"In using iconic architectural landmarks, Blade Runner grounds itself in realism in an otherwise future world."
The discussion of the relationship between film and architecture is often focused on the role of architecture within the context of a film’s narrative. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), cinema’s case study for the representation of architecture in film, prominently features notable architectural landmarks, including the Bradbury Building and Ennis House, within a futuristic Los Angeles. In using iconic architectural landmarks, Blade Runner grounds itself in realism in an otherwise future world.
In 2019 Los Angeles, humans have biologically-engineered replicants -- beings that are designed for labor and entertainment purposes. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a “blade runner” and hunter of replicants. The sets and architectural look of Blade Runner are reportedly inspired by a number of influences, including Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks, the Hong Kong skyline, the French comic book Métal Hurlant and, of course, Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking science fiction film Metropolis (1927). Blade Runner opens with a shot of the Los Angeles landscape. The industrial smoke and acid rain establish an eroded city. In Ridley Scott’s universe, Los Angeles has endured significant transformations, including environmental degradation, and its buildings show off that wear. Blade Runner uses architecture as a way of depicting class structure. In a layered society, replicants reflect the working class. The dark, abandoned streets are in a state of urban decay as the wealthy dwell in skyscrapers. The buildings in the film are retrofitted, covered with ducts and pipes, further emphasizing the layers of the city. In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott doesn’t idealize the future; rather, his film is far more interested in class struggle and establishing a world where architecture represents the mounting separation of society. In this sense, while notable architectural landmarks ground us in reality, the world within the film is rotting, emphasizing that the future world is a corpse.
The distinct locations in the film were chosen as a representation of a “temporary” look for the film’s 2019 setting. It’s interesting to note that the Bradbury Building and Ennis House are in the revival style, therefore referencing a previous era in architecture. The Bradbury Building was constructed in the Romanesque Revival style and the Ennis House was constructed in the Mayan Revival style. In making use of buildings that were designed in the revival style, Blade Runner uses older buildings as a way of connecting us into the distant future. In other words, whereas a future world could make an audience feel disconnected from reality, older buildings in the revival style make this world feel much more familiar.
The iconic Bradbury Building, however, is the center of the film. The majority of the action, including the climax of the film, takes place within the building. The Bradbury Building is an architectural landmark and is located on 304 Broadway, West 3rd Street in Los Angeles. The building was commissioned by Los Angeles millionaire Lewis L. Bradbury and was constructed by George Wyman from an original design from Sumner Hunt. In keeping with the science fiction history of the building, the design of the building was influenced by Edward Bellamy’s 1887 science fiction book Looking Backward, which describes a utopian society in 2000. In his book, he describes the average commercial building as a "vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above... The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior." This influence in terms of design is clearly seen in the Bradbury Building.
The building's exterior facade is of brown brick, sandstone and terracotta. The building’s interior, however, is the most notable aspect of the building. The building consists of wrought-iron railings, cage elevators that consist of exposed gears and pulleys and a massive skylight. The filmmakers chose a location that is usually flooded with light and made its visual look very dark and claustrophobic. In our diagram, we focus on the scene near the end of the film in which Rick Deckard walks through the Bradbury Building. This scene is notable because of its juxtaposition of empty space and the ornate architectural details. In addition, the scene offers an expansive look at the surrounding space of the building itself. The diagram presents a partial section of the Bradbury Building so that one could visually see these characteristics in elevation view.