The Portrayal Of Architecture Architecture Essay

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In each of Tatis film architecture has a more progressively dominate role; at the expensive of the actor, the architecture is becoming the star within the frame. The shift in importance represents Tati's own view about the progression of the modern world. In Mon Oncle and Playtime he is defending the individuals space within modern architecture. Ironically it is only through the demise of the individual and the dominance of architecture within his cinematic landscape, that he succeeds in conveying this message to the audience. The subsequent portrayal of architecture as an object to be explored by the audience, is critical, in creating a sense of atmosphere between architecture and audience.

Relationships play an important role in defining Tati's architectural space, by looking a the shift in Theme between Jour de Fete, Mon Oncle and Playtime we can see why the cinematic depiction of architecture became increasingly important. Jour de Fete looks at the individuals relationship to one another, Mon Oncle combines the relationships between individuals and there surroundings, While Playtime almost uniquely examines the relationship between individuals and architecture.

The theme in Jour de Fete is complex due to a continuing series of relationships between individuals, this combined with a series of sub narratives that explore these relationships convey a complex story to the spectator. It is a film rich with action, that continually directs the audiences attention. The quick narrative and constant bombardment of information, means the audience has no time to reflect upon the landscape that Tati is constructing.

In Mon Oncle the action has been heavily edited instead of a series of relationships the theme examines just one family and the effect that conflicting lifestyles have upon the family model. Architecture has become dominate for two reasons, firstly because of the success of his previous work Tati's production budget has greatly increase, meaning he can begin to create large purpose built sets for his cinematic landscapes. Secondly and most importantly the architecture has become the device that visually depicts the differences between old and new. In the old town Tati is portraying the idea of a tailored environment, a landscape that over time has been moulded by its inhabitants, rich with architectural personality. Conceptually Tati is directly tackling the conflicts that arise between modernity and tradition, through the depiction of architectural inhabitation.

In playtime the audience is left with the faint reminisce of a relationship between individuals, there are fleeting glimpses of a proposed love affair captured between the landscape of glass and glimmering steel, a connection between Mr.hulot and a member of the visiting american tourists. But for the majority of the film it remains just that, a possibility continually thwarted by the structured architecture. The relationship between individuals and architecture in Playtime shifts throughout the course of the film, in the beginning modernist line is the king, but gradually as the influence of the individual begins to play more of a role in the environment, an assertion of ownership is seen at the demise of the line.

Narrative Breakdown / Speed

There is a dramatic reduction in narrative speed between Jour de Fete, Mon Oncle and Playtime, this has a dramatic impact pin the way audience can read a landscape or sequence. In Playtime directed narrative seems to have broken down all together and the audience is instead presented with a series of landscapes from which to construct there own story. The audience in Playtime is no-longer directed around atmosphere with a character like Francois in Jour de Fete, instead the screen has become more akin to the stage of a theatre without spotlights, the audience is now asked by Tati to work at spotting Mr. Hulot as he weaves his way around the modern world. This shift in directional power reduces the speed of narrative as a whole in Playtime, Tati provides the audience with sequences and shots that are so long, that the audience is continually waiting for the next to arrive.

The visual appearance of the modern landscape Tati has created in Playtime aids the reduction of narrative speed within the frame, the removal of the complex landscapes rich in detail found in Jour de Fete and Mon Oncle creates a world that is ubiquitously similar. In playtime everything is the same, every where the audience looks they are confronted with repetition. The result is that a stillness or lack of progression is portrayed to the spectator, for the first half of Playtime it almost feels as if the camera stuck, or trapped along with the individuals in this modern landscape.

Conveying Architecture to the Audience

The Frame

The most important part in creation of Tati's cinematic landscape is the content, movement and position of the frame. In Mon Oncle the audience is experiencing through Mr.Hulot a personal exploration of the architecture, the frame plays an important role in determining the audiences sense of place. To exaggerate the scale of the landscape, Tati positions the camera as far back as possible from the action, this is to increase the audiences sense of visual range. In doing this, Tati loses some control over the audience, this is partly a deliberate move, but to maintain continuity throughout his visual language, instead of reverting back to close ups when he needs to highlight certain actions, he either makes use of Hulot or the surrounding architecture to create sub frames within his central landscape.

This type of sub-framing is used in the introduction of Mr.Hulot, his apartment block is complex and cumbersome, as mentioned before it is like this to reflect his personality. Tati is reinforcing the idea of a personalised architecture to the audience, by using architectural framing devices to highlight Mr.Hulots mannerisms. In the introductory sequence the windows act as a set of sub-frames within the cinematic landscape, that is focused upon the entire apartment building. As Mr.Hulot navigates his way to the door of his apartment, each window and opening highlights a different part of his movements. The journey becomes an anthology of Hulot's actions and mines. The architecture is placed between the spectator and Mr.Hulot, this is Tati playing with the idea of the close up, in one sense that audience is kept at arms length, yet if observed carefully the sequence is constructed from a series of framed close ups inviting the spectator to observe Mr.Hulot, as he enters his private world.

This framing is continued in Playtime, Tati begins to use the geometrical lines of the architecture to partition the frame into a series of sub-frames. The landscape can now be read by the audience in series of ways, the multilayered action gives the audience the opportunity to roam within the frame, focusing on what attracts there attention. In this sense the columns and glass create boundaries between a series of stages Tati is presenting to the audience. The physical restriction between individuals reinforces Tati's idea about the dehumanising effects of modernism, the material properties of glass and the structural organisation of the architecture is directly responsible for a loss in interaction and formation of relationships between individuals.

As the individuals become isolated from one another the audience is encouraged to feel frustrated with the restrictions present within the architectural landscape. The audience can see something that the individuals in Tati's Playtime will never notice, through the position of the camera they are exposed to the larger effects of the modern world, they are subject to the architecture fragmenting life into a series of isolated performances, Tati is corroding the idea of society by isolating the individual.

In depicting the residential part of Playtime as a series of glass fronted boxes stacked on top of each other, Tati is commenting on a loss of identity within the architecture. But by also mirroring the acton within the set of sub-frames created by the architecture, Tati is enforcing the idea of a individual who has lost there individuality. The sequence is a scene that highlights the physical conformity of modern architecture, the framing in this shot is very strong highlighted by the blackness of the night it helps to reinforce everything the audience has already witnessed, the gradual segregation of the environment is climaxed by this scene of ubiquitous living.

The Modernist Aesthetic

The re-development of Saracelles on the outskirts of Paris was heavily influence by the modernist charter, is was typical of developments in urban areas of france between the 1940's and 60's. The idea of reclaiming the old heavily influenced the doctrine behind Tati's work, Mon Oncle is a series of moments contrasting the reclamation of the old, that revolve around the architectural environment. Aesthetically Tati presents the audience with the old and new, he depicts the new town with a hardness of form and coldness of material, that isn't present in the old town, the biggest contrast between the environments is the colour, rich warm natural colours help to aid the impression Tati is trying to create of an architecture that literally sprouted out of the ground in the old town, while in the New; cold Monotone greys are used to isolate the individuals and audience exposed to them.

The removal of colour in the modern part of the town subtracts from the architectural identity of the place, satirically in Mon Oncle Tati depicts Mrs. Arpels Kitchen as if it were a hospital ward, primarily through the use of colour. The contrast is emphasised cleverly by Tati as moments before young Gerard has been with his uncle in the old part of town sampling the delights offered by a questionable looking street vendor. In Mrs. Arpels kitchen things are very different dressed like a nurse, she can be seen to sterilise the food before placing it in front of Gerard. Tati is almost mocking the modern requirement for cleanliness here, his frustration with the sterilised aesthetic of international modernism is being portrayed to the audience.

The Arpel house could be described as an un-modern modernism, the type of architectural style it is copying existed long before the films release in 1958. Jacques Larange the artist who assisted Tati in the creation of sets for Mon oncle, Describes the process of cutting up what he saw as the populist face to modernism. Tati gave a limited brief to Larange, his only requirement is that it be spotlessly clean and hygienic. The resulting architecture is exactly that, it is a place of over of exaggerated aesthetics, that Tati uses as a back drop to emphasis the characters that pose within it. The Arpel house, although it does not seem it to the spectator, is the central landscape of the film, Tati spends the most time here using characters in various sequences to extract details from the set. 

"The high rise towers and garden apartments of Sarcelles would seem quite ordinary out side any American city. They mark the familiar sleepy town boomed with city people. In fact, with its attractive tress, somewhat distinctive architecture, waking distance shopping and air of general liveliness, Sarcelles seems a little better than ordinary."Sarcelles & Cergy, How to Build some More City. Andrew Barnes. July 30, 1969 p1    Extract about saracelles.

This piece of text highlights how the creation of such a place within a traditional environment, could have dramatic effect upon the style of inhabitation. It also begins to describe an environment that is not entirely detached from its inhabitants. In Mon Oncle Mr and Mrs Arpel have a sense of pride in the technological innovation they are surrounded by, Tati doesn't denounce the technology, but questions its relevance within every part of the home. 

Tati portrays the modern world in Mon Oncle as if it were one of Corbusier factories. The long lines of cars moving in uniformity side by side present the of an assembly line, something is controlling this production line and with Mon oncle Tati is questioning whom. By creating this idea of a symbiotic machine, Tati also presents the audience with how the machine is feed, in Mon Oncle objects and rubbish are directly brought to Mr.Arples where they seamlessly turn in to 'plastac' the food for Modernist repetition. Here the audience sees the old been physically turned into the new.

The modern aesthetic of Architecture in Playtime has a lot to do with translating the effect of a seemingly alienating and controlling world to the audience. The spatial identity therefore is inciting the audience to feel, Architecture is used to signify and define the identity of a place, Tati has constructed a world composed of architectural non-space, from the style to the architectural material it is impossible to distinguish between an Office and a Dwelling. In the opening sequence to Playtime, Tati composes a space that it is completely indistinguishable to the audience. For several minutes the spectator is lost within Tati's nondescript space, the feeling of isolation created during this sequence is determined by the abstractness of the space, it is Tati's attempt to mirror the alienation and de-aesthesised nature of modernism. Slowly Tati reveals the camera to be located in an Airport, but the style, colour and perspective remain the same, it is only through the use of sound that the audience can determine the location. As the spectator hear's the announcement through the tannoy system of the arrival of an aircraft, the space in a slow a pre-determined way begins to unfold. 

Tati pre-envisaged an Architecture that shortly after playtime became a reality, the constructions at Tativille stylistically seemed heavily influenced by the Esso building erected shortly before the making of the film in the La defense quarter of Paris, later this would seemingly develop in the image Tati projected through Tativille in Playtime.


Sound in Tati's films aids the audiences understanding of an object within his cinematic landscape, It plays in role in conveying a sense of place, depth, action, materiality and physicality to the audience. In Jour de Fete it is used to highlight the rural authenticity of the town, sounds are used to widen the range and complexity of the landscape. In an early sequence the audience is introduced to a flock of chickens and their iconic clucking noise, the visual association that is made at this point is played with by Tati again and again through out the film. The spectator doesn't see chickens in the barber shop but the noise heard is implying there presence. The result is the audience witnesses a breakdown in the boundaries between internal and external architectural spaces, the inhabitated space also becomes the animal space, the architecture is gradually been consumed by the natural environment.

Space is contrasted through its sound In Mon Oncle, there are certain moments within the film that sound spills either from the old to the new, or the new to the old. The alien sound within the landscape helps to juxtapose the differing the worlds to the audience, sound becomes a contrasting and connecting element between the cafe of the old town and the directors of office of the new. Through a Mr.Hulot mishap, the atmosphere of the cafe is superimposed upon the clean geometrical lines of the office. Tati is mixing the boundaries between work and play and the effect is extremely comical. Architecturally the space is been defined through the use of sound, it is used by Tati to create a continuity between worlds.

In Playtime the architectural space is continually questioned through the sound the audience hears. It is used to highlight important action, define subframes and anchor the cameras actions, this results in both alienating and encompassing the audiences in Tati's modern world. Physically sound defines space through assigning a material quality to it. The most interesting characteristic of glass, is that it becomes a barrier of sound, in Playtime it highlights the visual, while disorientating the spectators sense of place. The resulting effect is that the position of the camera is defined by the sound, Cinematically this is confusing because Tati doesn't always declare that the camera is behind a glass wall. A lot of the sequences in Playtime are shot through glass, In particular Mr.Hulot's actions are highlighted within the architectural space as Tati presents a glass box to the audience, it is in fact a waiting room but through the lack of sound it almost seems as if Hulot is now a goldfish in a bowl, willingly allowing everyone to observe his performance. The noise of traffic highlights the idea of a segmented but visually exposed landscape.

The architecture in Playtime as well as isolating through a series of these hidden barriers, also isolates its audience through the portrayal of its clinical atmosphere which is extenuated through the use of sound. Sound reinforces what the colour in Playtime visual projects, through loud echoing foot steps, slamming doors and beeping machines, an alien hollow cold space is presented to the audience. The individuals contact with the architectural atmosphere is extenuated through the volume of sound, as Mr… Makes his way along the long corridor toward Mr.Hulot, each step reaffirms to the audience the physical hardness and dimensions of the space.


In the Arpel's house the spectator is taken aback by the individuals integration with technological modernity. Within each space, from the garden to the kitchen, there is a sense of complete structuralisation. The spectator expects the individual to act in a way defined by the language, of the landscape. Tati capitalises upon this assumption, and with humorous satire reveals the idiosyncrasies of inhabitation.

Tati has given the architecture in Mon Oncle the ability to physically trap the individual, Through technology it is almost as if the architecture is coming to life. In the satirical sequence with the automatic garage doors, the audience is witness to the architecture having a mind of its own. Through the use of satirical humour Tati is asserting the idea that not all modern technology is positive, sometimes in these case there can be slight shifts in its intended nature.

Playtime the reassertion of the Individual.

Part lll

Playtime examines the relationship between Man and Machine, over a period of twenty four hours we see the rise and fall of architectural dominance at the hands of the individual. The power of the individual does not become apparent until the latter stages of the film, the journey Tati creates spends time witnessing the development of architectural dominance at the expense of the individual. The significance of this is that it highlights the loss of culture within Modern society, before portraying the power of the individual in regaining cultural identity. The journey is defined by the architecture, but the system it encapsulates is slowly changed by the demands of the individual.

1. Grid Definition - 2. Role of architecture and Technology

The grid defines the Architecture, but the geometrical structures reinforce its three dimensional presence. Visually the Architecture is presented to the spectator as an infinite construction of glass and steel, both vertically and horizontally the buildings reinforce the idea of a world full of repetitive uniformity. The transparent quality of the material reinforce the physical presence of the Tati Grid, the audience witnesses through the glass structures layers upon layers of vertical and horizontal lines. The reflective properties of the materials within the structures heighten the geometrical construction of the landscape and aid in the sense that space repeats forever.

The slab style of the architecture begins to extend to the objects within this cartesian driven world, In playtime the audience is presented again and again with the uniformity of the straight line; Chairs, Hat Stands and even Street Lamps follow the tone defined by the architecture. Tati is presenting to the audience the idea that the grid has the potential to consume culture, the artefacts in Playtime signify a society that can only think in terms of extending the grid, everything that is designed within it, becomes an reflecting extension of it. Art, Expression and Creativity has no place, in Tativille.

Playtime presents a collaboration between Architecture and Technology, It focuses upon there role in defining the systems and the habits of the individuals within them. The over complication of technology within the architectural landscape is something Tati exaggerates to reinforce the absurdity of some supposedly time saving devices. This is what architecture becomes in playtime, a series of systems that intend to aid the modern individual in day to day life. It is through the over complication of these trivial actions that Tati begins to show cracks appearing within the ultra Modern effiecent grid.

The grid inherently isolates the individual through its lack of human identity, this is highlighted by the lack of a visual relationship between the individuals and there surroundings.The architecture of the grid has no ability to connect, but only to mirror the individuals that reside within it. This mirroring extenuates the individuals actions within the architecture, in the first part of the film it defines synchronicity between architecture and individual, the dehumanised individual becomes an extension to the architecture and continues its uniformity. In the second half the absurdities of the individuals acting out against the Modern world are exposed.

3. Control Of Individual //

The individual is seemingly controlled by the regulation of the grid, through its materialisation Tati is creating a series of boundaries and restrictions that define individuals movements and freedom. There is a default level of architectural constraint certainly in the first part of the film, that conveys the message of actors not orchestrated by Tati but by the architecture itself. Within each scene there is an underlying expectation of character to act in a predefined way, seemingly the grid is not only in control of the individual but also the narrative with Tati's films.

The physical restriction created by the architectural grid can be seen continuously throughout Playtime, wether its disorientation or a miscommunication the individual is struggling to perform to the directions of the architecture. Tati satirically begins to create moments that highlight this struggle, for example in the scene between the porter and the man asking for a cigarette a block between verbal communication is created, and the individuals have to rely on there ability to express themselves visually. The Architecture like in Mon Oncle has the ability to physically trap in Playtime, but here it is not a punishment for adopting to much technology as Arpels had suffered, instead an innocent bystander Mr.Hulot, is been penalised by the architecture because he doesn't know the International language style 'Exit' in this case prevents his escape from the glass box foyer he is trapped within.

4. Human Scale - 5. Demise of the Grid

The human scale is depicted in Playtime through two main sequences, the first is Mr.Hulot's experience as he tries to navigate his way around the seemingly simple office complex in pursuit of Mr Griffon, the man dealing supposedly with his appointment. There is no conscious attempt to ignore Mr.Hulot, but through a series of comic coincidences, the characters never actual finalise or indeed instigate there business dealings. The architecture is acting like maze, throughout this entire cat and mouse sequence; the reflective glass, steel and structural organisation all add to the confusion, at one point it is almost like the architecture were a hall of mirrors confusing and exaggerating the individuals actions.

During this sequence there are a series of shots that highlight architectural dominance and individual insignificance, From a vantage point Mr.Hulot spots his counter part, moving around a vast array of cubicles that make up the office floor. From the camera's view point the route to Mr.Griffon, seems a relatively simple one. As Hulot traverses down the esculater however he soon realises he is lost within a maze of uniformity, a temporary shift in camera position reveals the inanimate walls Mr.Hulot is trapped within. As the camera shifts back to its original vantage point, the true nature of this Modern world is reveal, Mr.Griffon frantically collects papers and reads them back into a receiver connected to the block he has just collected them from. Hulot also becomes increasing baffled by the uniformity of the spinning office clerk and invisible doors, that seemingly aid Mr.Griffon's in his modern efficiency and unwitting allow his escape from M.Hulot.

The other sequence that triggers the final demise of the Tati grid, is the action that unfolds in the Royal Garden Restaurant. Here there is a shift to the human scale that is encapsulated in the change in cinematic landscape. Tati is still presenting the spectator with a landscape full of action, but rather than been on the outside the audience is invited in to the architecture, the most notable aspect of this is the visual change in scale between architecture and individual. Tati can now examine Modernism on a human scale and this is where the flaws begin to occur, the previous distance between camera and individual was metaphorically representing the ubiquitous image of Modernism itself, always dealing with the grand idea, never the individual.

The chaos the audience witnesses in the Royal garden sequence is exaggerated through this shift in scale, the spectator is witnessing gaps appearing in the modernist grid at a more human scale. With the shift in scale comes a shift in power between the architecture and its inhabitants, the restaurant becomes the point where architectural dominance finally gives way to the individual. Visually the spectator witnesses this not just through the physical destruction of the set but also through Tati characterisation of the architect, who makes an appearance in the Royal Garden where his is made to answer for his monstrous creation. The visual presence of the architect as figure aids in the reclamation of a space, he is pictured just like everyone else an individual with no special god like powers that his create may bequeath him, In a sense he is flawed just like everyone else.

6. Human Victory

It fills the audience with a sense of delight

As the camera zooms out the spread and rise of the individual,

Tati proclaims victory of the individual in Playtime through the final sequence that is in stark contrast to where the film began,

the narrative if any is the loss of the line to the curve, as the satirical actions of the individual are played out. 

- Wide angle frame of the landscape again, but with a difference the Human individual has seemingly won the battle ageist the line, the curves are coming thick and fast, there is also a round about.

remonstrant of funfair in gourd fete