Filmmaker Gary Hustwit's films have transformed the design process into a cinematic experience, tracing the role of designers in culture through the graphic environment with Helvetica and manufactured environment with Objectified. And now, for the final film in his design trilogy, Hustwit will train his camera on the built environment, more specifically, the design of cities. Urbanized will focus on the people and strategies behind urban design, Hustwit told me today, while, fittingly, weaving through traffic in Manhattan.
"I didn't know I would be making a film about cities when I made Helvetica but now when I watch it, it's so obvious," he says of his interest in urban issues. "Helvetica is about signage in urban space, how words and letters work in the visual environment, and if you look at Objectified, so much of it is outside, how these objects are used in public space."
Also in the three years since Helvetica was made, Hustwit has watched as the world's attention has shifted back toward cities—places where 75% of the earth's population will live by 2050, and the places that need the most attention devoted to them by designers, he says. "In a lot of ways it's the most important way that design affects our lives on a daily basis—where you live and where you work and how you get there."
"In a lot of ways it's the most important way that design affects our lives on a daily basis."
Urbanized will focus on specific urban design and planning projects, which Hustwit says will stand in as "avatars" for the way cities approach different issues. For the last nine months, while Hustwit was traveling the world screening the Objectfied film, he brought his cameras and filmed b-roll of city scenes from markets to construction sites in places like Seoul, Sao Paulo, and Istanbul. And while he won't say more about which cities and projects specifically are featured, that city in the film's graphic? That's Las Vegas. Hmmm...will CityCenter make a cameo?
While Urbanized will feature the signature superstar architects and city planners and politicians and commercial developers, Hustwit says he will also feature non-designers who have had a role in shaping their communities. "People take it for granted that they have to wait in traffic or that a certain part of the city will always be rundown," he says, noting that it's those empowered citizens who often originate "really creative, modest but brilliant solutions." Hustwit stresses that Urbanized will focus on getting people to understand that they can change their cities themselves.
Although he's tight-lipped about content, he made the announcement now in order to open up a dialogue with projects that he thinks still await discovery. "With urban design it's really incremental," he says. "In some cases it is about creating these massive city projects, but much of the time it's about small, local improvement." Those are the kinds of projects he still hopes to learn about during the second half of filming.
Hustwit anticipates another six months of shooting—once again working with cinematographer Luke Geissbuhler and L.A.-based musicians El Ten Eleven, who will score the film—and he says to watch the film's website and his Twitter for more details. Urbanized will premiere in 2011 and, I think I can safely presume, will be coming to a city near you.