exit via another.

Stranger Things, Matt e Ross Duffer, 2014 - in production
Stranger Things, Matt e Ross Duffer, 2014 - in production

The series offers endless sources of inspiration, not only metaphorically, but also on space and its interiors. In the second season Will sketches on paper what turns out to be a detailed map of the underground tunnels of the city of Hawkins; a mosaic of over 3,000 drawings takes over the various surfaces of walls, floors and ceilings of the room, superimposing upon the domestic realm of the house, the geography of the rivers and lakes surrounding the latter.

Aprile, Nanni Moretti, 1998
Aprile, Nanni Moretti, 1998

The last image has a double meaning: on the one hand it shows Moretti struggling with this ‘newspaper of newspapers’ in an attempt to reconstruct the political scenario of 1994. On the other hand it talks about establishing a sequence amongst information, images, a bit like André Malraux and his imaginary museum. Only by looking at things as a whole is it possible to find the thread of the discourse and create a sequence, like that of these 10 images.

 

Interview

What is for you the power of the image within architectural discourse?

In architecture the image is key to the understanding and communication of a project, that’s why it’s hard to imagine an architectural discourse without representation. I work across the fields of architecture and cinema: both of them share the necessity to point out and interpret the quality of a space. In Cinema the architectural space acts as a backdrop for the action or it can become its protagonist assuming symbolic values. I believe the cinematic eye is a very powerful tool to read architecture with a fresh attitude, far from academic diktats.

From the extremely tangible to the ephemeral realm of the digital, where do you source your references?

I am what French people call a “cinephile”: I love going to movie theaters, no matter what is being screened. I am a big fan of B movies and blockbusters on top of cinema d’essay, authorial and experimental. Today I am also a compulsory user of streaming platforms such as Vimeo, Netflix and PrimeVideo and I buy tons of rare DVDs and VHS tapes. I don’t mind the intellectual context in which the video reference appears: it can be in an art gallery or in a trashy fiction for teenagers.

How do you collect and organize these?

I daily watch a huge amount of movies and tv series, I take screenshots and I archive them in thematic (architecture related) folders such as “Interiors”, “furniture pieces”, “colors”, “materials”… When these groups become very consistent and some narratives emerge, I cut short and long clips to be edited later. I started using this technique in 2014 while working on my first montage movie “Elements” commissioned by Rem Koolhaas for the 14th Architecture Biennale in Venice. Back in the days I filed more than 12.000 clips during 6 months. This archive is still alive and growing.

How and to what extent do your references influence and impact the way you operate as a creative?

I wouldn’t call it exactly an “influence”: my references are constantly shaping my creative process in a sort of generative methodology that needs an already existing input. I could put aside a movie clip just because I find it beautifully framed and then I go on accumulating similar contents until I define a recurring pattern.
The editing process unveils this structure and creates new sense by modifying the original meaning of the source.

Would you call yourself a collector?

Definitely yes, but still and moving images aren’t my only obsession. I believe collecting is something that belongs to one’s nature and you can find symptoms of it since your childhood. Worldwide famous auctioneer Simon de Pury mentions this in Isaac Julien’s movie “PLAYTIME” when he describes his little daughter’s passion for yellow rubber ducks. Since a very young age I have been an avid collector of comics, toys, books, vynils and LEGO®. I have recently started buying contemporary photography too.

Could you pick the one reference/drawing that was key to your (creative) journey?

In 1953 “Paris Match” published an editorial about André Malraux photographed by Maurice Jarnoux.
One of the pictures shows the author of “Le Musée Immaginaire” standing behind dozens of paired images of his next book displayed on the wooden floor. There are three reasons why I love this image. The first is that Malraux can overview all the visual materials of his book and build connections among them by creating a sequence. The second one is that the photographer captured the author together with his archive that fills a physical space creating a sort of installation. The last and not least is that I discovered this story during a lecture by Decio Guardigli, the most inspiring professor I ever met and my mentor.

About

Davide Rapp is a Video artist, director, architect, cinephile. Amongst numerous other achievements, Davide participated in the 14th International Architecture Exhibition – Fundamentals (Biennale Venezia, 2014) with ‘Elements’, a movie montage of short architecture-related clips, conceived specifically for the introduction room of the exhibition ‘Elements of Architecture’, curated by Rem Koolhaas, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

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