Understanding Eduardo Souto de Moura’s Architecture Through Film

Portuguese architect and 2011 Pritzker Prize laureate Eduardo Souto de Moura was one of six individuals awarded with Israel’s prestigious Wolf Prize this week. The honor confirms, once again, that Souto de Moura is a talented architect, but one who remains relatively obscure. To ameliorate or abet this conception, filmmaker Thom Andersen — who in 2004 released a cinematic collage of popular film clips called “Los Angeles Plays Itself” to both critical acclaim and legal questioning — has taken Souto de Moura up as the subject of his most recent film “Reconversão” (2012).

“Most films about architecture present buildings as art objects,” said Andersen, according to L.A. Weekly. “Like Ken Burns’ film on Frank Lloyd Wright, for example. You could watch that film and you wouldn’t know that the Larkin building no longer exists. The building is shown as an ideal, eternal form. I wanted to show the real life of the buildings.” Andersen’s approach to film as an unsuspecting archive — seen most conspicuously in “Los Angeles Plays Itself” — parallels Souto de Moura’s approach to the built environment: the Portuguese architect has been lauded for his contextual incorporation of half-demolished or ruined structures into his contemporary projects. His refusal to romanticize architecture’s historical remnants has been recognized as progressively bold.

Through his own medium, Andersen sought to capture this temporally complex understanding of architecture in “Reconversão,” animating still photos of Souto de Moura’s buildings, a technique that “alters the structure of timing in the film and circumvents the passage of time required to appreciate some of the buildings,” as L.A. Weekly explains. Read more about the relationship between architecture and film in “Reconversão” here.

Image: Still from “Reconversão”

- Kelly Chan