Kubrick, and the Architectural Rubric

Kubrick during the filming of A Clockwork Orange, 1971. (Source: Allstar Picture Library/Alamy)

The cinematic avant-gardism of the quintessential filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has stirred up a hornet’s nest of motion-picture conservatism. Kubrick’s indefatigable obsession to a radical approach in film-making has sent shockwaves throughout the industry, while his professional eccentricities caused extreme discomfort to his contemporaries. Breaking grounds and charting new territories in the sphere of filmmaking, Kubrick has explored orthodox plots, controversial taboos, eye-popping cinematographic techniques, and deviated from the institutionalized storytelling tropes with the help of the crafty orchestration of internal and external architectural spaces, among other visual elements that take up most of the celluloid space.

His epic science-fiction thriller film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) narrates the story of an enigmatic floating monolith, and the extra-terrestrial voyage of the US Discovery One) bound for planet Jupiter, led by a sentient, computer named Hal-9000 fueled by artificial intelligence. The film spanned the dawn of civilization, and fast forward into the space age where cutting-edge technological advancements have propelled humanity to transcend the bounds of earth and scope out the celestial expanse.

Homey ambiance and anthropometric articulation are infused in this pod. Movie still from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Space-age chic manifested in a social area. Movie still from 2001: A Space Odyssey

The film hasn’t been an easy watch since it needed to be internalized, if not deciphered, for one to acquire the multitudes of symbolical conveyances. Viewers must be immersed in an explosion of visuals, and this sensory experience has been enriched by the mise-en-scène of otherwordly assemblages. To prop up the momentum and mystique of the imagery, careful adaptation of forced perspectives (mostly one-point perspectives) in select yet dominant frames has been employed in order to induce a vicarious experience of the story arc. Critics of the film have also commented on this machination as a ploy to deceive viewers into a suspenseful anticipation of catalytic moments and counter-intuitive climaxes.

The interiors of the Discovery One had been tailored to accurately mimic the workings of an authentic spacecraft, glass cockpits, spacewalks, and the interior centrifuge all with due respect to the climatic conditions of the outer space.

Movie still from 2001: A Space Odyssey
The unbearable lightness of floating. Movie still from 2001: A Space Odyssey

In combination with the sleekly detailed interior elements and luminescent skin of the spacecraft’s innards, its effect in imagery is just as astonishing and intriguing. The octagonal corridor featured saliently on the film has been successful in tricking the eye. With such an attempt at a cinematic trompe-l’œil, the scene manipulated the space, stretching it into a tubular hollow, and widening into a cosmic bowl of sorts.

Hands down one of the most well-known scenes in the film. Movie still from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Although the predominant location of the story happened in the boundless expanse of the space — the fantasized architectural space of humans as seen in the film was treated with the same manner of constructing the interiors of a house — guided by anthropometric proportions, aesthetic sensibilities, and functional space planning — where the astronauts (although influenced with the absence of gravity) can still conduct their most mundane chores and affairs. The film has been praised for being visionary and predictive of today’s useful technologies such as supercomputers, smart tablets, and other tech oddities.

A rather ornate sleeping chamber inside the spacecraft. Movie still from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Overall, other opuses created by Kubrick reflect and mirror similar film techniques that permeated in the cult classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he pioneered in the entire duration of his prolific career as a director and producer. Similar undertones that leverage the built environment into a cinematic integration can be seen in his other films like A Clockwork Orange (1971), and The Shining (1980). His exponential ideas on filmmaking have surely helped elevate the stature of architectural spaces in the silver screen and explored the mystique of architecture as an art form.

Author’s Note: This article was written in November 2016 but remained unpublished

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Rodelon Ramos

Rodelon Ramos is a Filipino architect/urban practitioner. He likes to write about public interest design & social impact architecture.