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The City as an Animated Book

Caterina Romaniello

10:14 min

ARCHITECTURAL VIDEOS have become a powerful means to reveal and communicate the urban space and the ways it can be deeply transformed by a project. They allow to experience designed spaces from a distance as well as from different viewpoints simultaneously through a cinematographic approach. Even more than sophisticated digital renderings, with their multi-dimensional, dynamic and story-centered attitude movies dealing with architecture subvert the traditional standpoint of bi-dimensional and static representation techniques about the interpretation and communication of architecture.

What happens when drawings, graphic schemes and sketches are brought back into the narration and overlapped with video frames like a transparent layer full of hand-drawn notes? In such a balanced combination of cinematic and traditional methods, viewers are kind of invited to the worktable of the architect and immersed in a more complete urban narrative that explores the planning process from the architects' perspective. This stratified compound of different media and illustration techniques allows videos to show not only the results of the architect's work, but also the genesis of the design idea from the very moment of its original conception, while regaining the original graphic approach of the creative process. The combination of video and graphic elements is also deeply connected to the type of target that the author wants to reach and to the video makers' interpretation of the architects' vision.

A BOOK AND A VIDEO both produced by PlusOne studio narrate the transformation of the Osdorp district (renamed Amsterdam Nieuw-West), Amsterdam, the Netherlands, after a 20-years process of urban regeneration involving some renewed international architectural firms (Mecanoo, DKV architecten, MVRDV, Tangram architekten, Dok architecten). The book - which provides an overview of the architectural highlights - seems to pop-up in the short movie "Amsterdam Osdorp": the graphics on the pages and the multilayered frames of the video are overlapped as PlusOne focuses on the architectural features of some selected buildings of the overall project. Through the graphic elements the Amsterdam based studio interprets and introduces the architects' vision, while the reality of the built works of architecture and of the urban surroundings is explored through a combination of live-action video with 2D and 3D animation and a direct involvement of the future inhabitants of the district as actors.

LEAFING THROUGH THE CITY, the multifaceted video "CCA" by Mauricio Freyre reveals the grafting of Edgardo Minond's urban design within Buenos Aires (Argentina) as if the camera was flipping through the pages of a book. Freyre allows the viewers to virtually witness the genesis of Minond's competition proposal for the "Parque y Centro de Exposiciones y Convenciones de Buenos Aires". Under the audience's eye, hand-made drawings pop up, sketches change and move on a transparent paper overlying aerial photographs and blurred live-footages of the existing urban context.

THE COMIC BOOK STYLE in Uniform's animation "Nido. 22 @ District" is aimed at involving the young and international audience that is the main target group of the "Nido" student accommodation project (Barcelona, Spain) by TP Bennett architects. In this video, the building becomes the scenery of a fictional story made in order to recreate the fun and modern atmosphere of a students' place. Uniform, a brand communications agency also specialized in architectural visualizations, combines computer generated techniques with the bi-dimensional illustrations by the comic artist Jamie McKelvie, since in this case the storyline, the characters and the comic strip style are the main elements of the communication of the project. "Nido. 22 @ District" perfectly expresses the image of the architecture envisioned by TP Bennet for the "modern spirit of Barcelona".

THE HYBRID ENVIRONMENT of the animated comic book "Team NEXT-GENE20" by Squint/Opera effectively interprets and communicates the highly experimental nature of the NEXT-GENE20 program. Twenty architects (ten international, ten from Taiwan) were invited to take part in this project, back in 2008, an open-air laboratory aimed at realizing twenty villas facing the striking landscape of the Northeast Coast National Scenic Area in the island of Taiwan. In this Squint/Opera's three-minute sequence shot, static 2D drawings are rapidly alternated with CG-realizations and graphic texts in a style that mixes the narrative of manga cartoons, 1960s television serials, graphic novels and kung-fu movies, while the architects involved in the project pop up like if they were the superheroes of an imaginary comic serial.

In these short movies, video makers focus on the stories that lie behind the design. They use video as a tool to make more accessible the specific architectural contents of the projects and the architects' vision to a wider audience by means of a deep knowledge of different narrative styles and illustrative techniques, both advanced and traditional, three-dimensional and bi-dimensional, that are often combined together in always new and original ways.

Amsterdam Osdorp


Stimulating collective imagination upon the final results of a twenty-year long process of urban regeneration.

In the "Amsterdam Osdorp" video, PlusOne narrates the project of transformation of the Osdorp district (Amsterdam Nieuw-West, the Netherlands) by focusing on some selected buildings and on those factors which they consider the most important for the restructuring urbanized areas. The interpretation offered by PlusOne - that is overlaid to the architects' vision - is complemented by the reality of the buildings and of the urban surroundings through a combination of live-action video with 2D and 3D animation. The direct involvement of the future inhabitants of the district as actors further stimulates the collective imagination of a wide audience.

The project explored and advertised by PlusOne in the short movie is the result of a 20-year process of urban regeneration that comprised the city district of Amsterdam Osdorp - merged with Slotervaart and Geuzenveld-Slotermeer and renamed "Amsterdam Nieuw-West" - and that involved some renewed international architectural firms (Mecanoo, DKV architecten, MVRDV, TANGRAM Architekten, Dok architecten).

The "metamorphosis of Osdorp" is also narrated in both a book and a video made by PlusOne. Published at the completion of the district's urban renovation, the book - which provides an overview of the architectural highlights - seems to pop-up in the short movie: the graphics of the pages are overlapped to the multilayered frames of the video as PlusOne focuses on the architectural features of the project.


Architects: Mecanoo, DKV architecten, MVRDV, TANGRAM Architekten, Dok architecten
Direction: Martijn Hogenkamp
Production: Marcel Vrieswijk
D.O.P.: Bob Joosten, Martijn Hogenkamp
Animation: Tim van der Wiel, Elias Widerdal
Music: Bas "Inf" te Braak
Sounddesign: Matthias Kiewiet

The Netherlands 2010
Duration: 1'22''

Selected for CITY VISIONS (Turin; April - October 2012), a series of public talks, conferences, and architecture videos on six dates curated by Image for URBAN CENTER METROPOLITANO.