The first episode of Cool Spaces! will take viewers to the stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, the Barclays Center in New York, and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo. Stephen Chung, AIA—the host who is bringing the show to PBS this month—will talk to the architects about the work that went into making these buildings great. But Cool Spaces! goes further, bringing viewers inside to meet the users and clients. Here, Chung tells ARCHITECT what you’ll see on the only television show about architecture out there.
What are the things you hope to accomplish with this show?
I always talk about it in terms of bridging the gap. Explaining to a layperson, to a non-architecture person, what architecture is, what it’s about, why it’s important. We try to stress problem solving. Someone is saying, “We need this.” It goes beyond the form, the material.
Have you run into any particular challenges filming buildings? Do you have to film buildings and architects in a different way than you’d film food and chefs?
The first director I was working with said something to me: “Buildings aren’t stars; people are stars.” He didn’t mean me. He meant that people relate to other people—not to the building. We have to introduce the characters. That’s the owner, the architect, the client, the end-user. We need to see who these people are and understand what it is about these buildings that brings them together.
Who are some of the architects you’ve enjoyed filming so far?
I like a lot of the architects on the show. Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, for example. You know, when the camera’s not on, we’re going over the sketches and drawings, looking at all the starts and stops. It’s interesting going into their offices and spending time with them. It felt like I was getting a master’s degree. Steven Holl told me how he kind of broke the rules for a design competition—when you go to a building, you can’t feel all of that.
This has shown you all different sides of architecture. What about television? Has your opinion of TV changed since you started?
I didn’t really watch much television except for sports. But I did have to watch a lot to understand what this could be or should be. People say, “There’s no architecture show on TV, this is a great idea, this will be something different.” But that’s really bad. There’s no network exec who’s going to stick his head out for something that hasn’t been done before. Why would he do that? This [show] is completely coming out of left field. [So] it took a long time to find examples to demonstrate and explain, but Bizarre Foods America was a precedent. They go to a new city to experience the food and understand the culture. You feel more like you’re on a tour than at a lecture.
Do you know what buildings you want to tackle next?
We’re in post-production mode right now, and we have to finish three episodes by the end of February. They want us to make four more episodes for fall or late winter. I tentatively put a list down. There’s campus buildings, that would be one theme. We’re going to talk to Thom Mayne. Weiss/Manfredi and their nanotechnology center at Penn. There’s also sacred spaces. There’s the Lakewood Cemetery Garden Mausoleum by HGA in Minnesota. Learning and discovery—we have a little bit of time to firm up themes.
So what’s Jerry Jones like?
Fantastic guy. He spent a lot of time with me off camera, too, just telling me his story and also giving me advice. Be bold, he told me. You have it or you don’t. But if you do, be bold. I’ll be kinda rooting for the Cowboys in the future.