Green design on the little screen

"Did you watch that PBS show about sustainable skyscrapers in New York?" "Did you see that special on PBS where they talk about new cities in China?" "Why is Brad Pitt narrating a series about green design?"

For the last several weeks I've been getting e-mails like this, and I answer here a resounding yes, I've been watching DESIGN:e2, the six-part PBS series about the greening of buildings and cities around the world. The program was underwritten by Autodesk, makers of AutoCAD, the design software that's used by practically everybody who's ever worked on a building, a highway, a bridge, or a city planning scheme (it's like iTunes for designers, but less sexy).

DESIGN:e2 succeeds in pulling together compelling narratives from the chock-a-block information glut about green buildings, sustainable city planning, and public-private eco-partnerships. Instead of hand-wringing about the huge trash heaps created by Boston's Big Dig, for example, the producers follow Paul Pedini, an engineer who built his home from Big Dig waste (recycled concrete, anyone?). They use Pedini's story to explore how Beantown is reusing construction debris (what a shame that no one took the same care to ensure the safety of the Big Dig's tunnels...) We also meet a number of architects, designers, and city officials; hearing them describe their projects with fervor and passion could convince even the hardest skeptic that these folks aren't greenies because it's au courant—most of them have been practicing sustainable design for years, often anonymously. Underpinning these discussions is that dirty old M word: money. Sustainable design is framed as economically viable in the long haul, not just "the right thing to do." Even if green buildings sometimes cost more up front, this series asks, what's the ultimate cost to society if we DON'T build green?

There's a dearth of younger faces in this series, which is a shame, because much of the energy in green design comes from up-and-comers in their 20s and 30s. But this scarcity is mostly a reflection of the profession—it's pretty rare for American architects to make their chops earlier than, say, age 50.

As for why His Bradness lent his voice to the program, the actor's been getting around architecture circles for a few years, ever since he voiced his admiration for Dutch archi-star Rem Koolhaas and interned at Frank Gehry's office in Los Angeles ("Thanks Brad, I'd love more coffee… and while you're at it, order me a few thousand titanium panels"). And we certainly can't complain if Pitt's star power pulls in a few more viewers.

For those who can't get enough eco TV, the producers promise future e2 programs centered on food, transportation, and fashion, among others. Will Pitt narrate these? It's anyone's guess, but with or without him, e2 has managed to make green building seem appealing, achievable, and a little sexy—a very Plenty combo.


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Great, you are making good points and I hope every one reads this. Tank you.

I wanted to see this, but missed it...the DVD is in backorder at PBS for 2-3 weeks. Thanks for the post, it'll hold me over until I can get my hands on the DVD set.

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