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The 20 Most Incredible Cinemas Around the World

Cinemas have been around since the dawn of film, in 1895. A relatively recent invention, the buildings themselves are also only from the last 130 years, yet many of them are important historical time capsules. With Netflix changing the way we view, cinemas are a precious remaining architecture: so, let’s discover some of the most incredible historical and contemporary cinemas in the world. 


The History of Cinemas 

No one person invented cinema. However, in 1891 the Edison Company successfully demonstrated a prototype of the Kinetoscope, which enabled one person at a time to view moving pictures. The first public Kinetoscope demonstration took place in 1893. By 1894 the Kinetoscope was a commercial success, with public parlours established around the world. The first to present projected moving pictures to a paying audience were the Lumière brothers in December 1895 in Paris, France. They used a device of their own making, the Cinématographe, which was a camera, a projector and a film printer all in one.

At first, films were very short, sometimes only a few minutes or less. They were shown at fairgrounds, music halls, or anywhere a screen could be set up and a room darkened. Subjects included local scenes and activities, views of foreign lands, short comedies and newsworthy events. The films were accompanied by lectures, music and a lot of audience participation. Although they did not have synchronised dialogue, they were not ‘silent’ as they are sometimes described.

By 1914, several national film industries were established. At this time, Europe, Russia and Scandinavia were the dominant industries; America was much less important. Films became longer and storytelling, or narrative, became the dominant form. As more people paid to see movies, the industry which grew around them was prepared to invest more money in their production, distribution and exhibition, so large studios were established and dedicated cinemas built. The First World War greatly affected the film industry in Europe, and the American industry grew in relative importance. The first 30 years of cinema were characterised by the growth and consolidation of an industrial base, the establishment of the narrative form, and refinement of technology.

The 20 Most Spectacular Cinemas Around the World

1. Tivoli Cinema, Bath

Bath in the west country of England is known for many things: the Roman baths (obvs), the Georgian architecture, and providing an elegant backdrop to all those sultry glances in Bridgerton. This implausibly chic venue has also been on the list of reasons to visit since it opened in 2018. It’s one of those no-expense-spared boutique cinemas that’s been reinventing moviegoing in the UK for anyone with deep enough pockets, with four 50-seat screens kitted in out in the latest tech and seats they’ll have to prise you out of when the credits roll. But while it’s not cheap, it definitely has major special occasion vibes: try the film star martini and a few small plates before sinking into one of the extra-wide sofas.  You can book the 20-seat ‘director’s lounge’ screen for a screening. Come in a baseball cap and you can pretend to be the director.

Cinema re-classified – Tivoli is a unique cinematic experience, merging arthouse films with mouth-watering café and bar menus, fabulously designed interiors and state-of-the-art laser projection technology. This is coupled with a striking food and beverage offering courtesy of a café-bar and lounge serving a selection of delicious food, cakes, pastries, coffee, wines, beers and cocktails throughout the day.


2. The Sun Theatre, Melbourne 

The pint-sized Sun Theatre was one of the reasons Yarraville was named the fifth coolest neighbourhood in the world in 2020. It opened as a single-screen, 1,050-seat cinema in 1938 and after a storied history of closures (it was once closed by the health department for unsanitary carpets), changing hands and expansions, the beautiful Deco building was refurbished in the late ’90s and now holds eight separate cinemas, each named after a now-closed cinema from Melbourne’s history. There’s a welcome breadth of art house and foreign films on the program, and the house-made choc tops (a favourite Aussie cinema snack of chocolate-dipped ice cream) are second to none.  The cinema used to have a ‘pram room’ where babies in prams were left under supervision and given a number. If your baby started crying, its number was flashed on the screen.

The Sun Theatre originally opened in 1938 as a single-screen cinema seating 1,050 patrons. The Theatre was very popular in the area; it was noted for being the most luxurious cinema in the area and drew large crowds each week. Ticket counters and a booking office were used to handle the crowds. The Sun’s original candy location is today known as the Sun Bookshop. A unique feature to the cinema was the pram room, where babies in their prams were placed and given a number. If a baby started crying, its number was flashed on the screen to alert the parents.


3. Museum Lichtspiele, Munich

Not technically a museum, though definitely historic, the Lichtspiele is Munich’s second oldest cinema. It’s become a cult hangout for the city’s hipsters and discerning cinephiles, with a rep for its screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So much so, that the second screen is known as ‘the Rocky Horror Cinema’. It’s like stepping inside Dr Frank-N-Furter’s brain: knock-off Mona Lisas hang from the wall, alongside Greek sculptures and the plush crimson seats. Next door is The Big Blue room, named after Luc Besson’s diving epic, and a third screen has the Starship Enterprise emblazoned on the wall. When you love pop culture as much as they do at Museum Lichtspiele, you can call yourself whatever you like. Lichtspiele’s Rocky Horror screenings have been running weekly since 1977, scoring the cinema a spot on The Guinness Book of Records.

Museum Lichtspiele, also known as “MLS”, is a very small cinema. They have 4 theaters each seating about 30 viewers. The cinema prides itself on being a ‘Kult Kino’. They do screen some hollywood blockbusters, but they also show lots of low budget and less well known films. It is located next to the Deutsches Museum. It was built in 1910 on the site of an older variety theater. The Museum Lichtspiele is the second oldest cinema in the city.


4. BFI Southbank, London

The beating heart of British cinema has been perched on the Thames beneath Waterloo Bridge since 1957. Back then it was known as the National Film Theatre; since 2007, it’s been BFI Southbank (diehards still use ‘NFT’). Beneath its glass and concrete shell, the old building echoes with a sense of film history that’s augmented every October when the BFI London Film Festivalrolls in. The renovated riverside bar spills out onto this culturally rich corner of South Bank – the National Theatre is next door and the Hayward Gallery round the corner – while inside is a shop, library and archive. The new Riverfront improves the visitor experience, expands the venue’s commercial potential and provides a dramatic new entrance to the building from Queen’s Walk. This transformation has revitalised the BFI’s identity which has recessed in recent years and increased the visibility of theBFI’s offer, proudly reconfirming its place as one of the national cultural institutions on the SouthBank.

2017 marked 60 years since the National Film Theatre first opened on the South Bank in 1957,and the character of the new entrance takes its cues from the original building with a large cantilevered canopy extending the entire length of the bridge underpass. This lateral pavilion, which echoes the look of a classic illuminated cinema top sign, not only radically improves the visibility of BFI Southbank but also creates a new elevated public terrace from which to viewthe South Bank. The new canopy, formed of back-lit fibre glass panels, can be programmed to subtly change colour to reflect the changing film programme, and in doing so consolidatesseveral different multi-media formats / devices / technologies that formerly cluttered the venue’s frontage, into a more expressive method of communication.The ground floor entrance space – including its bar and restaurant – has been fully refurbishedand extended, with several large format sliding doors allowing an open relationship with the public realm of the South Bank.

The biggest and comfiest of its four screens, NFT 1, is the place to catch an Agnès Varda season or settle in for a David Lean epic.  When it first opened in 1951, the NFT occupied the purpose-built Telecinema a few hundred yards away. The first British cinema to show 3D films, it was later demolished (the two things are not connected). 


5. Le Colisée, Carcassonne 

Opened in 1914, the Colisée is one of France’s most beautiful art et essai – art house – cinemas. The small, traditional southern city of Carcassonne may be an unusual home for it, but that only adds to the thrill of catching a rare auteur film here. The facade by architect Florentin Belin makes for a picturesque entrance, and inside you’ll find some equally striking palatial décor. The centrepiece is the stained-glass skylight that twinkles above the main screen. After years of financial trouble, it was bought by the city early last year, renovated fully during lockdown, and it reopened to the public in September. The building used to be the ballroom of the hotel next door. Where better to live out your French high-society dreams?

This mythical Carcassonne cinema, it has just been ranked among the 50 most beautiful cinemas in the world by a famous British magazine “Time Out”. It sits in 34th position. The main projection room features and exceptional ceiling, mouldings and a stained glass window. Built in 1914, this legendary building had been closed to the public for almost 10 years for security reasons.


6. Plaza Theatre, Atlanta

This stalwart indie cinema has lived many lives, screening everything from classic black and white movies to X-rated films. Today, the Plaza Theatre exists as a non-profit, welcoming audiences into its main theater (complete with its original sconces and velvet curtains) or a second screen that was created by converting the auditorium’s balcony. Pay for your admission at the vintage ticket booth, admire the collage of old posters lining the walls and don’t forget to stop by the concession stand for a Cheerwine (a regional cherry-flavored soda) before you take your seat.  Not only is the Plaza Theatre the oldest continually operating movie theater in Atlanta, it’s also situated in the city’s first strip mall.

Designed by architect George Harwell Bond, the Plaza Theatre opened on December 23, 1939, as an art deco cinema and live theater space. It was the neighborhood cinema for the Druid Hills, Virginia Highland and Poncey-Highland neighborhoods of Atlanta. It is an anchor of the Briarcliff Plaza on Ponce de Leon Avenue, Atlanta’s first shopping center with off-street parking. The first film screened was the Joan Crawford-Norma Shearer vehicle The Women. Several “big films” had second runs at the Plaza Theatre after having played their roadshow release downtown. Among them were Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and King of Kings (1961).

In the 1970s, the Plaza became an X-rated adult cinema and live burlesque theatre, screening such risqué fare as Teeny Buns and Swinging Sorority, until the entire shopping center was renovated by owner at the time, Robert Griffith. In 1983, movie theatre entrepreneur George LeFont bought the theatre and renovated the 1000-seat space by converting the balcony area into a second auditorium. The LeFont era witnessed an influx of independent, foreign, and art-house movies that would become the norm from 1983 to the present. The 1990s and 2000s witnessed a financial struggle for the Plaza, and the theatre was put up for sale in 2006. In late 2006, Atlanta natives Jonathan and Gayle Rej purchased the theatre, and in early 2010, the Plaza Theatre Foundation became a nonprofit organization. Retaining the original marquee and many of the original furnishings, the Plaza Theatre became the longest continuously operating theatre in Atlanta.In late 2017, the theatre was sold to Christopher Escobar, also the Executive Director of the Atlanta Film Society, and has been returning to its former appearance, showcases, performances, and independent and international films.


7. L’Odyssée, Strasbourg 

Like Strasbourg itself, L’Odyssée has changed hands a lot over the years. It started off German, built in 1913 in the neoclassical style and christened the Union Theater after a cinema of the same name on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Then France took back the capital of Alsace after the Great War, and so it was Frenchified. But not for long: during the Second World War, the Nazis briefly requisitioned it as a Soldaten Kino for invading troops. Today, it remains one of the world’s longest-functioning cinemas, and you can see why it’s been so coveted over the years: gold mouldings, plush red seating and an ornate balcony make every screening here feel like an occasion. L’Odyssée is named after the fictional film that Fritz Lang, playing himself, directs in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris.

The Union Theater was re-named ABC in 1958 and was operated by the Gaumont chain until it was closed in 1986. It was renovated in 1992 by the architect Louis Piccon, with funding from the Ministry of Culture, and reopened as the Cinema Odyssee. The original auditorium now known as the Edouard Szulc Auditorium has 260 seats and is the only Neo-Classical style movie auditorium in the Strasbourg area. In the building’s basement is a 63-seat auditorium.The red velvet curtain and seat make you feel like you’re really somewhere special for your viewing experience. 


8. Mareel, Shetland Islands

Visiting the UK’s most northerly cinema – on the same latitude as Helsinki – feels like an adventure in itself. Seals, otters, even the odd killer whale have been spotted through its quayside windows. Mareel is the Shetland word for phosphorescence, and you can sometimes spot it flickering on the sea outside too. But even they’re not enough to pull focus from the swish two-screen cinema and arts centre inside. This movie outpost in the small Shetland town of Lerwick somehow combines the buzz of cultural vibrancy with a haunting sensation of being right at the end of the world. What better place to discover a new film.  Every year, the super-chilled Screenplay Film Festival comes to Mareel. It’s hosted by UK critic Mark Kermode and film professor Linda Ruth Williams and brings famous faces to town. 

Motivations for building Mareel include the development of the music, film and creative industries, tourism, educational opportunities, job creation and the provision of leisure and education facilities for the community, particularly young people. Some local businesses, particularly Lerwick pub and night club owners via the Shetland Licensed Trade Association, claimed that Mareel would negatively affect their profits and an anonymous State Aid complaint was submitted to the European Commission on 17 July 2008. Shetland Arts countered these claims by providing evidence that Mareel would “generate activity and vitality into the night-time economy of Lerwick, to the benefit of all including the local hoteliers, publicans and restaurants”. The main performance auditorium has a standing capacity of about 650 and a seated capacity of around 250, with a balcony seating a further 85 people. There are 2 screening areas. The main cinema has a seated capacity of around 160 with a smaller second cinema seating around 40. 


9. Orinda Theatre, California

Even if you’re unfamiliar with Streamline Moderne, you can consider yourself well-versed once you step underneath the illuminated, vertical blade-like marquee and into the lobby of this 1941 theater, tucked into the hills east of Berkeley, California. With its sweeping curls, flying gears and circular details, the theater oozes the aerodynamic art deco evolution. That carries over into the auditorium, too, with industrial-meets-mythological murals that depict the four elements, all under a ceiling of painted flourishes and electric-blue and magenta cove lighting. One of the two smaller screens attached to the side of the Orinda houses murals salvaged from the former Garden Theatre in San Jose. The building includes Carrara glass and stainless steel finishes, with the interior theatre walls and foyer ceiling painted in classic murals.


10. Sala Equis, Madrid

Back the ‘80s, this grand mansion in the Tirso de Molina was home to one of Madrid’s last porno cinemas, the Alba. Only the bar survived the 2017 refit and the cinema’s subsequent reinvention as one of the city’s coolest cine-spots, Sala Equis. It sits in a vine-wrapped, skylit indoor patio dotted with wooden benches and deckchairs where Madrileños congregate for pre-movie shrimp wraps and margaritas. The cinema screen has 55 red velvet seats from which to catch old classics and the latest releases. Sala Equis’s name is a tongue-in-cheek nod to its blue movie past (‘Sala X’, see), but inside it’s all about the here and now. The building was also once the home to El Imparcial newspaper and now houses a restaurant with the same name.

Sala Equis is divided into four areas: the entrance Terrace, a large corridor with an alley structure that welcomes visitors; the Ambigú, which is one of the first meeting and debate areas with low tables; the Plaza Hall, decorated with vegetation and crowned with a large  skylight that allows natural light through, it has a large projection screen, bar with a selection of gastronomic proposals  to share and different lounge areas  spread around wooden benches, sun loungers and swings; and the Cinema Hall, with 55 seats and exclusively devoted to the film cycles that are scheduled regularly, in subtitled original version and it also hosts visits by actors, directors or scriptwriters to participate in meetings and special screenings.


11. Cineteca Nacional de Mexico, Mexico City

This buzzy film centre is the place to go to rub shoulders with Mexico City’s film lovers and culture vultures. Its modernist design resembles something out of Metropolis. Inside, it’s a small metropolis of its own, with bars, cafés and restaurants, cinema screens, a gallery, a posh ice cream parlour, and a vast archive of Mexico’s cinematic treasures. Tragically, a fire ripped through parts of the building in 1982. Since then, its ten screens have been restored and new gallery spaces opened (the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition stopped off here in 2017) and the venue’s annual film festivals. There’s even a panoramic outdoor screen in the gardens outside with free screenings for picnicking locals. Phil de Semlyen.  Kubrick may have pulled A Clockwork Orange from UK cinemas but it played at Cineteca for 153 straight days – and more than 150,000 people attended.  

The Cineteca Nacional (in its original location) was first opened on January 17th 1974 and the inaugural screening was the pioneering Mexican director Fernando de Fuentes’ 1933 film El compadre Mendoza. With this film, the Cineteca’s two principal, overarching objectives were put into practice: preservation of Mexican film history and promotion of cinematography in the country. Dedicated primarily to the preservation, cataloguing, sharing and exhibiting of all things cinematic, we think it’s safe to say that the Cineteca has managed to do just that over its 40+ year run. It now puts on extremely well-curated exhibitions about cinema history and screens any number of both national and international indie flicks on a daily basis. It is and has long been most well-known for screening experimental and polemic movies. 


12. Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Ask anyone about movie theaters in San Francisco and they’re bound to bring up the Castro, a fixture of the city’s most prominent LGBTQ+ neighborhood. Built to resemble a Mexican cathedral, the Castro houses a single 1,400-seat theatre, with a screen flanked by gaudy gold embellishments and a metallic chandelier hanging from the domed ceiling. LGBTQ+ films began screening at the theater in the ’70s and are still a prominent part of programming to this day, with screening series and festivals dedicated to queer directors. Zach Long The Castro’s facade was restored to accommodate the filming of Gus Van Sant’s 2008 biopic Milk. The cinema also hosted the film’s world premiere.

The Nasser brothers, who built the theatre and whose family members still own it, also owned several other movie houses in the San Francisco area. The interior is luxurious and ornate, with subtly convex and concave walls and ceilings, and a dramatic “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ that is played before films and events. The large neon “Castro” sign is emblematic of both the theatre and the Castro District. it was built in 1922 with a California Churrigueresque façade that pays homage—in its great arched central window surmounted by a scrolling pediment framing a niche—to the basilica of Mission Dolores nearby. Its designer, Timothy L. Pflueger, also designed Oakland’s Paramount Theater and other movie theaters in California during that period. The theater has over 1,400 seats (approx 800 downstairs and 600 in the balcony). The theater’s ceiling is the last known leatherette ceiling in the United States and possibly the world.


13. The Labia Theatre, Cape Town

Nestled beneath Table Mountain is this quirky gem. South Africa’s oldest indie cinema, it prides itself on marrying modern tech with an olde-worlde charm a world away from the gleaming modern multiplex. Cinemagoers purchase their tickets from an ornate ticketing booth (or online – it’s not that olde-worlde) and the faded grandeur of this old Italian Embassy ballroom lingers on in its three opulent-feeling screens. In recent years the likes of John Cleese, Werner Herzog, Matt Damon and Salma Hayek have popped by for a movie and a mooch on its garden terrace. There’s no record of whether they got stuck into the bar’s potent slush-puppy cocktails, though. Phil de Semlyen. Yes, it is mistaken for a porn theatre but it’s actually named after the Italian diplomat, Princess Labia, who opened it in 1949. 

The original building was an Italian Embassy ballroom opened by Princess Labia on 16 May 1949 as a theatre for the staging of live performance arts. Films were screened during the periods when no live performances were presented. In the early 70s a group of young film enthusiasts turned the venue into a full-time cinema screening arthouse films. The venture was a great success. Eric Liknaitzky and Trevor Taylor were the chief programmers during this period. When Ludi Kraus took over in September 1989, the Labia continued to mainly screen cult, classic and art movies, but included more commercial fare too. Much of the original features of the old building have been maintained, such as the ticket booth, sweets counter, and even the seats. Changes to the theatre, since its inception, have included three more cinemas, a bar and food area, and a terrace. For several years, there was an annex location with two modern screens in the Lifestyle Centre at 50 Kloof Street, but this location was closed in 2013.


14. Pathé Tuschinski, Amsterdam

A plaque to this palatial cinema’s founder, Abram Icek Tuschinski, adorns its ornate lobby wall. A Jewish émigré from Poland, Tuschinski never got to grow old with his dream picture palace – the Nazis saw to that – but its elegant mash-up of art deco and art nouveau styles with sleek modernist touches brings his dream to life daily for movie-mad Amsterdammers. These days it’s owned by Pathé and was recently refurbished with original touches, like the Wurlitzer-Strunk organ, left untouched and the historic wall paintings restored to their original specs. There’s a stylish new bar – Bar Abraham – paying tribute to its founder and serving up movie-inspired cocktails to thirsty filmgoers. Our advice? Make a pilgrimage to this opulent, historic shrine to the movies. Phil de Semlyen. The bar serves a ‘Pulp Fiction Milkshake’ (ingredients: Nolet’s silver gin, crème de cacao, cherry syrup, m*therfucking almond milk).

When it first opened, the theater contained electro-technical features, then considered revolutionary. Its unique heating and ventilation system kept the temperature even throughout the building. After the Dutch liberation the name Tuschinski was restored, but only three members of the Tuschinski, Gerschtanowitz and Ehrlich families survived the war. Leading up to the cinema’s centennial in 2021 Pathé renovated the complex yet again. This time auditorium 2 was brought back to their former glory, including the lost murals of Pieter dan Besten. The former Nöggerath auditoriums were also given an update and in their foyer Bar Abraham opened.

The western facade is flanked by two towers. It is decorated with ceramic sculptures and contains several leadlight windows. The facade blends several architectural styles: Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil and the Amsterdam School. The building contains Asian influences while the lobby was designed in a way to offer theatergoers the feeling that they are stepping into an illusion. The Tuschinski’s main auditorium has served as both a movie theater and a live performance space since its opening. In addition to a film screen, it also contains a stage and an organ.


15. SFC Shangying Cinema Luxe

The strings of musical instruments informed the vertical lighting elements and bookshelves of this cinema lobby and bookshop created by Hong Kong-based Pulse On for a site in Shanghai’s Bingo Plaza shopping mall. Pulse On, which is part of the One Plus Partnership headed by Virginia Lung and Ajax Law, designed all of the communal areas and auditoriums for the SFC Shangying Cinema Luxe.

The design for the cinema, which is shortlisted in the leisure and wellness interior category of Dezeen Awards 2021, features a recurring motif based on the strings found on many musical instruments. The celebration of music aims to highlight the crucial role of a good score in filmmaking, as well as referencing the use of a Chinese character meaning ‘piano’ in the name of the shopping centre. “These two elements work together and motivated us to come up with ‘strings’ as the design theme for this project,” said Pulse On, “hoping that this cinema design will create yet another timeless classic as if an epic film with a rousing music score.” The cinema’s lobby includes several elements intended to represent an instrument’s strings, including thin metal slats that extend vertically from the ceiling to the floor. The space also accommodates a bookshop in reference to the habits of ancient scholars, who would spend their leisure time playing music and reading in spaces designed for relaxation. In the bookshop area, the lower portion of the metal frames incorporate three layers of shelving. Freestanding screens situated between the lobby and the hallway leading to the screening rooms echo the design of the shelves.

Integrated lighting is used to highlight the regular rhythm of the panelling, creating contrasts of light and shadow that add visual interest to the space. Two different types of stone combine to form the flooring, which features a pattern of perpendicular intersecting elements that complements the custom-made lighting fixtures. A ticket and concessions stand is positioned on one side of the lobby, with the bookshop on the other. Lounge seating, tables and reading nooks provide customers with a choice of places to relax. The various screening rooms also employ the ‘strings’ motif, which is applied in various ways to the suspended light fixtures, wall sconces and patterned flooring.


16. Golden Cinema in France

French practice Antonio Virga Architecte has used perforated brickwork and gold metal to wrap a cinema building in Cahors, France, which filters light onto the surrounding public square at night.  Antonio Virga Architecte’s aim for the building, named Cinema Le Grand Palais, was to reunite a complex of historic buildings originally used as a convent and then a military base – the east wing of which burned down in 1943. The project is shortlisted in the civic building category of Dezeen Awards 2021. The seven-screen Cinema Le Grand Palais, which also includes a museum space, is designed as a blank, pale brick box. It is an almost uncanny copy of the surrounding 19th-century blocks, echoing their height and roof shapes but with bold golden doors and no windows.

As Cinema Le Grand Palais required more space than the brick building would provide, it is enlarged by a more contemporary volume clad in perforated gold metal. This is intended to appear as a modern extension to the “timeless” brick form. “We opted for this ‘false’ extension, a second building in golden metal, a material that again blends well with the colours of Cahors,” the studio said. Perforations that reference latticed mashrabiya screens, most commonly found in traditional Islamic architecture, have been created in large areas of the brick facade and cover the metalwork. During the day these perforations allow light to enter the cinema, while at night they are illuminated from within, revealing their location on the brick facade as a series of rectangular areas that appear to glitter.


17. Arcadia Cinema at Riom 

French studio Tracks Architectes has built a cinema fronted by an irregular arched colonnade in the grounds of a former convent in the town of Riom, central France. Arcadia Cinema at Riom forms part of the conversion of the Redemptoristine convent into the Jardin de la Culture cultural centre near the historic centre of the town. Tracks Architectes designed the multi-screen cinema as the first stage of the conversion, which will also include a multimedia library built alongside it and a music school built in the former convent building and an exhibition hall in the chapel.

The cinema’s distinctive facade was informed by a wall broken with seven arches that encloses the former convent and stands next to the cinema. However, unlike the regular sized arches that break the wall, the arched openings that support the cinema’s facade are three different sizes arranged in an irregular pattern. To add to the irregularity the arches turn the corner at the building’s edges to create a larger opening. Tracks Architectes created the sheltered space in front of the building to open up the cinema to the public and the garden that forms part of the cultural centre. “The design concept was to create a building that was open toward the green spaces of the garden of culture and the existing convent,” says the architect. Beyond the colonnade is a large barrel-vault shaped reception hall that leads to three cinema screens and a conference room. In total, the cinema’s have 543 seats, while the conference facility seats 112.


18. Lillehammer Art Museum and Cinema

Snøhetta has extended the Lillehammer Art Museum and Cinema in Norway with a cantilevering cube covered in a layer of crinkled and polished stainless steel. The extension is the second addition Snøhetta has created for the Lillehammer Art Museum and Lillehamer Cinema, having previously created an exhibition space for the 1960s building by Norwegian architect Erling Viksjø 22 years ago. The firm’s new addition adjoins its 1994 extension and provides further gallery space dedicated to the works of local artist Jakob Weidemann (1923-2001), as well as two new cinema theatres. It has also renovated the existing Lillehammer Cinema. A box with a sculptural polished stainless-steel facade designed by the late Norwegian artist Bård Breivik cantilevers from the roof of a glazed volume hosting a children’s workshop.

“The gallery’s striking metallic wrapping reflects the surrounding context and changes its appearance with the light,” said the architects. One cinema theatre is placed in the existing building, while the second is set below a garden between the original building and Snøhetta’s first extension. This rocky garden was created by Breivik when Snøhetta carried out its initial renovation works over two decades ago. “The integration of art, architecture, and landscape is an important feature in both Snøhetta and Erling Viksjø’s work,” said the studio. “For the recent expansion, it has been important to again enhance these connecting spaces, bringing the three volumes together in one complete project.”


19. Beta, Ho Chi Minh City

The new Beta, a 1,000-seater Vietnamese cinema located on the ground floor of a shopping centre in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), deliberately harks back to bold colourful architecture and deco designs of old Saigon. Shaped by local interiors company Module K, the intention was to bring back the otherworldly glamour of the cinema-going experience to a new generation of film fans in Vietnam. To do so, Module K has created a collage of colourful design and architectural references to HCMC’s past throughout the pastel-coloured interior, including the city’s flamboyant French-designed Municipal Opera House and Central Post Office, the striking pink Tan Dinh Church, the bright colours of the Ben Thanh Market and the many small alleys that thread through this fast-moving city. Jade Nguyen, Module K’s director, describes ‘capturing the iconic features of Saigon and transforming them by stripping details, condensing the basic lines and turning them into geometric shapes. Then we applied a technique of solid colour treatment, as used in graphic design and cartoons, to bring a unifying element.’ 

The main entrance features alternating geometric shapes and a strong simple impact. The vast central hall and sitting area feature a dome in Indochine green recalling the colonial Central Post Office with its towering vaulted ceiling. A circular staircase in the Beta Media logo blue colour is also a meeting place for young people. The floor is paved with encaustic cement tiles with oriental Asian patterns. A flock of pigeons flying above reminds audiences of those at the Municipal Opera House and the Paris Commune Square.


20. Pálás, Galway

Some 14 years after the idea for a new arthouse cinema in the west Irish coastal town of Galway was initially proposed, and with film producers Element Pictures (who also run Dublin’s Light House Cinema) firmly on board, Pálás Cinema (or Palace) arrived in 2018. And, despite its long-drawn inception, it does not disappoint. A contemporary moulded-concrete ‘tower house’ located in the city’s so-called Latin Quarter, its somewhat austere exterior gives way to a dizzying interior layout of criss-crossing poured concrete stairs, nooks and passageways. In keeping with the 1820s merchant’s house that was formerly on the site, and whose façade has been recreated to house the ticket office, the spaces inside are domestic and welcoming in scale and contrast intriguingly with its monolithic appearance. Architect Tom de Paor says he wanted the Pálás Cinema to offer a contemporary reinvention of the west Irish vernacular of plain, powerful and solid limestone buildings or warehouses with small apertures and windows. To ‘soften the pill’ he added ‘punky, decorative and Arts and Crafts’ elements. Some of these are visible from the outside, such as the neon signs, the lettering spelling out the cinema’s name cast into the sides of the building and the 24 resin-coated window designs by late and renowned Irish artist Patrick Scott that reference the gel filters used in stage lighting. Stairwells, lobbies and rooms are bathed and dappled in red, amber, purple, green and yellow during the day as a result, and project playful light effects out into the city at night.


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