July 23 2008

Architecture School: A Documentary Series

Medical interns, fashion designers, criminals, apprentices, lumberjacks, crab fishermen, ice road truck drivers, have-been celebrities, and pet whisperers have all found a place in the bizarre world of reality television. We have followed their lives season after season and can now relate personally and emotionally with their struggles. Why is it that I can now talk endlessly about the troubles of a young Alaskan king crab deck hand as he gets whipped by the Bering Sea and the other more senior deck hands?

What brings this motley crew of professions together is likely little more than an American fascination with watching the strange and the punishing. Medical interns get slammed with mad ours of work, complex social interactions, life and death all within a half hour episode so what is not to like. Now if Americans really want to watch someone get punished, live in poverty and whistle all the way down, television producers need look no further than a profession near to my heart: Architecture.

Soon to be a runaway hit... Architecture School

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Architecture School, produced by Michael Selditch (he brought the world 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy'), is a documentary series chronicling a year in the life of a class of Tulane University School of Architecture students building an affordable home in New Orleans. The series will air in six episodes and play on the Sundance Channel beginning in August. Selditch says that he had long been wanting to showcase architecture and that New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina gave him an opening.

"Katrina shed a spotlight on the city.... Nobody was paying attention to the plight of the metropolitan areas."

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Enter URBANbuild at the Tulane School of Architecture. The program was born out of the post-Katrina re-evaluation of Tulane University and its role in the community. Tulane has long been one of the largest employers in the city, but after Katrina the focus shifted to a model where the school's curriculum and the local community could benefit from one another. Program director Byron Mouton notes that, "Hurricane Katrina is actually giving us a chance to deal with pre-Katrina situations." Students in URBANbuild spend the fall semester designing their houses. Then, following a final critique, one house is chosen and built in the spring semester. The house is generally 1,200 sq. ft. and located in the city. The program is reminescent of Auburn University's Rural Studio, but is of course geared toward the plight of urban victims of a natural disaster.

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For the sustainability junkies, (I am guessing) the house showcased in the series is called GREENbuild. It is a green home built with some lofty but achievable sustainable goals. The stated mission is to "research, develop, and construct an inventive and experimental prototypical house" and do all of that with regard to the city, the economics of the neighborhood and the environment. Tune in this August for more information.

Disclaimer: I have a masters degree in architecture from the Tulane School of Architecture.

For more information please visit the URBANbuild, Tulane University, Tulane School of Architecture, or Sundance Channel website. Additional information can be found in the July/August 2008 Metropolis magazine.

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July 23rd, 2008 at 7:50 AM

Architecture Experts

Seems like a great concept. Hope they can make it watchable. A bunch of students helping to build the lives of people affected by a natural disaster...sounds good to me.

August 16th, 2008 at 6:33 PM


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