From the treatment by Heinz Emigholz



The project DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM with its films on Pier Luigi Nervi and Auguste Perret forms the conclusion to a series of architecture films that I have been working on since 1993 and which so far includes six monographical films on the oevres of Louis Sullivan, Adolf Loos, Robert Maillart, Rudolph Schindler, Frederick Kiesler and Bruce Goff. It also presents individual projects by other architects in over sixty further short films.

Aesthetically, the concluding series DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM readopts the procedures of previous films (chronologial order, concentrated camerawork, high resolution picture quality, surround sound), and considerably expands them. DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM incorporates the buildings‘ general surroundings into their cinematic presentation: Life becomes part of a worldwide architectural entanglement. There will be concise depictions of urban landscapes. The filmed buildings will not be artificially isolated from their surroundings with the intention of an aesthetic idealization, but shown embedded into their surrounding neighborhoods and with natural traffic situations. The partially grotesque proliferations of unarranged, authorless, architectural spaces provide the project‘s thematic context. DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM is thereby also a comment on the fate of architectural modernism, its breakdown in the present day. This explains the double meaning that is inherent to the title.

In the case of the part about Pier Luigi Nervi‘s oevre, this means that a link is created between his keen constructions and the building types and ruins of Ancient Roman architecture. The film PARABETON has placed a focus on the comparison of cupola and arch structures in Ancient Rome and the present. An analytical view of the enclosed spaces through a cinematographical perspective also includes a clear and detailed examination of the atmospheres created by them, which can only be experienced with the means of the cinema.

The DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM project is not interested in idealizing a single, sculptural-monumental architecture, but rather in exploring the utility value of an aesthetically formulated architecture that seeks and finds the setting for its possibilities on a human scale. Old ideals are populated by new ideas and time leaves unforeseeable traces. Buildings become containers of a stored reality. Its surfaces and neighborly connections speak for themselves. If there is one thing a documentary view in film should be able to achieve, it should be to reproduce the surfaces of reality in an ideologically unvarnished manner and to create a relationship between surfaces using film photography. This way, the present, or prospective past, becomes just as readable as the intentions of past designing efforts that have manifested themselves in a building. While it is true that the architect »builds« his biography with his oevre, that biography is only fulfilled in the course of history and with the current state of his or her individual buildings. So the DECAMPMENT and implementation of a design always contains its inherent downfall, its »disintegration« in history. Film is both a witness of this development and a monument of its character of »having been«.

I will do the camerawork in DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM, as with all of my previous films. Both the way in which I perceive this film‘s cinematography and the way I have developed it in previous films are integral components of the current projects. The tension caused by the filmed spaces on screen is created by the camera and by the images I have structured and edited. All of the films in my architecture series follow a specific epistemological interest: A cinematographic reenactment of the immediate experience of spaces, a feasibly accurate portrait of theses spaces and their details on the movie theater screen. The architectural spaces are meant to be revived in the spectator‘s consciousness. High resolution material and surround sound are indispensable for this project, so that spaces can be presented realistically in single shots and so the illusion of a complex spatial coherency can emerge.

High resolution images enable a newly constructed relationship between camera and space. This is the only way in which an active drama between a space and a view is able to develop and unfold. My cinematography explores the virtuality of space: We ourselves take up space with our bodies and constantly move within spaces that exist within specific structures and trigger certain reactions in our heads – regardless if we are encountering landscapes or artificially constructed spaces. The general popularity of architecture is based on exactly this process. My work as a film maker consists of presenting three dimensional space on a two dimensional screen, to split it up into cinematographical shots and reconstruct it by projection. In that sense, cinematography is an architectural operation. It is also an architectural operation in the sense that it actively projects views instead of passively registering them. The main auxiliary for this is time. A linear order of film shots causes an imaginary architecture in time in the spectator‘s brain. What is more, the quality of single film shots makes it possible for the viewer to be able to appropriately compare »imagined« architecture with »real« architecture. This is exactly where most architecture films fail. They don‘t take the image‘s linguistic dimensions seriously and simply rely on the language of a commentary, which is a »secure« way of expressing meaning.

Most contemporary theoretical texts about the life and work of architects cite interpretations and references to other buildings. It is my motive to recognize and take seriously the phenomena themselves in their linguistic expression. According to this logic, an »autobiography« can be built - it is no longer restricted to just writing and saying. If the spectator is put into the position of experiencing a space through film, he or she »reads« a part of the architect‘s autobiography. That is the difference between PARABETON and other films »about« architecture. My film explains the featured architectural constructions from within, by making them tangible. Commentary and background information would only distract from this purpose and are available for this project in other media – on websites and DVDs about the individual films. The film‘s main purpose is to show buildings, but by doing so, it also becomes a documentary about the year of their creation. As a film maker, I am interested in the present as I encounter it, not as an idealized construction. History and the present have become significant components of the buildings, and if they have been altered and have lost their original appearance then this is a reference to modernity‘s fate, because it has been deserted by its original intentions.

Whenever this was possible with a normal lens, the film captured each building‘s immediate surroundings. However, most buildings are so integrated into their urban landscape and vegetation that only an extreme wide-angle or aerial shot could offer a complete overview. I have relinquished these techniques because my project is focused on the human perspective – not on virtual reality or wide-angle shots as instruments for control. I followed simple rules while shooting DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM: Reducing the lenses to normal formats and no »dramatic« additional lighting that would destroy the building‘s natural lighting composition. The buildings appear in the chronological order of their erection. The film should create an idea of the way certain forms, materials, designs and the use of buildings have developed within the architect‘s lives.

To me, recomposing a space cinematographically is a necessity while shooting and for viewing the finished film. The spectator‘s view is screwed open like physical material, allowing for the realization that this space only exists in time through our finite bodies. We ourselves are the medium of the space and its surfaces and every view that is fixed in an ethereal manner by cinematography is one possible interpretation of it and them. I‘m interested in a resulting view of composed images that feels obligated only to the object‘s peculiarities. In the same way that its phenomena exist, my head and thinking exists towards these appearances. The viewer‘s glance is directed at a complex, three-dimensional situation and is not primarily interested in conventional framing proportions. Within my construct of a technical image medium – the eyes are exterior interfaces of the brain. They can think and feel at the same time. That is how film returns to a real relation towards the world‘s surfaces instead of lingering in the realm of speculation. It can self-consciously maintain and analyze intersections of space and time – namely, by reviving the act of seeing and the viewed object itself.

We know many famous buildings only through certain photographs. However, I believe that we can only make these buildings re-approachable or in accordance with our thinking – if they have managed to move us in the first place – once we see how they exist today. This way, a relationship towards what goes for »good architecture« nowadays will establish itself beyond the constrictions of textbook knowledge. How strange it is then that these buildings and their details still manage to impress radiate their figuration today. That is why every chapter in the films begins with the authentic date of the recording. The films create temporal monuments that demonstrate the realities of the presented buildings as arguments within a current debate about architecture. The film series Architecture as Autobiography hereby conducts artistic research within the possibilities of film.

The DECAMPMENT OF MODERNISM project includes the conclusive, supreme effort of portraying a fundamental movement within international architectural modernism that, while known to insiders of the field, has remained largely unknown to the public in the past, using the means of cinema. Each of the Architect‘s Architects (Sullivan, Loos, Perret, Maillart, Schindler, Nervi, Kiesler, Goff) presented in the films was a visionary and master of spaces in his own way. They all implemented complex and unique visions and designs using newly developed building material innovations of the early 20th century, leading to a new poetic Syntax of Space. Their »alphabet« and language was constituted by the new shapes that had been made possible by sheathed concrete. They created a well-engineered and artistically exemplary encyclopedia of these possibilities that resonate in the work of many contemporary architects today. The film series Architecture as Autobiography feels fundamentally committed to this encyclopedia.