Mark Noonan’s documentary introduces audiences to the Pritzker Prize-winning, Irish-American architect Kevin Roche. Responsible for over 300 major buildings around the world, Roche has designed museums, corporate headquarters, research facilities, performing arts centres, theatres, and campus buildings for universities. Some of his best known work includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the revolutionary Oakland Museum of California, the Ford Foundation and United Nations Plaza in Manhattan, A Centre For the Arts at the Wesleyan University, corporate campuses for Bouygues in Paris and Banco Santander in Madrid.
Noonan’s film Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect shines a light on a true Irish visionary, whose architectural philosophy is that ‘the responsibility of the modern architect is to create a community for a modern society’ and has emphasised the importance for peoples well-being to bring nature into the buildings they inhabit.
Noonan describes how the film came into being.”It began when I was approached by my producer, who had an idea about doing a movie about this architect called Kevin Roche, whom I had never actually heard of, even though I studied architecture. So I did a bit of research on him and discovered that he was quite a fascinating individual with a huge body of work, all over the world. He was born in Ireland, educated in Ireland and then left in his mid 20s to go to America. That all got me quite excited and so I started to develop the idea with the producer.
“Quite early on I approached Kate McCullough [DoP], whom I’d always wanted to work with – she was very excited about bringing her visual sensibility to some of Roche’s buildings.. We shot a short promo and started to map out the visual language that we wanted to use, which was very much trying to put the viewer inside and outside – so, if we were inside the building it was very elegant tracking shots as if they were moving through the building and then for some of his more large-scale work we talked about helicopters and drones, to give life to the buildings from above – a God’s eye view almost.
We also talked about tilt-shift lenses and using focus to actually draw the eye to different diagonals of the buildings – some of his buildings look like they’ve been created by a mad genius. They are very particular, very impressionistic. It was very important to film the buildings and describe them visually.”
Noonan started making the film without having actually met Roche, which he admits was a huge gamble, “when you’re making a film about a subject and you’re not sure what is this guy going to be like both in person and on camera. But very quickly I saw similarities between him and his work. Walking around his buildings you get this sense of calmness, this sense of stoicism… an elegant unfolding of spaces, and in person he is this very philosophical, poetic, grounded individual. So we were able to make that connection between his personality and his buildings. At some stage though in the film we try to let the buildings speak for themselves. Kevin’s so tied up in his work as you see in the film, his whole life has become his work almost that we feel like we’re describing large chunks of his personality with some of the buildings. So rather than it just be him, or other people telling us about him, we give you the buildings and let them tell the story as well.”
A major reason Noonan is able to achieve this so well in the film is because of Kate McCullough’s glistening cinematography which douses the buildings with a lofty and roaming, revealing eye. Mark is quick to praise McCullough, explaining what she brought to the project. “She’s got an amazing eye. She’d be walking around a building and suggesting shots that I would never have thought about. She has a unique way of looking at things. Plus, she’s not afraid to push the visual aesthetic, to get me and the producer to give the time and get the money to hire helicopters and get drones so that we were able to get the amazing shots that we ended up with in the film. And always not to compromise on lenses – we had this idea of doing a lot of the interviews extremely wide angled but with a soft focus in the background. We had to hire extremely expensive lenses in London that allowed us to give our interview subjects this wide angled feel that we were using in the building to connect the interviews with the building. These kinds of ways of linking the story to the people and pushing the visual aesthetic were some of her greatest gifts.”
Reflecting on his time with Kevin Roche himself, Noonan notes the parallels between Kevin and filmmakers like himself. “You live through your work. Kevin’s obsessed with architecture and I’m obsessed with cinema and filmmaking,” and how he learnt from the experience seeing “how satisfied he [Roche] was by devoting most of his life to his work. He has no regrets. Never looks back. Never questions any decisions. Trusts his instincts… but also then remains philosophical and hopeful about humans as well, even though maybe now is not the most hopeful time we’ve lived through, but still feels that what he’s doing is important and that he’s bringing joy to people. Its great to be around someone like that.”
Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect is in cinemas from 13th October 2017