It was a longtime dream of producer/director Michael Selditch and screenwriter Stan Bertheaud to tie together the professions of film and architecture. Both men are trained as architects and met two decades ago in California while teaching studio at Woodbury University. After years of discussion, they finally are bringing their vision to the screen.
This Wednesday, Aug. 20, the Sundance Channel will begin airing Architecture School, a six-part reality TV series about students who are helping rebuild post-Katrina New Orleans. The show focuses on 12 students in Tulane University’s design-build program, URBANbuild, as they conceptualize and construct a 1,200-square-foot house for a low-income family.
Selditch, who directed two seasons of the popular show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, says the Sundance Channel was the ideal place to pitch their concept, given that documentaries and independent films comprise most of its programming schedule. The network, which is under the creative direction of Robert Redford, expressed interest right away and in August 2007 gave the filmmakers the green light to proceed with their idea.
Initially, Sundance gave Selditch and Bertheaud $40,000 to put together a 10-minute trailer for the show. The trailer was used as a tool to recruit participants and was presented to architecture schools throughout the country. Tulane University, in New Orleans, jumped at the chance to showcase its URBANbuild program, led by Byron Mouton, AIA.
From fall 2007 to spring 2008, Selditch and two crewmembers filmed the students as they designed and built the house. An early episode shows students enduring a pin-up critique and late-night hours, intended to provide a glimpse of the creative process to a general audience. “Clients think architects simply draw up a scheme,” Bertheaud explains. The show also reveals the many people involved in the project. Viewers hear not only from students, but also neighbors and the staff at a local housing agency.
Laura Michalchyshyn, Sundance’s executive vice president of programming, says there still is much work to be done in New Orleans, two years after the deadly hurricane struck. “This series provides a great opportunity for Sundance Channel to be part of the rebuilding process,” she says, “while presenting inspiring and compelling programming that spotlights sustainable design and the next generation of community planners.”