Stephen Chung on location interviewing Steven Holl at his office
Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Stephen Chung: I am a Boston-based architect and a former teacher. More recently, I have focused my efforts on promoting architecture through television. To that end, I am the Creator and Host of Cool Spaces: The Best New Architecture. This is a television series for public television which debuted this past spring. Simply stated, the goal for the show is to promote what architects do and why it’s important for everyone.
Novedge: What has been most important in developing and growing a successful career in the arts?
Stephen Chung: I haven’t thought about this- but off the top of my head, I would say that it’s important to encourage creative activities from an early age. In particular, it seems to me that secondary education does not place a high value on the arts or creative writing. I always enjoyed free-hand drawing and fortunately I was encouraged to keep at it without knowing where it might ultimately lead.
Novedge: What delighted and what challenged you while filming Cool Spaces?
Stephen Chung: A television production is comprised of very a talented, experienced team- producers, shooters, editors and writers. With Cool Spaces, the only one that was not experienced was me. And as on-camera Host and in charge of editorial content, I had a lot of responsibilities. I like to use the analogy of a rookie quarterback on a very good football team. We purposely kept the “playbook” simple to give us the best chance of making a good show. As we make more shows and I gain more experience, hopefully we can open it up a bit- go more unscripted for example.
The entire process “delighted” me. It really is like making architecture, only instead of a building, the final result is a television show.
Novedge: Did anything change for you after shooting Cool Spaces? Do you have a different view of the architecture profession?
Stephen Chung: I really enjoyed speaking to the featured architects, especially off-camera. We spoke in simple, direct terms about the challenges of running a practice and making good work. Before the show, I have interacted with many of the architects, but usually in an academic context. And there, everyone acts a bit differently. There is a veneer- a bit of posturing and “archispeak”. It was nice to be able to get beyond that and right to the core.
Stephen Chung on location interviewing Frank Gehry at his office
Stephen Chung with Jerry Jones at the Cowboys Stadium
Novedge: What can architects learn from storytellers such as filmmakers and vice versa?
Stephen Chung: The CEO of Zappos.com, Tony Shieh, gave a nice keynote speech at the AIA Convention in Chicago. One thing he said really struck a chord with me. He said that most innovation comes from outside of your industry. Similarly, when l was looking for inspiration for the show, I spent a lot of time looking at shows on Food Network and Travel Channel. Surprisingly, I learned a lot from watching “survival-type” shows on Discovery and Science channels. There is always some instruction in those types of shows- how to make a fire or set a trap. Similarly, we wanted to have bits of instruction on our show. Zooming outwards, there is a clear arc in an hour-long show. How do you get an audience to stay with you for the full hour? Using other tv shows as models definitely helped us.
Stephen Chung with Tod Williams and Billie Tsien on location at the Barnes Foundation.
Novedge: What innovations do you find most exciting in architecture?
Stephen Chung: I am impressed by the array of tools that an architect has to explore design ideas. Of course, there are advanced 3D software available, but I personally find that even the simplest to use programs like Sketchup, can do so much. And when the design tools facilitate exploration, it can only lead to new things.
Novedge: What's next for you?
Stephen Chung: I would like to continue to promote architecture through television. We will continue with public television as long as there is underwriting available. But at the same time, I am exploring commercial networks as well. I would like to expand the message. Having the precedent of a show out there does give me the credibility to approach a commercial network and pitch. While it doesn’t mean something is imminent, at least they will listen.
Novedge: And here's one last, fun question: what architectural site would you like to visit with or without a television crew and haven't yet?
Stephen Chung: There is a house outside of Barcelona called the Ugalde House designed by the great architect Jose Coderch. It is a free-form house rendered in white plaster and completely adapted to its topography. When I discovered this house as a student, it completely upended the way I was thinking about design. To me, the design illustrated how an architect has to trust their intuition and not always try to “control” the placement of every line. I felt liberated as a designer after studying this house. I think it would be the coolest to visit in person.
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