On Sep 15, 2020, we shared our first list of “15 TV Shows for Architecture and Design Lovers (and Lovers of Architects)” as a fun way to share the shows our firm loves while speaking to the design elements that make them so visually appealing.
Over the past two years, the post has continued to garner more attention than we expected. If you were one of the readers who found our TV show guide handy, or are new to the TTC blog looking for something to binge, you’re in the right place. Two years later, we are back with another round of recent small screen sets that caught our eye since.
Where to Watch: Apple TV
Apple TV’s thriller series starring Adam Scott of “Parks and Rec” features the actor in a very different workplace story.
At Lumon, the mysterious company Scott’s character works for, employees in certain departments are given a “severance” procedure, cutting their work memories off from their outside memories. The corporate campus, fictionally set in a town called “Keir”, is really Bell Labs in New Jersey, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1962, which once housed the Nokia offices. In the series, once a “severed” employee leaves work for the day, they are essentially a completely different person.
The “Severed” floor, where the main cast of characters work, and the majority of the show takes place, is a stark, striking-yet-minimal ode to French filmmaker Jaques Tati’s “Playtime,” another story that plays with ideas of work culture using cell-like cubicle layouts and labyrinthine windowless halls.
Production designer Jeremy Hindle wanted to make sure the interiors of the office were both austere and visually dynamic, since most of the scenes are filmed there. His theory regarding office designs’ changed aesthetics over the years is in line with the theme of the series: “Every desk in the '60s, '70s, up to the '80s, everything was pristine: You had a pen, you had a phone, you just went to work. And then it all got [messed] up. You brought your home life to work, and now everybody's a mess."
It is true that, in “Severance,” the characters leave their work lives at work - but that does not seem to prevent things from getting messy.
The Gilded Age (2022)
Where to Watch: HBO MAX
Genre: Historical / Drama
If you could not get enough of the sumptuous historical sets in “Downton Abbey,” that's okay; neither did series creator Julian Fellowes.
For his new series, which takes place decades before “Downton Abbey,” in New York, he tells the story of transplant Marian Brook, a Pennsylvanian who moves to the city to live with two of her wealthy aunts. In 1882’s Gilded Age Manhattan, grand estates, lush parks, and the social lives of New York’s elite were supported by America’s progress during the Industrial Revolution. While Marion’s aunts are wealthy through family money, their neighbors are industrialists who earned their wealth as railroad tycoons.
The ensuing story takes viewers through New York in a time before neon signs, taxi horns, and Times Square. It is a portrait of old New York, achieved as accurately as possible by Bob Shaw, the production designer who secured still-standing Gilded Age buildings for filming. Two of the show’s sets are based on real-life Guided Age magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt's Marble House and The Breakers. Others were shot using almost entirely green-screen backgrounds. Rather than rebuild or physically recreate some of the dazzling exteriors of the time, they were recreated virtually in post production.
The result of both the genuine Gilded interiors and the newly-imagined ones contribute to the same effect: a show that, like its predecessor, allows viewers to seamlessly immerse themselves in the glamor of the past.
The Girl Before (2021)
Where to Watch: HBO MAX
Living in a stunning, minimalist home in London seems like a dream, but in “The Girl Before,” it's a nightmare.
Based on a bestselling domestic thriller novel, a seemingly average woman named Jane is approved to move into the home of an esteemed architect named Edward Monkford. As typical of a minimal design, the home is a moody maze of marble, concrete, and sharp angles. As she settles in, or tries to, Monkford becomes increasingly involved in Jane’s daily routines in the house, almost disturbingly so, and soon she realizes that the home’s previous tenant had a story of her own.
Usually, for a show with a house as “a character,” (as the book’s author JP Delaney has referred to it), a perfect house would be rented for the filming period and decorated to reflect the story. The case here was different - production designer Jon Henson took on the role of architect and designed a full mansion interior inside of a warehouse, which is where the majority of the show was shot. Henson was inspired by Japanese architecture’s simplicity and appreciation for natural materials, wanting the set to feel “like a sanctuary – and then sometimes to feel like a fortress or a prison.” Elements of the design, such as windows, corridors, and balconies allowed for different filming angles to keep the show interesting. While the house’s furniture is sparse, most of it was created from scratch for the show, ensuring it was truly as unique as the show plays it up to be.
Watching “The Girl Before,” which is spread over four episodes, can be viewed as a fun thriller series, but also as a study in how architecture can set different moods and play a dynamic role in a story.
Nine Perfect Strangers (2021)
Where to Watch: Hulu
Focused around a modern, holistic wellness retreat led by Nicole Kidman’s character, this thriller from the author of “Big Little Lies” has twists, turns, engaging characters, and a gorgeous coastal setting.
Using the book’s description of the retreat as a starting point, production designer Colin Gibson and set decorator Glen W. Johnson knew that the “Tranquillum House” needed to be airy and spacious, decorated with light wood, concrete, and glass, reflective of the ultra-natural, futuristic regimen Kidman preaches.
The team planned to shoot in California, searching for the perfect sets on the West Coast. When the pandemic meant California was no longer an option, they set their eyes on the recently-finished Soma Spa, a real wellness retreat in Byron Bay, Australia. While the story still takes place in California, Soma became the new “Tranquillum House.” The show, while set in a bright, carefully curated space, includes dark moments as well, making the juxtaposition between the story and the setting one of the most chilling aspects of the series.
Those looking to fully delve into the world of “Nine Perfect Strangers” can book a trip to Soma Spa, which they will notice from the website is fairly unchanged since filing. Unfortunately, though, Nicole Kidman will not be there to guide your group meditation.
Only Murders in the Building (2021)
Where to Watch: Hulu
Genre: Comedy / Mystery
The Upper West Side-based whodunit starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez takes place in “The Arconia,” a fictional building based on the very real culture and architecture of the area.
In “Only Murders in the Building,” three crime podcast-obsessed residents of the glamorous address are inspired to begin their own podcast after a murder takes place in their luxe building. At first glance, viewers would likely assume that the Arconia is a real place on 86th street, and they would be correct. The exterior scenes for the show took advantage of the The Belnord, a near-fortress in the Italian Renaissance style that spans the entire block. A recent renovation from Rafael de Cardenas and Robert AM Stern has given new life to the interior, which is not shown on screen.
Instead, the interiors were created on a soundstage by production designer Curt Beech and set decorator Rich Murray, who acted as interior designers to Martin, Short, and Gomez’s characters, crafting apartments for each of them reflective of their personalities. “The setting is based on a conglomeration of buildings where the courtyards take up an entire city block,” according to Beech, “There are not many of them left in the city and they are kind of unicorns.”
Although the architecture and interiors of “Only Murders in the Building” may be enviable, living in a building at the center of a murder mystery seems a bit less inviting.
For All Mankind (2019)
Where to Watch: Apple TV
Genre: Science Fiction
From creating spaces (like a 1960s NASA control center) to outer space itself (the surface of the moon), “For All Mankind”’s intricate sets and production are a testament to integrity and accuracy on a genre-defying series.
As we know it, Neil Armstrong, aboard Apollo 11 was the first person to step foot on the moon in 1969, historically ending the “space race” of the fifties and sixties. “For All Mankind”s plot revolves around an alternate timeline in which Russian air force general Alexei Leonov is the first human on the moon, an event which sends a butterfly effect through history. The subsequent story follows NASA engineers as they grapple with the defeat and begin training a new, diverse team of recruits while balancing their often complicated lives on earth.
One of the series’ primary sets is NASA Mission Control, which was expertly recreated from the real mission control room at the time, down to the inch. Even “the hinges on the doors and the pens on their desks” are exact replicas, according to Garrett Reisman, a technical advisor on the show. Lead actor Joel Kinnaman has stated that the meticulous design of the set is extremely beneficial for his performance.
Production designer Dan Bishop, known for his work on the much-lauded sets of “Mad Men” (which made it onto our first list), was the force behind creating large-scale, including a section of moon surface built into a soundstage, which used man made construction in conjunction with VFX technology and greenscreens in order to film very realistic space sequences. “Even I am surprised at how good the sets look,” Bishop has said of the series.
The second set built on a soundstage is Jamestown, a fictional American moon base designed to house three American astronauts while they experiment and explore. Real-life NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who lived on the International Space Station in 2008, served as an advisor on the design of the intricate set. The base utilizes actual Apollo designs, such as switches and dials found in the real spaceship, as well as design elements from Skylab, the United States’ first space station. While behind-the-scenes images of the Jamestown set have not been released, viewers can fully immerse themselves in the world of the space race during “For All Mankind”’s thrilling first three seasons.
“For All Mankind” is a favorite of Wayne Turett, The Turett Collaborative’s founder and principal, who is intrigued by the show’s creation of futuristic habitats.
“Only Murders in the Building Sets the Scene for a Stylish Whodunit,” Architectural Digest; “Inside the Creepy Paradise Where Nine Perfect Strangers Takes Place,” Architectural Digest; “What The Gilded Age Can Teach Us About Interior Design,” Architectural Digest; “For All Mankind — Creating the World Featurette | Apple TV+,” Apple TV; “What Went Into Building 'The Gilded Age',” Curbed; “House in The Girl Before designed to feel both like a sanctuary and "a fortress or prison,” Dezeen; “Through interiors, Severance reveals the gruesome nature of office work,” DomusWeb.it; “Inside the Tranquillum House From Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers,” House Beautiful; “In ‘The Girl Before,’ Minimalism Offers a Dangerous Sanctuary,” The New York Times; “For All Mankind Season 2,” Set Decorators; “How 'Severance' Made Its Office Prison Look so Inviting,” Thrillist; “Reconstructing the Arconia for ‘Only Murders in the Building’,” Variety
ArchitecturalDigest.com, Delicious.com.au, Dezeen.com, DomusWeb.it, Dirt.com, NYT.com, TheSpruce.com, SetDeocrators.org, WSJ.com