Tag Archives: TV

CELLULOID HEROES

May 27, 2016

Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead (1949), Robert Reed in The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), Charles Bronson in Death Wish (1974), Paul Newman in Towering Inferno (1974)

Why are there so many architects in the movies and on TV?

In most cases, the fact that an actor is an architect on the small or big screen is superfluous to the actual plot. Though a popular trope, the role of the architect is no more than a characteristic, a trait assigned to the male lead, and in fewer cases the female lead, only to provide substance and gravitas.

This matter—the truth and accuracy of how architects are portrayed by Hollywood—is frequent coffee room or cocktail hour chatter among practicing architects. We are at turns offended or flattered, but always perplexed.

Here are the basic elements of the architect-in-entertainment mix-and-match dramatis personae toolkit:

 – affluent, but not necessarily rich
 – thoughtful and introspective
 – attractive
 – cultured
 – sensitive
 – artistic-with-a-job
 – highly intelligent
 – coolly professional

Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987), Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991), Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)
Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987), Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991), Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)

The writer and director of Sleepless in Seattle needed Tom Hanks to be the reserved, artistic businessman at the center of the story, so they made him an architect, not a poet, cop, or hedge fund manager. They also didn’t want Hanks actually being an architect most of the time. Those paying to watch a romantic comedy with Meg Ryan want to see Hanks as the sensitive, romantic architectural designer with an ideal nature, not Tom Hanks as a real architect trying to restart his laptop because the Revit software has crashed again, and then spending the rest of his day slaving for a client who can’t decide whether the exterior paint should be tan, sand, or beige, or whether the bathroom tile should be ivory, buff, egg shell, or ecru. Also, Hanks can’t spend his time hitting the pavement hoping to find another commission so he can pay his office rent.

Poets, cops, and denizens of Wall Street are equally charged character fodder, but for different purposes. The architect character is altruistic, worldly, cool, but not too cool, well dressed, and established. Architects are also considered not wild, emotional, or too, too sexy. (I would sometimes like to be, or at least thought of as being, one or two of those things.)

In a drama, the architect is the cool center, and often needs the supplement of other traits from the screenwriters’ playbook, such as diplomatic jury member or struggling educator, to beef up the character’s potentially monochromatic dimension. In comedy, the architect’s impartiality allows other cast members to shine uncontested with wit and satire. Architects are safe non-distractions.

Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994), Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996), Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996), Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)
Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994), Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996), Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996), Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)

Here’s a partial list of movies featuring architects:

Boris Karloff in The Black Cat (1934)
Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead (1949)
Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men (1957)
Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet (1960)
Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now (1973)
Charleton Heston in Earthquake (1974)
Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987)
Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991)
Steve Martin in HouseSitter (1992)
Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)
Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994)
Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996)
Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996)
Matt Dillon in You, Me and Dupree (1998)
Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)
Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999)
Billy Crudup in World Traveler (2001)
Liam Neeson in Love Actually (2003)
Ashton Kutcher in Butterfly Effect (2004)
Michael Keaton in White Noise (2005)
Adam Sandler in Click (2006)
Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006)
Virginia Madsen in Firewall (2006)
Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)
Luke Wilson in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
Tom Everett Scott in Because I Said So (2007)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Steve Martin (again) in It’s Complicated (2009)
Ellen Page in Inception (2010)
Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011)

Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999), Adam Sandler in Click (2006), Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006), Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)
Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999), Adam Sandler in Click (2006), Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006), Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)

Except for the Gary Cooper role, which came with the heavy expectation associated with Ayn Rand’s bestselling and controversial novel, The Fountainhead, I suspect most do not recall that the actors above portrayed architects. That’s how well the role was written and the stereotype applied. And as to the stereotype syncing with the real world, the roles are mostly male, reflecting an issue in the real architectural world, though that is changing for the better.

Serious movie fans will note some omissions on my list. I did not list the following, for the reasons stated:

Paul Newman in Towering Inferno: He’s really playing an architect in a real design and construction crisis, not playing a stereotype.

“The Architect” in the The Matrix movies: He’s not a builder of buildings per se, but a builder of an entire future world, which I certainly envy, but not quite to that extent, my ego aside.

Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies: As he is a vigilante murderer, I invoke the “exception proves the rule” cliché. Architects can be cool, but not cool killers.

For my full feature essay, go to the Film and Music Issue of the recent LA Home.

Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009), Ellen Page in Inception (2010), Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011), Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009), Ellen Page in Inception (2010), Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011), Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)

IS TV FOR REAL?

April 1, 2016

Yes, all my construction workers look this good in a tank top.

I don’t usually make time to watch those TV reality shows on design. The unrealistic scenarios and oddball decorators/designers drive me nuts. Also, it all complicates my work life.

I find suspicious that some of these shows carry a disclaimer, something like, “Consult your professional architect, engineer, general contractor, and building official.” This sounds a lot like, “Don’t try this at home, kids.”

But here is the irony. These DIY channels inspire the audience to try this literally at home.

Is this a TV series or a comedy skit / parody?
Is this a TV series or a comedy skit / parody?

The shows promote a misleading premise that almost anyone can design, anyone can build. You don’t need a state registered architect or a structural and electrical engineer, you don’t need inspections, and you certainly don’t need much time or money.

Episodes defy the space-time continuum. These TV makeovers, renovations, and construction projects suggest that it’s all just a matter of days, or even hours. Through television magic, a home can be completely reconstructed in twenty-four hours. How is this possible, when paint needs to dry between coats, when tile grout needs to set before sealing, or when cabinets might need a few months to be fabricated in an off-site woodshop?

On one of these shows—and I have to remind myself they are shows for entertainment—I saw the foundation for a two-story addition completed in a few hours. Industry standard note: Concrete requires a drying and curing time of 28 days.

I don't know what it is, but something about these two creep me out.
I don’t know what it is, but something about these two creep me out.

I know: No one believes such reality shows to be actual reality. But the exaggerated degree to which “reality” is distorted disappoints. In one book on the background of such programming, the producer related a story about a couple provided with the tools and materials to paint their new bedroom in one evening. The producer confessed that after the cameras stopped rolling, the couple decamped to a hotel. A professional construction crew came on the set to do the actual job: taping, mudding, caulking, spackling, sanding, priming, and ultimately, the application of several coats of paint.

The cameras started rolling again on the couple faking exhaustion from an “all-nighter, all-alone” paint job.

Actress Jennie Garth from the TV series Beverly Hills, 90210. Credentials as a contractor and architect?
Actress Jennie Garth from the TV series Beverly Hills, 90210. Credentials as a contractor and architect?

Who are these charismatic so-called celebrity designers? Where did they receive their education and to what licensing board are they responsible? Do they know the life safety risks when removing those load bearing walls to open up a kitchen to the dining room?

When I recently tried this for my own home, that one wall happened to hold up the roof. And a commercial steel frame needed to be custom fabricated and installed to keep the house from falling down. And my existing concrete foundation was saw cut for deeper steel reinforced concrete footings. And a structural engineer calculated all the details. And the city had to approve the technical drawings for the permit. And the field inspectors came out several times to approve the welds, rebar, epoxy, etc.; and, and, and . . . You get the idea. It took four months, not four hours.

I do enjoy the entertainment value of these reality shows; I just don’t like how they muddy the waters of the architecture industry. Theses TV reality shows provide a false impression of the rigor and liability inherent in producing a valuable design, whether a renovated kitchen, a new backyard, or a house addition.

Nicole Curtis in action for the cameras, on Rehab Addict
Nicole Curtis in action for the cameras, on Rehab Addict
© Poon Design Inc.