The Cambridge Cinematek is conceived of as a two-screen arthouse cinema and community film school located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The inclusion of the film school ensures that the cinema is active day and night.
Contrary to most cinemas - especially commercial megaplexes - the cinematek does not hide its inner workings but showcases them to its patrons and the city. The projection room for the larger auditorium is visible to the street, functioning as a marquee. The cinematek’s ticketing area, café, and grand staircase are also visible to the street, more clear advertisements for what goes on in the building and serving to intrigue and invite in passersby. The café kitchen is visible to diners. Even the fire stairs are clad in glass and visible to the public. This literal transparency and revealing of inner workings is directly inspired by the Modernist sets in French director Jacques Tati’s 1967 film Playtime.
To best make use of the small site, the smaller auditorium and much of the film school’s space is below-grade. While not directly visible from the street, these below-grade areas still receive natural light thanks to the inclusion of three interior lightwells that also give the building its dynamic sectional character. The lightwells are non-rectilinear in plan, distinguishing them from the geometric rigidity of the auditoriums and the building’s structure.
Because of the scale and shape of the two auditoriums - both of which are are designed to Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) viewing angle and seating standards - relative to the small angular lot, they become dominating sculptural masses within the overall building. Along with the rest of the building, the auditoriums exist within a precast concrete frame. In a nod to vernacular Boston and Cambridge architecture, the exterior and interior walls which infill the precast concrete frame are constructed of red brick masonry. Glazing is also used extensively in order to reveal the cinematek’s daily happenings and dynamism to the outside world.