Seeking to trace the Urban Interior as a point of origin and departure for Cinema

The Project Design Brief

12. 07. 21

For our project design brief, through careful and imaginative exploration we have been asked to consider urban space through a cinematic lens as both an intimate and exteriorised space. By tracing, analysing, remembering, recollecting urban and cinematic spaces it aims to bring together various design disciplines that might ultimately provoke innovative contemporary ways of seeing, designing and inhabiting space.

We will consider the development of Auckland as a city through imaging and imagining. Cinema played an important role in entertaining early settlers and for establishing a sense of Auckland as an urban centre on an international stage. While transforming from an early settlement town to an urban centre, there was a proliferation of cinemas in Auckland which provided social and shared fantasy space. The intersubjective relationships between Auckland citizens and the site seeing apparatus of cinemas, and more broadly filmmaking can be thought of as an archaeology of urban experience.

For this brief we have been asked to propose a design intervention or temporary event which further develops Fort Lane precinct as a public space. Our site Fort Lane, a service lane parallel to Queen Street, connects Fort Street (original foreshore of Commercial Bay) and Custom Street East (first street on top of reclaimed land built to support the export and import of goods into Auckland). Fort Lane spans the first extension of land out into the sea. Curiously, Fort Lane dips in the middle due to the reclaimed land sinking between the sea wall (Customs Street) and the reinforced sea shore (Fort Street). Fort Lane has been recently reconnected at this point through the Imperial Lane development. It is important that we are inquisitive and curious, and identify an aspect of the site that resonates with us, observing our responses to the site. What do I notice? What stands out? What do I tend to overlook? What is hidden, forgotten, covered over? What is problematic, missing or unseen?

Our design project will explore the Fort Lane site (including the exisiting buildings) in relation to a cinematic concept and/or process, such as frame, projection, sequence, movement and transition. Spatial design is always about the interrelationship between people and the environment, however it is up to us to propose a specific programme (design intervention) to enhance Fort Lane as a public place.

As part of our initial design brief response analysis to begin undergoing this newly exciting project, for our first design workshop we are to investigate and research into pre cinematic and cinematic devices and their long histories. Through doing this it starts a journey into wrapping my head around these new contextual frameworks and understandings of space through a cinematic lens. Firstly to gather and gain rich insights and understandings into these frameworks, I read and analysed passages from the written texts of Giuliana Bruno, Public Intimacy: Architecture and the Visual Arts (2007) and Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality and Media (2014). By drawing and developing on ideas discussed within these texts and in relation to the new studio brief, it will allow me to be able to see and perceive the site through this cinematic lens.

“Cinema emerged from an interactive geovisual culture“. Spaces for viewing, cabinets of curiosities became influential to film exhibition. Film exhibition developed in and around these intimate sites of public viewing – aesthetics of fractured, sequential and shifting views. Mobilisation of public space experientially implanted merging together images and spectators to enact this notion of display.

“The (im)mobile film spectator moves across an imaginary path traversing multiple sites and times”. A spectator perceiving and viewing space through various diverse dimensions, where memories become motion pictures stemmed from a narrative, mobile, architectural experience of site. “Places live in memory and revive in the moving image”.

“A movie theater – a house of haptic imaging, is an architecture of image collection for collective exploration”. Images reflective of the living world, ones that are emotionally striking to move us and pass through the doors into our memory archive.

“Architectural space upholding a series of imaginative moments, both from the past and waiting to occur in the future”. They are sites for our subjectivity and our imagination.

“Think of the city, whose existence is inseparable from its own image, for cities practically live in images, a city can be a canvas to be imaged and imagined”. A city comprises of its past histories and intricate layers of stories. The urban panorama – a perspective shift to wide format capturing the cities motion in sequential vista, narrative views and more fluid time. Image movement of the city can be projected in transformative ways on our own spatial unconscious.

Our first design workshop asks us to research into and construct a cinematic device as a way of site-seeing and site-mapping. Our cinematic device will enable a way of looking at the site through a cinematic lens, an approach we have not had towards site analysis previously as a way of engaging with a specific site. In order to obtain a better understanding of what upholds a cinematic device, we all researched into pre-cinematic and cinematic devices and how they have shifted and transitioned overtime.

Pre-Cinematic and Cinematic Devices

Research and Discoveries

In 1839, photography had arrived. Members of the French Science Academy listened in awe to the announcement that a process of fixing still images onto a light sensitive surface had been developed. However soon scientists and inventors began tinkering with this new technology, seeking to put these still images into motion. Such work demonstrated the potential for motion contained within photographic technology. Roughly 50 years after their advent, photographs would become the building blocks for the earliest moving pictures when they were sequenced on strips of paper, and later on celluloid, and set spinning in or rolling through various early inventions like the Praxinoscope and the Zoetrope.

With the introduction of the world’s first motion picture camera, the Kinetograph in 1890 ushered the earliest movies into existence. The Kinetograph was made possible, in part, by the recent introduction of strips of celluloid film. These were loaded into the device, recorded, and then viewed in another invention, a cabinet-like apparatus called the Kinetoscope. Beginning to merge technology with biology, the Kinetoscope (as well as the earlier, pre-cinematic devices) capitalised on a phenomenon called persistence of vision, which was well understood by the late 19th century, when we view still images in rapid succession. The first to present projected moving pictures to a paying audience were the Lumiere Brothers in December 1895 in Paris, France. They used a device of their own making, the Cinématographe, which was a camera, a projector and a film printer all in one.

The history of cinema must take into account certain social, cultural, and political changes during the 18th and 19th centuries, which enabled the success of commercialised leisure, such as magic lantern shows, panoramas, and, ultimately, the cinema. Industrialisation demanded technological innovations such as the railway, steamship, telegraph, telephone, and electric power to help accelerate the efficient production and circulation of natural resources, finished products, and workers to and through urban centers. Yet such inventions cannot be separated from the technologies used in new urban forms of entertainment. These changes led to an explosion in urban commercial entertainment. The history of the various forms of visual culture and entertainment that preceded the cinema developed from this broader social, political, and economic context, which might broadly be identified as “technological modernity.” Many of the devices that can be interpreted as precursors of film are also referred to as ‘philosophical toys’ or even ‘optical toys’.

Some of these precursors also include shadow play, camera obscura, magic lantern and motion pictures and animation. Shadow play being one of the earliest primitive projection of images. It evolved into more refined forms of shadow puppetry, mostly with flat jointed cut-out figures which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. Yet projection of images can occur naturally when rays of light pass through a small hole and produce an inverted image on a surface in a dark area behind the hole, known as camera obscura or pinhole image. The magic lantern on the inside has cut-out silhouettes attached to a shaft with a paper vane impeller on top, rotated by heated air rising from a lamp. The silhouettes are projected on the thin paper sides of the lantern and appear to chase each other, producing motion imagery of moving parts. Eventually through experimentation with superimpositions, dissolving views were invented, typically showing a landscape changing from one variation to the other, a shift in light. For motion pictures before film the Stroboscopic effect made the brain combine incomplete pictures on either side of a twirling cardboard disc into one logical image. The effect was incorrectly attributed to the so-called persistence of vision in the retina. The technology of the thaumatrope can also be used to display very simple and repetitive animation when each side of the card depicts one of two phases of an action.


Kinemacolor cine camera

By 1906, the principles of colour separation were used to produce so-called ‘natural colour’ moving images with the British Kinemacolor process, first presented to the public in 1909.

Frames of Stencil Colour Film

Technicolor cine camera

The early Technicolor processes from 1915 onwards were cumbersome and expensive, and colour was not used more widely until the introduction of its three‑colour process in 1932.

However in the early days of film theatre and the word “photoplay” was quite commonly used for motion pictures. This illustrates how a movie can be thought of as a photographed play. Much of the production for a live-action movie is similar to that of a theatre play. The famous movie pioneer Georges Melies was a theatre owner and illusionist who treated film as a means to create spectacles that were even more impressive than stage shows, with lavish stage designs and special effects where acts performed in front of a camera instead of an audience. During the 1930s and 1940s, cinema was the principal form of popular entertainment, with people often attending cinemas twice a week. Ornate ’super’ cinemas or ‘picture palaces’, offering extra facilities such as cafés and ballrooms, came to towns and cities; many of them could hold over 3,000 people in a single auditorium. But a few years after the introduction of cinema, movies started to deviate more and more from live theatre experiences when filmmakers became creative with the unique possibilities that the medium provided: editing, close-ups, camera movements and special effects, making direct influential use of current cinematic devices.

Cinema audience, 1932, James Jarché

In the past 20 years, film production has been profoundly altered by the impact of rapidly improving digital technology. Most mainstream productions are now shot on digital formats with subsequent processes, such as editing and special effects, undertaken on computers. Cinemas have invested in digital projection facilities capable of producing screen images that rival the sharpness, detail and brightness of traditional film projection. Only a small number of more specialist cinemas have retained film projection equipment. However in the past few years there has been a revival of interest in 3D features, sparked by the availability of digital technology.

Nowadays with technology continuing to ever expand overtime, Cinematic devices and techniques particularly ones utilised in film have developed in coherence with these technological advancements influential from pre-cinematic devices and discoveries. There is an ever growing list of differential film techniques and devices that are currently employed into the detailed and highly advanced cinematic productions being produced. Some of these techniques include camera angles, bridging shot, colour, cucoloris, cross cutting, dialogue, dissolving and dolly shots. In order to produce these varieties of camera angles, shots and frameworks, there are a multitude of extensive camera tracking equipment, tripods, lenses and attachments to allow for this to occur in establishment with detailed editing in the later processes. All these current and highly utilised techniques draw influences and are progressions from the array of previous cinematic devices and motion imagery generated in earlier times, all before the rapid technological advancements that we continue to see throughout film, theatre and production today.

Camera Filming Equipment

MoMA Learning. Film. Retrieved from https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/film/advent-of-cinema/

Encyclopedia. Pre-Cinema. Retrieved from https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pre-cinema

Wikipedia. (2021, May, 15). Precursors of Film. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precursors_of_film

Artimachines. (2015, Mar, 03). Pre-cinema devices. Retrieved from https://artimachines.com/en/portfolio/pre-cinema-devices/

Science and Media Museum. (2020, Jun, 18). A very short history of cinema. Retrieved from https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/very-short-history-of-cinema

Askinglot. (2020, Apr, 26). What is a cinematic device? Retrieved from https://askinglot.com/what-is-a-cinematic-device

Matrix Education. Film Techniques. Retrieved from https://www.matrix.edu.au/essential-guide-english-techniques/the-film-techniques-toolkit/

13. 07. 21

Progressing from our previous studio session, in our table groups we all researched, gathered and discussed each of our three chosen images of pre-cinematic and cinematic devices.

Drawing influences from both past and more current cinematic devices, I selected images looking into reflective projection surface, camera obscura, pictures in motion and camera dolly. Being particularly fascinated by both optical illusion, framing and through direct influences of camera movements, motion and angle shifts.

An array of pre cinematic and cinematic devices

As a collective group we were all drawn towards similar devices and the varying effects each one has within its influences or main usage in the current film industry. Leading up to these more technological advancements, many of these pre-cinematic devices were incredibly influential towards the developments of how we now view, perceive, understand and recognise film as not just ‘a series of moving images’.

Through utilising all this research, discoveries and gained insights into Cinematic devices did we begin to start generating ideas for our own device. My sourced research and chosen cinematic imagery will inform my design of a cinematic device and help to stimulate potential ideations for various ways of both seeing the site and documenting it. These cinematic devices will encourage and stem a new way of perceiving the site, bringing a new approach towards viewing it through a cinematic lens. From this research and collective group sharing session did I begin to experiment, ideate and sketch out an array of possible ideas for my cinematic device.

Development, Creation of Cinematic device

Within these sketches I explored the potentials of multiple ideas for how I could approach, construct and create a cinematic device to document the Fort Lane site. My array of ideas diversified from utilising transparent, reflective surfaces as a means of distorting or disturbing ones direct vision on the site, pinhole viewpoints or focusers to highlight specific elements present at the site, and through bodily movements to capture the site in motion. In order to test out these ideas I started experimenting with, constructing and prototyping all these ideas seeing how they could potentially work when in coherence with the site.

Pin hole perspective, drawing focus or emphasis towards particular elements

Incorporating varying materialities to create filtered affects, disturbing the direct vision through the pin hole

The Focuser, minimising ones view overtime to highlight a distinctive feature of the site

Blurred indentations, markings and textures as a means of distorting ones image or view

Movement in Motion, a contained apparatus that allows for the site to be captured in motion whilst traversing through it

When on our site visit to Fort Lane, I will take all my devised cinematic devices to see once at the site which device I wish to utilise as a means of site-mapping. This will allow me to recognise how I am responding to the site and which device could create and capture Fort Lane from a new perspective, and with a new perspective.

14. 07. 21




Fort Lane


The cutting of laneways through the exisiting heritage buildings reveals hidden and forgotten interiors and the recent Imperial Lane development, which connects Queen Street and Fort Lane, has revealed two of the earliest cinemas on Queen Street. The Queens theatre (Roxy Theatre) interior has been described as an assemblage of painted scenic images of New Zealand and an elaborate space with an ornamental ceiling. The theatre space creates an itinerary of NZ through image making.

In 2004 the Auckland Council began the renovation of Fort Street and Fort Lane with the intention of converting them into public shared streets. This transformation in some ways was a return to earlier times in Auckland when streets were places for people to congregate, to trade, and to parade. Activities in Fort Lane varies considerably between day and night time use of the laneway. The promise of the shared zone is somewhat compromised by the number of cars which still use the laneway as a shortcut.

However the challenge for our brief is to imagine the laneway differently, and to propose a design for one of the exisiting buildings, or spaces between or on top of buildings which enhances the public life of Fort Lane.

I was initially captivated by the strong, proceeding lines that draw your eyes both along and up the two interfacing building facades. The sun filtering in at either end threshold where the lane intersects with the rest of the city environment. Your gaze drawn upwards as you look through the buildings, the vibrant blue sky juxtaposing against the sharp, angular geometries of the site. What lies at either end of the lane is hidden due to ones perception as you look directly along the vertical. Each external plane appears flatter the deeper you focus into the depths of the lane. The sky draws focus and ones perspective pulls the eye upwards through the frame of the opposing building facades into the slices of the overarching blue beyond.

The prevailing external influences and surroundings of the Fort Lane Precinct. A sense of stillness in amongst chaotic movement, the continual fast pace of the city environment. A shift from daytime to nighttime culture and activity.

The city contains an extensive variety of materiality, textures and details, and the site was no different. An abundance of surface, each of which brings character, captivation, structure, practicality, purpose, and even enhancements to the city space. Some may be planned, composed, put into place for a particular existence, while others may have developed overtime, been added, altered or changed to produce or uphold a new intent. The Lane presents itself with a quirky, almost artistic flare, containing painted facades, interconnected light strips and heritage charm which all add to this sites allover character.

The built environment, the man made, artificial constructs in correlation to the natural, a contrast that doesn’t present itself to apparently within the city, however I am always captivated by it. Where nature, both wanted or unwanted can intertwine, and immerse itself into a place completely fabricated for purpose. The extrusion of greenery projecting out from the upper interiors seized my attention indefinitely.

The site drawn down to a collectivity of detailed signage, a subtle indication of ones interiors presence. Their exisiting habitation within Fort Lane.

A series of establishments camouflaged by the external facades, where they all hide within the building faces.

Doors and windows indicate their particular presence, however protruding signage recognises their existence. They become hidden gems concealed behind a juxtaposition of heritage buildings. They are only a small inkling to the unique internal spaces that one must explore to discover these idiosyncratic details.

After our initial explorations of the site, we began experimenting and documenting the site utilising our constructed cinematic devices. These devices allowed for a complete perspective shift and focus towards viewing the site in a whole new way, an approach that sees the site through a more cinematic lens. My response and engagement to the site completely altered as I began to document it with my device, one which captured my movement in motion.

Wandering, traversing, meandering through Fort Lane to capture movement in motion with my contained cinematic apparatus. Spinning, twisting, turning, a shifting of heights, direction and angles to generate a pendulum, swaying movement.

My Cinematic device in action, an active experimentation of Site Mapping

Exploration Site Documentation

A series of photographs generated from my Cinematic Device. Documenting the site using my cinematic motion apparatus. Perceiving the site with a completely new approach, one that studies the site through suspended movement veering in and out of focus.

From my diverse array of captured imagery of Fort Lane through the lens of my cinematic device, did I proceed to select, compose and develop a series of image spatial sequences.

Fort Lane Image Sequence Iteration Two. 16/07. Photography

Photographs taken from a filmic itinerary of the site depict Fort Lane through a suspended, cinematic apparatus. A blurred, motion quality highlights the relationship between the captured image and the bodily pendulum, gestures used to generate them. Details are focused erratically, and in direct action as one transfers in between the neighbouring building facades.

Fort Lane Image Sequence Iteration Four. 16/07. Photography

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