Three locals who appreciate the power of great design have launched a free documentary film series on the subject at Burlington City Arts. University of Vermont art professor Lynda McIntyre, TruexCullins architectural designer Andrew Chardain and Vermont Eco-Floors co-owner Karen Frost have no agenda, they insist, beyond sharing their enthusiasm for design with others.
Calling it the “Architecture + Design Film Series,” the three have chosen eight documentaries, to be shown on Tuesday nights once a month, about everything from Norway-based Todd Saunders’ stunning geometric houses to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Some films explore icons such as American midcentury furniture designers Ray and Charles Eames, British architect Norman Foster and British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, who makes ephemeral art from natural phenomena such as icicles and leaves. Others address less familiar topics. Unfinished Spaces is about the uneven fate of Cuba’s arts college. If You Build It documents an effort in North Carolina to change the course of low-income high school kids’ lives through a design class.
McIntyre, Chardain and Frost — the “triumvirate,” as McIntyre calls her team — spent the past year viewing more than 200 films about design and architecture before singling out these eight. The most important criterion, says McIntyre, was that “each film had to be exquisite.” That is, not only about compelling design, but compelling to watch.
Urbanized (2011), which opened the series last Tuesday night, fit the bill — and people seemed to know it, judging by the attentive utterances of the surprisingly large crowd that showed up. After chatting over pizza donated by American Flatbread Burlington Hearth and drinks from the cash bar, more than 60 people crowded into the second-floor room at the BCA Center.
Directed by Gary Hustwit, the movie was beautifully done, making tightly edited shots of city dwellers pushing pedestrian buttons at intersections as captivating as before-and-after pans of the High Line in New York City. The latter, a disused elevated railway, was remade as an unfailingly photogenic park by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro and landscape architects James Corner Field Operations.
“I’ve seen [Urbanized] five times,” admits Chardain, who has been with TruexCullins for three years and is a designer on the King Street Center’s $4.5 million renovation. “There’s so much content to it that every time you watch it, you pull something different out of it. We liked it because it related to planning issues that we should consciously be thinking about in our everyday lives here in Burlington — like Plan BTV.”
Chardain met McIntyre a year ago at a dinner following the annual Roland Batten architecture lecture at UVM — a series named after McIntyre’s late husband, an architect who renovated the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and designed the existing King Street Center, among other local projects. Seated together, the two wondered why Burlington had no public forum on design and decided “on a whim,” as McIntyre puts it, to start a film series on the subject.
Soon after, McIntyre, who lives in Shelburne, ran into Frost at August First bakery in Burlington. Frost had taken a class with McIntyre as an art-history major at UVM (’82), and the two had kept in touch while Frost and her husband got their Charlotte concrete-floors business off the ground. Both women had recently seen My Architect (2003), a documentary about Louis Kahn by the architect’s son. When McIntyre mentioned the film series idea, Frost offered to help.
Frost and Chardain, it turned out, had both just attended the American Institute of Architects’ New England chapter conference. Hosted by AIA Vermont in Burlington last year, the meeting helped generate enthusiasm about local initiatives such as Plan BTV, the Moran Plant’s potential future and the Champlain Parkway. “We were feeling very excited about the momentum around these things,” Frost explains. The three immediately began vetting films and emailing one another their reactions, and they met once a month for a year.
Aid was offered wherever they turned, says the trio. Vermont International Film Festival director Orly Yadin gave tips on how to vet 200-plus movies. BCA art director Ted Olson and communications director Eric Ford created appealing publicity materials. Several donors and sponsors, including the Roland Batten Fund, TruexCullins and Vermont Eco-Floors, enabled the series to be offered free of charge.
The lead, however, came from McIntyre, a landscape and abstract painter with a vibrant presence who wore a bright cerise blouse bound with an oversized decorative belt at the opening. Most of the films are available on Netflix, she admitted in her introduction, but seeing the movies that way is “so different from being in a place with people who are interested in aesthetics.” She hopes the series will generate “creative, passionate gatherings” that “create awareness and connections.”
She and her team were happy to land the BCA Center as a venue, McIntyre says, because it can draw in “people walking downtown, businesspeople, everyone — so that they start to think about the impact design has.”
Some residents, she admits, simply don’t register that impact. “But 80 percent of people, I’d say, know when they step into a space and feel good. They may not know why, but they know it.”
“Architecture + Design Film Series,” monthly at BCA Center in Burlington. The next film is Maya Lin: A Clear Strong Vision, Tuesday, October 15, at 6:30 p.m. Check the calendar at burlingtoncityarts.org for the upcoming dates.