The lens of cinema gives a new perspective on architecture

The second Architecture & Film course offered architecture students an opportunity to reflect and understand the fundamentals of the field through films.

The harvest of the autumn Architecture& Film course was on display in an exhibition at Betaspace gallery in Otaniemi in December. The students had worked on short films about architectural spaces and photographed their stage models, which were made to look different through lighting and perspective.

'Generally Aalto's architecture courses have quite demanding final projects. In our course, we tried to do several small pieces of work to get people to think differently', says PhD student Helmi Kajaste, one of the two teachers in charge of the course.

The course also experiments in other ways with different pedagogy. A big part of the course is watching films together and discussing them from an architectural perspective.

'Architecture is studied, for example, by making a lot of technical drawings and generally planning things out carefully. We try to give more opportunities to test different approaches and use cinema as a lens for another perspective. The feedback we got tells that this approach provides a welcome change for students', says Kajaste.

Image: Paavo Ihalainen

Filmmaking comes to architecture

In a mediated world, architecture is also increasingly demanding different cinematic means, for example in presentation videos with computer-modelled camera shots of spaces. This also increases the need to study and teach these techniques. 

'When cinematic means are all around us and permeate everything, it would be crazy not to teach them in any way', says Kajaste.

At the same time, architecture is present in all films, both in real and staged spaces.

'We are not so much dealing with the technical side of filmmaking as with our own perceptions and perspectives on films. Each person sees the film in their own way, reflecting their experiences and ideas, which can then be compared in the discussion', says Kajaste.

Films can also serve as a time capsule of the architecture of a particular period, showing how familiar landscapes have changed over time.

'I also wanted to give foreign students a perspective on Finnish cinema, so the course included a screening of Aki Kaurismäki's Man Without a Past', explains Kajaste.

Matilda Lavinkosken näyttelyesine. Kuva: Paavo Ihalainen
Exhibit item by Matilda Lavinkoski. Image: Paavo Ihalainen

Bringing spaces to life

Kajaste says that when planning the course programme with fellow PhD student Jere Pääkkönen, they considered the strengths of film as a medium as a teaching tool.

'For example, in a miniature model task, it can be liberating to carry out the work from a completely different perspective. You don't usually want to create scary or haunting environments in the real world, but a model of a church in the vein of a giallo horror film can be those things as well', says Kajaste, referring to a student's coursework that was completed last year.

The exhibition is also impressed by the students' cinematic skills in their own short films, which were made independently.

'Surprisingly, the students already have the basic tools for filmmaking themselves. For example, they can shoot and edit their own short films on their mobile phones', says Kajaste.

'In the assignment, we wanted a living creature to be placed in the filmed space, which immediately brought the locations shown to life in a new way.'

A fruitful and useful angle

According to Kajaste, students were relieved that the course did not require as much productivity and perfection as other architecture courses.

'It has been nice to see that the course has been approached with ambition and dedication. The aim was to provide a moment of reflection and pause for thought. Some of them were able to think about their own thesis and develop a topic for it', he says.

'It's really about basic issues in the field, such as how to be together and alone in a space, the differences between indoor and outdoor spaces, accessibility and mobility, and how to move from one place to another', Kajaste continues.

Next year's topics could also include requirements and descriptions for accessibility. The idea would also be to develop more cooperation with other schools in Aalto. So far, there has only been one guest lecture on staging.

'The criteria and theory are constantly evolving, so hopefully we will be able to organise more courses in the future', says Kajaste.

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