Architecture is a funny business. Often commissions are determined through open competitions, judged by bureaucrats, politicians, and philistines. Nevertheless, the architectural partnership of Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton has had remarkable success building high profile sustainable, post-postmodern structures. For three months, the late Harun Farocki documented their work in Sauerbruch Hutton Architects (trailer here), which screens as a Projections selection at the 52nd New York Film Festival.
Farocki had certain ground rules, such as no editing out of actual chronological sequence and absolutely positively no talking head interviews. The office simply goes about their business as usual. One thing that will immediately strike viewers is the genuine collaborative nature of the work. Both name-on-the-door architects are open to a lot of bouncing ideas around and challenging viewpoints. A winning competition entry might not be the work of Sauerbruch or Hutton alone, but the fruits of the entire office’s labor. Promising associates even get their own assignments, like the designer dauntingly tasked with reinventing the folding chair.
Farocki also shows us the audience the joys of up-managing clients, particularly local governmental bodies. When a key decision-maker suddenly balks at the settled color scheme for a new university building in Potsdam, Hutton looks ready to strangle her on the spot, but she maintains her composure and negotiates a livable compromise.
Clearly fitting Farocki’s “Direct Cinema” rubric, SHA is definitely fly-on-the-wall observational cinema. Given its aesthetic kinship to Frederick Wiseman’s work, it seems rather arbitrary the Titicut Follies documentarian’s latest three hour study is included in NYFF’s Documentary Spotlight, but Farocki’s manageable seventy-three minute SHA is relegated to the vaguely avant-garde Projections section, but as a Marxist like Farocki must know, life is not fair.