Five Architectural Highlights from the Pathé Newsreel Archive

Dig into British Pathé’s 85,000-video archive with these architecture clips.

Newsreel archives are a goldmine for design buffs—and when you have an archive of the size and scope of British Pathé’s, there’s hours of compulsive watching in store. The famous film and production company recently put up 85,000 of their videos on Youtube, in high definition, for free viewing.

The Parisian Pathé Brothers pretty much invented the newsreel format at the turn of the century, and established their London base in 1902. From 1910 to 1970 they produced thousands of films on events and trends around the world, including, of course, subjects of significance for architecture and design. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to see some great classics in their context—with people using them, reacting to them, commenting on them.

Some videos, like a round-up of skyscraper-inspired hats from the 1930s, might not stand the test of time, but others, like a tour of Le Corbusier’s Couvent de la Tourette, are priceless. The latter video seems even more precious because it is marked “unused material”—footage that Pathé shot, but never edited into one of their newsreels—meaning that very few people have had a chance to see it before you do now, on your screen.

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Here are a few outstanding videos to get you started on your newsreel binge:

Empire State Building under construction, 1930
Workers perform bone-chilling balancing acts on girders and beams as they put up the world’s tallest building at the time. Not recommended if you have vertigo.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Building, 1939 
From the golf-tee pillars to the bespoke furniture, there are so many pause-worthy moments in this video of the national landmark in Racine, Wisconsin.

Le Corbusier’s Couvent de la Tourette, 1961
The lack of an audio track is oddly fitting for this video of the monks at La Tourette living and working in their striking new monastery.

Dream House at the New York World’s Fair, 1964
There are a number of videos in the archive on the World’s Fair, but this is the most charming by far—a look at the interiors of the World’s Fair House, which was later replicated in more than 150 cities around the U.S.

Expo ’67 under construction, 1967
Plenty of videos on youtube document the Expo in Montreal, but this one is great for its behind-the-scenes look at the iconic structures under construction, including the giant geodesic dome that housed the U.S. Pavilion.

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