“Everybody cares about architecture,” Kyle Bergman says. “They just might not know that they care.” This is true, and the New York-based Bergman has spent a decade pursuing that idea with the Architecture & Design Film Festival, an event that aims to show that architecture “is about aesthetics and much more than that,” as Bergman says. “It touches everything about how we live.”
This November, the festival comes to Canada for the first time, Nov. 7 to 10 in Vancouver and Nov. 14 to 17 in Toronto. Each festival includes a handful of panel discussions; I will take part in one in Toronto Nov. 17, following the film PUSH.
In each case the opening night film is City Dreamers, which traces the impact of four women – including Canadians Phyllis Lambert and Cornelia Hahn Oberlander – on the fields of architecture and landscape architecture. “Each of the protagonists is based in a different city," Bergman says. “In each case you get a sense of the place, and also of a human story.” That helps to broaden the conversation around architecture. Bergman founded the festival in New York a decade ago with that goal in mind.
“Architects are really good at talking to each other,” he explains. “But the conversation is often filled with jargon. We need to be able to talk in a way that everyone can understand.” Film is a useful tool in that respect. Berman argues that film is the medium that provides the closest thing possible to experiencing a space. For example, City Dreamers takes the viewer on a tour of the Law Courts complex in downtown Vancouver, which Oberlander designed with the architect Arthur Erickson. You get a flavour of the place and of Oberlander’s fiery personality as she walks through it, chatting with a homeless occupant and scolding a groundskeeper.
The same is true of Integral Man, Joseph Clement’s documentary about the Integral House in Toronto, showing at both festivals. This unique building, designed by the important local architects Shim-Sutcliffe, is both a house and in effect a concert hall. You get a sense of the place, and also of the unique person who commissioned it, the mathematician and musician James Stewart. Several of the documentaries at this year’s festival speak to that same point – that architecture is fundamentally about improving people’s lives, not simply about making beautiful forms. Nowhere is this more true than in Frank Gehry: Building Justice, a documentary about the famous architect’s efforts to address mass incarceration in the United States, which will be played at the Toronto festival. “You see a different side of Frank,“ Bergman says. “People think of him as being all about form, and he is – but he also is deeply interested in social issues.”
“What if people changed their ways, and started treating other people like human beings?” Gehry asks in the film. “What would it be like?” That question is about walls, and buildings, and much more.
The Architecture & Design Film Festival runs Nov. 7-10 at Vancity Theatre and Scotia Dance Centre in Vancouver; Nov. 14-17 at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.
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