20 Documentaries About Famous Architects and Great Architecture

15 Documentaries on Famous Architects and Great Architecture

Left to right: Big Time, Microtopia, Architecture of Infinity, Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, Frank Lloyd Wright, REM, My Architect, Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter
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It is no secret that great designers often get their start by learning about the pioneers that came before them. That is why My Modern Met gathered some of the best architecture documentaries to help you get inspired!

Some of our selections cover famous architects that we think you will recognize. Others explore broader topics facing the field of architecture like Microtopia—which explores alternative ideas about dwelling—or First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture—which documents a back-to-basics approach towards environmental design.

No matter what you want to learn and what makes you feel inspired, we think that you will find the right educational movie night selection in our favorite 20 documentaries for architects and architecture lovers.

Documentaries That Architects and Architecture Lovers Must See

 

Abstract

Why you should watch: Abstract: The Art of Design is a Netflix docuseries that features great creatives in many realms of design. Each episode covers a new world-renowned designer from a different field. The first season includes illustration, footwear design, stage design, automotive design, graphic design, photography, interior design, and, of course, architecture.

Where to watch: Watch for free with a Netflix subscription

 

Álvaro Siza: Transforming Reality

Why you should watch: Álvaro Siza: Transforming Reality introduces you to the incredible work of Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza. It is guided by architectural historian Kenneth Frampton as the duo discusses 15 of the architect’s most influential buildings. Whether you are already familiar with Siza’s work or if you just want to hear one great designer’s approach to architecture, this documentary is a great watch to get you inspired to create.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $3.99

 

Architecture of Infinity

Why you should watch: This documentary differs from many of the others on our list because it does not focus on the work of one particular architect. In Architecture of Infinity, filmmaker Christoph Schaub explores spiritual qualities of architecture and the creative arts through conversations with legendary architects like Peter Zumthor, Peter Märkli, and Álvaro Siza Vieira. He also includes artists James Turrel and Cristina Iglesias and drummer Jojo Mayer. Through this multidisciplinary approach, Schaub presents an inspiring dialogue about architecture, design, and wonder in the built environment. This is a must-see for all architects and architecture lovers.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $4.99

 

Big Time

Why you should watch: Bjarke Ingels is one of the most influential architects of our time. Kaspar Astrup Schroder’s Big Time documentary features some of the “starchitect’s” greatest projects and his design aesthetic. If you don’t know much about Ingels, you’ll be surprised to learn about his playful attitude towards design and that he originally wanted to be a cartoonist. This documentary is a great film for designers wanting to learn about a BIG name in architecture.

Where to watch: Rent on YouTube | $3.99; Buy on Amazon | $9.99

 

Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter

Why you should watch: The Eameses may be the best-known power couple of design. Their most popular design is the famous Eames Chair which can still be found in the homes and offices of design fans everywhere, though the husband-and-wife duo have a much wider portfolio of work. In Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter, we get a wider understanding of the architecture, toys, furniture, and graphic design that made the Eames duo so influential in modern design.

Where to watch: Watch for free with an Amazon Prime subscription

 

Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio

Why you should watch: Though all architecture school programs are designed to teach students how to design and build buildings, the Rural Studio program at Auburn University took a radical approach towards architectural education and social justice. Samuel Mockbee founded the design/build program to do two things, 1) create housing for an underserved rural community in Alabama and 2) teach young people to become “citizen architects.” Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio documents the incredible designs of Rural Studio, the change it made in peoples’ lives, and the influential Samuel Mockbee who made it happen.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $2.99

 

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Why you should watch: It is no secret that women are often underrepresented in architecture and that their influence is sometimes forgotten or erased. City Dreamers documents four women architects who made serious waves in fields of design—Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, and Denise Scott Brown. This documentary is a great opportunity to learn about the women involved in important projects like the Seagram Building and the book Learning from Las Vegas.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $3.99

 

Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future

Why you should watch: Finnish architect Eero Saarinen is responsible for many recognizable projects that influenced the field of design. His most influential projects include St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and the TWA Hotel. In Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future, we learn about Saarinen’s neo-futuristic design style and how he specialized in the intersection of architecture and engineering. Our favorite part about this documentary is the high-quality videos walking us through the details of Saarinen’s best projects.

Where to watch: Rent on YouTube | $3.99

 

First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture

Why you should watch: This documentary does not focus on the work of one particular person, but instead documents an important type of design—“ecological design.” In First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture, we learn about an old style of building that means a smaller impact on the planet and a healthier way of living. This back-to-basics call to action will help you understand what green architecture really means and why it is such an important consideration in our world today. If you are looking to become a more responsible and more well-rounded designer—or if you simply want to learn about good ecological design—this documentary is a must-see.

Where to watch: Watch for free on Films for Action or YouTube

 

First Person Singular: I.M. Pei

Why you should watch: Chinese American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, better known as I.M. Pei, is one of the most influential architects of the 20th and 21st centuries. He is responsible for iconic projects like the JFK Presidential Library and his work on the National Gallery to the Louvre—the iconic giant glass pyramid located just outside the older building. First Person Singular: I.M. Pei documents the architect’s influential projects and his design style that seamlessly blends structure and program.

Where to watch: Watch for free on YouTube

 

Frank Lloyd Wright

15 Documentaries on Famous Architects and Great ArchitectureWhy you should watch: Frank Lloyd Wright is considered the greatest American architect who ever lived. So, it makes sense that a documentary on his life and work should be the longest documentary on this list. Frank Lloyd Wright is a two-part series available on PBS that covers the most iconic projects designed by the architect, his creation of the first-ever American style of architecture, and the tragic circumstances of his life—including the murder of his family and destruction of his beloved Taliesin. This documentary is the perfect series for those looking to learn more about this influential design figure.

Where to watch: Watch for free with a PBS THIRTEEN Passport subscription

 

How Much Does Your Building Weight, Mr. Foster?

Why you should watch: British architect Sir Norman Foster is one of the top contemporary architects working on some of the biggest projects around the world. How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster? covers his rise to prestige from his humble beginnings in Manchester, England. You will learn about the stories behind some of Foster’s most well-known buildings and gain a better appreciation for his design. Plus, we think you will enjoy the carefully shot views of the carefully designed details of these iconic buildings.

Where to watch: Watch for free on Pluto TV

 

Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture

Why you should watch: Much of the contemporary design that we love was influenced by Louis Sullivan. He is considered the father of the skyscraper and coined the mantra of modernists—“form follows function”—though he might argue that the credit belongs to ancient architect Vitruvius. Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture is a great watch for those interested in architectural history and curious to learn about the U.S.’s search for an architectural aesthetic. You will also learn a lot about Frank Lloyd Wright, and how working under Sullivan may have influenced him and the first real American style of architecture.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $2.99

 

Microtopia

Why you should watch: If you are interested in the tiny house movement, minimalism, or other alternative forms of dwelling, Microtopia is a must-see. The film explores the extremes of simple living through homes that emphasize portability and flexibility. We think this documentary will change your understanding of tiny living with unique projects and great stories of people questioning what it means to find home.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $1.99

 

My Architect: A Son's Journey

Why you should watch: Have you ever considered what it might be like to live in the shadow of a famous parent? Director Nathaniel Kahn knew that his father, Louis Kahn, was a world-renowned architect, but expresses that he barely knew him as a father. My Architect: A Son’s Journey is a deep dive into Louis Kahn’s past as his son attempts to understand his life and legacy. While we learn a lot about Kahn and his design, the documentary is more focused on a personal portrait of the famous architect.

Where to watch: Watch for free on YouTube

 

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Why you should watch: The notorious Pruitt-Igoe building is often considered the greatest failure in public housing. The project was designed as 33 segregated 11-story towers that literally translate to “Black-White.” When the project was completed in 1954, it was hailed as a great success and solution to the modern problem of providing housing in growing cities. Despite the enormous funding provided by the federal government, the buildings fell into disrepair and chaos only 10 years after completion. Murders, sexual assault, drugs, gang violence, and prostitution plagued the dwellings until the entire complex was demolished, after housing residents for less than two decades. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth covers the historic project, the reasons for its downfall, and the alternative sides to the story. This documentary is more than just a history lesson, it is an important lesson in public housing and design that remains relevant in conversations about housing today.

Where to watch: Watch for free on Pluto TV

 

REM

Why you should watch: Rem Koolhaas is a busy architect. He has designed impressive buildings and structures around the world and changed the face of architecture. REM is a sneak peek into the life of the influential designer as he travels the world finding solutions to difficult problems through buildings. The film is told from the perspective of his son, Tomas Koolhaas as he documents the behind-the-scenes conversations and activities of his father. If you are interested in learning more about this famous “starchitect,” REM presents a great insider perspective into his life and design methodology.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $3.99

 

Renzo Piano: The Architect of Light

Why you should watch: Renzo Piano: The Architect of Light is another great watch for designers or architecture lovers looking to learn from the masters. Piano is one of the most famous Italian designers in the world and his work is perfectly documented by influential director Carlos Saura. You will also get an inside look at the Centro Botín art gallery in Santander, Spain.

Where to watch: Watch for free with an Amazon Prime subscription; Rent on YouTube | $3.99

 

Zaha Hadid: An Architect, A Masterpiece

15 Documentaries on Famous Architects and Great ArchitectureWhy you should watch: If you are looking for documentaries on a revolutionary architect, Zaha Hadid: An Architect, A Masterpiece is a great place to start. Dame Zaha Hadid was one of the most revolutionary and well-known architects of the 21st century. Her unexpected death at the age of 65 shook the world of architecture and cut short her incredible career. Her legacy continues today and her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, remains one of the top architecture firms in the world. This documentary explores some of her best-known projects and the truly unique design aesthetic that earned her this legendary reputation.

Where to watch: Rent on Amazon | $2.99

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Samantha Pires

Sam Pires is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and an architectural designer. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from NJIT. Sam has design experience at multiple renowned architecture firms such as Gensler and Bjarke Ingels Group. She believes architecture should be more accessible to everyone and uses writing to tell unexpected stories about the built environment.
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