Architecture and Design in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock

Architecture Scholar and Movie Obsessive Christine Madrid French unveils a new understanding of Hitchcock’s complex and structured world building.
The Architecture of Suspense: The Built World in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock

The works of Alfred Hitchcock, which defined the movie industry in the 20th Century and into the present, are examined in a completely new light in Christine Madrid French’s book THE ARCHITECTURE OF SUSPENSE: The Built World in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock, published today by the University of Virginia Press with a foreword by renowned author and historian Alan Hess.

This cross-over exploration of film and architecture is the first book to look at buildings as a character in Hitchcock’s most popular movies and the director as an architect himself. In North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear Window, The Birds, and Vertigo, Hitchcock and his team featured American structures (both real and imagined) that captured the minds of people across the globe. Whether featured in spy capers or stories of terror, visualizing the built world as a cinematic protagonist allowed Hitchcock to capture everyday experiences and illuminate people’s uncertain relationship with their environment–and each other.

Christine Madrid French, author of The Architecture of Suspense

“Alfred Hitchcock is Hollywood’s Shakespeare,” says Christine, “each generation is compelled to reinterpret his stories through their own lens.” A self-described high-energy historian, Christine brings diverse perspectives to Golden Age classics based on her own background as a Latina born in downtown Los Angeles. She inspires her audience to rewatch their favorite films with fresh eyes by fusing movie landmarks with their real-life doppelgangers. “Hitchcock’s buildings are an essential part of today’s cinematic language,” she notes. “From Steven Spielberg to Jordan Peele, you can see the powerful impact of his vision. As an architectural scholar and creative producer, I am fascinated with the longevity of his world-building and innovative storytelling.” 

Hitchcock pictured buildings not just as scenic devices but as interactive areas to frame narrative exchanges of love, envy, and the killer instinct. For Hitchcock, the parts of a building represented people and all their problems: windows are the eyes into the soul, a stairway is a spine between the heart and mind, and the basement is a place to hide secrets.

The Architecture of Suspense: The Built World in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock

The Architecture of Suspense is a deep dive into the creation history of Hitchcock’s worlds and offers fans fresh details including:

  • How the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Vandamm House from North by Northwest became the prototype of the Modern Villain’s Lair in movies;
  • How a surge of gifted architects (transplanted to the film industry during the Golden Age of Hollywood), created landmark sets that drew from contemporary design and inspired new directions in architecture;
  • The tragic death of an unemployed shop clerk, who jumped from the roof of San Francisco’s Hotel Empire just one month before Hitchcock started filming Vertigo on the site (which foreshadowed uncannily that film’s heartbreaking finale);
  • An examination of real buildings and haunting stories that inspired the look and feel of Psycho‘s deadly Bates Mansion and Motel;
  • The startling discovery of a never published 1960 photograph of a disrobed Hitchcock from the archives of renowned Life magazine photographer and film director (Shaft) Gordon Parks;
  • How the schoolhouse from The Birds was destined for demolition until Hitchcock saved it;
  • New interviews with Tom Holland (writer of Psycho II and Child’s Play), and Jeannine Oppewall (four-time Academy Award nominated production designer for L.A. Confidential).

Sidney Gottlieb, author of “Hitchcock on Hitchcock” and “Haunted by Vertigo” says, “Christine’s enthusiasm is contagious, informative and eye opening.” Architecture buffs, set designers, film aficionados, professors, and pop culture junkies will all find something new and revealing in this book, illustrated with 50 images and 15 color plates. An adapted excerpt, “How One Modernist Building in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest Changed Cinema Forever” (accompanied by an original work by graphic artists The Red Dress), appears in the October 2022 issue of Vanity Fair.

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