Panorama of the mining town LaHood and the homes of the ' Tin Pans, ' a loosely organized group of independent miners

(in: Pale Rider, 1985).



Idylls and Ideology

The book/research Between Burials and Funerals deals with the notion of the city in Hollywood Western movies. The imaginary Wild West town serves as a productive case study to research the construction of and relationship between specific idylls within an underlying ideology (here, plot or storyline) as an architectural and urbanistic project.

Between Burials and Funeral's focus on film is deliberate. Rather than revisiting existing places, this study speculates from fictional ones, tapping into the discipline's recent obsession with storytelling. It argues that Westerns reveal how narrative is embedded into architecture, and architecture into narrative.

In the self-contained Western town, architectural views expose attitudes and opportunities. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) opens with an itinerant gunslinger (Clint Eastwood) trotting onto tiny San Miguel's main drag; though solitary, he's not alone - the town's residents peer at him suspiciously through drawn curtains. Eastwood soon positions himself on the second-floor balcony of the local cantina, where he plots to turn the town's two powerful families against one another. When his plans go awry and he's on the run, he crawls under a building's front porch, effectively hiding in plain sight. Despite locals' attempts to close him out, Eastwood's perspective allows him to use the town and leverage its dynamics to propel the story.

Set down in the middle of a vast nothingness, the Western movie town also plays with extremes in context and scale. Exactly where these towns are situated rarely matters; the hinterland is an expanse beyond human perception. On Main St., however, everything is human-scaled. Saloons are densely packed, providing a ready-made audience for inevitable showdowns. Villains and heroes alike hide out in fortified jails or empty corrals. The barrel of a rifle might lurk around every corner.

Somehow, the aesthetics of the Western town always seem easily authentic. Handling of color and materials creates a consistent and unmistakeable visual stamp, but details - the location of a water trough or a side entrance - make the difference between happy and unhappy endings.

The book takes the Western town not as a stage set but as a `real` town: What if people actually inhabited these places - people that might not even appear on screen? Obviously, these towns are extremely condensed versions of actual cities, especially given the quantity and size of urban features: there is usually not more than one street, a couple of buildings, and only one saloon, bank, or general store. However, these reduced settings (idylls) might serve as crisp and instructive examples for making arguments about the use and creation of urban space. Urbanists share an ambition with movie directors and set designers to create a narrative space - a built environment in action - where use, meaning, and performance are given priority over form.

However, not every built structure in these towns has a direct functional determination. Often the ambiguity between diegetic and non-diegetic features is exactly what allows us to buy into the idyllic reality and quality of the place. The book identifies these ambiguities to explore architecture`s ideas of functionalism and the picturesque.

The research incorporates approximately 15 town settings from the following movies (in alphabetical order): A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Buchanan Rides Alone (1958), For a Few Dollars More (1965), Fort Apache (1948), Hang Em High (1968), High Noon (1952), High Plains Drifter (1973), Major Dundee (1965), McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), Ride the High Country (1962), Rio Bravo (1959), Rio Grande (1950), Stagecoach (1939), The Alamo (1960), and The Wild Bunch (1969). The collection is an attempt to make a comprehensive argument about the built structures in these movies, rather than covering a specific director or of sub-genre Western movie.

The book will `architecturalize` the Western town through the use of architectural modes of representation: conventional architectural plans, elevations, maps, and axonometric drawings. More speculative illustrations, diagrams and other forms of graphic interpretation will emerge to complement the writing. These, together with descriptive movie stills, will form the visual identity of the publication.

With a closer look at the Western town, architecture wrests back a genre of popular culture from sociological studies (whose critiques traditionally focus on racism, sexism, and/or colonialism). In doing so, the discipline gains a rich source for speculation on contemporary issues of the city.

Funded by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.


Jayne Kelley, Alex Lehnerer, Jared Macken.

Town plans.

(1) Stagecoach, (2) For a Few Dollars More, (3) Ride the High Country, (4) Pale Rider (LaHood), (5) High Plains Drifter, (6) A Fistful of Dollars, (7) High Noon, (8) Rio Bravo, (9) Buchanan Rides Alone, (10) Ride the High Country, (11) Fort Apache, (12) The Wild Bunch, (13) Rio Grande, (14) Major Dundee, (15) Pale Rider (Tin Pans).
















Axonometric drawings of important structures.

The Stranger rides into town (High Plains Drifter, (c) Universal-Malpaso, 1973).

Tin Pan: 'Can we go to town?'

Stranger: 'Why not? We have as much right in town as the next person!'