Building Tomorrow: Visions of Future Cities and Sustainability Top Documentaries

Feb. 27, 2024


In the ever-evolving landscape of modern civilization, the intersection of architecture, urban planning, and sustainability has become a crucible for innovative ideas and solutions. As the world grapples with environmental challenges, the role of visionary architecture in shaping the future of our cities has never been more critical. Documentaries in this field offer a window into the pioneering designs and sustainable strategies that promise to redefine urban living for generations to come.


These documentaries delve into the cutting-edge of architectural innovation, exploring how architects, engineers, and urban planners are reimagining the spaces we inhabit. From towering skyscrapers that breathe life to community-centric urban gardens, these narratives capture the essence of sustainability in the built environment. Through platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and Guidedoc, these films and docuseries make it easy for anyone to watch online and gain insights into the future of urban design.


Reflecting on these documentaries prompts a deeper consideration of our relationship with the urban landscapes we call home. They challenge us to think about how cities can grow in harmony with nature, rather than at its expense. These stories of resilience, innovation, and community spirit inspire hope and action, suggesting that the blueprint for a sustainable future is within our grasp, ready to be realized through collective effort and creative thinking.


Here are ten must-watch documentaries that explore the future of architecture and urban sustainability:



Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life

This riveting documentary delves into the concept of biophilic design, which integrates natural elements into architectural planning to create environments that promote health, well-being, and environmental sustainability. Through a series of case studies and expert interviews, the film explores buildings and spaces that embody this approach, illustrating how reconnecting with nature can lead to innovative and sustainable design solutions that benefit both people and the planet.


The Human Shelter

This brilliant documentary explores the idea of 'home' from a global perspective, showcasing how diverse cultures and communities adapt their living spaces to their environment, needs, and traditions. This documentary travels the world, from the icy landscapes of Greenland to the bustling streets of Tokyo, examining how the concept of shelter is evolving in the face of climate change and urbanization.



This thought-provoking documentary examines the design of cities, focusing on the challenges and strategies involved in urban planning. Featuring a diverse range of cities and interviews with some of the world's foremost architects, planners, policymakers, and thinkers, the film addresses key issues such as mobility, community development, and sustainability, offering insights into how cities can adapt to the needs of the 21st century.


Garbage Warrior

This documentary tells the story of renegade architect Michael Reynolds and his quest to create self-sufficient, off-grid communities using unconventional materials like tires, cans, and bottles. "Garbage Warrior" is a compelling tale of innovation, environmental activism, and the struggle against bureaucratic obstacles, showcasing Reynolds' Earthship Biotecture and its potential as a sustainable housing solution.


Made by Design 

The documentary series "Made By Design" casts a spotlight on the innovative world of African architecture, interior, and product design. Helmed by IFI President and trailblazing Nigerian Interior Designer Tito Ogufere, and brought to life through the lens of Emmy award-winning filmmaker Abiola Matesun of Malek Foto Films, the series delves into the lives, works, and creative sparks of some of Africa's most visionary designers. It's a tribute to the continent's rich design heritage and its vibrant contemporary scene, showcasing how these talented individuals draw inspiration from Africa's diverse cultures, landscapes, and history to shape spaces and objects that resonate with modern aesthetics while staying deeply rooted in tradition.


Hey Neighbour

In the heart of Istanbul, a documentary captures the stark transformation as the relentless march of urbanization reshapes the city's landscape. Dubbed by the locals as a monstrous force, this wave of change devours historical neighborhoods, erecting soulless glass towers in their stead and consuming the scant greenery that remains. Amidst this upheaval, the district of Feriköy stands as a testament to the uneasy coexistence of contrasting worlds: the towering luxury residences and the humble, time-worn houses of Paşa neighborhood. Through the eyes of a quaint pink house, the film narrates the discordant symphony of life in these changing times. Personifying the house with a voice of its own, the documentary delves into its grievances against the encroaching giant it calls "Cumbersome," reflecting on the loss of character and community in the face of rapid urban development.


A Tower House

This exploratory documentary delves into the iconic structure in Tokyo known as the Tower House, conceived by visionary architect Takamitsu Azuma in 1966. Constructed on a mere 20-square-meter plot, this architectural marvel was immediately hailed as a symbol of modern urban living, challenging conventional notions of space and design in the bustling heart of a metropolis. The documentary intricately explores the Tower House's innovative approach to maximizing limited urban space, its influence on contemporary architecture, and its enduring legacy as a testament to living creatively within the constraints of a densely populated city.


Amancio Williams

This gripping documentary offers an intimate glimpse into the life and legacy of Amancio Williams, a pivotal figure in Argentine modern architecture, whose visionary concepts and designs, such as the iconic "House over the Creek," have garnered international acclaim. Tragically left in ruins after a fire, this emblematic structure symbolizes both Williams' innovative spirit and the fragility of architectural heritage. The film delves into Williams' groundbreaking ideas and proposals, his esteemed recognition by the legendary Le Corbusier, and his significant contributions to the Curutchet House. It also explores Williams' passion for integrating green spaces within urban environments and investigates the complex reasons why many of his ambitious projects never transitioned from blueprint to reality, offering a comprehensive portrait of a man whose work continues to inspire and challenge the architectural world.


Unfinished Progress

In the shadow of towering cranes that sketch the mirage of progress onto the skyline, Chung-Ming Wang stands as a beacon of resistance. Abandoning the security of his previous life, Wang plunged into the heart of local environmental activism in Tamsui (Danshui), his beloved hometown, striving to shield it from the rampant developmentalism that has long besieged Taipei. This documentary closely follows Wang's third bid for a seat in the City Council Election of 2014, delving into the myriad challenges and conflicts he faces along the campaign trail, as well as the rich tapestry of perspectives on what progress truly means for Tamsui. At its core, the film poses a pivotal question that transcends local politics, urging viewers to contemplate the future of urban landscapes: Is the relentless construction of new buildings the hallmark of a city's growth, or should we seek a more profound form of advancement, one that nurtures the soul of the community and its inhabitants?


Slums: Cities of Tomorrow

This thought-provoking documentary embarks on a journey into the heart of urban overcrowding, challenging conventional perceptions of housing by spotlighting communities that have crafted homes on a distinctly human scale. Through the lens of sociological and philosophical inquiry, director Jean Nicolas Orhon crafts an intimate portrait of the resilience and ingenuity of slum dwellers. The documentary delves into the lives of families and individuals who have ingeniously constructed their living spaces, ingeniously infusing them with the architectural heritage of their ancestral lands. This exploration not only sheds light on their adaptive strategies for urban living but also ignites a conversation about the essence of home and community in the face of global housing crises.



The documentaries on architecture and urban sustainability are more than just visual narratives; they are a call to action, inviting us to reimagine the future of our cities. They remind us that sustainability is not just an ideal but a necessary foundation for urban development that respects the planet and its inhabitants. As we watch these films and docuseries, let us be inspired to contribute to the creation of spaces that are not only functional and beautiful but also harmonious with the natural world. The journey to sustainable urban living is a collective endeavor, one that requires the creativity, commitment, and collaboration of us all.


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