Building Documentaries


In the framework of DOKU.ARTS the Mediafonds organizes a seminar on documentary filmmaking and architecture.

Architecture is closely related to filmmaking, involving complex logistics and decisions. Cinematic space has always been a source of inspiration for architects. On the other hand, the fascination of many filmmakers with architecture makes buildings a prominent element in their storytelling. This seminar examines the changing visual and narrative strategies used by documentary makers to give buildings a central role in their films. How are documentaries about architecture constructed? How do documentary filmmakers deal with visualizing buildings and building processes? Can a building become a narrator and can architecture be the protagonist - instead of the architect? How is the typically iconic status of architecture revealed and, more importantly, how is this dominant view questioned?

Architect Dr. Doris Agotai (Switzerland) presents a lecture concerning architecture as a protagonist, entitled Starring Architecture. Agotai: “Through motion and narrative, film brings architecture to life. The specific question in this context is: which perspective does film take in an architectural documentary? This lecture is concerned with the problem of how documentary negotiates the point of view and the position of the narrator. At the same time, film influences the way we perceive space and even affects the way buildings are being designed. How do these two media influence each other and how do new choreographic expressions emerge out of this relationship?”
In her lecture, Doris Agotai explores the aesthetic connections between film, documentary and architecture by looking at two films and an installation from the DOKU.ARTS programme: Koolhaas HouseLife, Il Girasole and Bordeaux Piece. Furthermore, she will talk about Pablo Valbuena and the animation of architecture.

Case studies
The following three case studies by documentary filmmakers will evaluate the specific problems and challenges that were faced during the making of their documentaries: Oeke Hoogendijk (Netherlands, The New
), Christoph Schaub (Switzerland, Bird’s Nest – Herzog and De Meuron in China, The Journeys of Santiago Calatrava and Il Girasole – una casa vicino a Verona) and Markus Heidingsfelder (Germany, Rem Koolhaas – A Kind of Architect).

Oeke Hoogendijk will talk about how her narrative story was constructed: “For the film, Het Nieuwe Rijksmuseum, I studied the complex and fascinating process of the renovation and rebuilding of the most famous museum in the Netherlands for four years. Making this film was above all a search for form. How to bring the many apparently diverse incidents, taking place over many years, together into one fluent film-story? In the documentary, a building features as the main character. How to make a building into a dramatic and visual main character?”


Christoph Schaub: “Using examples from Il Girasole - una casa vicino a Verona and The Journeys of Santiago Calatrava, I will describe several questions that were important for me during the production of these films. Who is narrating architecture here and for which purpose? Is it a fictional subject, a documentary filmmaker or the author’s personality? How can I achieve a concentrated narration so that the building develops into an emotional space and evokes - in the best case - a fictional feeling? What are the advantages of portraying architecture on film in comparison with the experience of walking through a building?”

Markus Heidingsfelder: “I will speak about the production process for my film, Rem Koolhaas - A Kind of Architect: a conversation about a construction, for which the original plans were very different. Furthermore, in my presentation I address architecture as a kinetic art, an art that relies upon the movements of the participant (in the sense that Victor Vasarely understood it) and about the question: human interest - what for?”

The seminar will conclude with a panel discussion featuring all speakers, moderated by Hans Maarten van den Brink (director Mediafonds).

Doris Agotai

Doris Agotai (Dr. sc. ETH, dipl. Arch. ETH) is a lecturer at the ETH Zurich (Dept. of Architecture) and the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK (MAS Scenography) and a senior researcher at Applied University Northwestern Switzerland FHNW (Institute of 4D Technologies). Her research focuses on spatial perception and virtual environments. Recent publications: Playtime - Starring Architecture in Peripheral vision and collective body and Architekturen in Zelluloid. Der filmische Blick auf den Raum

Oeke Hoogendijk
Oeke Hoogendijk (1961) started her career as a theatre director. Since 1997 she has been directing documentaries for television like Een gelukkige tijd (A happy time) and The Holocaust Experience. In her recent documentary film Het Nieuwe Rijksmuseum (The New Rijksmuseum), she follows the renovation of the old Rijksmuseum building in Amsterdam. Hoogendijk is now working on The New Rijksmuseum part two.

Christoph Schaub
Christoph Schaub (Zurich, 1958) is one of the leading documentary filmmakers in the field of architecture films. Films such as Bird’s nest – Herzog and De Meuron in China (2008) are highly acclaimed by critics. He was a member of Videoladen Zurich and contributed to founding Dschoint Ventschr AG. As a freelance lecturer he worked at the Higher Institute of Design and at F+F, Zurich and acted as an artistic director of the ONOMA exhibition EXPO 2002.

Markus Heidingsfelder
Markus Heidingsfelder (Cologne, 1963) works as a filmmaker and writer in Berlin while studying for his dissertation in systems theory at the LMU in Munich. He writes for Die Welt, SZ Magazine, taz and Rolling Stone Magazine and has worked as a producer for VIVA and MTV. In 2004 he founded his own TV production company, together with Min Tesch.

  Friday 12 June 2009, 10.00 – 13.00
Mediafonds, Herengracht 609, Amsterdam

The seminar is conducted in English
Free entrance, please register before June 5 via


9.30 coffee/tea
10.00 start of the programme
10.15 lecture
11.00 break
11.20 case studies
12.05 discussion
13.00 summary, drinks & snacks

Films about architecture presented at DOKU.ARTS, June 11 – 14:
Koolhaas HouseLife by Ila Bêka & Louise Lemoîne
Il Girasole – una casa vicino a Verona by Christoph Schaub
Volume Zero – The Works of Charles Correa by Arun Khopkar
Rem Koolhaas – A Kind of Architect by Markus Heidingsfelder/Min Tesch
The Journeys of Santiago Calatrava by Christoph Schaub
Les Dites Cariatides by Agnès Varda
Plaisir d’amour en Iran by Agnès Varda
Ô saisons, ô châteaux by Agnès Varda
T’as de beaux escaliers, tu sais by Agnès Varda
Russian Ark by Aleksandr Sokurov
A Virus in the City by Cédric Venail

Dutch Cultural Media Fund Herengracht 609
1017 CE Amsterdam
Tel +31 20 6233901

Seminar concept:
Andreas Lewin and Hans Maarten van den Brink, production: Anna Pedroli. We would like to thank the Filmmuseum Amsterdam, Marike Huizinga.