Cathedrals of Culture

‘If buildings could talk, what would they say about us?’ Cathedrals of Cultures offers six startling responses in which six acclaimed directors examine the soul of their favourite buildings, bringing their own visual style and artistic approach to the project (which was originally shown in 3D at selected cinemas).

Buildings, they show us, are material manifestations of human thought and action: the Berlin Philharmonic, an icon of modernity (Wim Wenders); the National Library of Russia, a kingdom of thoughts (Michael Glawogger); Halden Prison, the world’s most humane prison (Michael Madsen); the Salk Institute, an institute for breakthrough science (Robert Redford); the Oslo Opera House, a futuristic symbiosis of art and life (Margreth Olin); and the Centre Pompidou, a modern culture machine (Karim Ainouz). Cathedrals of Cultures explores how each of these landmarks reflects our culture and guards our collective memory.

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Running around two-and-a-half-hours, its best to watch this visually immersive experience a chapter at a time. Wim Wenders’ film, which is as much a love letter to the Berlin Philharmonic as it is to Hans Scharoun’s ‘unsinkable Titanic of concert halls’, is the most polished of the six films, and the use of a voiceover to bring the grand dame to life is very effective. Robert Redford’s ode to the sentinel of science, The Salk Institute, is practically architectural pornography, as he lovingly undresses every conceivable angle of Louis Kahn’s concrete anthill with an arty eye, though he does let his guard down with the stagy interviewee set-ups. Moby’s electronic soundscapes, however, do give life to Redford’s spirit of space theme. The other highlight is Michael Madsen’s inside look at Norway’s high tech maximum security Holden Prison, where the walls really do talk (again through voiceover), and features some slightly homoerotic images of the inmates posing for Madsen’s camera.

Cathedrals of Culture is released on 10 November in the UK on DVD from Metrodome