Architecture and film noir

Sheila Byers Sheila Byers
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Halloween is just around the corner, and with this holiday comes thoughts of spiders, shadows and scary movies. Many of today’s horror movies have their roots in an earlier genre of suspenseful films: film noir, a genre which is also very closely related to architecture. 

Film noir can be traced to its beginnings in German Expressionism before the First World War. Many of these directors were exiled to the United States, where, in the 1940s and 1950s, they developed film noir partially as a response to the anxiety and stress of the Second World War and the residual contradiction between progressive optimism and human disappointment.  Film noir uses architecture, and urban and domestic spaces as the real and imaginary universes in which the characters develop and expose paradoxes. Today on homify we are going to have a look at buildings that exemplify this connection between architecture and film noir.

Sharp lines in the urban fabric

The city as described and explored by film noir consists of contrasts and ambiguities,and is a structured system of alienation and exploitation, filled with anxiety and promising an even darker future. The architecture, however, encourages us not to abandon milestones of greatness, progress and confidence. 

Asymmetries are especially popular in film noir architecture, perhaps because they echo the individuality and complications of the films’ characters. The buildings pictured here appear as imposing towers of sleek yet almost violent continuity. Constructed using the technique of tube in tube with outer retaining walls, the Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt rose in 1985 as Central Business icon in Germany. At the time, the technique and materials were considered a new concept in skyscraper design, something innovative and progressive.With their clear, timeless design, that evokes the imposing structures of the World Trade Centre,  these landmarks of modern Frankfurt became the symbol of Deutsche Bank. A cheerful note to these serious implications is the eco-friendly renovation that these towers underwent from 2005 to 2013. Known as “green towers” due to the implementation of green architecture and sustainability, they saved 55% in electricity, 74% water, 67% in heating and cooling as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 89%.

The office and the individual

In film noir, small towns change through to exponential growth, transforming into the impersonal cities that, paradoxically, have an implicit personality. Just think of the Batman comics and movies, where Gotham City itself becomes a protagonist.

Thus traditional family neighborhoods, renowned for their cobbled streets and sense of community, are replaced and divided with the arrival of the main streets and tunnels that cross the old areas. Just think of the Bronx in New York pre- Robert Moses. Film noir portrayed this transition and the residual tension between culture and urbanism in the following decades. This building however, is aware of film noir’s warning about office buildings that absorb the individual, has taken steps to ensure that its design thoughtfully integrates its occupants and environment and is not too cold or industrial. Built by the Berlin architect Jürgen Mayer H, the office is inspired by the landscape of its city of Hamburg, which is dominated by streams.In a noirish touch, the facade reminds us of a mouse’ maze, however, we can see the horizontal lines of glass flowing around and outside the building like transparent tubes of water with bubbles of air. This natural  reference to beauty and lightness manages to break up the idea of a cage.

Geometry and technology

Another important aspect of film noir is its portrayal of the technology and science of modernity. For architecture, this means the use of materials like steel to form sharp lines and angles. 

This German Mercedes building is a clear example of this sharp, modern geometry. The facade shows not only asymmetry but also contrast, with large white areas on top resting on a black base colour. The architects thought of the environment during the design, and the property is considered an intelligent building with highly efficient technology. It saves energy and resources through a gas generating plant that provides high-efficiency heating and cooling, as well as electricity generation and reuse of rainwater.

Dark interiors

Usually shown in film noir is a little room in dark hotel or flophouse or a smoky bar or nightclub. In Duisburg, Germany, we found the State Archive Landesarchiv NRW, which is located in an old warehouse built in 1930 which no has no windows. In order to protect the contents of the archives inside, the windows and skylights were filled in, leaving us to imagine the secrets inside.

The home

In film noir, the design of the home, both outside and inside, tends to be chosen to express the characters’ personalities. For this reason, the facades and interiors are often eccentric, unique and eye catching, as they attempt to reveal the complication of the human soul.

What do you think of these noir designs? Let us know in the comments!
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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