Documenting the Myths of Modernism.
Since the beginning of the medium, documentary filmmakers have been fascinated by cases of architectural and urban failure. The personal stories of those affected, reflected in the backdrop of ruins and urban decay, provides fertile ground for documentary filmmaking. The films produced now provide us with a rich source of material for the analysis of architectural failure during the 20C. Not only the individual cases of failure but also the wider narratives that have shaped architectural and urban thinking throughout the century.
At its core, this narrative was that the overcrowded dilapidated 19C city was no longer fit for modern man and needed to be replaced with a well-designed alternative. Not only the quality of the housing was called into question but the whole city form needed to be altered to meet the demands of modern society, “death to the street” being the prevailing quote from the time. The alternative to this city was found in the design of high-rise estates and suburban new towns connected by new road networks. With such a strong narrative of the liberating power of design what could possibly go wrong?
The slums were real. Poverty, dilapidated buildings and inner-city overcrowding were genuine urban problems that had to be dealt with. There was no simple solution and in the spirit of the times, those solutions favoured held firm to the belief that design would solve all problems. Many of the early documentaries did not question this logic, and were produced almost as propaganda pieces advocating the ideologies of the architects, planners and developers of the day.