Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman

This documentary is a treasure trove of modernist architectural eyecandy, like a Taschen coffee table book come to life. ‘Visual acoustics’ is a coinage of photographer Julius Shulman, and the film is a celebration of his decades of work shooting architecture. Shulman was so intimately connected and concerned with promoting the homes created by the great American modernists (Wright, Gehry, Neutra et al.) that the film doubles as a celebration of that entire era, one which he was arguably pivotal in defining. Most architecture films tend to focus on the contemporary creation of large public buildings. Visual Acoustics takes the opposite approach and is all the better for it: it takes us into domestic spaces and talks with the people who have lived in them for decades. Shulman, a spry nonagenarian, has maintained long-term relationships with the architects and the owners of the homes he documented and he gives us a privileged entrée to the kind of iconic houses most of us can only dream about. — AL  (

Sadly Julius Shulman (98) died on Wednesday 15th July 2009 at his home in Los Angeles. But the film will be screening Sunday 26th July 6:15pm (Te Papa), Wednesday 29th July 11:15am (Paramount) and Sunday 2nd August 11:45am (Paramount)


8 responses to “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman”

  1. Just been to see this film at the Film Festival – and absolutely loved it. You’re right to say that the film is a celebration of the architecture of that era – but not just that – he’s such a cheeky and adorable old man that you can’t help but love him to bits. A ‘spry nonagenarian’? He’s a walking stick wielding comedian, giving lip to other grandpas in the film who need 2 sticks to his one.

    The film mixes old footage (Shulman stock photos of impeccable quality) and revisits some of the many homes he photographed, including the Lautner house (one of many that James Bond fought off baddies in) and the Koenig house you picture above.

    A fantastic, fantastic film, with beautifully proportioned and well considered graphics, this film makes up for all the architectural dross we’ve been putting up with at film festivals for the last few years. Check out this clip for more about the man:

  2. Totally agree. This is a must see film. Especially for M-D.

    I think they made this film just for you.

  3. Hoping to catch it at the ‘matinee’ screening tomorrow…

  4. Saw it and enjoyed it immensely (dodgy and sometime trite cinematography aside).

    For me it really revealed the impact that image making had on architectural of postwar Modernist architectural production, highlighting what the New Brutalists and others reacted against (which inevitably led to postmodernism). That architects and magazine editors today have reverted back to Schulmanesque imagery just shows how lessons of the past are so easily forgotten… (Bring on Gehry, the editors of “Home”, etc…)…

    Personally, I admire Schulman the image maker, but abhor Schulman the ‘architect’… And I believe that it is really important to distinguish between the two, not only in the case of Schulman, but more broadly throughout architectural dialogue…

  5. “abhor Schulman the architect” ? Please elaborate. Not sure that I understand your comment.

  6. That Schulman’s imagery had such a profound impact on postwar architectural production – to all extents and purposes it was the way he sellected and portrayed architecture that became the architecture to be emulated – even moreso than the actual buildings that were the subject of his images. His vision was strong enough to overcome the reality of this or that particular physical building, and it was his architectural vision, published worldwide via Architectural Forum etc, that had more impact than the Soriano’s, Schindler’s,and other architects of that era. The Honorary Doctorate in Architecture was no doubt based on this aspect of his influence…

  7. yes I enjoyed the film too – another showing in the weekend for those who missed out. Definitely worth it despite the mediocre cinematography – makes Schulman’s images look even more fantastic I guess …

  8. CM just sent me an early advert for photographic portraits, which are referred to as daguerrotype “likenesses”.

    ‘Likeness,’ in terms of architecture and its representation, is the very aspect of Schulman’s work that appears to have been ignored/forgotten during the rise of the architectural pictorial journals in the postwar period. Hence the predominance of buildings that are ‘like’ built photographs – lacking many of the otherwise necessary phenomenological comforts of good architectural experience. That Modern architecture was rejected on the grounds of a coldness and lack of humanity can be argued to be a direct outcome of this.

    I fear for contemporary retro-modernism for the very same reasons – it seems little more than image. Perhaps we need some AC visits to some of these glossy magazine-featured houses to counter such fears?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *