The #HurricaneStrong home in Breezy Point, Queens, is the subject of the 2019 AIA Film Challenge seed film, Designed to Last: Blueprint for a Better Home.
Liz Moskowitz The #HurricaneStrong home in Breezy Point, Queens, is the subject of the 2019 AIA Film Challenge seed film, Designed to Last: Blueprint for a Better Home.

In 2014, AIA launched a large-scale awareness-building effort to educate the public about architects’ impact on society. Five years later, the Blueprint for Better campaign has become an Institute-wide outreach and advocacy initiative that seeks to connect architects with the public. Through innovative partnerships with HGTV, the Architecture and Design Film Festival, Wired magazine, and Chicago Ideas Week, AIA has engaged a broad spectrum of individuals, from working architects to civic leaders and school children, encouraging them to design a Blueprint for Better together.

The AIA Film Challenge, now in its fifth year, is a prime example of Blueprint for Better’s success, having yielded more than 240 documentary short films and hundreds of thousands of people’s choice votes. Each summer, filmmakers and architects are invited to tell stories about the important design work happening in their communities. Winning films in recent challenges have explored affordable housing solutions in cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Others have shed light on the need to save important cultural spaces and practices from Cleveland to Hawaii. Films submitted from around the world have demonstrated how design can overcome challenges related to public health, homelessness, climate change, preservation, and equity and inclusion.

But what about these films really speaks to viewers? As an audiovisual medium, film is the perhaps the only one that comes close to conveying the experience of the built environment. When vibrant imagery of the spaces we inhabit is layered with stories—first-person accounts from those encountering design problems and the architects working to solve them—the power of architecture can be understood in a new way.

“Too often, the value of architecture is based on the brand recognition of the architect who designed it and the prestige of the critics that comment on it, rather than [how] the whole creation process—as well as the beauty of the building—affect society for the better,” says Thatcher Bean, a film director at celebrated international nonprofit MASS Design Group. A 2018 AIA Film Challenge judge, Bean explores the intersection of design, social justice, and environmental sustainability in his films, reflecting the mission of MASS. He sees film as a vehicle for telling a holistic story of architecture and believes that the filmmaking process “brings value back to architecture by communicating the less often expressed social impact a building has.”

The social impact of design is truly at the heart of the AIA Film Challenge. Last year’s winning film Past/Presence: Saving the Spring Garden School depicted the transformation of a 90-year-old public school building in Philadelphia from an abandoned property into an affordable housing development for veterans. “I don’t think of it as an architecture film. I think of it as a story,” says filmmaker Cheryl Hess.

To tell that story, Hess focused her approach on the people involved in the project including architects from Kramer + Marks Architects, leaders from nonprofit HELP USA and the Philadelphia Housing Authority, as well current residents of the newly opened Lural Lee Blevins Veterans Center. “There’s a wide range of ways you can use film and architecture,” Hess says. “This building by itself without the residents and the people—I feel like it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. It’s a beautiful building, but as a work of art, the film wouldn’t have worked on that level. You need the human element.”

Participants of the 2019 AIA Film Challenge are working toward an August deadline. Marking the launch of the 2019 contest, a short documentary seed film, Designed to Last: Blueprint for a Better Home, highlights New York–based architect Illya Azaroff, AIA, who collaborated with federal agencies, experts, and building product manufacturers to design a new home capable of withstanding coastal disasters. The seed film is meant to serve as inspiration for other filmmakers.

As Blueprint for Better expands, AIA will continue to elevate such stories of architects and community leaders working together to create lasting change in the built environment.