Television gave architecture and architectural criticism not only the chance to flourish, but to be beamed into millions of homes
By Emily Pugh
While the opening night of Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center on September 23, 1962, was hailed as a watershed for the arts within New York City, it might have gone unnoticed by those living elsewhere. That is, were it not for an eponymous CBS News TV special, in which Aline Saarinen introduced the glamorous new hall to millions of Americans. At least for one night, architecture was at the center of the country’s most prominent stage.
Television was by no means the only mass medium in which the public or professionals could find information about architectural design, although it arguably provided the widest exposure on such topics. By the time Saarinen was telling viewers about the new concert hall in New York, around 90 percent of American homes contained a TV set. The new medium played a key role in raising the profile of architecture in the United States and, in particular, helped establish the idea in the minds of the American public that architecture was art, but also a commodity to be consumed.
Programming about architecture and design, as well as the arts more generally, filled the television broadcasting day virtually from the moment there was a broadcasting day to fill. These shows had the sheen of high culture but also leveraged the full potential of a highly visual medium, making them attractive to network executives as a way of elevating TV’s cultural cachet while also selling TV sets. At the same time, television was useful to arts organizations as well as architects, designers, and museum curators, in their efforts to reach new audiences and patrons. In the 1950s, the Museum of Modern Art in New York embarked on a “Television Project” that resulted in, among other things, a series of TV appearances by Edgar Kaufmann Jr. on Margaret Arlen’s CBS morning show, in which he presented objects from his “Good Design” program. The American Institute of Architects, having only recently embraced public relations, extolled “The Great New Medium, Television” in its monthly PR newsletter in 1953. AIA chapters across the U.S., in Spokane, Washinton; central Florida; Dallas; central New York state; and elsewhere soon took up the call to promote their profession, producing programs with titles like “So You Want to Build” (1953) and “Design for Your Living” (1954). Many individual designers and architects also got in on the act. Charles and Ray Eames debuted their chaise lounge on NBC’s Home show in 1956, while Philip Johnson appeared with Louis Kahn on an episode of the CBS show Accent titled “The Architect.” Frank Lloyd Wright was a veritable fixture on television during these years, appearing on game shows and specials, as well as in interviews that networks continued to rebroadcast in the years after his death in 1959. (Wright was eulogized in the AIA Journal by TV host Alistair Cooke.)
Read on >>> Source: ArchPaper Television cemented the idea that architecture was both a rarefied art and key to the good life