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Spend Time in 'Cool Spaces'
December 14, 2010  | By Eric Gould

If you're not in the habit of paying attention to the 21st century city -- the modern architecture around you -- PBS might be cooking up something to help you look at it more closely. The public TV pilot Cool Spaces is looking at modern architecture. It's up to be green lit, pending panel review and viewer interest from folks like you.


This new show idea by Boston architect Stephen Chung is being developed by The Idea Factory in California. The PBS website says Cool Spaces, which looks at the "most provocative architecture of the 21st century," is "the story of people and how their lives have been affected by a great piece of architecture. Each program presents a complex portrait of a diverse group of people and their shared connection through a building."

On the show website, Chung's portrait appears alongside such current masterworks as Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Spain's Bilbao (shown above), New York's new building for Cooper Union College by L.A.'s Morphosis (photo below), and Steven Holl's Simmons Hall (photo below that) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

The 13-part series was proposed to the PBS Diversity and Innovation Fund, whose annual panel has short-listed Chung's project with 15 other program ideas (out of 200 submitted). Wednesday, Dec. 15, is the last day to send an email of support for modern design, although there are many other worthy choices, too. (Voice your opinion at the DIFund page.)

Architecture is influential "when someone is able to combine art and purpose and make it beautiful," Chung says on the promo video. "We want to meet the owners, the architects, the clients that are behind some of this great stuff."

Chung is also a featured designer for Showtime's "Showtime House," where luxury residences have been inspired by the themes of original Showtime series. Chung has created a provocative suite based on Laura Linney's character from The Big C.

Personally, I'd be happy with a simple assault on all those colonial mongrels now dotting the American suburbs. But Chung would stay firmly in the public realm, accessible to all. Cool Spaces plans to visit new libraries, dormitories, restaurants and hotels -- new works by leading architects taking the most visual and conceptual risks.


It's not as if the viewing audience has an aversion to design. Series like Design Star on HGTV, and other contest shows like Project Runway or Bravo's new Work of Art, are consistent draws.

I've always supported these shows, despite their cringe factor. They bring the conversation of modernism and design to a large audience. PBS would perhaps present the better format, although a show with difficult-looking modern work, discussed in what may turn out to be too rarified a manner, could be doomed to channel-surfing rejection.

We probably shouldn't expect mainstream ratings for Cool Spaces, which is unlikely to showcase the hysterical crying fit, backstabbing or confessional videos.

But if we're ever to escape the cookie-cutter colonial, it might be through a full exploration into abstract design, new materials and open-space living.

Everything around us is changing fast. Our new offices, museums and public places have the power to inspire us and perhaps make us more creative, efficient and productive.

Cool Spaces seems like it could get us comfortable with 21st century living a lot sooner than we thought.


Eric Gould is an architect at Helicon Design.

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