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What is a House? The Living Space in Movies

a woman eating dinner with a man reflected in a mirror above her head

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) and Jane (Nastassja Kinski) in Paris Texas (1984), by Wim Wenders.

  • Instructor: Rubén Alcolea
  • Time: M 10:10 a.m.–12:05 p.m.
  • Location: 261C East Sibley Hall
  • Credits: 3

Human interaction gets domestic in spaces where architecture is more than just a plain answer to our basic needs. The evolution of our living environments through history has defined a research field for spatial, perceptive, and constructive experimentation, but also has transformed the way we live. Ever since the invention of photography (1839) and film (1895), media has been used not only to portray domesticity but at the same time to alter its nature into an alternative and rich reality where our dreams and fears are projected.

The theory class What is a House? The Living Space in Movies examines how the human condition and domesticity have been depicted in movies. It is a journey, a sort of search for a better understanding of the way we inhabit, and how whether daily routines or profound experiences are performed at movies. Rather than films as pure case examples, they provide an open field, allowing the conversation to focus on how the stories are told by filmmakers through the use of constructed spaces. In addition to the analysis of the way some of the most influencing homes have been depicted in the history of film, alternative domesticities will be also part of a wider conversation which will address how 'The Home' is globally disseminated.

Lectures will be complemented with short projections and discussions. Both a presentation and a paper should be produced as a result of personal research, as well as original material to show a deep investigation on one of the concepts, spaces, or movies studied through the semester.

Some of the work produced in previous electives is compiled in the volumes What is a House? and Spaces of Discomfort, both available at Cornell Library and online at

Instructor permission required:

It is strictly required to attend the first class. Instructions will be given then to submit a research proposal afterwards.

View a PDF of this class description.


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