Grand architectural experience and film making have always gone hand in hand, and most often these films provide inspiration and influence to our design process. I cannot tell you how many times conversation in the studio has been shaped by the setting in a film and how we often come back to these cities, buildings or rooms as a part of precedent studies – sometimes based in reality and others from pure fantasy.


As a part of exploring the subject of how architecture and film interact, the ICAA will be honoring James Ivory and Merchant Ivory Productions with an Arthur Ross Award for Fine Arts this year in recognition of a body of work that has often been set in such unique places that the architecture becomes an equal character in their films, and will continue to explore this topic further in the coming year.  Inspired by ICAA President Peter Lyden’s recent column on The Classicist Blog, I thought I might create my own list of films whose settings inspire the mind of the designer.


When I think of film images that resonate with me, I go back to those created by David Lean of T.E. Lawrence meeting with General Allenby in Cairo at The British Officer’s Club in the film Lawrence of Arabia.  Many of these “Middle East” scenes are actually set in Seville, Spain like Casa de Pilatos, the Real Alcazar, the curving columned lined walkways and sun-lit Plaza de Espana or the courtyard of the Alfonso XIII Hotel.

The British Headquarters in the film (left), Plaza de Espana (right)


Courtyard of the Officers Club in the film (left), Alphonso X111 Hotel courtyard (right)

The Plaza de las Americas in Parque de Maria Luisa standing in for Jerusalem and the Damascus town hall is the nearby circular El Casino.


Plaza De Americas as Jerusalem (left), El Casino in Seville as Demascus (right)

Contrasting these elaborate Moorish architectural icons are the scenes set in Morocco at red mud plastered towers of fortress city Ait Benhaddou, which also later served as a set for Gladiator.


Discussion with Prince Feisal (left), Village in Ait Ben Haddou (right)

 Of the Merchant Ivory films, two come to mind – A Room with a View – the adaptation of an E. M. Forster novel, going back and forth between the stunning exploration of Florence, Italy for an Englishwoman’s first visit in the early 1900’s and the return to England in London and near Kent.


A room with a view (left), Piazza della Signoria (right)

Florence is opened from the terrace of a private residence across the Arno River, and the characters in the film discover its architectural pleasures in the Piazza della Santissima Annuziata, at the cathedral Santa Croce, the Piazza della Signoria with its Loggia dei Lanzi and Neptune Fountain, and at the Uffizi Gallery.

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Santa Croce Interior (left), Uffuzi (right)

Back in England, we see their lives in Emmets Garden in the countryside, various sites around London, and the Victorian Linley Sambourne House in West Kensington.


Emmets Garden (left), Linley Sambourne House (right)

The second is Remains of the Day– telling the story of a gentleman’s gentleman, giving us a glimpse of the life of Lord Darlington’s house staff.

Dyrham Park

Dyrham Park as exterior of Darlington Hall

Darlington Hall is the combination of several houses, the exterior in Dyrham Park near Bath, much of the interior at Badminton House in Gloucestershire, while others were shot in the Powderham Castle near Exeter.


Powderham Castle Music room (left), Powderham Castle stair (right)

Another film that comes to mind is Vatel – the story of Francois Vatel, Master of Festivities and Pleasures for the Prince de Conde in 1671, and his ultimate choice of death over public humiliation in this time of French nobilities most decadent periods.  While the film is a gourmand’s delight, the film is just as sensuous visually, as is set at the Chateau de Chantilly and its gardens as designed by Andre le Notre, the actual estate of the Conde.

Image 18 - Chantilly_Chateau_by_Damien_Rou_

Chateau de Chatilly

Scenes capture the elaborate meals and three days of fetes as the Sun King comes to visit, deciding the fate of the Prince de Conde’s desires to be named general, and the real story of Vatel as the mastermind behind all of these elaborate events.


Vatel shares his concepts for the three day fete with The Prince de Conde (left), Vatel Model 2 (right)

One of the architectural delights of this film is the depiction of the process – Vatel’s creation of elaborate models depicting the plans for each days grand festivities, the elaborate stage setting and to their realization as in the a fireworks filled grand dinner in the gardens.

Grand Fete for the Sun King


The escape into the creative that film offers tends to find its way out through inspiration in our work and influence the way we view architecture, interior spaces and the landscape and the romantic notions of our history and lives.  These are but a few of many that are my favorites, and you can see others that inspire our peers in this month’s Classicist Blog,  I hope that you will share some of yours, so that we can see more of what inspires the creative mind through the art of cinema.