chopped architecture

Chopped Basket.jpegIf you are like me, you find most TV totally useless. I don’t care for sitcoms, reality shows are senseless, and I don’t watch or care to watch enough TV to get caught up in drama series to where I rearrange my schedule to watch it or care enough to record it. I won’t pay extra to subscribe to Netflix or some other service as dumping my current cable service is likely imminent when the bundle runs out. The only time we watch an ongoing drama series is during exercise time on a DVD rented from the library, and that’s only the pass the time! Therefore, if do we watch TV, we find ourselves watching something mindless (and G or PG rated) on the Food Network. The mysterious phenomenon of watching people cook developed over the years from masters like Julia Child and other pioneers that found a way to make it interesting to watch food preparation on television. Who would’ve ever thought we’d watch someone tour the country, visit a restaurant and share a few of their dishes? I hope the history books are kind.


Well, if you’ve ever watched that network, you must know the prime time show Chopped where four accomplished chefs battle it out for $10,000 by working with unrelated and unusual ingredients placed in a basket before them. They must make something spectacular with ingredients they don’t choose, nor necessarily go together, all for our amusement.  It makes for stimulating entertainment even though the Food Network has inexplicably chosen to play this show relentlessly during prime time because with so many hours of TV available, we have truly run out of engaging topics. No wonder Millennials and younger only watch YouTube. Read a book already.


I know you’ve been reading this in anticipation for how I might make a connection to architecture. You’ve guessed correctly – another stroll down the center of the road that splits the land of sour grapes and optimistic skepticism. An enduring habit of architects is to compare work that is praised in the media, showcased, and even awarded versus what it is like for the most part in what I call the world of real architectural practice. This is not intended to discriminatorily criticize well-known firms, nor would I want to be guilty of exhibiting jealousy. I’m quite happy with my current practice, the work I do is uncommon and the opportunities given to me are well earned. Nevertheless, we do tend to commend and desire the rarely unusual rather than looking at those that are clever by working under incredible constraints. The weird, unusual and bizarre will always be more interesting but will evade most like the grapes and water remained just out of reach for Tantalus.


My warped brain cannot help but wonder what if there was architectural version of the show (which could be accused as mainline practice) where architects are given ingredients (as opposed to inventing them, custom fabricating them or having access to the most expensive materials) and asked to make architecture under time constraints and lay-people watching? Silly isn’t it? What if architects were given a basket of off the shelf, inexpensive materials and asked to make a building not only function by keeping out the rain, serving the purpose of the occupants who live in the house, work in the office, or use the library but insist that the result have the potential to become great architecture? Could architects take those ingredients and make uplifting architecture worth celebrating for a very (and I mean very) small budget? (My architect friends are already saying yes, many already do this). Why don’t we see more of this?


Well, this is what most architects do every day given real constraints in which they must work with real clients that aren’t looking for an award or masterpiece. Don’t these architects really deserve the proverbial $10,000 prize for being clever with ingredients they didn’t control? It’s just something I think about in our glamour driven culture. I’d love to celebrate more architecture that is available to everyday people with common everyday means – that’s good reality TV. If I was the judge of much of what I see published, I’d have say, I’m sorry, but you’ve been chopped.



chopped architecture

4 thoughts on “chopped architecture

  1. MJ says:

    Interesting idea – I remember hearing about a beautiful passive house constructed for around $20,000 near Houston at Greenbuild 2015 using found materials and was truly impressed. Also, sort of reminds of the constraints of building something at burning man – what zero-waste temporary structure or habitat can you build in the middle of the desert?
    Didn’t care for that polemic against TV; film is an art form to be respected. while there is much garbage television out there, there is also an enormous amount of thought-provoking, insightful, and meticulously exemplars of the media.

    1. The burning man reference is a good analogy and if one can build passive house for $20K, I’d love to see it. I have watched a lot of TV in my life and we can debate the merits of it in another medium, but I’d probably lose. I do agree film can be a true art form among so many poor ones out there, despite how few I see. Many analogies to architecture could be made.

  2. Tim Barber says:

    I remember in college asking a professor one night ” Why do you always compare us to FLW and Corbu? Why don’t you compare us to John Smith Architect, Blacksburg, Va. because that is who we will be competing against when we get out” The professor crossed his arms and responded “Good point” and then walked away.

    1. I suppose one could argue “to whom much is given…”, even though that has nothing to do with architecture, but it seems there is far more architecture to celebrate if we were just made more aware of it. I don’t advocate a race to the bottom either, so aspirations are important. However, many architects will never have opportunity if they can’t invent their own cladding system, have carte blanche with a budget, nor be given license to explore what a project “could be.” I’d give an award to John Smith from Blacksburg, VA.

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