Architecture and the Moving Image: City, Culture and Identity

Submitting Institution

University of Liverpool

Unit of Assessment

Architecture, Built Environment and Planning

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies

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Summary of the impact

Interdisciplinary research by the Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts (CAVA), based in the School of Architecture, is on the role of the moving image in the culture and identity of cities. By examining historic film, current trends and future developments in city branding and digital imaging, a new field of research has developed with three types of beneficiary: (1) institutions (museums and galleries); (2) municipal authorities (planning/urban development departments); (3) inhabitants of and visitors to cities. Liverpool's European Capital of Culture programme (2008) formed the basis of the research, which has spread nationally (London/Battersea) and internationally (China).

Underpinning research

Though an extensive archive of films about urban places exists, only with the advent of digital technology has it become possible to make use of this resource as a tool in the understanding and discussion of the design of our cities. The research by CAVA showed how it was possible to integrate this filmic resource with other existing resources (North West Film Archive, English Heritage) and developing sources (British Film Institute Screenonline) to strengthen both public and professional understanding of how the physical form of the city has developed and how it might change in future. In addition, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, interactive locative media, and mobile digital devices are being used to integrate film with the direct physical experience of the city, combining the virtual with the real.

The projects City in Film (AHRC) and Mapping the City in Film (AHRC) were amongst the first to use GIS in an arts and humanities context and provided the UK's first comprehensive study of filmic heritage of a city (Liverpool). The project has brought together and documented to date over 1700 films about the city between 1897 and 1984. The research group assembled a spatially organised film database, allowing practitioners and the public to search and locate archive material by, for example, spatial function or usage. Developing these methods, Cinematic Geographies of Battersea (AHRC) created a mobile database of nearly 600 archive films, allowing researchers and the public to discuss and actively engage with issues around city and film heritage. The three projects generated made accessible and contextualised data — using e.g. physical screenings/installations, locative media applications and pioneering techniques such as GIS, GPS geo-fencing, 3D, augmented reality — that otherwise would not be available.

In developing these new resources, the research group collaborated with public institutions, both in the UK (including North West Film Archive, British Film Institute and English Heritage) and overseas (Nanning City Planning Office, China), to establish approaches and applications, which can be used worldwide and which have directly influenced subsequent work on other cities. Examples of this influence are: the filmic mapping of "Postwar Architecture and the City in Greece, 1950-2010" (Alifragkis, University of Thessaly), "Cinematic Rotterdam" (Paalman, University of Amsterdam), and "Film. Stadt. Wien: A transdisciplinary exploration of Vienna as a Cinematic City" (Mattl, Ludwig Boltzmann-Institut für Geschichte und Gesellschaft).

The European Capital of Culture, 2008, provided the main impetus to this research direction. The public events and exhibitions formed a key focus and this has continued, e.g. at the Shanghai Expo 2010, Maxxi (Rome) 2011 and National Museums of Liverpool 2012. The research group is now collaborating with the Survey of London (English Heritage) on the project Cinematic Geographies of Battersea, as part of the Survey of London's study of Battersea (due for completion 2014), and advising the Education and Cultural Executive Agency of the European Commission in Brussels (2012-date).

Research group:
Academic Staff: Prof. Robert Kronenburg (1995-present), Prof. Richard Koeck (2006-present)
Research Staff: Dr Les Roberts (2006-10), Dr. Ryan Shand (2008-10), Dr M. Flintham (2012-13)
Collaborating Researchers: Dr. Julia Hallam (UofL, Communications and Media, 2006-10), Prof.
Francois Penz (University of Cambridge, 2012-13)

References to the research

Peer reviewed publications (ordered by date):

[1] Koeck, R. (2012). Cine-Scapes: Cinematic Spaces in Architecture and Cities, London/New York, Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-60079-8. Sole authored book.

[2] Roberts, L. (2012). Film. Mobility and Urban Space: a Cinematic Geography of Liverpool. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-1846317576. Sole authored book.


[3] Koeck, R. (2012) ‘Space, Cinema and Structure’ (空间的影像构造), Architectural Journal (建筑学报 ), Vol. 9, pp. 80-85. ISSN 0529-1300. Journal article. [leading academic architectural journal in China]

[4] Koeck, R. and Roberts, L. (eds.) (2010) The City and the Moving Image: Urban Projections, London: Palgrave. ISBN 978-0-230-24338-5. Edited book.

[5] Hallam, J. and Roberts, L. (2011) `Mapping, memory and the city: archives, databases and film historiography', European Journal of Cultural Studies, Sage, Vol 14:3, 355-372. ISSN 1367-5494. Journal article.


[6] Koeck, R. (2009), `Liverpool in Film: J. A. L. Promio's Cinematic Urban Space' in Early Popular Visual Culture, London: Taylor & Francis Publication, Vol 7 (1): 63-81. ISSN 1746-0654. Journal article.


Key research grants:

2013 2013 2 x AHRC Creative Exchange KE grant: Open Planning (£7,500) (Koeck CI with Royal College of Art) + Rhythmanalysis (£15,500) (Koeck CI with University of Lancaster).
2013 AHRC Cultural Engagement Fund, Beyond the Constructivist Museum, £10,000 (Koeck PI, partner Tate Liverpool).
2012-13 AHRC (£196,395) Cinematic Geographies of Battersea: Urban Interface & Site-Specific Spatial Knowledge (Koeck PI)
2011-15 National Science Foundation of China (£50,000) Quantitative Study of the Narrative System in Historic Urban Environments (Koeck CI, with Central South University/China and University of Cambridge)
2009-11 North West Vision & Media (£20,290) Lumière and the Liverpool Overhead Railway (Koeck PI).
2008-10 AHRC (£377,188) Mapping the City in Film (Hallam PI, Kronenburg CI); RAs: Roberts, Shand. (AHRC reviewer of final project report: this project achieved ‘substantial impact in the city and other community areas’, promoted ‘extensive networking and collaboration’, ‘very efficient use of resource’.
2006-08 AHRC (£195,460) City in Film: Liverpool’s urban landscape and the moving-image’ (Hallam PI, Kronenburg CI). RAs Koeck, Roberts.

Details of the impact

Working in partnership with national and international film archives, museums and stakeholders in `visual arts' and `urban heritage', CAVA's research activities have made key contributions to the enhancement of the understanding and shaping of public attitudes towards archival film culture. Evidence of this can be found in published material where the work is cited (e.g., Bate 2010: 95; Velez-Serna 2011: 544-46); TV/Radio, press and media coverage (e.g., BBC, ITV, GMTV); and impact reports (e.g. Impact 08; AHRC reviews) linked to Liverpool's nomination as European Capital of Culture 2008. Our three consecutive AHRC projects, on film and cities, contributed to the national `Screen Heritage UK' programme. Liverpool received special mention as `a very successful programme' in the British Film Institute's report to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, in its inquiry into the British film and television industries, 2009. The BFI relied on this work when preparing its subsequent `Portrait of Britain' national project.

The reach and significance of our research into cinematic geography, archaeology and place is in three specific areas:

1. Enhancements to heritage preservation, conservation and presentation:
a) Film Databases, 2008, 2014: The creation of two city film databases (City in Film and Cinematic Geographies of Battersea) has transformed the way researchers, practitioners and the public can interrogate film archives. Web statistics show that several thousand visitors used the resource.

b) BFI Screenonline 2008-9: Collaboration with the BFI on the Liverpool Screenonline project, the UK's first film archive of a city (45,000 users by March 2013), was developed and made available to schools, universities and public libraries. Organisation of nine screening/discussion events with local filmmakers, artists, community activists, which were attended by between 30 and 800 participants.

c) Mitchell and Kenyon, St George's Hall, 2008: With Prof. Toulmin (Sheffield University) and the BFI, as part of Liverpool's 2008 European Capital of Culture programme, re-enacted the screening of material from one of the UK's most important film archives — Mitchell and Kenyon's Liverpool Films (1901/2). The first venue in Liverpool had an audience of over 1,000. The screening had impact in terms of engaging the public with the history of the city using archive film and on people's memory of the city (Liverpool Echo, 30.04.08; Daily Post, 06.05.08), TV (ITV) and radio (BBC Merseyside).

2. Production of cultural artefacts to enhance cultural understanding of place and people:
a) Members of the research group were consultants to Hurricane Films for Terrence Davis' film Of Time and the City, 2008, and used archive footage sourced through their research. The contribution is acknowledged in the film credits. The digital database by Koeck and Roberts, including the retrieval and study of films at the North West Film Archive, enabled filmmakers to create the first Liverpool feature-length film composed entirely from archive footage. The film was screened and received special mention at Cannes Film Festival 2008; nominations for a BAFTA and British Independent Film Award (Best British Documentary, 2008) and a New York Film Critics Circle Award (2009), and positive newspaper reviews e.g. in The Guardian.

b) Two installations at the National Museums of Liverpool (NML), 2011-12: Lumière and the Overhead Railway and Mapping the City in Film provided opportunities for two permanent exhibitions, utilising animation, historical maps and interactive displays at the Museum. The work provided previously unknown spatial context of the earliest Liverpool films. It was the most visited museum outside London in 2011-12. Lectures were attended by more than 1000 people and were reported on the History Network in the USA.

3. Stimulation of public debate:
a) Urban Planning Strategies: Koeck served as consultant to Nanning (2010), Macau (2011) and Nanjing (2012) to develop with them film/visual culture-based strategies for city branding and urban regeneration. The Nanning Urban and Rural Planning Bureau subsequently revised its development into a regeneration, which included the preservation of a historical inner-city district. This change in policy, with greater emphasis on "cultural industry" and "cultural heritage", was publically announced by the government.

b) English Heritage was a partner on Cinematic Geographies of Battersea (2012-13). This project led to new understanding regarding the role of moving images/film for the UK's cultural heritage as well as the use of digital and social media to `stitch' cultural history back into urban space. It is the first time that The Survey of London (founded 1894) has referenced this role of film in the context of an investigation of urban/architectural heritage.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. The Senior Curator in the British Film Institute National Archive can be contacted to corroborate that our AHRC research on Liverpool films provided the context/opportunity for the BFI's Screenonline Liverpool: A City in Film initiative; the first city-based archival project of its kind, accessible to schools/museums/libraries all over the UK. He can corroborate our roles, user numbers and impact on users.
  2. The Director of the Museum of Liverpool (National Museums Liverpool) can be contacted to corroborate our collaboration with the Museum; specifically on the LOR Lumiere installation. She can verify the key role of staff and the underlying research on the inception, planning, execution and proliferation (lecture series; screenings). She can also corroborate: the evidence of visitor numbers and surveys; the national importance of this installation; and its impact on local communities.
  3. The Head and General Editor of the Survey of London/English Heritage can be contacted to verify our collaboration with the Survey of London as part of the AHRC Cinematic Geographies of Battersea. He can corroborate links to the publication of a key volume on Battersea; impact on the organisation; and the pioneering use of film in the context of rigorous investigation of urban/architectural heritage.
  4. The Director/Producer of Hurricane Films Liverpool can be contacted to corroborate that our AHRC research on Liverpool films made important contributions — from inception to production — to the award winning film `Of Time and the City' (Terence Davis, 2008). He can corroborate the importance of our research, our role as consultants, and the impact the film had worldwide.
  5. The Chair of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Nanjing University can be contacted to: corroborate all our "film and city" research/consultancy activities in China; verify the pioneering use of film in the context of urban planning; corroborate that the Nanning Urban/Rural Planning Bureau invited Koeck as advisor; and corroborate its subsequent revision of its CBD-oriented development to include cultural-led regeneration/preservation strategies.
  6. The Liverpool: City in Film database was announced by the BBC, with a direct link to the database provided. The story also featured on BBC Radio Merseyside and on local TV and press, for example in the Liverpool Daily Post. This corroborates our claim that this output from our research has been opened to public engagement.
  7. BFI evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications (Government reports) refers to the influence and impact of our research and how our collaboration with Screenonline has had an impact on the BFI's Screen Heritage UK project. It states that "this latest innovative online resource will give everyone in Britain a unique insight into their social, cultural and political heritage as seen on film and television."
  8. Impacts08 Report and Media Impact Assessment report (e.g. p. 3, 40, 44) provide evidence that exposing our research on `film and the city' to a large public audience and media — in line with European Capital of Culture activities (e.g. though film productions, screening, exhibition and public lectures as well as collaboration with all key cultural instructions in the city) — contributed to a significant increase in cultural understanding and shaping of public attitudes and values towards archival film culture as well as, in terms of financial revenue from film production, promoted Liverpool as second most filmed city in the UK.
  9. Bate, J. (ed.) (2010), The Public Value of the Humanities, London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 94-6, provides evidence of the public value and impact of the Liverpool Mitchell & Kenyon screening (2008). He refers to the importance of archive films when shown to local audiences and cities e.g. the Liverpool Mitchell & Kenyon screening in St. Georges Hall in 2008.
  10. An article in the journal Screen describes how our research impacted on the national debate on cities and film: "In the British context, one of the most successful and well-disseminated of these projects was `A city in film: Liverpool's urban landscape and the moving image', based at the University of Liverpool from 2006 to 2010." Velez-Serna M. (2011), `The City and the Moving Image: Urban Projections [book review], Screen 52:4, Oxford University Press, p. 544-46.