Films on Architecture

How Much Does Your Building Weigh,
Mr. Foster?

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 19m. The wide-ranging and inspiring career of prominent English architect Norman Foster is profiled in this intriguing documentary. It’s just a joy to watch. The best part of this excellent documentary is the cinematography of beautiful architecture, brought to life with slow-moving video cameras, time-lapse photography, special lighting effects, and a perfect musical background of sweet-but-sad, minimalist piano. The cinematography is astounding (the segment about the Millau viaduct at the beginning is magical– a gorgeous bridge magically captured on film). It shows a bit of how the architecture profession works, which is interesting. The man himself in the interviews reveals himself to be both inspiring and a little egotistical, which is of course to be expected. His work stands on its own, though, and this film showcases it in all its glory. I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes architecture.

I.M. Pei

Documentary 1997 NR 134 minutes. In this inspiring pair of documentaries, renowned architect I.M. Pei provides a guided tour of some of his most famous accomplishments and explains his personal philosophy about the important role architecture plays in the world’s cultural patrimony. Pei has designed such recognizable structures as the Bank of China Tower and the Louvre Pyramid. Included is a project archive with detailed photos, drawings and descriptions of 20 Pei creations.

My Architect:
A Son’s Journey

Documentary 2003 NR 116 minutes. Documentarian Nathaniel Kahn examines the life and career of his father, architect Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974), whose work included the Salk Institute and the Parliament and Capitol Buildings in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Among other surprising facts, the Oscar-nominated film reveals that the elder Kahn died of a heart attack in a Penn Station bathroom, unidentified and broke despite having been one of the century’s most influential visionaries.

Antonio Gaudi

Documentary 1984 NR 72 minutes. The great innovator of the Spanish art nouveau movement, architect and sculptor Antonio Gaudi left an indelible mark on artists Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali — and on the city of Barcelona, where the bulk of Gaudi’s distinctive work still stands. Using minimal narration in this astonishing documentary, Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara guides viewers through the achievements of the playful, Gothic surrealist.

Xanadu Foam Houses

The Xanadu Houses were a series of experimental homes built to showcase novel construction and design techniques. This architectural project began in 1969 when Bob Masters, an early pioneer of houses built of rigid insulation, built a home for himself in Aspen Colorado using inflatable balloons sprayed with polyurethane foam to demonstrate that houses could be built directly out of a waterproof insulation material in beautiful curvilinear forms, thereby eliminating the necessity of first building a square structure of wood on which to attach insulation and waterproofing. The same methods were later used to build the Xanadu houses as a series of show homes in the United States, the first in Wisconsin Dells and the second one near Disney World in Florida, which became popular tourist attractions during the 1980s with each attracting 100,000 visitors per year. (Bob Masters is also the author of several books, including Roget’s II Thesaurus, and is the author of this website Must-See-Movies.) An interview with Bob Masters about this new architecture and building technology can be seen at:

Building Wonder

Documentary TEDTalks 2011 NR 17 Episodes.  Sharing their ingenious work, architectural experts from across the globe reflect on historical spaces and the future of building design.

1 Bjarke Ingels: Three Warp-Speed Architecture Tales
2 Thomas Heatherwick: Building the Seed Cathedral
3 William McDonough on Cradle to Cradle Design
4 Cameron Sinclair on Open-Source Architecture
5 Joshua Prince-Ramus on Seattle’s Library
6 Liz Diller Plays with Architecture
7 Alex Steffen: The Shareable Future of Cities
8 James H. Kunstler Dissects Suburbia
9 Kamal Meattle on How to Grow Fresh Air
10 Jane Poynter: Life in Biosphere 2
11 Anupam Mishra: The Ancient Ingenuity of Water Harvesting
12 Mitchell Joachim: Don’t Build Your Home, Grow It!
13 Rachel Armstrong: Architecture That Repairs Itself?
14 Joshua Prince-Ramus: Building a Theater That Remakes Itself
15 Magnus Larsson: Turning Dunes into Architecture
16 Michael Pawlyn: Using Nature’s Genius in Architecture
17 Ellen Dunham-Jones: Retrofitting Suburbia

Sketches of Frank Gehry

Documentary 2005 PG-13 84 minutes. In this intimate documentary, Sydney Pollack explores the signature style of architect Frank Gehry, whose famous works include the Fish in Barcelona, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and various residences. Pollack starts with Gehry’s original sketches and follows their evolution from a 3D model to a computer-assisted rendition, on to construction and, finally, to the polished finished product.

Buckminster Fuller:
The Lost Interviews

Documentary 2005 NR 2 discs. With dozens of honorary degrees under his belt, thinker, inventor and scientist Buckminster Fuller (of geodesic dome fame, among other feats) has always been able to make his research relevant in the modern world. In this fascinating documentary, get to know Fuller as he discusses his approach to his work and to the world at large — a world that’s rapidly changing from a tangible, textual place to one governed by computer chips and electronics.


Documentary 2003 NR 5 discs. The art of architecture gets the reverential treatment it deserves in this riveting series from European public television channel ARTE. As it showcases impressive buildings, the program profiles some of the most renowned architects past and present. These artisans are famous for conceptualizing and creating buildings that not only house but also inspire its inhabitants — and the rest of the community in which they stand.

Notes for Those Beginning the Discipline of Architecture

Documentary 2006 NR 36 minutes. Perfect design isn’t evident in this unforgiving look at the architectural profession. This mock debate (played out by David Nordstrom and Michael Meredith) pokes fun but brings light to the plight of the architect in today’s fickle economy. Meredith, assistant professor of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, offers an insider’s look at the realities of the discipline, from its pitfalls to its frustrating failures and promising potential.

Maya Lin:
A Strong Clear Vision

Documentary 1995 NR 83 minutes. In this Oscar-winning documentary, director Freida Lee Mock captures the genius of architect Maya Lin, who vaulted to fame at age 21 when her sparse, modern and controversial design was chosen to memorialize the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. While many voiced displeasure with her design and Asian heritage, the memorial has become one of the most powerful in the world. The film also highlights Lin’s Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.


Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 25m. Gary Hustwit’s film looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and explores a diverse range of urban design projects around the world.

Future by Design

Documentary 2006 NR 1hr 28m. William Gazecki’s documentary chronicles the life of futurist Jacque Fresco, an engineer and designer who’s built his life around forward thinking.


Documentary Series 2006 NR. About the environmental impact of buildings. This PBS documentary series explores the dynamic ideas of the innovators and artisans who strive to advance technological progress while raising awareness about “green” issues in building and reducing damage to the environment by buildings. Among the subjects profiled are architects who use sustainable materials, cities that welcome alternative energies and worldwide efforts to reduce traffic and pollution. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman narrate.

Designing a Great Neighborhood

Documentary 2004 NR 53m. Witness the birth of a state-of-the-art green neighborhood in this documentary that follows architects and home buyers as they work together to design and construct the Wild Sage Cohousing Community, a zero-emissions residential development. With a strong emphasis on solar energy, energy-efficient technology and adjusting occupant behavior, these impressive new homes function without the use of fossil fuels.

Sprawling From Grace
The Consequences of Suburbanization

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 22m. Over the years, Americans have spread across the country in waves of movement from cities to suburbia. This thought-provoking documentary explores the negative aspects of this situation, especially the dependence on automobiles and foreign oil. A host of prominent figures — including former President Bill Clinton and former Governor Michael Dukakis — discuss innovative ways to build cities and our need for new energy strategies.

Escape from Suburbia

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 34m. After condemning America’s oil dependency in his 2004 documentary The End of Suburbia, filmmaker Gregory Greene here addresses the solutions that will avert catastrophe, outlining the issues actively moving the energy crisis from theory to reality. Spurred to action by the realities of peak oil, Greene focuses his camera on individuals across the country brave enough to challenge and instigate their communities into serious change.

The End of Suburbia

Documentary 2004 NR 90 minutes. This provocative documentary examines the history of suburban life and the wisdom of this distinctly American way of life. A post-World War II concept, suburbia attracted droves of people, giving rise to sprawl and all that comes with it — good and bad. How has the environment been affected by this lifestyle, and is it sustainable? Director Gregory Greene dares to ask all the tough questions.

India: Design Like You Give a Damn
Building Sustainable Communities, Not Trophy Homes

Documentary Frontline / World 2008. Reporter Singeli Agnew travels to Tamil Nadu, India, to see the work of Architects for Humanity, a nonprofit that links local communities in need with a network of architects excited to help.

China: Green Dreams
A Not So Model Village

Documentary Frontline / World 2008. The village of Huangbaiyu in rural northeast China was supposed to be a model for energy-conscious design. But the joint China-U.S. project to initially build 400 sustainable homes went awry.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 23m. Archival footage and interviews shed light on the legacy of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, an urban renewal project that ended in failure.

The Fountainhead

Drama 1949 NR 114 minutes. This drama adapted from Ayn Rand’s novel follows architect Howard Roark, a man obedient solely to his own individuality and unfettered expression. His life is depicted as a series of trials in which he must defend his beliefs and artistic integrity.

Metropolis Restored

Drama 1927 NR 2hr 28m. In the year 2026, when the populace is divided between workers and the rich, a man abandons his privileged life to join oppressed workers in a revolt.

Sullivan’s Banks

Documentary 2004 NR 90 minutes. Eight bank buildings constructed in the Midwest by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, known collectively as Sullivan’s Jewel Boxes, are the subject of this engaging documentary that explores Sullivan’s use of architecture to inspire and delight. Designed to convey financial steadfastness, each building also invites the eye to revel in its subtle flourishes, especially as contrasted to the surrounding flat Midwestern landscape.


Frank Lloyd Wright

Documentary 1998 NR 153 minutes. Often touted as the most influential and important American architect of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright is the subject of this acclaimed documentary by award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns (Baseball, The Civil War). Rare footage and illuminating interviews, along with an in-depth look at Wright’s body of work from his 92 years, come together to bring his unforgettable — and frequently turbulent — story to life.

The Homes of Frank Lloyd Wright

Documentary 1998 TV-G 50 minutes. This edition of the series from the A&E; Channel gives you an inside look at the homes created by renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright designed many structures throughout the country, but the homes he built for himself are widely considered to be his crowning glory and truly representative of his unique style and vision. This vision and creativity are on display as you tour these magnificent dwellings.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

Documentary 2005 NR 60 minutes. Learn the history of Fallingwater — the iconic Pennsylvania home custom-designed for the Kaufmann family by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 — in this fascinating documentary film. Highlights include interviews with Fallingwater director Lynda Waggoner and architectural historian Richard Cleary, who explain Wright’s concept of “organic architecture” and the qualities that make the structure so exceptional.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West

Documentary 2007 NR. Take a journey through legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West — an architectural masterpiece housing his home, his studio and a school of architecture in the Arizona desert — with this documentary and interactive tour. The longtime director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives, Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, discusses Wright’s life and career, exploring the ways in which Taliesin West reflects his values of organic architecture.


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