Reaa (760x507)

How a Team of 3 Shaped The Story of an Unconventional Architect

The first film in the “Look Up” documentary series, “An Architect’s Story: Chris Downey,” features an inspiring architect in San Francisco who is pioneering design for the blind. The film premiered during the AIA Conference in May.

Today, the next film in the series, “The Making of An Architect’s Story,” goes live and takes you behind the scenes with the creative team.

Watch “The Making of An Architect’s Story”


Reaa Puri and Nelsen Brazill, both filmmakers, teamed up with Sana Jahani, a fourth-year architecture student at the University of California, Berkeley, to tell the story of Chris Downey and the impact of his work in the community. All those involved came out of the experience with a new found appreciation for what it means to have vision and for the multi-sensory experience that makes up our everyday lives.

Nelsen, Director of Photography and Editor for both documentaries, embodied this learning from day one as he followed through on his vision and found creative ways to infuse a range of sensory details into the films. Both documentaries pay tribute to the powerful story of Chris Downey, as a visionary architect and as a mentor, and to the growth that can result from overcoming challenges.

Nelsen Brazill

Nelsen Brazill, DP and Editor for “The Making of An Architect’s Story,” sharpens his focus while Sana Jahani looks on. Photo: Beatrice Seifert.

We spent some time with Reaa and Sana to find out a bit more about what they learned along the way:

Q: Through the process of shooting this film, did you discover any similarities between the visual languages of architecture and filmmaking?

Reaa:

In film theory classes, cinematography reveals immense amount of information about narrative if you look close enough. One could do a sequence analysis on a series of shots and extract significant meaning through observing the framing, composition, and angles. With architecture, it’s quite similar. I realized that before this project, I had been very passive in understanding architecture, but when I started to look close enough, I noticed that there was in fact purpose and motive to every tiny visual detail in an architectural space. The fact that every little microscopic visual aspect in films and architecture have so much significance is quite remarkable and definitely makes me want to pay way more attention to my physical spaces, just much as I do when I’m watching a film.

Q: How was your experience collaborating with Reaa and Nelsen on this project?

Sana:

Working with Reaa and Nelsen pushed me to reflect back on my four years of architecture school and comprehensively explain to them what architecture is without using architectural terms or referencing buildings or architects that they didn’t know about. It forced me, in a way, to clear out the clutter from my mind and think about what architecture means at its core. Explaining to Reaa that architecture gave me a new lens to view the world through was a breakthrough moment for both of us because she then understood that her lens could be the tool that could allow others to see what I see.

Reea and Sana

Reaa and Sana reviewing footage on set of “An Architect’s Story: Chris Downey.” Photo: Beatrice Seifert.)

Q: Did collaborating with Sana impact your creative process in any way or the approach that you took to capturing the craft of architecture?

Reaa:

Definitely. Because I was approaching the subject from an extremely visual lens, collaborating with Sana made me reflect on how the architectural experience wasn’t just about the big picture, the skyscrapers, and tall buildings. Our collaboration taught me to equally emphasize the little details of architectural space, and I made it a point to equally capture those elements that sometimes go unnoticed. Besides capturing buildings and skyscrapers, I tried capturing more subtle elements of architectural space as well, like where the light or shadows fall in a space, curb cuts, handrails—things that are essential to how we navigate but we sometimes forget to appreciate at times.

CreativeTeam

The creative team sets the stage for the final interview with Chris at his office in San Francisco, California. Photo: Beatrice Seifert.

Want to tell your own “look up” story? The release of “The Making of An Architect’s Story” marks the launch of the Look Up Film Challenge registration period, a call for emerging filmmakers and architects everywhere to come together to tell stories of architecture and community impact. Learn more about the challenge opportunity and register to participate here: ilookup.org/filmchallenge