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I Look Up Architect Feature Series: Ian Harris

The Look Up Film Challenge has brought to life stories of architecture and impact from a wide array of perspectives. We would like to shed light on even more of these inspiring individuals making a positive impact on our cities, lives and communities. To highlight these architects and their unique visions, we have interviewed our six talented Look Up Film Challenge Judges with an expertise in architecture.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Ian Harris, an architectural designer-turned-filmmaker that co-founded Arbuckle Industries, an award winning New York City based video production company focusing on architectural cinematography. Since founding in 2007, he has helped the company produce films ranging from feature length, to short format videos while conducting over 250 interviews with leading architects, designers, builders and politicians. His clients include such notables as Architect Magazine, Friends of the High Line, AIA, Etsy, Regional Plan Association, Apartment Therapy, Yamaha, CBRE and Global Heritage Fund.

Read about Ian’s thoughts on the Film Challenge, architecture, and his work in architectural cinematography.

Q: What inspires you about the Look Up Film Challenge?

I’m interested to see what kind of filmmaking community exists surrounding architects and the broader building industry. The first I Look Up video showcased a production pairing a student of architecture with a filmmaking student. This type of connection between those that design, pitch and essentially sell concepts for a better, hopefully more equitable and publicly enriching built environment, with those that can visualize, capture and construct a dynamic narrative in the most powerful and ubiquitous medium we have to communicate, is where I think the profession can begin to peel back a dated public stigma and understanding of the practice. We need to trade the still-persistent image of a modern Howard Roark type character, for an image of an architect that is conducting the solutions of tomorrow’s built environment with the most progressive tools of today.

As someone that left the architect tract to pursue this avenue of storytelling through an entrepreneurial endeavor, I’d love to see a tidal wave of others join in the effort to construct a new vision for the stories about, behind and embedded within our built environment. If not us, then who will? And the answer is someone, someone else that is not from the architectural mindset with different goals and agendas. So now is the time, to seize the opportunity, and take control as innovators, dreamers, leaders and storytellers!

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On set with Christiane Lemieux of DwellStudio and Wayfair for a Kin Community web-series.

 

 

Q: How do you see I Look Up influencing perceptions of architects and architecture?

It is time for the AEC industry and especially the architecture profession to begin using the medium of video to sculpt the narrative of our built environment. Surprisingly, being 2015, we’ve still yet to see the adoption of the video as a method to communicate the value of design and quality of good built spaces. Now I know we are talking in the fast paced nature of today’s technological advancements and must keep in mind that Youtube was only started in 2005, yeah only 10 years ago, but the medium of video has become THE method for communicating with vast numbers of people and sharing a story. As the cost of video production equipment continues to drop while the quality is also increasing by leaps and bounds it is officially time for the architecture and building industry to finally pick up the tools that others, even the old print companies, have begun to use for their own benefit.

I hope this film challenge will illustrate what quick, low-budget productions are possible and to soften the barrier that we at Arbuckle see in the industry for architects, design firms, engineers and the next generation of students to begin utilizing video for our own good and to foster deeper engagement with the large segments of our architecturally disenfranchised public.

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Ian interviewing Wendell Burnette at his studio in Phoenix for an Architect Magazine piece.

 

 

Q: What was the most impactful project that you have worked on recently, and how did the experience alter the way you think about architecture?

As an ex-architect-turned-filmmaker and entrepreneur, my projects now are video productions undertaken by our company, Arbuckle Industries. I can’t necessarily specify one or even a couple that have most impacted me but rather the collective work as a whole. The experience of helping many firms develop their first storyline from scratch and turning that into a succinct cost-effective production has been the greatest fulfillment to me personally. My hope in leaving traditional practice for filmmaking was to expose the powerful stories that exist in the process of designing, building and utilizing our built spaces.

In a lot of senses it all goes back to the first film project David Krantz, co-founder of Arbuckle, and I ever embarked on, which was the wildly successful and deep passion project titled, Archiculture. We quit our jobs in 2007 to make this film and it took until 2013 to release it after many ups and downs, including the economic implosion of our funding base. Along the way we’ve managed to screen the film over 130 times globally and had over 300,000 views with a completely DIY distribution model we invented. This showed us there was a global market for architectural stories and we never looked back.

Q: As an architectural cinematographer, how do you see film and architecture as being complementary?

This is a question I’ve gotten a lot and it still always surprises me when I get it from within the industry. The reason is because I think we forget exactly what we’re taught when we are in design school and quickly lose sight of the skill-sets that make our educational training unique. We are trained to creatively problem solve at the grandest scale possible, our buildings, plazas and cities, with the most intensive physical and energy consuming resources, steel, concrete, glass, wood, etc.

Many of us go on to become architects or work in the profession, but many more, some say half of all graduating students, go on to use their degree for something else besides architectural practice. I think this lost community that has left traditional practice is where the profession is really missing out on what architecture could be and what its talent pool is already achieving. I’ve done a lot of thinking on this and could talk extensively on the topic of the “missing half,” myself included, that has no logical place in our professional organizations or discourse, but I don’t want to ramble. To refocus on the question, a film, a symphony or a building are to me the same endeavor at heart and the people in the lead coordinating or conducting the many talented subsets of skilled team members are what I would call an architect. They are responsible for keeping the core concept, tagline or parti as the overarching purpose for every decision helping others make that shared goal a reality.

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The Arbuckle team color carding Robert De Niro for his AIANY 2014 Heritage Ball Award.

 

 

Q: What do you want to achieve as the co-founder of Arbuckle Industries?

I want to continue to refine our production process to drive down the costs of very well crafted stories with beautifully captured cinematography. We are always pushing ourselves to improve process and quality by being continual students of the medium of film, its powerful marketing and business development abilities, and evolving as entrepreneurial designer-filmmakers. At Arbuckle we will continue to focus on our specialized niche of architectural filmmaking and our client base of architects, engineers, builders and developers, while expanding into more commercial markets with our narrative concepts.

We are also actively consulting architecture firms to see filmmaking as a new potential service they can offered to their own clients to then partner with a production company such as us to produce compelling stories about these great building and design investments in people’s communities, workplaces and homes. In addition, I will personally continue to pursue getting more courses of filmmaking into architecture schools across the country while I focus on my own upcoming course here in New York at Pratt Institute this spring.

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Ian capturing b-roll of Richard Meier and Dukho Yeon for a recent production.

 

 

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