Uncontollable Urges to Build: 'Grand Designs' Considered
Part of the flattening of the globe is our access to programming from everywhere, uploaded by fans and only sporadically monitored on YouTube. Staples of national television, ubiquitous in country, now have new international viewers who come wide-eyed and appreciative to what has become part of the furniture at home. Via YouTube you can get over a dozen national versions of the Great British Bake Off, for example. For me, I just bumbled upon Grand Designs, a staple of TV in the UK for over 20 years and my new obsession.
Grand Designs has a simple brief: follow the construction or restoration of an interesting new home. Kevin McCloud, the host, is a designer, not an architect, but savvy enough about building projects to bring his sceptical eye to the process and ask the homeowners the tough questions. How much are you over budget? How far behind “shed-yule” are you now? Are you sure you want to go up all those stairs when a child forgets a school book? He crawls over the builds, tours factories making innovative materials and construction systems, and sometimes lends a hand on projects. He is perfectly fitted for the task of hosting the show.
So each of the now 200+ episodes (including specials and versions from other countries) selects a home construction project to follow. Some are from scratch, others conversions of existing structures, and others hybrids of new additions or adaptive reuses. What they share in common is homeowners with a strong vision, a central passion. That may be following an aesthetic ethos (such as minimalism) or philosophical outlook (sustainability); proving a concept (we will build a home using X new construction material/method); or simply bringing into being a personal design for living. Kev does a great job of drawing a thematic line around the owners’ central principle and following it through the project to remind us what makes this build unique.
Because each project, each set of owners are unique, the shows are addictive and singular. I have seen two episodes (so far) where old water towers were readapted--and these episodes, owners, and (re)uses (indeed the water towers) were nothing like each other. These shows end up really being a study in passion, obsession, and drive, as the owners hang on to their project goals while they negotiate with planning officials, architects, site workers, and sometimes even Kevin, to realize their imagined, grand designs.
The creative urge, the desire to create something with meaning and value, undergirds all great art. Whether a single, an album, a book, a film, or a grand design for a home, the passion, the compulsion of the visionary is fascinating. Compromises, conflict, and victories, small and large lurk behind all such works. Grand Designs, primarily the vision of presenter Kevin McCloud, does a bang-up job of taking us through these stages on some idiosyncratic, awe-inducing homeplaces.
What: Grand Designs television series; each episode dedicated to an interesting home build
Where: Netflix (Seasons 10 and 15 as of May 2020); Tubi Series label 11 and 12 that I think are 13 and 14 really), YouTube (many seasons, specials, Australian and NZ versions).
Why: Masterly, succinct distillation of human urge to create, leave a legacy, one house at a time.
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