Lights Action Camera – architects’ winning films

28 April, 2020

Telling architecture’s story through video is a great way to communicate how architects work but as a resource it is massively underexploited by practices. There are some practical reasons for this. They can be expensive and for longer films of 30 minutes or more, the only way to reach big audiences is via film festivals. Few distributors are interested in showing paid for films.

We have always had a video category as part of the Archiboo Awards and having seen dozens of films, we thought we’d look back at some of our favourites. We have divided them into three types – the PR film, the documentary and the ‘arty’ film. None is inherently better than the other but it’s important when you’re setting out to be clear about your audience and what you’re trying to achieve.

Photographer and filmmaker Jim Stephenson agrees. He says: “Is it internal or for other architects, is it for potential clients, something to gather views on Instagram, something for the public? This decision will guide the message you want to get across, and then you can choose how best to present that message.”

The PR film

These make up the bulk of entries and veer from too blatantly promotional to those that are interesting in themselves to watch – often because of the people occupying the building, aided by compelling story telling.

A great example of this is Spacelab’s film about Boden’s headquarters.

The film follows Cordelia Masters, a buyer at Boden, talking about the effect the newly designed office has had on her and the company as a whole.

The judges really liked this film and it’s hard not to see why. It has energy and pace that makes you want to keep watching and the story of transformation through architecture was absorbing.

We also admired On Cities, the Norman Foster Foundation film entered last year, because it was well stitched together. Although its is a corporate video,  it is executed extremely well.

The documentary film

At its heart, filmmaking is about telling stories and the job of the filmmaker is to communicate the story and connect with the audience on an emotional level. Few architects’ films do this but one that did was Witherford Watson Mann which won the category in 2017.

The film is about the residents of United St Saviour’s traditional almshouses in Southwark, London. The architect has added apartments around courtyard gardens,

The film is extremely moving and raises important questions – especially relevant now – about how older generations can live independently but collectively in the city. The stories of the residents picked by the film makers stayed with you long afterwards.

The 2019 winner was also a documentary – about travel. It centres on UNStudio’s Arnhem station three years after it was completed, talking to some of the people who use it and interviews with the architect. The story doesn’t resonate emotionally but it does make you want to visit the building.

The arty film

Videos like last year’s entry by South Africa’s FuturePart are often beautifully filmed and edited but the lack of words – either graphic or narrational – can leave the viewer with too many unanswered questions. Music or ambient sound can stitch a narrative together but it is challenging to do this successfully.


If you have a video to enter, our awards will be launching in June 2020.

Jim Stephenson provides tips on how to commission engaging films in our whitepaper, which can be downloaded here.