Charles Renfro, AIA
Photography: Francesco Sapienza

Charles Renfro, AIA, constructs experiences. He is a partner at New York City–based Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a firm that has integrated the arts and architecture like few others. That intersection between tangible and cinematic is on display in Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line, a film about two of the firm’s more prominent urban projects that premiered at the Architecture & Design Film Festival in 2012 (directed by Muffie Dunn and Tom Piper). Here, Renfro makes a case for architecture and film’s inextricability.

Because the High Line is a linear park, there’s a prescribed path that a person would take through it that is similar to how a camera might experience it; there’s a direction, and a narrative unfolds. The space itself becomes a kind of character, a protagonist or antagonist in the production of life, thereby turning an everyday experience into a kind of filmic experience. Generally speaking, there’s no set way to experience a project or a building, but if the work is good you will get people to think and feel something new. That’s really what we’re after.

We began our careers as architects working in the art world. Often that led us to performance, theater, dance, and filmmaking—areas where we could control a point of view and deliver a predictable way.

It’s how we became interested in interrogating the culture of the everyday. We’ve also tried to interrogate the art forms themselves: the art of cinema and the space of the theater with its fourth wall. We’re interested in poking holes in typologies to let new experiences emerge. And we’ve tried to take some of those theatrical approaches into our architectural work over the past 15 years.

Film is interesting [but] a documentary film about architecture can never convey the actual experience of being there. And, any film with an edit has a point of view. It can’t simply be an index of a place. Yet a film does explain something better than a still can. A still, by nature, removes so much visual information that it cannot fully explain a place, not to mention time. Film can start to overcome that.

Architecture and film are both art forms that are acquired or apprehended through time and space. In architecture, your body is moving through the space; movement and direction and time add up to make a kind of cinema. In film, the camera is moving. More than any other art form, the connections are direct.—As told to Steve Cimino

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