Architecture in film has the ability to tell a story, captivate the audience, and convey emotion. It is one of the most important considerations that a director makes when working on a project, and as such, we thought that the architecture in our favorite films deserved some love.

Let’s take a closer look at the real-life architecture which inspired some of the most memorable buildings on-screen.

#1 The Overlook Hotel from ‘The Shining’

Film Title: ‘The Shining’

Year: 1980

Runtime: 146 Minutes

Director: Stanley Kubrick

The ‘Overlook Hotel’ acts as the ominous backdrop for the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film, ‘The Shining’.

Still from 'The shining' introducing the Overlook Hotel
A Still from ‘The shining’ (1980) introducing us to the ominous Overlook Hotel.

Whilst the film was almost entirely filmed in Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, United Kingdom, the film’s iconic hotel is inspired by The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

The muse for cinematic hotel was constructed in 1909 and was a regular haunt for the upper-class society of the Northeast United StatesStill standing today, the hotel has preserved many original features, and certainly still has the imposing presence set in the Rocky Mountains, which inspired Kubrick. 

View of the Stanley Hotel which Inspired 'The Shining'
Kubrick’s inspiration: The Stanley Hotel in Colorado.

#2 ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Film Title: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Year: 2014

Runtime: 100 Minutes

Director: Wes Anderson

In true Wes Anderson style, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014) is a visually striking film exploring how memory, traditions, and culture are all intrinsically tied to architecture.

The Grand Budapest Hotel compared with Hotel Bristol
Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel on the left, compared with its muse on the right.

Whilst filming, many of the grand interior shots were captured inside a vacant Art Nouveau department store, Gorlitzer Warenhaus built in 1929, in East Germany. Though the hotel in the film was heavily inspired by the Hotel Bristol in Karlovy Vary, the exterior shots were all captured using a handmade miniature model.

As the narrative progresses, we see The Grand Budapest lose some of its titular grandeur. The hotel is depicted in the late 60s as a run-down establishment with a dull grey exterior. Anderson uses architecture to reflect ideals, and as a sign of the times within his cinematic universe.

handmade miniature model of the Grand Budapest Hotel
Handmade miniature model of the Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.

#3 Paradoxical Architecture in ‘Inception’

Film Title: Inception

Year: 2010

Runtime: 148 minutes

Director: Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film, ‘Inception’, explored the notion of paradoxical architecture through its narrative around dreams, imagination, and creation.

In the film, characters can sink into a self-designed dream world made up of many layers. For the audience to keep track of where they are and how the story is progressing, Nolan created visually distinct worlds, each with their own unique architectural feel. 

Within the film, ‘the architect’ is the term given to the individual who designs the dreamscape, similar to a game designer creating the level of a game. ‘Paradoxical architecture’ is described in the film as a way of creating an infinite world within a finite space. An impossible staircase is given as an example of this scenario in the film.

Arthur demonstrates ‘Paradoxical Architecture’ to Adriene, through an Impossible Staircase.

Nolan took inspiration from M C Escher’s impossible staircase, in his 1960 artwork ‘Ascending and Descending’.

Ascending and Descending, 1960, by MC Escher.

#4 The Bradbury Building from ‘Blade Runner’

Film Title: Blade Runner

Year: 1982

Runtime: 117 minutes

Director: Ridley Scott

The Bradbury Building, located in downtown Los Angeles, was the ideal set for the dark and decaying abode of J.F Sebastian in the 1982 sci-fi film, ‘Blade Runner’.

A still from the 1980 film ‘Blade Runner’ held in the real-life Bradbury Building.

Since opening in 1893, the Bradbury Building has captivated imaginations and inspired many cinematic scenes.

The building boasts beautiful custom iron railings, ornate elevator entrances, and unique dark interiors. Though grand in appearance, the building’s early tenants were far less glamorous, and the rooms were used as office space for law firms, dentists, and insurance brokers.

The Bradbury Building's ornate ironwork details
The Bradbury Building in all its contemporary glory, now home to a design agency on this particular floor.

#5 The Family Homes in ‘Parasite’

Film Title: Parasite

Year: 2019

Runtime: 132 minutes

Director: Bong Joon-ho

The two houses in the 2019 film, Parasite, represent class struggle which is a central theme to the movie.

The sleek lines and minimalist architecture and décor of the Park household are contrasted starkly with the colorful and eclectic semi-basement apartment where the Kim family reside.

Underground House Parasite
The bathroom of the semi-basement Kim apartment.

Unlike many of the other buildings we’ve looked at, the house at the center of the film was purpose built, designed by production designer Lee Ha Jun. The inspiration for this was based on a basic hand drawn sketch by director Bong Joon–Ho.

A Rendering of the purpose-built Park home in ‘Parasite’.

Lee, when designing the Kim residence, steered away from using one architectural style and instead created an amalgamation of many contemporary and minimalistic aesthetics. Lee cites that houses with beautiful gardens were particularly inspiring to him for the project.

 

#6 The Neighbourhood in ‘Edward Scissor Hands’

Film Title: Edward Scissorhands

Year: 1990

Runtime: 105 minutes

Director: Tim Burton

Another favorite for those who are partial to some pastel pink architecture, the neighborhood in the 1990 film ‘Edward Scissor Hands’ is an iconic Tim Burton creation.

Burton has said that he created the fictional suburb to be reminiscent of his childhood in Burbank, California. Blending ‘cookie-cutter’ suburbia with mid-century décor and a mix of 60s and 90s references, ‘Edward Scissor Hands’ is a feast for the eyes!

Burton’s pastel painted suburbia in ‘Edward Scissor Hands’.

Both the exterior and interior shots were captured on location, as the production company rented out the entire neighborhood for the duration of the project. The real-life homes were painted varying pastel colors, complimentary pastel cars were parked on the driveways, and the front gardens were filled with oversized topiary animals! A far cry from what you will find if you take a trip to 1774 Tinsmith Circle in Pasco County, Florida, today.

The Boggs’ family home today – sans the pastel palette!

 

#7 ‘Ex Machina’

Film Title: Ex Machina

Year: 2014

Runtime: 108 minutes

Director: Alex Garland

Ex Machina’, directed by Alex Garland, was filmed in situ at the stark and striking Juvet Landscape Hotel, located on the forested Norwegian coastline. 

The Juvet Landscape Hotel is a collection of wooden designer pads, created by Jensen & Skodvin Architects. The hotel is situated in the secluded yet idyllic natural beauty spot of Gudbrandsjuvet.

Dining Room in Ex Machina
A communal space at the Juvet Landscape Hotel, used as a dining room in ‘Ex Machina’.

Garland used the Hotel’s striking accommodation as the remote abode of the film’s eccentric billionaire, Nathan Bateman. Though the ‘real-life’ surroundings of the hotel are undeniably beautiful, they didn’t quite translate to the film’s Alaskan setting, so work had to be done to transform the backdrop. 20-foot-tall trees were placed on stilts and used to block the audience’s gaze. Combined with this, clever camera angles were used to obscure reflections of both the authentic surrounding natural beauty and the camera crew. 

Exterior of the Ex Machina House
Exterior of a woodland pod at the Juvet Landscape Hotel.

Whether you have a keen eye for architecture, or are simply a fan of film, it is often the buildings and sets which stick in our minds long after the credits roll. Directors can imagine whole cinematic universes for their action to play out in, though sometimes,  it’s a single room that stands out in our memories.

What’s your favorite example of architecture in film? Leave us a comment below with your film recommendations and we’ll bring the popcorn!