Inception Begins in the Basement

Architecture as Foundation

As dream manipulator Dom Cobb in the film Inception – which here means planting an idea in the brain instead of extracting it — Leonardo DiCaprio says to young, artfully named architect Ariadne, well played by Ellen Page: “We always wanted to live in a house but we really liked these buildings.” They’re touring a super-dense dreamscape of modern highrises conjured out of a collage of real and fictional buildings. The poster provides a glimpse of an imaginary Downtown — see the gable-roofed wing of Los Angeles’ Biltmore Hotel peaking around a corner in the distance.

A nondescript hotel elevator lobby enjoys some suspenseful choreography. And the horizontally striped L. A. Department of Water & Power headquarters, shown below (courtesy you-are-here.com) forms the base of an immense “Seussian” skyscraper — in the clever phrase of LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who observed in a recent piece that, overall, it’s pretty bland architecture for a film that’s about imagination.

I agree (though I’m a big fan of the Water & Power building), but hey, then I discovered that the house Dom and his wife Mal actually called home is a Craftsman style landmark by Greene & Greene — at least according to the website Curbed.

The courtyard is shown above (it’s the Freeman Ford residence of 1907, courtesy Greene & Greene Virtual Archives, USC). In any case, several scenes take place along a hallway and in a wood-paneled dining room that definitely have the look of Greene & Greene. This image, not from the film but from

the Wood-and-Light website of author and photographer David Mathias — captures the honeyed atmosphere of the Cobb home. Sounds a little contradictory – they like slick, machine-like, contemporary but inhabit warm, hand-crafted, romance (or is that the other way around?), but then the mind is full of surprises and a good house plan website could always help them figure things out. And guess what, in one of the dream sequences you reach the house by taking a highrise elevator down to the basement: literally the foundation of all dreams, not to mention the source of all plumbing angels and furnace demons. Talk about Metaphorland!

Needless to say director Christopher Nolan’s film is an enthralling and very entertaining ride and planted the idea in my mind — inception indeed — that good architecture begins at home, perhaps even in the basement. (For more on the locations that were used in filming read the fascinating On the Road blog by Jerry Garrett.)

Which leads me to thinking that a basement should be built for brainstorms. Here’s one that includes a Sport Court:

It’s Dutch Colonial Plan 56-604. Or how about acing a bank shot in a game of billiards.

You can do that in the basement of Marcia Trionfale Plan 481-1 by architect Bud Dietrich. Of course basement garages work well in some situations,

as in Linacre Plan 496-1 by architect Leon Meyer. But media rooms might work best, as illustrated by Prairie Style Plan 56-601

in a  house on a slope, which allows for a wall of glass. A good place to watch building — I mean block — busters and dream about your new home.

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