Quandaries, Possibilities, and Cityscapes on Celluloid

For four days last week, New York City’s Tribeca Cinemas became home to the fifth season of the Architecture & Design Film Festival, welcoming a diverse cross section of professionals and non-professionals to experience powerful, design-centric, long- and short-form films and exchange in meaningful discourse. Among the highlights of this five-day event – the nation’s largest devoted to the industry – were director Q&As filled with passionate exchanges; explorations of controversies, design practices, and our rapidly shifting world during expert panel discussions; and, of course, the hushed camaraderie of packed, popcorn-fueled film screenings.

The U.S. premiere of Mathias Frick’s Tadao AndoFrom Emptiness to Infinity (an examination of the Japanese Minimalist hero’s most profound works) sold out its original two screenings in no time, and seats for its third screening were snatched up immediately. Stefan Haupt’s Sagradathe Mystery of Creation illuminated the Herculean efforts behind constructing Gaudì’s epic La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Helsinki Music CentrePrelude by Matti Reinikka and Miisa Latikka was a moving, decidedly human chronicle of the passion and optimism required to see Finland’s most significant new cultural monument through to completion. Patrick Creadon’s If You Build It brought the lens to rural North Carolina, where designer-activists called upon the youth of a poor community to affect profound and long-lasting change. Paul Smith: Gentleman Designer by Stephane Carrel introduced concepts of humanity and design from a fashion perspective, via the charming eccentricities of the film’s protagonist, Smith.

The sneak preview of Andrea Dalsgaard’s The Human Scale earned great buzz and inspired lively discourse on the subject of architectural ethnography, heterogenity, the profound impact of Jan Gehl on the modern city, and the efficacy a third-party observer can have on approaching structural solutions for cities. “It’s a challenge to make a film about architecture,” said Dalsgaard. “We go to films to view people.” The powerful takeaway: Thoughtful observation of a community yields long-reaching and powerful solutions in urban design. Kelly Anderson’s My Brooklyn hit close to home (literally) for many in the audience. It looks at the unprecedented development of Brooklyn, the controversial notion of its “renaissance,” and zeros in on the Fulton Mall area of Downtown Brooklyn – the epicenter of commerce and culture for long-term residents – though increasingly criticized as the county becomes more gentrified and expensive. The accompanying panel discussion generated emotional responses among attendees, particularly on the concept of “redlining,” which is driving poorer residents towards the suburbs. The talk was a great example of the festival’s spirit. Meanwhile, actress Kelly Lynch was an eloquent and engaging panelist during the discussion “Preserving the Modern.” Lynch, the owner of Neutra’s Oyler House, was joined on stage by Mike Dorsey, director of the film The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat, Danish Consul General Jarl Frijs-Madson, and Michael Adlerstein, Assistant Secretary General of the UN and executive director of the UN Capital Master Plan. “Preservation is not for sissies,” Lynch said.

Isabella Willinger, director of the exceptional documentary Away From All Suns – which thoughtfully explores the precarious fate of Russian constructivist architecture, participated in the “Midnight and Modernism in Moscow” panel along with AIANY Executive Director Rick Bell, FAIA; architects Anya Bokov and Vladimir Belogolovsky; and art historian Regina Khidekel, founder and executive director of the Russian American Cultural Center. The distinguished panel illuminated Russian policy makers’ general disdain for avant-garde building. Willinger was thrilled to have her film featured at ADFF, and was heartily impressed by the event. “I am very grateful, and enjoyed it a lot, particularly the audience discussions,” she says, citing the festival’s great potential to explore the intersection of film and architecture.

All the while, Tribeca Cinemas’ Varick Room was transformed into a chic and vignette-filled lounge by the festival’s sponsors, and served as a prime space for pre-screening mingling, post-film debate, catching up over cocktails, and expert panels on topics ranging from Brooklyn’s non-inclusive “renaissance,” and the pitfalls of preservation. “We consider the lounge area to be vital to this festival, nearly as important as the films themselves, as it allows our audiences to discuss and absorb the films,” says Kyle Bergman, the festival’s genial organizer. ADFF – which launched in 2009 and now has sister festivals in Chicago and Los Angeles – was sponsored by Poltrona Frau, Toshiba, Sciame, Coalesse, Scavolini, AFD Contract Furniture, Dyson Airblade, Steelcase, WolfGordon, KPF, FXFOWLE, Elle Decor, Architectural Record, Kevin Kennon Architects, The James, Bombay Sapphire, Aamann, AIANY, Consulate General of Denmark, Consulate General of Finland New York, Switzerland, Wanted Design, 2013 MAS Summit for New York City, and DFI NY.

Andrew Stone is a Brooklyn-based author and editor who covers the worlds of design, dining, fitness, fashion, and culture. His weekly column for allows him to interface with the world’s top architects, interior designers, and artisans–whom he considers to be the smartest people on earth.

Event: Architecture & Design Film Festival
Location: Tribeca Cinemas, 10.16.13-10.20.13
Speakers: Alastair Gordon, Critic, Curator, Filmmaker, and Author; Alexis Taylor, Project Manager, Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space, Municipal Art Society; Andreas Dalsgaard, Filmmaker and Director, The Human Scale;  Anya Bokov, PhD Student, Yale University; Ian Harris, Filmmaker and Director, Archiculture; Ilana Judah, Int’l Assoc. AIA, Director of Sustainability, FXFOWLE; Isabella Willinger, Filmmaker and Director, Away from All Suns!; Jan Vingerhoets, CEO, Flos USA; Jukka Pietikainen, Consul General of Finland in New York; Kelly Anderson, Filmmaker and Director, My Brooklyn; Kelly Lynch, Actress and Preservationist; Laetitia Wolff, Design writer, curator, and cultural engineer; Lisa Scafuro, Filmmaker and Director, The Vision of Paola Soleri; Malachi Connolly, Achitect/Filmmaker and Director, Built on Narrow Land; Michael Adlerstein, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Executive Director, UN Capital Master Plan; Michael Webb, Architectural Writer/Consultant; Mike Dorsey, Filmmaker and Director, The Oyler House and Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat; Regina Khidekel, Art Historian; Rick Bell, FAIA, Executive Director, AIANY; Stefan Haupt, Filmmaker and Director, Sagrada – The Mystery of Creation; Tufic Mahklouf Akl, Filmmaker and Director, The Barragan House; Vladimir Belogolovsky, Intercontinental Curatorial Project; Will Wright, Video Game Designer
Organizers: Architecture & Design Film Festival
Sponsors: Toshiba, Poltrona Frau, Sciame, Steelcase, Scavolini, Coalesse, Dyson Airblade, AFD, Wolf Gordon, FXFOWLE, KPF, Kevin Kennon Architect