In a city that has been so hell-bent on progress we’ve often neglected our past, honoring historic architecture hasn’t been a priority. And civic interest in modern architecture has probably fallen just below the level of interest in historic preservation. But Charlotteans are beginning to have an appreciation for architecture – both old and new.
That’s evident the third Friday of each month, when the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art hosts its Architecture + Film series. The series attracts architects, as you’d expect, but it also brings out a more general audience. And there’s more than a smattering of folks. Generally, 100 to 200 people gather for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and conversation before the film.
Surprised? So was Christopher Lawing, the Bechtler’s vice president of programming and research, who helps program the series.
“We have been pleasantly surprised by the size and enthusiasm of our Architecture + Film audiences,” Lawing says. “We really didn’t know what to expect because no other organization has ever done something like this in Charlotte.”
A city that once cared little for architecture began to sit up and take notice a few years ago. Lawing credits the designs in uptown’s Gateway area and the TradeMark condos with the renewed interest. “There’s also the Gantt Center designed by the Freelon Group, (the firm that) designed the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African-American History and Culture, now under construction in Washington,” he says.
Lawing believes the biggest shift in attitude happened when internationally known architect Mario Botta designed a building that has already become a local landmark – the Bechtler. Lawing says the Bechtler staff considers Botta’s building to be the largest piece in its collection.
Of course, the Bechtler is more than a building and more than its stunning art collection. The museum’s programming includes a monthly jazz series that regularly draws capacity crowds. The idea for the Architecture + Film series emerged when Bechtler President John Boyer was part of Historic Charlotte’s “Modernism at Risk” panel discussion last April. Boyer told the group the Bechtler was considering a film series focused on architecture. Lawing says, “The crowd applauded wildly and started giving suggestions for films. We took that as a sign that we hit on a good idea.”
The Bechtler staff partnered with the Charlotte chapter of the American Institute of Architects to schedule speakers and help market the series. There’s always an expert on hand – an architect or scholar – who provides context and insight before the film.
The movies have been as varied as the Cary Grant classic “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” to “Havana: The New Art of Making Ruins,” a documentary about a once-great city’s formerly grand architecture and the citizens who now live in the ruins. Upcoming films include documentaries about architects Frank Gehry and Philip Johnson. Lawing is particularly excited about “Bird’s Nest: Herzog & de Meuron in China,” a documentary about the creation of the Olympic Stadium in Beijing in 2008.
The Bechtler took a chance with its architectural film series, and people have responded enthusiastically.
“The main character in each of the films is the architecture itself,” Lawing says. “The films explore the architects, builders, photographers and patrons of these masterful artworks and describe how they were designed, built, lived in and, ultimately, admired.”