The architecture and environmental design of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Storytelling is undoubtedly one of the oldest informative tools; a universal language that has transcended generations and cultures, and has been adapted into different media such as video games, theater and cinema. No matter how old the stories are, the success of these adaptations relies heavily on the production – the visuals and sound – and their ability to allow viewers to fully immerse themselves in the storyline. In this article, we explore the magical and captivating world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how architecture played an important role in contributing to the movies’ notorious storylines.

Asgard in Thor.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.comAsgard in Thor.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.comShuri's lab in Black Panther.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.comIron Man's Cliff House.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com+ 14

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the most important and successful superhero sagas in modern cinema. Produced by Marvel Studios, the film franchise is an adaptation of American comic books published by Marvel Comics and explores the stories of various superheroes from across the universe and how they “combat enemies who threaten the existence of their world”. Although many MCU films feature crossovers from each other, each flaunts a unique storyline, plot, timeline, and visual identity, building the scene. The staging of a film describes the overall setting of a scene, which includes everything visible on camera and everything that contributes to the visual nature of a production. One of the most important components of a film scene is undoubtedly the architecture and design of the environment, as they are able to influence the authenticity of the plot of the story and the way whose spectators and actors engage in it.

Doctor Strange.  Image © 2016 Marvel.  Courtesy of ILM.  under fair use
Doctor Strange. Image © 2016 Marvel. Courtesy of ILM. under fair use

In the case of MCU movies, the cities and structures used play a huge role in the storytelling of the movies. Depending on the location of the story, the production designers mixed real-life locations, such as the bustling streets of Manhattan or Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal, with futuristic and out-of-this-world locations. of the common to create this duality. of fiction and reality, one of the most striking characteristics of the whole saga. For example, this duality is strongly present in “Doctor Strange”, a film which notably revolves around the alternation between dimensions and places. Through visual effects and computer-generated graphics, the creators of “Doctor Strange” have chosen to highlight the notion of “distorting reality” by distorting orderly and structured architecture, and transforming all its elements: arches, windows, lighting, etc., into enigmatic kaleidoscopic patterns.

Read on to find out how the storyline and environmental design correlate to Iron Man, Thor, and Black Panther, 3 of the 27 MCU movies to date, plus an outline of the design process from the MCU’s production designer. , Ra Vincent.

Iron Man

Iron Man's Cliff House.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Iron Man’s Cliff House. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com

One of the first MCU movies, Iron Man, stars Tony Stark, a self-proclaimed genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist. The character is a genius inventor who was kidnapped and forced to build destructive weapons, but instead of complying, built a high-tech suit and escaped from imprisonment. Located on the cliffs of California, Tony Stark’s mansion is the perfect embodiment of his luxurious, futuristic, tech-driven “go-big-or-go-home” character. The mansion, which also includes his private lab, features stainless steel, glass elements, floor-to-ceiling glass facades, white concrete and interactive surfaces, filmed in a real private residence in California and inspired by the Razor House in La Jolla. . Complementing the modern interior design appeal, furnishings throughout the home are kept clean and minimal, and neatly organized in the open-concept hallways. The exterior, however, is a computer-generated structure that reflects “simplicity with an extravagant touch”. The design was inspired by existing billionaire homes in the area, with added futuristic appeal from irregularly shaped silhouettes.

Iron Man's Cliff House.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Iron Man’s Cliff House. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Iron Man's Cliff House.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Iron Man’s Cliff House. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com

I respond to the written word first, sometimes a script will be really descriptive and visual and so your imagination forms the environment for you. The characters that inhabit the spaces may have certain characteristic traits that are reflected in the dressing of the environment. The scene that plays out in this space is super important. If there are a lot of characters or if it’s an important dramatic moment in the story, I’m tempted to make the background simpler so as not to distract from the scene. –Ra Vincent

Thor

Asgard in Thor.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Asgard in Thor. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com

Set in the mystical realms of Asgard, Thor’s story revolves around his legacy of the throne of his aging father Odin, king of the Norse gods, and the obstacles he encounters, such as being banished to Earth, before his coronation. As mentioned earlier, MCU films incorporate a lot of duality between reality and fantasy, and Thor is no exception. Asgard is a small, flat, asteroid-like planetary body floating in the void, hosted by aliens, gods, and creatures with human physique. The citadel of Asgard, home of the royal family, is one of the film’s most striking settings. Mainly generated by computer software, the citadel features intricate architectural details that signify the social status and wealth of the family. Interiors see excessive use of gold, vaulting, colonnades, geometric shapes and ornamentation, with architectural elements and spatial arrangements that illustrate hierarchy and circulation. As for the layout of the city itself, it was influenced by complex geometric shapes to indicate a world of organized chaos, hinting at an otherworldly and lavish version of ancient Greece with a collection of elaborate buildings. , spiers, pyramids, statues, terraces and columns.

Asgard in Thor.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Asgard in Thor. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Asgard in Thor.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Asgard in Thor. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com

A lot of times when it comes to period film design, I do some extensive research and then start to mess up the convention a bit. No world is a perfect instruction manual for architecture. –Ra Vincent

Black Panther

Wakanda in Black Panther.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Wakanda in Black Panther. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com

One of the most acclaimed MCU films is Black Panther, which is set in the fictional “afrofuturistic” Wakanda. The award-winning film tells the story of Prince T’challa, who becomes heir to the throne after his father’s death and is challenged by another proclaimed rightful heir. The rest of the world thinks of Wakanda as a primitive farming nation, when in fact it holds the highest amounts of vibranium, the “strongest metal on earth” and the primary material for MCU weapons. As set designer Hannah Beachler explains, traditional African architecture was the starting point for Wakanda’s architecture and urban planning, combined with unprecedented technology, automation and innovation due to the abundance of Vibranium in the country. To create Wakanda, the designer traveled across Africa and South Korea to research people, architecture and geography, and observe the habits and lifestyles of different tribes. One of the film’s biggest environmental design inspirations was Zaha Hadid, particularly the DDP building in Seoul and Wangjing SOHO in Beijing, which “were curved and futuristic, but had references to natural elements”.

Shuri's lab in Black Panther.  Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com
Shuri’s lab in Black Panther. Image © Marvel via marvel-movies.fandom.com

The buildings of Wakanda are a compilation of towers, mid-rise buildings, and native huts, surrounded by bodies of water and lush landscapes. All the buildings have references to African architecture, using conical thatched roofs, earth tones and natural materials. Regarding the interiors of the laboratory of Shuri, Prince T’Challa’s sister and the mastermind behind Wakanda’s weapons and costumes, the design was intentionally designed to contrast the native essence of Wakanda and present the technologically advanced part of the country with reflective and interactive surfaces, glass, fixtures and steel structures, combined with vibrant African tribal patterns.

This article is part of the ArchDaily topics: The Future of Architectural Visualizations, proudly brought to you by Enscape, the most intuitive real-time rendering and virtual reality plugin for Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Archicad, and Vectorworks. Enscape connects directly to your modeling software, giving you an integrated visualization and design workflow.

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