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The power of story: How iconic films inspired real life spaces

The best kinds of movies are those that swallow you whole, transporting you to a particular time or place — making you momentarily forget about the all-important deadline that’s looming ahead. And while this can be attributed to award-winning actors, special effects and witty script, set design also plays a major role in doing so.

In fact, some movies feature unique buildings that take centre stage. Think the Hook and Ladder 8 in Ghostbusters, The Bradbury Building featured in the Blade Runner and the beautifully-imagined Grand Budapest Hotel. This is not surprising, as many great art directors and set designers started out as architects. Some of these set designs have also been translated into real life, as they have inspired architects and interior designers throughout the years.

Architects in Hollywood 

Many prominent names in Hollywood have roots in architecture. Film director Joseph Kosinski, the name behind blockbusters such as Tron Legacy and Oblivion, for example, earned his Master of Architecture at Columbia University in 1999. Instead of starting his career as an architect, Kosinki went into filmmaking instead, crediting his big break to his digital modelling abilities — a skill he learnt while studying architecture.

Another one many might be familiar with, Anshuman Prasad, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a set designer after writing his thesis Beyond Mise-En-Scene: Narrative Through Architecture in Main Stream Cinema. His list of blockbuster films includes Captain America: Winter Soldier, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as well as The Hangover.

How design in film inspires architecture

The link between screen design and architecture is prominent in Singapore, as well. During the Design Film Festival  this month, we caught up with Joris Angevaare, Creative Director of Singapore-based interior design firm designphase dba. He told us about his favourite set designs and how design in film has inspired his work over the years.

design in film
Joris Angevaare.

“Design plays a similar role in movies as it does in reality,” Angevaare said, “In reality, everyone lives in a space that is designed in one way or another, forming the envelope in which life happens.”

The Dutch designer’s edgy and experimental style lends a unique twist to the minimalistic design aesthetic commonly associated with Dutch design. Angevaare combines two decades of experience with the inspiration he gains from experiencing diversity in cultures, philosophies and appreciating design in film, translating them to his work — which includes The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and Zafferano Italian Restaurant & Lounge.

“In movies, a great story experience can be created by sets that were designed superbly, which can thus determine the ambience of the story,” Angevaare added. “The difference lies in how well-designed they are.”

Iconic Films 

“The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most iconic films for screen design,” Angevaare told us, “The architecture and design of the hotel in this movie set the stage for the unexpected tone and story of the film.”

design in film
The pastel-hued Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most iconic buildings in movie history.

Although the movie was shot in a vacant studio in Germany, the pastel-hued fictitious hotel was actually inspired by the production team’s site visit to the town of Karlovy Vary in the western part of the Czech Republic. There, pastel-coloured buildings line the riverfront, and several hotels are located on hills with all-encompassing views of the town. The team, led by art director Adam Stockhausen, sought its main influence from the Grandhotel Pupp, a grande dame nestled on a hill overlooking the picturesque town.

“The whole place had the right feeling we wanted to convey in the movie,” said Stockhausen in an interview with National Geographic. His vision proved to be a massive success, as it has gained the 2014 movie the best production design award at the Oscars the following year.

design in film
Bar Luce, designed by Wes Anderson.

In turn, the aesthetics of the Grand Budapest Hotel has also inspired real-life spaces. Following the success of the movie, director Wes Anderson then collaborated with luxury house Prada to design the interior the main dining space inside its new arts centre, the Fondazione Prada in Milan. Called Bar Luce, the space takes reference from famous Milanese landmarks and the typical cafes dotted around the city, particularly those dating back to the 1950s and 60s.

Anderson’s influences are apparent in the details of Bar Luce, from the veneered wooden panelling that lines the walls, down to the vibrantly upholstered Formica furniture. Its pastel-heavy colour palette also resonates with the aesthetic of Anderson’s heavily-stylised films, one many might be familiar with.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is just one of the many illustrious hotels featured on screen favoured byAngevaare. “Another illustrious hotel worth mentioning is the fictional Overlook Hotel, the desolate setting of The Shining which was directed by Stanley Kubrick. It was a beautiful period set with grand spaces that emphasised the desertedness and isolation of the characters,” Angevaare added.

“In fact, at the time of filming, it was the biggest indoor set ever built,” he shared.

design in film
The set of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In contrast, sci-fi movies are known for state-of-the-art set design that takes us a few decades into the future. “Kubrick also dreamt up the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose design has ingrained itself into the public’s subconsciousness as a typology of what futuristic architecture looks like,” Angevaare said. “Its legacy has influenced other movies, as we see a similar design language used for Flynn’s Safehouse in Tron: Legacy. The expansive home and bunker directly referenced Kubrick’s Ethereal Bedroom, one of the most well-known spaces in 2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“Here’s a fun fact, Kubrick’s Ethereal Bedroom has actually inspired one of our projects,” he added. “You may not have noticed this, but we made a very clear and direct reference to the iconic room with our design of the ground floor of Robinsons Orchard.”

design in film
The retail space at Robinsons Orchard.

Angevaare and his team featured minimalistic, all-white interiors contrasted with sleek black marble countertops for a streamlined look. The ceilings of the retail space also featured illuminated grids, reminiscent of the floors of the Ethereal Bedroom. This calls for a visit to Robinsons Orchard soon, and maybe we’ll do some shopping while we’re at it.

That would not be Angevaare’s only project inspired by a film, though. “We are currently working on the interiors for a Japanese cocktail hotel bar in Singapore, where we took reference from the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ featured in the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon,” Angevaare revealed when asked about future plans — proving that design in film and architecture are indeed, elements that will continue to co-exist.

The power of story: How iconic films inspired real life spaces

Dewi Nurjuwita

Senior Writer

Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

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