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March 20, 2007
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: Urban Design and Film Making
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.12.07
Speakers: Robert Nesson — documentary filmmaker & board member of Interlock Media; Ellin Reisner, PhD — President, Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP); David Katzive — President, Visual Technology Group at Ruder Finn; Illya Azaroff, Assoc. AIA — director of design & co-founder, Design Collective Studio; Ernest Hutton, AICP, Assoc. AIA — Vice-President for Outreach, 2007 AIANY Board of Directors & co-chair, AIANY Planning and Urban Design Committee (introduction)
Organizers: AIANY Planning and Urban Design Committee

Courtesy STEP

Daily traffic volume in the Boston metropolitan area.

Courtesy STEP

Rarely is filmmaking used to develop projects despite the array of new electronic tools architects regularly use. Documentary filmmakers Robert Nesson, a board member at Interlock Media, and David Katzive, President of the Visual Technology Group at Ruder Finn, believe this is a lost opportunity for architects, and used examples of their company’s films to describe film’s benefits. Although their current films approach the medium differently, the end result — helping facilitate a design process — is the same.

Giving an overview of how film has been used historically as a social activator, Nesson looks to pioneers like William Holly Whyte to influence his filmmaking. Whyte’s ’s “City Spaces Human Places” (1970) documented the successes and failures of New York City plazas to demonstrate good city planning. Nesson is working with the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) to help extend mass transportation throughout the Somerville section of Boston. His films document residents’ cumbersome commutes showing first-hand the failures of Boston mass transit.

In 1991, the local government ruled for a Green Line subway expansion. Development was stalled for 15 years, but now the project has been rejuvenated with the help of Ellin Reisner at STEP. She worries, however, that it has not addressed key community-oriented issues including: the site of maintenance facilities; where the trains will terminate; the location of new tracks and how the trains will travel through the neighborhood; and how the train will affect the community path commonly used by pedestrians and bicyclists. With Nesson’s films, Reisner hopes to get more community members involved with STEP, and show the government how important this project is to the health of Somerville’s residents.

Katzive, on the other hand, creates marketing videos for high-end developers and architects to sell projects to clients. He showed a DVD he made for Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects depicting the Victoria Station area in London. The film begins with showing the existing hectic atmosphere around the station and ends with the orderly, pedestrian-friendly design proposed by KPF. Katzive incorporated historic video, a British voice-over, good music (that changes from frenzied to calm), and design highlights with varied types images from sketches to renderings. The video aims to tease the client, and as the project changes the video does, too. Each viewing is fresh for the audience. The most important aspect of any film, according to Katzive, is the writing, and it is the text that ultimately will sell a project.

Film is appealing because of its visual nature, commented panel moderator, Ernest Hutton, AICP, Assoc. AIA. The media has existed for decades, and now it is possible to create movies with a desktop computer. As all architects and planners understand the power of visuals, film is an accessible tool that should be used more readily.

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