Grand Budapest Hotel architectural model and set

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest Hotel architectural model and set
The architectural model that became The Grand Budapest Hotel.

When the Writers Guild of America awards were handed out yesterday, Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness won for the best original screenplay for their film The Grand Budapest Hotel. I absolutely adored the movie, which also won the Golden Globe for the Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical and is nominated for nine Academy Awards to be handed out a week from today.

Awards for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Oscar nods include Best Writing for a Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (for Anderson and Guinness); Best Achievement in Directing (for Anderson); and Best Motion Picture of the Year (for Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson). If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out, and not just for the writing but for the set design, as well, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Take a look at the video clip above, and tell me the dialogue doesn’t deliver as much of a punch as the triple assaults Adrien Brody, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe achieve with their fists. Tell me also that the vibrant violet hues of the uniforms against the drenching red lacquered paint of the elevator don’t pop all the way down to your design-obsessed DNA and I won’t believe you!

The Grand Budapest Hotel Excels in Design

This is why the production design team—overseen by Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock—is also in the running for an Oscar. Other nominations include cinematography, editing, costume design, original score, and makeup and hairstyling.

The Funicular completed model in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The Funicular completed model, a kitschy tram climbing a made-up mountain!

In the clip—a mere sound-bite at 2 minutes and 28 seconds—Ralph Fiennes’s character, Monsieur Gustave H., gives you a preview of how wonderfully perverse the storyline is. “She was dynamite in the sack, by the way,” he says to Revolori—his junior lobby boy in training—who replies, “She was 84.”

The Monsieur shoots back, “I’ve had older.” When Fiennes visits this deceased lover (a magically transformed Tilda Swinton who is virtually unrecognizable), he quips, “I don’t know what sort of cream they put on you down at the morgue, darling, but I want some!” Oh, how sublimely played this character is!

Funicular Model is filmed to make it appear real
The process of filming the Funicular that rises to The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Model-Building for Movie Sets

But here’s the kicker of the film that has me so excited to share it as a DesignLabs post today: it’s a fabulous piece of architectural storytelling because the façade of the hotel and other exterior scenic elements, like the snowbound forest and the tram (called the Funicular), are architectural models created in a studio in Berlin! I went in search of the place Anderson shot the movie because I’m a junky for identifying filming locations and I came across this fabulous post on the CineFex blog featuring the project.

In this second video clip, Anderson explains how they had to create a hotel because they didn’t find one they could use for the project. What they did find was an abandoned shopping mall, which they transformed into the hotel’s interiors during two different eras—the 1930s and 1960s. I envy the set designers who traveled Eastern Europe in search of design elements to go into the interiors!

Grand Budapest Hotel's exterior inventors
The team who brought The Grand Budapest Hotel exterior elements to life.

It’s as Owen Wilson says, the hotel becomes a character in the movie—one that so beautifully portrays the last gasp of aristocratic Europe in the tradition of grand hotels. The exterior of this made-up place in a made-up time that represents a cultivated way of life was realized by a team of model-makers directed by Simon Weisse, who also starred as an extra in the film. There’s a rundown of his start in the movie business in the CineFex blog post and a terrific Q&A about his involvement in the project.

Anderson and Fiennes with hotel model
Wes Anderson and Ralph Fiennes at the premiere of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Image © Twentieth Century Fox Films.

Weisse tells Graham Edwards, who wrote the CineFex post, “The production manager, Miki Emmrich, who I’d worked with on Cloud Atlas, came to me and said, “There are some people from America, and they’re wondering if there’s anybody who can still make miniatures.” So I said, “Yes, I can do that. Who is it?” Miki said, “Oh, it’s Wes Anderson.” And I said, “What?!!”

The interview is truly fascinating, as are the slideshows of the model-making process, so click through to the post to take a look if you love these architecture-meets-the-movies stories as much as I do (when you’re finished reading mine, of course!

I’ll be rooting for the Fox Searchlights film next Sunday when the Oscars are awarded, hoping Anderson and the talented production team as well as the set designers take home a number of statuettes. I also want to congratulate Anderson and Guinness for their wins so far—all of them seriously well deserved.

The Modern Salonnière and this entry © architecture blogger Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.

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