Norwegian films, buildings and landscapes make a strong mark on the inaugural edition of Architecture Film Festival London

Anna Ulrikke Andersen (1988) is a filmmaker and architectural historian; PhD candidate in architectural design, the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London; founder of the Bartlett Film+Place+Architecture Doctoral Network; Competition Director Architecture Film Festival London.


Several Norwegian films and filmmakers have made their way to the inaugural Architecture Film Festival London, 6. – 11. June – including Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt.

The architectural film festival as a concept is not new. Florence-based Beyond Media ran from 1997 – 2009, and the well-known Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam was founded already in 2000. The US based Architecture and Design Film Festival has quickly established itself on the international scene, and in Scandinavia, Copenhagen Architecture Festival, CAFx, has brought together architecture and film since 2014.

But when the Architecture Film Festival, directed by Manuel Toledo-Otaegui and Charlotte Skene Catling, takes place at Institute of Contemporary Arts and Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf,  6 -11 June 2017, it will be for the very first time. That is not to say that the connection between architecture and film is new to the British capital. A wide range of cultural institutions have long been producing events dedicated to the way film engage with architecture, cities or urban change. The Barbican/The Architecture Foundation, the Royal Academy of Arts Architecture Programme, and Birkbeck Institute of Moving Images have been asking these questions for years. Several educational institutions are offering courses in architecture and film, including The Bartlett School of Architecture and The Architectural Association School.

Simultaneously, film scholars are awarding more attention to the architecture and the cities where films take place, as in Richard Martin’s The Architecture of David Lynch (2014) that provides a thorough, and highly spatial, investigation of the Lynch’s work. Architectural historian Iain Borden’s Drive (2012) looks at motoring in film, arguing how this representation of cities suggests a very particular experience and view on our built environment. London is a city where the connection between film and architecture is strong, and where academics and artists continually push ground-breaking research, experimentation and expressions.

Amongst them are also the architects, and they have been for a while. In his book A View from the train (2014), architect and filmmaker Patrick Keiller (London, 1994, Robinson in Space, 1997) reminds us how the advancement of video technology in the 1970s made filmmaking accessible to the general public. And as a result, architects started making films. This became a new tool to approach site, cities, place and space in the design process, or to communicate the architect’s vision of the built environment more successfully to clients. From drawings, plans and models, to the moving images, technological advancements changed the way architects work, communicate and represent their design.

Interview with Penelope Haralambidou by the Architecture Film festival London, 2017.

But even further, filmmaking has arguably changed design thinking, in the way that architects explore, test and develop their work. In her article “The Architectural Essay Film” published in Architecture Research Quarterly, Penelope Haralambidou (watch this interview) underscores how architectural representations traditionally, in the form of drawing or models, tend to think of architecture outside of time. Film, as a time-based medium, has the potential of introducing a temporal aspect into architectural thinking, and the result brings with it a wide range of intriguing opportunities.

Haralambiou suggests how architecture explored through, and designed with film could tell stories. Film could propose an understanding of architecture taking place in a historical context, finding its location between present, past and future. Cities and houses could be presented with a new sense of empathy. Subjective experiences of space and place could be formed and communicated. In her view, film can be a way of making space, and not just represent it.

An example of this approach can be found in the work of Jasper Stevens, one of three shortlisted filmmakers in the experimental category of the festival’s international competition. Stevens’ film Five Lives of the Bradbury Building (2016) uses Cinema 3D Max to model and render the well-known Bradbury building, all constructed from film scenes. Frames have been manually split into different levels of depth, each made with separate masks, and then projected back onto the different planes, resulting in a construction where the history of cinema can be experienced and explored as a building. (The film is amongst 12 shortlisted films, from the total number of 154 submissions from as many as 33 different countries.)

Jasper Stevens (2016) from «Five Lives of the Bradbury Building».

While Brexit has somewhat stunned the British capital, the competition submissions show that London is still an international city, reinforced by the festival’s overall programme. And within this international environment, Norway plays a surprisingly large role, either with films made about the Norwegian built or natural environment, of films by directors that either are Norwegian nationals or currently reside in Norway.

For a starter, shortlisted in the category of Documentary Feature, is Shooting Ourselves (2015), directed by Christine Cynn. Known as the co-director of The Act of Killing (2012) she is currently based in Norway. Her film investigates the arms trade and the stories of people living with this industry as an integral and often quite mundane part of their everyday lives. In collaboration with the theatre company Rimini Protokoll, a group of people – snipers, workers in ammunition factories, and human rights lawyers – are brought together for two months in Berlin.

As they share their stories, the events told are later re-enacted in an architecture that is a reconstruction of the rooms and buildings where these experiences retold once took place. In this elaborate and strange architecture that is created in Berlin, the stories of the factory worker, the sniper and the lawyer are suddenly closely located. The project links memory and the everyday to a specific built environment, and highlights the importance architecture has in shaping our lives and the experience thereof. At the same time, the reconstruction of the buildings reconfigure the distance between the different actors involved in the arms trade, but instead places them close together, and this is all captured on film.

«Shooting Ourselves» (2015) Christine Cynn.

The Palimpsest: A Collective Memory (2016) made by the Norwegian, London-based architect Håvard Tveito, in collaboration with John Russel Beaumount and Tahashi Torisu, is also part of the festival programme. Palimpsest is the definition of a document where the original text has been erased and overwritten, but remains visible under the new inscription. In architectural terms, this means that new buildings and projects never become completely liberated from their past.

The historical context of the place is remembered and relived by people using the building and urban space. The project reveals the many layers of architecture, as it merges past, present and future, using 3D scanning and VR headsets in an interactive project of moving images. Tveito, Beaumount and Torisu force architecture and film out from the cinema, and into an immersive VR experience, a work made at the Interactive Architecture Lab.

«The Palimpsest: A Collective Memory», Håvard Tveito, John Russell Beaumount og Tahashi Torisu, 2016.

Tveito will exhibit this work at the festival’s exhibition space at the Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf, Southbank, alongside a wide range of artist, amongst them American Quynh Vantu. With a background in art and architecture, and former student of Olafur Eliasson, Vantu’s work usually take the form of immersive, large-scale installations. But this May, Vantu turns to film, and she is doing so to investigate how bodies move in, and through spaces. Vantu initiates an investigation of Sverre Fehn’s Hedmark Museum (1967-79) at Hamar, Norway.

Using film, she considers Fehn as a choreographer, as he leads the visitor through the museum: narrow corridors and spherical staircases invite for circulation in the building. In collaboration with the Berlin-based cinematographer Clara Jo and a group of Norwegian dancers: Alma Bø, Ann-Christin Kongsness, Astrid Groseth, Håkon Vadstein, Ingrid Liavaag, Jennie Bergsli, Veronica Bruce, Vigdis Storsveen. «In terms of framing, film can offer a particular perspective on space. The building becomes a character just as much as the dancers, as their choreographed movement relate to the choreography of Fehn’s museum. It has been really special to work in this building and engage so closely with Fehn’s work», Vantu answers when asked about the project, titled Within the Horizon.

Alma Bø og Håkon Vadstein Karlsen, in «Within the Horizon», Sverre Fehn’s Hedmark Museum, Hamar, by Quynh Vantu. (Photo: Clara Jo.)

Vantu’s engagement with Fehn’s architecture has resulted in a series of films, which will be installed at the Norwegian Museum at Hamar between 20.– 28. May 2017. The screening of the films will be complemented by live performances by the dancers, and conversation with the artist. After the exhibition in Norway, the film will be screened at the Architecture Film Festival London, forming an integral part of the group exhibition curated by the Bartlett Film+Place+Architecture Doctoral Network. In this way, Fehn’s unique architecture find new life in the British capital.

Also included in this exhibition is my film The Window and I (2015). Filmed at Budor, Norway, Alfaz Dei Pi, Spain, and London, UK, the project ask how windows in architecture filter air and light, consequently affecting the body. Moving between three sets of the windows in different locations, the film also moves from exterior to interior of the buildings, eventually venturing into the body with the use of X-Ray imaging technology.

«The Window and I» (Andersen, 2015).

Another set of Norwegian contributions comes from Arctic Moving Image Festival from Harstad. Director Helene Hokland and Assistant Festival Director and Film Programmer Helen Eggen have been invited to curate a section of the festival’s exhibition, bringing with them the festival’s unique, northern approach with the work of three artists. Birgitte Sigmundstad’s Hammersborg – Protecting the Bygone Future (2016) revolves around the 2011 bombing of Oslo (script by Kjetil Jacobsen).

Emilija Škarnulytė and Tanya Busse’s Hollow Earth (2013) provides critical attention to the spaces where material recourses are being extracted and hollowed out of the landscape. These films give special attention to the connection between identity, place, materiality and space, seen from the Nordic region.

«Hammersborg – Protecting the Bygone Future». Birgitte Sigmundstad, 2016.
«Hollow Earth», Emilija Škarnulytė and Tanya Busse, 2016.

Within this rich array of new work, the final Norwegian contribution to the programme is Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st (2011). Organised by Urban Laboratory UCL (Urban Lab), a screening of the film will take place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London, with Trier and screenwriter Eskil Vogt present for discussion with Claire Thomson, Senior Lecturer in Scandinavian Cinema, UCL.

And within the context of the festival, this familiar film is revisited and reframed as a film about architecture and place. The film begins with archival footage from Oslo. Voices, belonging to different men and women, speak of memories from a city: lived and experienced. The smell of a woman’s hair, how tall the trees appeared, hours spent of trams and trains. A woman remembers the demolition of the Philips building: we see a high-rise building being dynamited and collapsing into the ground and the cityscape is changed forever. Anders wakes up in a bedroom, opens the curtains and looks out the window.

How does Oslo, August 31st tackle the notion of a city and its architecture, lived, experienced and re-visited? A visit at Frode Rinnan’s design for the outdoor pool, Frognerbadet (1956), receives new meaning through the protagonist Anders’ experiences. Cycling through the city shows a mobility that is both a sense of freedom and potentially overwhelming. When he eventually says a final goodbye with his childhood home, the building and its rooms becomes a palimpsest: a document where the past and a life that has been lived, remains visible behind present events.

As one of Architecture Film Festival London’s main attractions, Oslo, August 31st is revised as a film about – among many other things – architecture, and alongside the other Norwegian contributions it plays a defining role in framing the festival’s inaugural edition.

«Oslo 31. August» (2011), Joachim Trier.


Where and when – Films with a Norwegian connection at the Architecture Film Festival London:

Architecture and Politics [With Hammersborg – Protecting the Bygone Future (2016, Sigmundstad)] Q&A with Daniel Schwartz, Birgitte Sigmundstad and Kjetil Jacobsen, chaired by Manuel Toledo. 13:15- 15:00, June 9th.  Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf.

Unearthed Scales [with Hollow Earth (2013, Busse and Škarnulytė)] Q&A with Helene Hokland and Cristobal Palma, chaired by Manuel Toledo. 16:00 – 17:30, June 9th. Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf.

Architecture+Film+Festival [Conversation with Miquel Contreras, Helene Hokland and Helene Eggen] chaired by Manuel Toledo. 12:00 – 13:30, June 10th, Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf.

From Above. Selected films from the international competition of Architecture Film Festival London, curated and chaired by Anna Ulrikke Andersen. 17:00 – 19:30, June 11th, Institute of Contemporary Arts London.

Oslo, August 31st (Trier, 2011). Q&A with Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, with Claire Thomson (UCL). Organized by Urban Lab, with the kind support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in London. 18:30 – 20:30, June 8th, Institute of Contemporary Arts London.

The Palimpsest: A Collective Memory (Beaumount, Torisu and Tveito, 2016). With the kind support of Interactive Architecture Lab.  June 7th – June 11th, Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf.

Shooting Ourselves (Cynn, 2015). 12:15 – 13:40, June 10th, Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf,

Within the Horizon. Choreographing Sverre Fehn’s Hedmark Museum (Vantu, 2017) With the kind support of the Graham Foundation. June 7th – June 11th, Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf.

The Window and I (Andersen, 2015). June 7th – June 11th, Bargehouse OXO Tower Wharf.

Visit for full programme and updates.



Borden, Iain: Drive, London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

Haralambidou, Penelope: «The Architectural Essay Film», in Architecture Research Quarterly, 2015, Vol.19(3), pp.234-248

Keiller, Patrick: A View from the Train: cities and other landscapes, London: Verso, 2014.

Martin, Richard: The Architecture of David Lynch, London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014.

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