The pandemic-era shift to remote learning forced many Daniels Faculty students to get extra creative with their thesis projects. Milan Nikic, who presented his thesis in fall 2020, was no exception.
He had originally planned to display models for his thesis presentation, but the lack of a physical presentation space made him rethink the way he'd present that work. Instead, he ended up creating a 15-minute short film, titled Raft Islands.
Now, that film has gained Milan some international recognition. It was accepted by the International Architecture Film Festival Barcelona, where it will make its international debut as part of a short-film program on May 13.
"New and creative ways of representing architecture have emerged as a result of this pandemic," Milan says. "I never really explored storytelling and film as a medium before my thesis, but I found it to be a powerful tool to communicate the experience and atmosphere of the built environment. There is a lot you can show with just a simple pan of a camera."
The inspiration for Milan's short film came from a trip he took with his thesis advisor, assistant professor Adrian Phiffer, and the other members of Phiffer's thesis-prep studio. The group visited Tofino, British Columbia and made a stop at Freedom Cove, a giant floating home located off the shore of Vancouver Island.
The home — which is so sprawling and complex that it could be considered more of an artificial island — is an agglomeration of 12 floating platforms, cobbled together from salvaged materials. On top of those platforms is an off-the-grid homestead, complete with a cottage, gardens, dance floor, and artificial beach. The owners, Wayne Adams and Catherine King, are a pair of artists who began building the Freedom Cove complex in 1991. They welcomed the students and showed them around.
"I found it really fascinating to see how these two individuals lived in their environment, and how they managed to be self-sufficient atop this piece of floating infrastructure," Milan says.
He decided to use Freedom Cove as a jumping-off point for an imaginative exercise. His thesis project used film to weave a narrative about a future world where entire communities live on floating barges that are tailored to the needs of inhabitants. "I wanted to tell a story about a fictional future community that was inspired by Freedom Cove," Milan says. "As I was building physical models, a specific architecture evolved out of the necessity for them to actually float on water. I was quite interested in telling a story about how collective life was negotiated amongst individuals. Imagining a community on a floating island was a way to amplify that negotiation."
His film is an impressionistic mixture of water imagery and shots of his scale models. "I wanted the designs to feel like they were attainable to almost everybody, in the spirit of Freedom Cove," he says.
The Raft Islands trailer is embedded above. The International Film Festival Barcelona is not open to viewers outside of Spain, but Milan plans to make his full film available online at the conclusion of the festival.