David Heaton

Arc 362

Hadas Steiner


Deconstructivism:  UFA Cinema Center


Popularized by the 1988 MoMA exhibition, Deconstructivism is an architectural theory that developed in the 1980’s in opposition to the eclectic historicism of postmodernism.  The architecture of this theory resembles forms that have been torn apart violently, twisted, and misshapen.   This results in non-rectilinear buildings that creates multiple intersections and combine faceted surface with curvilinear surfaces.

               Deconstructivism differs itself from previous theories by seeking to disassemble the architecture of the past.  The idea of complexity and the integration of ornamentation as a part of the building manifests itself within deconstructivist works.  Complicating regular geometries through the process of shattering apart normal grids and shapes and reassembling them creates the geometries of the project.  This complexity of lines and intersection carries through into the structural system of the building as well as façade ideas.  In this way, the complex geometries become the elements of the building and create the ornamentation. 

               This theory was highly influenced by the literary movement of Deconstruction, explored by French philosopher Jacques Derrida.  The idea of “metaphysics of presence” was explored in Deconstructivist works.  This idea states that architecture is like language and has the ability to speak and be understood in more ways that the present face value.  There can exist multiple meanings or messages through the nuances of the materials and formal strategies.  Deconstruction requires a precedent or archetype that is the standard and typically understood in a specific fashion or has a normal meaning, it then creates a different understanding or way of communicating by breaking apart and playing off the shifts and intersections of the original archetype to create a new method of understanding.[1]  The idea of tracing past events or bringing to light their erasure is used with solid, void in Deconstructivist projects. 

               An example of a Deconstructivist project can be found in the Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au’s UFA Cinema Center.  This project was completed in 1998 in Dresden, Germany.  This project consists of two main spaces: ‘The Crystal’, a large glass lobby area and public square that protrudes from the ground leaning far to one side, and the ‘Cinema Block’, the main programmatic element that has eight theaters with seating for 2600.  The project was a winning submittal for the Pragerstra Nord planning competition.[2]    

               The UFA Cinema Center integrates itself into the surrounding cityscape by creating public spaces in a dense urban area that is beginning to lose many urban spaces due to developers obtaining land and building single use structures.  This has resulted in a normalized city block grid that cuts off public access across the city because of private residences.  This creates a rigid grid of the city that allows minimal public access and creates a disconnect between various public spaces throughout the city.   The main urban concept of the project is to blur the boundaries of public and private space allowing for free flow throughout the building by the public. Using Deconstructivist ideas, the original urban grid is cut apart through the drawing of imaginary lines connecting all of the urban spaces in the city.  The result is a new fractured city plan that appears random and unrelated.  However, the result is a creating of interstitial spaces that create a connective tissue tying together the various public spaces throughout the city.  The fractures also work to blur the lines between public and private spaces by creating multiple links between the two, providing a seamless transition.  The UFA Cinema Center is placed at one of the imagined intersections of the public and private paths.  This creates a new type of situation in which the building becomes open and allows for the fluid movement of the public through it, transforming the whole building into a public space.   


Figure 1 Diagram of Public Intersections

               Deconstructivist ideas are manifested both in the form of the building and the programmatic arrangement and relationship of the spaces.  In ‘The Crystal’, Deconstruction is incorporated in the construction and material intersections, the blur of private and public through the multiple pedestrian pathways, and through the viewports capturing small glimpses of people passing everywhere. 

               ‘The Crystal’ serves as not only the main lobby space of the cinema, but as a public catalyst and urban space.  Multiple bridges, ramps, and stairs intersect the space providing possible shortcuts for users.  This allows a public flow of pedestrians throughout the project.  The public spaces of the project aggressively intersect private spaces bringing the idea of a blurred reading of the architecture into the building.  This forces people within compartmentalized private spaces to cross public spaces to enter other private spaces.  This changes the typical notion of moving within a building further reinforcing the idea of various readings of typical archetypes that Deconstructivism offers.  The multiple intersecting pathways and bridges are themselves expressions of the urban surroundings and exist at multiple heights, creating a complete three dimensional experience for a pedestrian walking through. 

               The idea of multiplicity and movement are seen in the dialogue created between the constantly moving users and the many viewports created within the architecture.  While the main program is a theater, the idea of showing clips or reels of events takes place outside of just the showing screen.  Form development plays into this idea of movie clips by creating pathways that move in and out of each other.  Crossing between various types of spaces, the passageways begin to fold the programmatic elements of the building inside out.  By moving pedestrians throughout the lobby and private areas of the project, they are being put on display or can be viewed like clips from various vantage points.[3]  They are constantly able to watch other people around them and since they are crossed into private spaces, the people working can be viewed or are put on display.  Likewise the fracturing of the private spaces allows for the private users to constantly view the pedestrians on display around them.  The UFA attempts to create a large amount of viewports both internally and externally showcasing the “individual” from all sides.[4] This produces the ability to see and be seen multidimensionally  as people pass each other.  All of this creates the idea of people as actors and viewers within the multiple stages or areas of viewing in the project. 


Figure 2 Multidimensional views of the body.

               Deconstructivist ideas can be seen in the layout and material intersections of UFA.  The building does not follow the Cartesian grid of history, but instead breaks it down and rearranges it to create a new version of perfect form.  The newly created complex geometries play into the way Deconstructivism works and now are translated into materials the create an controlled chaotic aesthetic to the project.  The whole building is asymmetrical.  Various materials cross and intersect into one another.  This takes place both within the building with multiple faceted walls folding into one another and large concrete

Figure 3 Morphing of Cartesian Grid to Deconstructivism

structural elements crossing the middle of spaces.  This intersection of materials also happens in the multiple facades where various surface types are laid over each other.  Various steel structural members cross through the interstitial undefined portions of the project that allow for pedestrian fluidity.  The use of curtain walls and transparent interior walls allow for the project to be read as blurred private spaces and public spaces more, and follow the idea of the inhabitants being actors on display for each other, but since ‘The Crystal’ is clear glass the whole inner workings of the building are flipped inside out and put on display for the city.  This further reinforces the building a destination, but the transparency allows it to be permeable and aid in allowing the public to freely pass through the structure.  This assists in the creation of more urban space. 

               Overall, the UFA Cinema Center uses the ideas of Deconstructivism to reimagine the typical urban integration of architecture, create dynamic form through complex shifted geometries, and creates an architectural language that challenged the typical methods of interpreting the relationship of the public and private within a building and its context.



Figure 4 Exterior Crystal



Figure 5 Interior Crystal



Figure 6 Exterior Facade









[1] Curl, James Stevens (2006). A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (Paperback) (Second ed.). Oxford University Press. 


[2] Noever, Peter, et al. Coop Himmelb(l)au: Beyond the Blue. München : Wien: Prestel, 2007.


[3] Get off of my cloud: Coop Himmelb (l) au Texts 1968-2005


[4] Eisenman, Peter. "Visions unfolding: architecture in the age of electronic media." Domus 734 (1992): 17-21.