american cities visual

Film of the Month: Housing in Our Time and The American City

Housing in Our Time - 1930's Social Guidance 
Produced by the United States Housing Authority of the Federal Works Agency, USA, 20 mins

Housing in Our Time is a promotional film made during the depression in the 1930’s by the United States Housing Authority for Social Housing (USHA).

The film argues that building public housing and raising the living standards of those on lowest income, is a fundamental part of American democratic society – and that the story of homes and how our people live, is the story of the "…foundation on which a nation is built.”

Following the life of a low-income family living in what's described as a Jacksonville ‘slum’, the acute hardships the mother faces while raising her young family under such conditions, are carefully documented.

The film then shifts its focus to the planning, design and construction of the ambitious, large-scale housing projects built by the USHA. As the same Jacksonville family is seen moving into a brand new home in one such development, the film is brought to a close with the bold sentiment that every public low rent housing project, can also be seen as a "…rededication of [American] democracy, to the principle that all men are created equal".

Watch Housing in Our Time


The American City
Dir. Matthew James Thompson, 2015, USA​, 2mins

The American City is a film inspired by the work of prominent 1930’s photographer, Walker Evans – who sought to capture urban landscapes and communities at the height of the Great Depression.

The film blends depression-era historical audio transcripts and moving image with recent footage, to highlight the unexpected parallels and remarkably similar stages of degeneration and transition seen in some of today’s American cities.

Watch The American City 

Image credit: ©The American City

Posted in: Film Of The Month, Recent News
Date: 30 June 2016

Film of the Month: Sub City New York and Sub City Paris

 These films are two ‘visual poems’ which so eloquently capture the experience of walking out of a dark subway system, into a bright, new urban landscape. 

The filming of these subterranean journeys subtly evokes the uncertainty and curiosity that accompanies not knowing what to expect from the streets and people and traffic moving above you, as you exit each station.

The montage of shots which are collected from both Paris and New York, also give the viewer the chance to compare the very different approaches in station design –  from tiles, to railings and even the signage – and how they are able to reflect the specific character of each individual city. 
Watch Sub City Paris here

Watch Sub City New York here


Films directed by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason

Sub City New York, 2011, 2mins
Sub City Paris, 2012, 3mins

Image: Still from the film. Thanks to Sarah Klein 

Posted in: Film Of The Month
Date: 27 May 2016

as above so below directed by henrietta williams

Publica's new film casts an investigative eye over London's urban complexity

The new short film, As Above, So Below’, commissioned by Publica and directed by Henrietta Williams, traces London’s urban spaces, greens and waterways – from balconies and squares, down to the banks of the Thames – capturing the capital’s multi-layered, complexity. 

Screened during Clerkenwell Design Week the film describes Publica’s investigative methodology and observational approach which seeks to understand the character of the cities we live in. The film observes the theatre and drama of city life and moments of calm, played out day in, day out, in London’s urban spaces. It also functions as a visual field diary for urban designers to ask questions and investigate how people use public spaces, as well as the boundaries between different activities in the city.

The film also marks the practice’s fifth birthday celebrations in 2015.


A Publica Film Unit production
Directed and filmed by Henrietta Williams

Produced by Jessie Teggin
Edited by Simon Ball
Music by James Welland
Run time: 7 minutes 9 seconds 

Posted in: Events, Film Of The Month
Date: 25 May 2016

Film of the Month: Lost Rivers

This documentary takes you on a journey to the buried rivers of London, Brescia, Seoul, Toronto and Montreal, where it follows a growing global network of ‘urban explorers’ who delve into storm sewers, aqueducts and concrete ditches, to rediscover long-hidden waterways beneath our cities.

In London, the film introduces Jon Doe and Zero and their exploration of the River Tyburn sewer which Publica studied in detail for our project at Marylebone Lane – a buried stream which ran underground from South Hampstead to St James’s Park before finally meeting the Thames.

Moving on, we meet Dave Webb, who is leading plans to restore 15km of London’s rivers in order to protect the city from the potential devastating effects of flooding – brought about by climate change. Webb leads us to the once-buried River Quaggy, where parts of which have now been transformed into a natural oasis and flood plain.

The film features interviews with these urban explorers, historians and city planners; who together retrace the history of these lost urban rivers and advocate efforts to bring them back to life. 

Click here to see the trailer and rent the film 

Directed by Caroline Bâcle, 2012, 72mins 

Image: Photo Courtesy of Icarus Films 

Posted in: Film Of The Month
Date: 28 April 2016

Film of the Month: Utopia London

The documentary Utopia London charts, through a series of key buildings in the mid to late 20th century, the changing political and social landscape that gave rise to the architectural legacy of Modernism in London still visible today. 

The director Tom Cordell, who grew up in London, draws our attention to the social and political context that the architects worked within and how understanding the progressive political climate in post-war Britain is key to understanding their architecture. 

The highlights of the film are when the architects themselves are given the opportunity to walk a camera around their projects. Neave Brown takes a tour of Alexandra Road, George Finch of the Lambeth Towers, John Bancroft of the Pimlico School and Kate Macintosh of Dawson Heights.

Utopia London
Directed by Tom Cordell, 2010, 82mins

Watch the trailer and buy the film here.

Image: Photography by Alexander Short, © Utopia London

Posted in: Film Of The Month
Date: 31 March 2016

Film of the Month: Torre David

In one way or another, the third tallest building in Venezuela has been under construction for over twenty-one years — Torre David stands at an impressive 45 floors in the heart of Caracas’ former central business district, yet it is unlikely that the building will ever be finished. After the financial group supporting the construction collapsed in the wake of the 1994 Venezuelan banking crisis, the tower was abandoned and became what some have called a vertical slum. 

In 2011, the year this film was produced, it was estimated that over 750 families were living as a self-organised community in the unfinished shell of the tower. Torre David reveals the ingenuity and determination of a community to turn a ruin into a home; and presents an opportunity to consider how people can create and foster urban communities. 

Directors Daniel Schwartz and Marcus Kneer collaborated with Professor Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumper for a year-long study of the physical organisation of the tower, which resulted in the production of this short film and the book ‘Torre David: Informal Vertical Cities’ (named one of the best books of 2012 by the Financial Times).

We found this film particularly fascinating when we saw it at the Venice Biennale in 2012 – where it was awarded the Golden lion for the best exhibit – and we think that it is an interesting film that provokes questions about security, community organization and basic services in social housing during a time of crisis and could inform principles for a more formal housing solution. 

Click here to see the trailer and rent the film 

Directed by Daniel Schwartz & Markus Kneer, 2011, 22mins

Image: Still from the film. Thanks to U-TT Chair of Architecture and Urban Design

Posted in: Film Of The Month, Recent News
Date: 29 February 2016

Film of the Month: Lift and The Road

Two films shot in London directed by Marc Isaacs

Marc Isaacs, UK, 2001, 24mins
A Portrait of Life in a London High Rise. The filmmaker Marc Isaacs installed himself in a lift in a tower block and filmed for up to 10 hours day for ten weeks. When he first appeared in the lift the discomfort was palpable, but as the residents come to trust him they reveal the things that matter to them, creating an offbeat and moving insight into the local community.

Click here to watch online

The Road: A Story of Life and Death
Marc Isaacs, UK, 2012, 75mins
A film that gives us a fascinating insight into the lives of people who have come to London to seek a better life. Since Roman times migrants settled on the A5, the 300 mile-long lifeline connecting Anglesey to Marble Arch in central London. The film introduced us to a collage of memorable characters: a charismatic 95-year-old Jewish widow who fled pre-war Vienna; Iqbal, an Indian poet who cleans hotel rooms by day; Keelta, an Irish singer; and Bridget, a retired air hostess.

Click here to watch online

Image: Still from 'Lift' by Marc Isaacs

Posted in: Film Of The Month
Date: 25 January 2016

Film of the Month: City Limits

This short documentary is a forthright and critical analysis of the problems and virtues of North American cities by acclaimed author Jane Jacobs. Jacobs states, “the city is a complex ever-changing organism, with many elements to consider. I would like us to think of cities as ecologies, similar to the ecologies of the natural world.”

Jacobs examines the problems of cities, and the effects of the automobile, high rise buildings, and apathy on their development. She asserts that the citizens of cities can themselves solve their problems. This colourful film on urbanism, accompanied by an upbeat, jazzy soundtrack, is enjoyable and enlightening viewing. 

City Limits
Directed by Laurence Hyde, 1971, 28 mins

Watch the embedded video above courtesy of National Film Board of Canada

Posted in: Film Of The Month
Date: 23 December 2015

Film of the Month: Ordinary Streets

Ordinary Streets, an ethnography from local to global, is a short film based on an ethnographic and visual exploration of the spaces, economies and cultures of ‘street’.

Through the lens of Rye Lane in Peckham in South London, the film engages with issues of migration, urban multi-culture and resistance, via the stories of a trader, an activist and an artist. London School of Economics student Sophie Yetton has made this short film, based on research led by Suzanne Hall at LSE Cities. The fieldwork began in January 2012 on a 1km-long stretch of urban street, a team of researchers with backgrounds in sociology, architecture and international affairs surveyed, drew and observed the street. They found 199 formal retail units populated by proprietors from more than 20 countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Ireland and England. Almost a third of traders speak four or more languages, and a quarter of the shops are subdivided and sublet into smaller shops with shopkeepers from different parts of the globe. 

The research states, “the street is emblematic of the ordinary city, a common urban currency that transmits direct forms of exchange and expression. As a space constituted by ‘ordinary’ citizens, it has a volatile and a convivial capacity: a register for explosive protests as well as quieter, sustained transformations.”

Ordinary Streets 
Directed by Sophie Yetton, 2015, 10 mins

Watch the film here.

Image: Still from the opening sequence, the skyline view from inside the Peckham multi-storey car park.

Posted in: Film Of The Month
Date: 26 November 2015

Film of the Month: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

A film examining the development and failure of a 1950s public housing complex in St. Louis, Missouri. 

By the late 1960s the complex had become internationally infamous for its poverty, crime and segregation, and the 33 buildings within the Pruitt-Igoe estate were torn down in a dramatic and highly-publicised implosion. It has since been held up as an example of failed public housing and modernist architecture.

The film explores the misconceptions about the project, the social and economic issues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America, and follows the personal narratives of several of the project’s residents.

The complex was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Centre towers.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
Directed by Chad Freidrichs, USA, 2011, 83mins

Watch the trailer here

Posted in: Film Of The Month
Date: 29 September 2015

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