The Visual Importance of Architecture in the Movie Theatre Experience

© Copyright 2018 Kirsty Taylor, Ryerson University.

Link to Project:


A screenshot of my project Instagram which focuses on the architectural features of the movie theatre.
Kirsty, Taylor. “Screenshot of My Project Instagram Account” Photograph. Ryerson University. 1 April 2018.

The Visual Importance of Architecture in the Movie Theatre Experience is an Instagram account complied of ten images focusing on the architectural features of the movie theatre; 5 of them looking at features of Fox Theatre, and the other 5 on Hot Docs Ted Rodgers Cinema. Both movie theatres I focused on are in Toronto, ON. Many scholars have researched movie theatre architecture and how it affects the physical experience of a person, but few have looked at how they also affect the psychological experience of the movie theatre experience. This project looks at how the architectural features of the movie theatre affect the psychological and physical experience of the movie theatre – in ways that can exclude or include you based on your own status, and life experiences.

This project focuses on local small movie theatres, because small movie theatres are an important part of history, and create a very different experience than large commercial orientated movie theatres. I felt it was important to do this work now as, due to digital taking over the film world, we are at risk of losing these movie theatres (Hurley 1). This essay will look at the process of creating this work, as well as the intellectual and cultural context and then will end with some concluding thoughts as a result of this work.

The Process

A screenshot of an Instagram Post discussing the Hot Docs Marquee sign.
Kirsty, Taylor. “Hot Docs Marquee Instagram Post” Photograph. Ryerson University. 30 March 2018.

The first thing I did before creating the Instagram account was to attend these particular movie theatres. I watched at least one film in each in order to get a sense of the atmosphere within them. Then I focused on the architectural features which spoke to me visually and captured them through photography. Returning at different times of day to get the correct lighting allowed me to capture the marquee signs in the way I wanted to portray them. Then the images were edited to make them clearer, or to ensure that the focal point of the image relates to the key points I have discussed in the captions/comments. After thorough research, I critiqued these images as well as the architectural features within. I placed them into a larger scholarly critique through engaging with scholars works through quotes in the captions/comments. I then chose to add the hashtags #visualculture and #movietheatre architecture, so that viewers and scholars interested in the subject would be able to find my images without following my account.

I chose to create this project on Instagram because, for me, architectural features are mainly a visual experience. Therefore, having my work on a visual medium made most sense to me rather than trying to explain each feature. In the way that the movie theatre is selling to the patron visually before the movie has even begun, I am “selling” my images to the viewer before they read the scholarly work to go alongside it. This then gives them an opportunity to have their own thoughts on it, before reading mine. As Kylie Budge states in “Objects in Focus: Museum Visitors and Instagram”, “Facebook and Instagram now dominate the social media use landscape” (67). Therefore, I also chose Instagram as I wanted my work to be in conversation with other visual works happening on this platform.

There were a few disadvantages of this choice. The first practical one I encountered was that Instagram captions do not allow you to create paragraphs. Therefore, as a result I had to create comments to break up the text of my work (in order to make it easier to read). The other issue this caused was that you can edit your own caption, but not your own comment. Therefore, editing required a lot of copy and pasting from notes to Instagram which quickly became tedious when working on ten images. I also had an issue with the way the pictures appear. As doing the Instagram in time order, meant due to the way the platform works my argument went from bottom right to top left (which is an unnatural way to read). I resolved this by putting in the Instagram bio how people should read it. You also cannot use italics in Instagram captions or comments which meant I was unable to reference correctly. The other crucial issue with this choice is that Architecture is a three-dimensional experience, and by looking at the architectural features through a two dimensional image on a screen that perspective is diminished. Architecture is experienced through more than just your eyes, and that is why I have the captions to discuss the experience of those other senses when necessary.

Intellectual Context

There is a lot of scholarly work on the architecture of movie theatres, as well as of course more broadly on architecture in visual culture. However, a lot of the scholarly work on architecture in visual culture questions whether it should exist in that space. As Martino Stierli states in “Architecture and Visual Culture: Some Remarks on an Ongoing Debate”, “a conversation on architectural visuality seems to have been banished from the curricula altogether” (311). As much as movie theatre architecture is discussed within the architectural field, it was hard to find scholarly work which placed it into the visual culture field, apart from the discussion of the visual side of the architecture; but it does not discuss the implications of this. Miriam Valentine states in her book The Show Starts on the Sidewalk that, “We sell tickets to theatres not movies” (167). This project is questioning what the implications are if this statement is true. As Gregory A. Waller states in “Imagining and Promoting the Small-Town Theater”, “the theatre is a local enterprise” (6). This project focuses on how the architectural features add to this enterprise and create the “movie theatre experience”, and how they can include or exclude people.

Concluding thoughts

To conclude, the architectural features of the movie theatre play a role in the viewer’s psychological experience at the movie theatre. It is important we consider the impact of all of these features, and not just the screen. As well as the implications of their effect on us and our experience.


Works Cited

Budge, Kylie, “Objects in Focus: Museum Visitors and Instagram”, Curator: The Museum Journal, vol. 60, no. 1, Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 2017, pp. 67 – 85,, Accessed 30 March 2018.

© Copyright 2018 Taylor, Kirsty. “Hot Docs Marquee Instagram Post” Photograph. Ryerson University. 30 March 2018. 

© Copyright 2018 Taylor, Kirsty. “Screenshot of My Project Instagram Account”. Ryerson University. 1 April 2018. 

 Friedberg, Anne, “The Screen”, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, The MIT Press, 2009, pp. 149 – 190.

Hurley, Michael, “We’re About to Lose 1,000 Small Theaters That Can’t Convert to Digital. Does it Matter?”,, 23 Feb 2012,, Accessed 24 March 2018.

Rogers, Ariel, “Smothered in Baked Alaska”: The Anxious Appeal of Widescreen Cinema”, Cinema Journal, vol. 51, no. 3, University of Texas Press, 2012, pp. 74 – 96. JSTOR, Accessed 6 March 2018.

Stierli, Martino, “Architecture and Visual Culture: Some Remarks on an Ongoing Debate”, Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 15, no. 3, SAGE Publications, 2016, pp. 311 – 316, SAGE Journals, doi: 10.1177/1470412916665144, Accessed 26 March 2018.

Valentine, Maggie, The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theatre, Starring S. Charles Lee, Yale University, 1994.

Waller, Gregory A, “Imagining and Promoting the Small-Town Theater”, Cinema Journal, vol. 44, no. 3, University of Texas Press, 2005, pp. 3 – 19, JSTOR,, Accessed 14 March 2018.

Wasson, Haidee, “Introduction: Entering the Movie Theatre”, Film History: An International Journal, vol. 28, no. 3, Indiana University Press, 2016, pp. v – xi, Project Muse, Accessed 10 March 2018.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.