By Ron van der Veen

“Nothing is higher than Architect.”
—George Costanza (alias: Art Vandelay), Seinfeld

“How should I put this delicately, Mike? Your designs are from another time.”
“That’s kind of you to say, Mr. Phillips. I’ve always thought of my style as classic as well.”
—Mike Brady having a conversation with his client,
The Brady Bunch

Brady Bunch House

The Brady Bunch House.

I have always been interested in the cultural and psychological forces that influence one’s decisions to enter the architecture profession. To look at any recent list showing the worst college degrees to get in the country, one understands it’s got to be an almost completely irrational decision. 

I would imagine that, like me, the television set has had an inordinate amount of influence over almost everyone’s vital life decisions. Early on, I used TV to help me explore a broad range of future career options. They included everything from being first mate of a shipwrecked boat on a deserted island living with two gorgeous single women (Mary Ann or Ginger?), to being an astronaut living with a stunning genie in lingerie. I was going through puberty in suburban America and the possibilities were endless!

At work recently, I found myself daydreaming about TV’s subliminal influence on our desire to be architects. After pondering this for a bit while my permit deadline waited, I decided to survey architects in town with a simple question:

Who is the greatest architect in the history of TV?

I actually received more than 200 fervent responses (there must have been a lot of delayed permit submissions!). The following is my top ten list:

Honorable Mentions:

12. The architect from “Architects Sketch,” Monty Python

This was only one skit in a Monty Python show decades ago, but it is still hugely influential. The sketch is introduced by a group of five “gumbies” who keep shouting, “The Architects Sketch!” An architect who designs slaughter houses proposes a tower of “flats” that slaughters people. It’s funny, in that Monty Python, ‘60s, English sort of way. Most modern Americans now don’t get it. I don’t...(Episode 17 of Monty Python Flying Circus)

11. Frank Gehry playing Frank Gehry, The Simpsons

Marge asks Gehry to design a concert hall for Springfield. Gehry refuses at first, but is soon inspired after he crumples Marge's letter and hurls it to the ground.

Here is what Gehry himself said of his cartoon appearance: “That was just a fun thing. But it has haunted me. People who’ve seen The Simpsons believe it!” Poor Frank…(Episode 14, The Seven-Beer Snitch, Season 16)

 

The Top Ten:

10. Fred Sanford, Sanford and Son

Mr. Sanford was a junk collector. This show is on the list because of Fred’s passion for architectural accoutrements. He had a unique eye for aesthetics and was very articulate about his craft. He once mentioned to his aunt Ester, “Beauty may only be skin deep, but ugly goes down to the bone!”

9. The Professor, Gilligan’s Island

Again, though technically not a true architect, the professor deserves special credit for his architectural, engineering and urban planning skills utilized during his years shipwrecked on the island. The professor oversaw the design and construction of a thriving community with a complex infrastructure and social order virtually all made with coconuts. He also had Ginger!

8. (Tie) Leoncio Ariza, Por Tu Amor

You might be surprised to find a few foreign TV shows with architect protagonists on this list. I guess it reflects the current international nature of the profession in Seattle.  

This Telenovela in Mexico is about as hot as my Valentina Salsa Picante! It has love triangles. Heck it’s got love trapezoids! And it has an arquitecto muy suave in the middle of it all named Leoncio Ariza. This is the kind of architecture I practice in my dreams!

8. (Tie) Pete, Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place

The show all architectural students should jump on Netflix and watch. Pete, who is an architectural grad student, is strapped for money so he takes a job at Beacon Street Pizzeria with his roommate, Berg. Pete is a bit uptight, while Berg is a free spirit. Little does Pete know, he will need this extra job most of his career.

7.  Bob Ross, the frizzy headed PBS painter who was a “soft talker.”

Stretching it a bit, but he had to know something about architecture because all of his paintings had little cabins in them.

6. Elyse Keaton, Family Ties

This 1980s show smashed open the doors of opportunity of our once sexist, male dominated elitist profession for its portrayal of the first women architect on TV. Elise was an ex-hippy turned architect married to a PBS producer. It was a perfect liberal dream-come-true, except for a rebellious neo-conservative son who happened to be played by Michael J Fox. I was always a bit suspicious of her design ability based on the ornate, decorative house they lived in.

5. Wilbur Post, Mister Ed

This 1950s show is still a vital cultural influencer! Wilbur practiced architecture in a barn with a horse as an assistant. Mister Ed consistently outsmarted Wilbur. His wife never had a clue about the intimacy of their relationship. Kinda creepy.  

4.  Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother

He has no money, he has no girl, he has no success and he has no life: one of the most accurate portrayals of an architectural intern in the history of television.

3.  Alex Fong, The Building Blocks of Life

Surprised at number 3? Well, this is a popular show among Chinese architects, and China has a lot of architects! In the first season, Alex is a rising architect about to be engaged with his lover Winnie, but he falls in love with fellow architect Freeda. He starts two-timing them and I don’t get a big enough word count from ARCADE to explain the rest.

2. George Costanza (alias: Art Vandelay), Seinfeld

George had absolutely no formal architectural training or aptitude, but whenever he wanted to impress women he referred to himself as architect Art Vandelay. Once in a pinch he was asked what kind of architecture he designed. His response was an unconvincing: huh… railroads.

1. Mike Brady, The Brady Bunch

The Iconic and timeless presence of Mike Brady is amazing. He was mentioned in the survey three times more than all the other architects combined. And this, 40 years after the show ENDED!!!!! Mike was consummately cool, good-looking, had a gorgeous wife, three hot daughters (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!), and a really groovy house. He did most of his work on a 2’x3’ drafting board in his den at home—even some skyscrapers! He must have had a huge capacity for intellectual concentration since his wife, six kids and maid were constantly interrupting him.

But man, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia…

This article has been updated from a version published in ARCADE issue 22.2 in winter 2003.


Ron van der Veen is a principal at NAC|Architecture and should be focused on more important things than TV architects. For comments or ideas, [email protected]

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Photo by Karen Borter. Used under Creative Commons / cropped from original.
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