Cool Spaces! Host Stephen Chung Talks New Show, Boston Architecture

Chung's new series, which highlights forward-thinking architecture around the country, premieres Sunday, June 29, on WGBH.

Boston-based architect and teacher Stephen Chung first conceived of his new show Cool Spaces! some eight years ago. “It sort of came out of frustration with people not understanding what architects do and why it’s important,” he says. Rather than write a paper or book, he decided a TV show would be the best route to take.

After many pitches and rejections for Cool Spaces!, then titled Great Buildings, Chung finally found supporters at PBS, and after raising the funding he needed from the American Institute of Architects and others companies, Cool Spaces! moved forward with production and began airing this spring, with the WGBH premiere set for Sunday, June 29.

Each episode of Cool Spaces! digs into the architecture behind three buildings centered around one common theme. The premiere episode, for example, looks at three performance spaces: the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Other episodes in season 1 focus on libraries, art spaces, and healing spaces.

“The key is [all the spaces] are public,” says Chung. People can go visit all these innovative places.

One of Chung’s favorites on the show so far is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. “It’s magical, it’s a series of glass lanterns tumbling down a gentle landscape next to a very classical older building… The way that those two buildings complement one another is really great. And it’s not about thinking, ‘Wow, it’s so crazy!’ from the first blush. You kind of look at it, and you’re curious about it. You have to go explore it, it takes a little bit of time, and then you come away with a memorable experience.”

The show offers tours of each cool space, and Chung also talks with the spaces’ architects, owners, and experts for a small dose of architecture academia, i.e. here’s a simple explanation of how this unique building is able to hold shape.

Though no Boston buildings have been featured on Cool Spaces! to date, Chung hopes to expand the coverage of the show in the future to new topics like sacred spaces, schools, and more. Campus spaces, for example, are an area in which he thinks Boston architecture excels in. “I would say Boston is known for being a bit conservative in their architectural tastes, but I think on certain college campuses, you don’t see that,” he says.

Here are a few examples in the Boston area that Chung considers “cool spaces”:

simmons hall mit

Simmons Hall at MIT Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Stata Center and Simmons Hall at MIT
Designed by Frank Gehry and Steven Holl, respectively

“MIT is really doing some incredible things,” Chung says. One of two examples he cites is the Stata Center. “That building is so bizarrely porky, [there’s] a lot to look around and see—it’s such an interesting collage.” Simmons Hall is another standout. “Some really exciting experiments are happening on MIT’s campus,” Chung says.

wellesley college campus center

Wellesley College Campus Center Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Wellesley College Campus Center
Designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects

“It’s pretty spectacular—it’s a really rolling, beautiful college setting, and then you have this really sculptural building made of slate. Because it’s a campus center, it’s really open and connected, and when you go there you feel this wonderful energy, like you’re in a beehive,” Chung says. “It’s probably my favorite building in the area.”


ICA Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Institute of Contemporary Art
Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

“The ICA is a very strong building. It’s a very nice message, it’s what people see coming from the water or the airport. You see this glass box leaning over the water, and it’s sort of saying, ‘We are also forward thinking.’ You think that Boston is just brick, looking backward, so it’s nice to see that jewel-like, lantern-like building,” Chung says.

As for Boston architects trying cool new things, Chung says there are many, including Moshe Safdie, who designed the Kauffman Center in Kansas City, one of the buildings highlighted in the premiere of Cool Spaces! “That building is very peculiar and interesting and surprising,” Chung says. “And Safdie also did the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.”


Cool Spaces! premieres in Boston on WGBH on Sunday, June 29, at 1 p.m. For more info, visit