CCHU9034 Humanities
Architecture and Film

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

This course examines how architecture and urbanism is represented in film and investigates how film influences and constructs the architecture of the city. Emerging as a twentieth-century phenomenon, the modern metropolis is the site of the most radical experiments of architects and planners, and an active subject in the imagination and actions of its diverse inhabitants. Film has a close relationship with the city and its architecture. How does architecture use its structure, form, enclosure, floor plans, materials and lighting to produce effects, evoke emotions and influence everyday lives? Likewise, how does film use space, architecture and landscape to situate its characters, create dramatic action and emotions?

Focusing on popular film genres of postwar modern industrialized Hong Kong and other Asian cities––the melodrama, noir thriller, monster movie, sci-fi dystopian fantasy, comedy and crime drama––the course offers a cross-cultural perspective on how films have envisioned urban transformation due to the flows of capital, people, ideologies and imageries. It attends to how movies produce and reproduce the image of the city, their effect on the built environment and how they impact everyday experiences and perceptions of the city they live in. Through in-class analyses and discussions of film clips and stills, city maps, building floor plans and texts, the course aims to deepen students’ understanding of how architecture and film influence each other, how they reveal social relations and construct narratives of modernity in the twentieth century. Class readings are drawn from film studies, urban history, globalization studies, and architectural history.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Examine how film represents the city and its architecture to develop a deeper critical understanding of the relationships between modernization, industrialization and the people’s perceptions and experiences.
  2. Cultivate comparative cross-cultural perspectives on the development of urban visions and how they reveal social relations.
  3. Develop a critique of their urban environment, and appreciate the processes at work in a city so as to more fully participate as citizens in global, regional and local communities.
  4. Demonstrate creative, collaborative, and communication skills.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures / Seminars / Workshops 22
Tutorials (incl preparation) 10
Fieldwork / Visits 6
Reading / Self-study 36
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 15
Assessment: Project assignments 40
Total: 129

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Participation in classroom activities 30
Critical writing 15
Field report 15
Assignments and presentation 40

Required Reading

Students are required to read and discuss the following texts:

  • Abbas, M. A. (1997). Hong Kong: Culture and the politics of disappearance. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. [pp. 63-90]
  • Barthes, R. (1986). The Rustle of Language. New York: Hill and Wang. [Leaving the Movie Theatre, pp. 345-49]
  • Benjamin, W., Jennings, M., Doherty, B., Levin, T., & Jephcott, E. (2008). The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. [pp. 19-55]
  • Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation: Penguin Books. [pp. 7-33]
  • Bruno, G. (2004). Architects of Time: Reel Images from Warhol to Tsai Ming Liang. Log, 2, 81-94.
  • Clair, R., Eisenstein, S., Benjamin, W., Lefebvre, H., Moholy-Nagy, L., & Bruno, G. (2006). Visual studies: Four takes on spatial turns. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 65(1), 23-24.

Recommended Reading

Students are expected to read more widely beyond the required texts. The following texts are recommended for students to gain a fuller understanding of the topics.

  • AlSayyad, N. (2006). Cinematic urbanism: A history of the modern from reel to real. New York; London: Routledge. 
  • Boyer, C. (1996). CyberCities: visual perception in the age of electronic communication. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
  • Braester, Y., & Tweedie, J. (Eds.). (2010). Cinema at the City’s Edge: Film and Urban Networks in East Asia. Hong Kong: HKU Press.
  • Chi, R. (2012). Hong Kong Cinema Before 1980. In Y. J. Zhang (Ed.), A Companion to Chinese Cinema (pp. 75-94). London: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Clark, D. B. (1997). The cinematic city. London: Routledge.
  • Donald, J. (1995). The City, the Cinema: Modern Spaces. In C. Jenks (Ed.), Visual Culture (pp. 77–95). London: Routledge.
  • Jameson, F. (1995). The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System. Indiana University Press.
  • Krause, L., & Petro, P. (2003). Global cities: Cinema, architecture, and urbanism in a digital age. New Brunswick, NJ; London: Rutgers University Press.
  • Tan, E. K. (2010). Hong Kong Cinema and the Portrayal of the Nanyang Chinese in the 1950s and 60s. Journal of Chinese Cinema 4, 2, 155-168.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr E.M.F. Seng
Department of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture
Tel: 3917 7685
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr E.M.F. Seng
Department of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture
Tel: 3917 7685