COMMENTARY ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

City branding through architecture and film industry

The film industry has been suffering as cinemas around the world are closed because of the pandemic. Hollywood set the worst box-office record since 1998 and almost all blockbuster films due for release from March 2020 were postponed. Per March 2020 alone, the global film industry has suffered a revenue loss of US$7 billion. But with the economy reopening in 2021, the film production is expected to return and cinemas reopened.

But what does film industry have anything to do with architecture? First of all, architecture can affect the construction of the cultural meanings of places. It can be used in conjunction with corporate identity to reflect corporate brand and be seen as one of the main tools for nationalistic expressions of identity. Hobbiton Movie Set in New Zealand would not become a famous tourist attraction if it weren’t for The Hobbit. Christ Church in Oxford University rose in popularity because it became the dining hall set of the Harry Potter movies.

What about cities and landmarks in Asia? The most recent one is probably Crazy Rich Asian, which was released in 2018. Besides taking Marina Bay Sands as one of the backdrops, it showcases the traditional Newton Hawker Centre, as well as Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in George Town. A heritage building like this, which combines Chinese and Malay architecture styles is carefully preserved in Malaysia. Featuring it in a film will not just make it known to a wider audience, but also showcases how the country values its history and national identity.

There are many other landmarks in Malaysia or Singapore used as a film set. Anna and the King took place entirely in Malaysia, from Ipoh Train Station to Kellie’s Castle in Perak and Telaga Harbour on Lengkawi Island. Petronas Towers has appeared in many films, including Fair Game and Independence Day: Resurgence. And the list goes on. Whether or not such features have an impact on the city branding is a question yet to be answered by actual research but it’s not too hard to imagine that after watching a film, viewers may want to visit the countries seen in the film, motivated either by the scenery, the landscape or the cultural attractions as depicted in the film.

Cities with distinct cultures and recognisable architectural features or landmarks are often more popular than those without them. Some cities that lack those unique features may go far to reconstruct their architecture to invent new identities and rebrand themselves so that they can improve their positioning on the world stage. Some other cities with rich cultural artefacts keep the focus on adaptive reuse and refurbishment to preserve or shape the identity. One thing that is often overlooked is the impact of externalities such as the film industry on city branding.– Construction+ Online