Walls Have Feelings: Architecture, Film and the City
Katherine Shonfield
204 pages

Why does my flat leak? Why is brutalist architecture so impersonal? What on earth does this have to do with Mary Poppins? And having read Katherine Shonfield's intriguing study of these critical questions, am I any the wiser? Shonfield sets out to examine the interplay between the three elements that form the subtitle to her book: architecture, film and the city. As a teacher of history and theory of architecture at South Bank University, it is clear that her expertise rests on the first plank, but she obviously knows her stuff when it comes to the flicks as well.

Her approach borrows a great deal from the movie world. In the introduction, she states: "Like a film, [this book] needs the reader to 'run with' its narrative for the duration. To get at its insights, you need to suspend some disbelief." Hardly a promising start, but to this end Shonfield deals with varied and wide-ranging themes in each chapter and gently progresses from the specific to the general. Consequently, the defeat of populism by brutalism is explored through the films Passport to Pimlico, Beat Girl and It Happened Here, with Passport representing chirpy, cosy populism (neat little houses and community spirit) while the repression of the rebellious Beat Girl by her authoritarian (modern) architect father represents brutalism. This approach turns up plenty of neat little juxtapositions, provoking new views of both architectural space and cinema. After reading the chapter dealing with Roman Polanski's Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, it will be hard to look at a mastic joint in the same way again.

Ultimately, however, the reader is left wondering how it all adds up. Sure, some modern architecture has a tendency to be depersonalising. Sure, film is a good way of exploring these issues and can shed some light on how buildings are perceived and operate in the psyche. And, to give Shonfield credit, it's an absorbing read. But in the end, having left the cinema, the narrative style leaves the images – and the argument with them – muddled in the mind. And my flat still leaks.