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Architecture Monday

March 21, 2016

It’s #Zootopia #Architecture day! As with just about everything in this film, the architecture is dripping with exquisite detail and intention. Winston Churchill’s quote “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us,” is perhaps no more exemplified than the architecture in Zootopia.

© Disney

© Disney

In that vein I love these two sketches (by Matthias Lechner, who was the art director for environments) for the police station, a location we visit often during the film. Firstly, that first sketch makes me chuckle as it mirrors in some ways my own design process (iterations upon iterations of designs). We’ll return to that sketch in a moment.  The second sketch is a great illustration of the many elements that architects bring together in the design of real buildings: functional concerns, context, societal aspirations, aesthetic and artistic elements, and the spatial feel and the experience we will feel when we are in front of or inside the building.

In this design of the police station the big strokes of the Zootopian architecture direction is on display, namely the incorporation of natural elements and forms.  It is anthropomorphized animals of all types who are shaping these buildings, they have all brought their viewpoints (including differing heights and sizes!) and their affinities to the construction of their buildings.  From the sharp minimalist features of the frozen poles, to angular cliffs, to undulating dunes, to the rich forests, to even underground dwellings, there is both an affinity both for what’s familiar as well as the cross pollination between the species, creating new styles and new aficionados.

We as humans are, of course, also no stranger to this; many buildings have been inspired and informed by our natural landscape. The columns of the Sagrada Familia and the forms of the Canadian Museum of Civilization are just two of countless examples.  As well, as our cultures traded and interacted and ultimately have come to live together, we too have shared forms and styles and ideas.

The other great thing to see in these sketches is the change in the feel of the buildings from that first sketch to the second, based on how the story itself was evolving. The original tone for the film was a much darker one, leading to a more utilitarian and imposing edifice. When the movie shifted to become what it was, the design also shifted towards a grander civic architecture. “Design is a signal of intention,” and the newer police station signals the intent behind the founding of Zootopia, that of creating a city where animals have come to live together in support and harmony. This grand civic gesture crafts forms that are worthy of the society they are trying to create. “Thereafter, our buildings shape us.”

Movie architecture can be loose with things like physics or the absolute needs of functionality, but the artists and architects in Zootopia did a good job of working through things and keeping it in the realm of believably. A wonderful job done!

Some more images:

© Disney

I think these tusk-based pillars make a great bridge design!

© Disney

Tree columns not unlike Sagria Familia.

© Disney

Love this very warren-like bunny housing.

© Disney

And the city proper! If you look closely, you can see the train line that Judy takes as she enters the city, passing through all the major districts. (Which is one of my favourite scenes in the movie… such an entrance, enhanced by the fact that I also love trains!)

These are almost all from the website of Matthias Lechner, go check it out, there is so much in there. It is such an indication of just how much thought, care, and interest they, the team, put into the world building for this film, and it shows through in the strength and the tight feel of the story.

Architecture is the context for our everyday, real, lives, just as much as it is the backdrop for movies. When we pay as much care to that which we build around us, we too can reap the same rewards.

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