From the silent epics of DW Griffiths through Art Deco spectaculars like Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1933 to Pixar's wonderful WALL-E (2008), the connection between architecture and film has always been intimate. Look at how Le Corbusier defined architecture: "the masterly, correct and magnificent play of form in light." It stands as a great description of cinema as well as of buildings.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that many great art directors and set designers – especially those who fled Nazi Germany for Hollywood – trained as architects. And the influence runs the other way: inspired directors and their designers continue to exert an influence on architecture. The play of light is everything, whether it's in the work of Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott and David Lynch, or of Nicholas Hawksmoor, Le Corbusier and Rem Koolhaas.
This month, as part of its 175th anniversary celebrations, the Royal Institute of British Architects is holding a film season devoted to the relationship between architecture and the movies. Below, I've listed five films – the briefest list from all but endless possibilities – I can watch happily over and again, and that bring out the best in both genres. You probably have your own favourites: I'd love to hear them.
Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi may be best known for its wondrous female robot, Eve, but it's the set design that really takes your breath away. It features a cloud-scraping contemporary Tower of Babel, an industrial workers' production hell-hole, and super-modern, master-of-the-universe-style offices – all revealing its creators' in-depth knowledge of the very latest European architectural developments. Whether they're interpreting Art Deco, Bauhaus Modern or Expressionism, all the buildings shown are terrifying. The overall effect is curiously Gothic, shadowy, elongated, chiaroscuro. And scary.
Lang's team of set designers – including Karl Vollbrecht, credited as "film architect", and Erich Kettelhut – were led by Otto Hunte, art director and production designer. Hunte had previously art-directed Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919); a master of dark films, he went on to work on the crudely anti-semitic Jud Süß (Veit Harlan, 1940). Lang and Hunte employed the cinematographer, Eugen Schüfftan, who developed a process whereby Metropolis actors could be projected, through mirrors, into miniature sets. This bold play with "futuristic" architecture and newly developed filming techniques helped make Metropolis a powerful influence on real-life architecture for decades to come.