Major architects (Frank Gehry suggests that there are perhaps 50 in the world) did not get to be major by being easy-going, loveable individuals. Most have huge egos, are eccentric at best, and often are difficult and even outrageous individuals — except, of course, to their clients. The problems of balancing large-scale creative achievement in a functional world while running a global business somewhat explain the personality difficulties. These documentaries smooth out some hard edges and make their subjects if not likable then at least understandable.
Donald Winkler’s Moshe Safdie, the Power of Architecture kicks off the series (January 12 at 8 pm; February 5 at 1:45 pm) with a rather over-warm look at the life and career of the Israeli-born, Canadian-raised American resident whose major office is in Somerville. He achieved fame at an extremely early age (29) by creating the then revolutionary Habitat for Expo ’67 in Montreal. The film follows him through the decades in Israel, Canada, and the United States. Unfortunately, the Peabody Essex Museum, one of his most resolved and beautiful projects, is given short shrift.
Frank Gehry: An Architecture of Joy (January 13 at 5:45 pm; January 21 at 11:30 am) focuses on Gehry's iconoclastic organic sculptured architecture during the 1990s. Visiting key works including his great Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and projects in Minneapolis and Berlin, Gehry joyfully discusses his approach. The film ends with the preliminary discussions at MIT that eventually resulted in the controversial and over-budget Stata Center.
Aberrant Architecture? Diller + Scofidio at the Whitney Museum (January 14 at 10:30 am) is about a couple — Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio — whose work has focused on architecture in an art-world setting. Considered intellectual even for architects, they exclude a futurist/techno approach with media-based work that attempts to expand conventional architectural boundaries. The film focuses on a tour of their retrospective at the Whitney Museum. Projects for the Eyebeam Atelier, the new art and technology museum in New York City, and the new Boston Institute of Contemporary Art are elegant solutions to difficult problems. Their new ICA will be a major landmark for Boston.
Regular or Super: Views on Mies van der Rohe (January 14 at 11:45 am; January 18 at 7 pm) looks at the contribution of the man who made “less is more” famous. One of the founders of Modernism and a former director of the Bauhaus, the German-born van der Rohe (1886–1969) is best known for his minimalist designs and great influence during the 20th century. His Seagram Building set the standard for glass-box modern structures during the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. The two-part documentary The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century (January 15 at noon) records the meeting of major architecture figures including Rem Koolhaus, Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl (architect of the MIT Swiss-cheese dormitory), and Elizabeth Diller at the retirement celebration of Bernard Tschumi, dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. The discussion focuses upon a range of architecture and urbanism topics.