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Architecture School Is Really Good

I’m not that interested in architecture, and yet I was intrigued by the rave reviews for The Sundance Channel’s new aspirational reality show, Architecture School, which premiered last night (and is also on OnDemand and iTunes.) The best way I can describe the show is “What if the products created on Project Runway really mattered to real people?”

AS is about a group of students at Tulane’s school of architecture who have to design a home for New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. At the end of the show, one student’s design will be chosen and the home will be built and sold through a program that helps low income families in the neighborhood. The most fascinating part of the show, and the part that makes it different from other reality shows of its kind, is the focus they put on the real people who might occupy the home (who are seen as much as the students, at least in the first episode), and the tension between their needs (an affordable home that doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb), and the fancy Frank Gehry dreams of the young would-be architects. It’s very clear that the students are going to have to completely change their ideas if they want to compete — in the first part of the first episode when their instructor tells them they’re going to have to “fit three bedrooms and two bathrooms into a 1200-square-foot house,” her announcement is met with hearty laughter, as seen in this clip:

The students don’t seem to get that they need to design a real, liveable home and not the building equivalent of a concept car. And as of the first episode, most of them still don’t seem to get it — especially Carter, who insists on a 3-story design despite being told that it’s very unlikely to be built. To put it in familiar reality TV terms: he’s totally the Spencer Pratt of Architecture School. Even if the architecture part doesn’t interest you, this show can pull you in just to see some cocky (and/or naive) kids get taught a real life lesson.