Hollywood often portrays architects in movies and TV shows with an air of prestige and lofty aspirations.
There are so many shows about cops, doctors, or lawyers; I implicitly infer that these jobs are represented accurately, if not slightly glamorized. But whenever someone claims to be an architect, I immediately have pause.
There have been numerous depictions of architects in movies and TV shows, from Mike Brady1 to Ted Mosby, but these stereotypical pitfalls have ultimately led to a failed understanding of the profession.
However, I can critique these other depictions another time.
Today’s Hollywood rant is directed towards Matt Bomer who plays the suave Neil Caffrey in the TV show White Collar. In Season 04 Episode 12, Neil plays an Architect.
Neil is a world-renown conman; with a predilection for fine art, expensive wine, and tumultuous relationships with women.2 As an art expert, he offers his services to the FBI for a reduced sentence for his elitist crimes.
I really shouldn’t complain about Neil Caffrey depicted as an architect. If people thought every architect was handsome, intelligent, and suave I wouldn’t even write a blog; rather, other people would write about me in US Weekly. However, this episode just didn’t feel believable.
Neil appeared in an office showing off his skyscraper model to a corrupt developer, whom immediately was smitten and instantly hired fake architect William Grey to actualize the building. Throughout all of Neil’s art escapades I am usually like, “Oh yeah, it probably only takes Neil Caffrey one evening to recreate a fake Monet painting and fool any curator in the world.”
But who built this skyscraper model? Ask any first year architecture student, it would have taken an individual numerous days to finish that model.3 My mother has all my architecture models neatly wrapped in large plastic bags sitting in the attic of our shed; not because they are immaculate creations, but because the laborious time dedicated to them is equivalent to the time it takes to learn a foreign language.4
In addition, it takes immense craft to build an architectural model. The precision needed to construct a model is probably comparable to finishing this ridiculously tiny puzzle.5
I would like to envision Neil and his ebullient pal Mozzie sipping wine late into the night trying to decide if the model base should be chipboard, or grey museum board. However, they didn’t show Neil constructing the model.
So, who actually built this skyscraper model overnight?
I can’t imagine his handler, Peter Burke, or anyone at the FBI tediously staying up all night being frustrated that the Elmers is taking too long to dry; so they irrationally grab the hot-glue gun and destroy the Plexiglas. The skyscraper would have looked comparable to a horribly constructed 2nd grade macaroni noodle masterpiece.
The contrived storyline became even more straining when Neil described his skyscraper magnum opus.
–Dialogue between the actor (Matt Bomer) posing as the character(Neil Caffrey) pretending to be the fake architect (William Grey) and a sleazy developer
“You’ll note the Western European influence — geometric, unornamented, powerful. Honesty and clarity on 70 floors… The roofing is inspired by the Great Pyramid of Giza, eldest of the seven ancient wonders of the world.”
“What’s the framework at the top?”
“Bronze-toned I-beams. Why hide the strength that supports the structure?”
I remember my Girlfriend responding, “Yeah, why don’t more buildings expose the supporting structure?”
I hated to argue her point;6 the words were great, and clearly a stolen interpretation of Mies Van Der Rohe.
Nevertheless, the actuality of the skyscraper did not represent the impactful dialogue. It is probably not fair to analyze the aesthetics of an architectural model briefly displayed to further the plot line, but there are several inconsistencies concerning my Girlfriend’s adoration.
The crux of my derision is that “Bronze-toned I-beam.” It looks more like shiny copper, but the depth of the structural beam is huge. I am not a structural engineer, but I am pretty sure that the “I-beam” does not need to be that large7 to support part of the Plexiglas Pyramid of Giza zenith.
Mies famously expressed the internal structure on the exterior of his Seagram Building by sheathing the exterior in a non-structural bronze metal skin. He then added additional vertical articulation that helped stiffen the skin for wind loading. Mies had to encase his structure in concrete for fireproofing, so unless the “I-beam” is coated in copper colored intumescent paint, the “I-beam” would be purely ornamental.
I won’t even argue the naming convention of “I-beam”. Most architects are probably indifferent to people referring to Wide Flange Beams incorrectly as I-beams. Regardless, probably a few would vehemently denounce the intellect of the speaker. These same people correct you for interchanging the words concrete and cement. Any reputable architect would know the difference, and not mix up the usage, but it still doesn’t dilute the intent.
This is similar to English majors being “Grammar Nazis” about the word “finalize.” Sure, I realize the word “finalize” is inherently vague (it could mean to finish, or it could mean to terminate), but if someone gave me a contract document for a new client, and told me to “finalize it,” I am fairly certain I would not immediately head to the paper shredder.
Perhaps this overarching disillusionment of architects is not a result of Hollywood writers being unaware; but rather of architects hiding beneath their narcissistic cloaks, and never allowing the public to fully realize their value. But until then, I will hope Hollywood architects are portrayed by the likes of Matt Bomer instead of Adam Sandler.
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1 Yes I know Brady Bunch is mistaken as my namesake, but I was too young to watch
this show while in syndication.
2 This could be the bio for many architects as well.
3 And countless cups of coffee.
4 I think Pig Latin is a foreign language.
5 Yes, it comes with tweezers.
6 OK, I never hate to argue.
7 Or protrude out of the glass escarpment.