Have you ever binge-watched a show while working on your latest project? This is nothing new for many architects and designers; but even if you’re not the type to watch while you work, there are certain shows that can inspire you during your downtime with incredible examples of world building and amazing architecture. From action series to documentaries, there are a number of television programs with especially exciting and stimulating content for architects, designers, and architecture lovers.
Sci-fi shows such as Westworld and The Expanse, are full of incredible fantasy architecture and cities that inspire you to think outside of the box. Meanwhile, docuseries such as Abstract: The Art of Design and The World's Most Extraordinary Homes feature real-life buildings and incredible designers to introduce you to your next favorite project. Even sitcoms can be creatively energizing. It may not feature the grandiose scale of architecture or historical depth of other genres, but the series How I Met Your Mother includes one of the most famous representations of an architect in popular media—though most agree Ted Moseby may not be the most accurate depiction.
Keep scrolling to find your next favorite TV show to keep you inspired and excited to design! And if you are more of a movie buff, make sure to check out our article on our favorite films for architects and architecture lovers.
Must-See TV Shows for Architects and Architecture Lovers
Synopsis: Altered Carbon is a cyberpunk Netflix series based on a novel by Richard K. Morgan. The show takes place in an alternate world where human consciousness can be stored on “stacks” and transferred to different bodies. Takeshi Kovacs is a legendary soldier who is awakened to a new body and hired to investigate a murder.
Why you should watch: This show is a great binge-watch for architects and designers. It includes incredible world-building with architecture and urban design that perfectly fits the alternative universe. The nature of storing human consciousness—which basically results in immortality—leads to a big gap between wealthy and poor. This disparity can be found in the built environment in Altered Carbon—dense futuristic cities lie far below the classically designed mansions in the sky.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Synopsis: Avatar: The Last Airbender is an American cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon. It is set in a world where certain people called “benders” have the power to manipulate one of four elements: water, earth, fire, or air. One person, known as the Avatar, has the ability to bend all four elements and their responsibility is to keep the world in balance. The show follows the current Avatar, a 12-year-old named Aang who recently reappeared after 100 years. During his absence, the Fire Nation has waged war on the other nations and thrown the world out of balance. It is Aang’s responsibility to put things right.
Why you should watch: Though some people may not be interested in cartoons, Avatar: The Latest Airbender features unparalleled world-building with complex histories and local lore. Though there are only four nations, the main characters of Avatar travel to unique cities that show a range of architecture and culture. The bending styles influence the design of the architecture and how the cities function, from “streets” made of flowing water in the Northern Water Tribe and a system of rock slides in the earth bending city of Ba Sing Se. This series is a must-see for its incredibly original storyline and carefully considered world.
How I Met Your Mother
Synopsis: How I Met Your Mother is a sitcom told from the perspective of a father recounting stories to his children. It follows the life of Ted Moseby, a young New York City architect, and all of the events that led to him meeting the mother of his children Luke and Penny.
Why you should watch: Though How I Met Your Mother is not really about architecture, it is probably the most famous depiction of an architect in a popular TV series. Ted Moseby is a young architect trying to make it in New York City. Though he seems to spend most of his time with his friends, we do get some insight into his life as an architect. Moseby struggles with a boss that doesn’t appreciate his design work before founding his own firm, Mosbius Designs. Though you probably won’t watch this for the NYC architecture, it is a lighthearted show with neat references to design.
Synopsis: Mad Men is a period drama series about the Sterling Cooper advertising firm on Madison Avenue in New York City. It follows the dramatic personal and professional lives of the “mad men” and women who work in the high-pressure field of advertising. The show covers a long period of time as the company and characters adjust to social and career changes throughout the '60s and ’70s.
Why you should watch: Mad Men is a great show for designers. As the series goes on, you will be able to catch the gradual changes through design, architectural trends, and even clothing. Much of the show takes place in the offices of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency of which there are plenty of incredibly composed shots of the interiors. Though the storyline itself is enthralling, you’ll also be impressed with how carefully researched and accurate every time period is and how many subtle clues you’ll find about the changing times.
Synopsis: Westworld is a sci-fi Western about a fantasy amusement park of the same name. At Westworld, rich visitors can do anything they want. Their wildest fantasies are made possible by robotic hosts using artificial consciousness. The main appeal of Westworld is that no matter how wild the requests may be, the guests will face no consequences for what happens there.
Why you should watch: This show is a great pick for architects and designers because of the unique cities and the buildings that populate them. Do you ever wonder how these shows design all of these incredible structures? In the case of Westworld, concept projects were taken from the archives of architecture firm BIG, or Bjarke Ingels Group, and used to fill the cities. If you watch the series, see if you can guess which buildings were real concepts developed by these architects.
Abstract: The Art of Design
Synopsis: Abstract: The Art of Design is a Netflix docuseries that covers great creatives in many realms of design. Each episode covers a new world-renowned designer from a different field. The first season includes illustration, footwear design, stage design, automotive design, graphic design, photography, interior design, and of course, architecture.
Why you should watch: Architects or architecture lovers may want to watch Abstract for the architecture and interior design topics which include episodes about Bjarke Ingels and Ilse Crawford. Aside from these obvious choices though, other design episodes of Abstract are equally entertaining. Though you may not feel very connected to the art of stag or footwear design, these design practices are great watches to help you think outside of the box and unlock some creativity in your own design studies.
The World's Most Extraordinary Homes
Synopsis: The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes introduces you to some of the wildest house designs around the world. The show is hosted by architect Piers Taylor and actress Caroline Quentin as they travel to new and exciting places to find these unique homes.
Why you should watch: Get ready to unlock some new ideas when you watch The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes. Even if you are not very interested in residential architecture or design, these incredible designs will have you reconsidering. From houses built on terrifyingly steep cliffs to whimsical wooden structures among the trees, this series is sure to inspire you with fun and unusual architecture.
Synopsis: This pick is another reality TV show that introduces you to some unusual homes. Similar to the World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, this show focuses on unique interiors. In fact, many of the features on this show don’t look like much from the outside. The great architecture can only be found once you enter the home.
Why you should watch: If you are more interested in interior design, Amazing Interiors is the perfect fit for you. Many of the interesting finds on this show are selected for their unexpected secondary functions like part-time museums and even a backyard roller coaster. You will see three different “amazing interiors” in each episode. Watch this show to see some wild design ideas and hidden gems.
Synopsis: Grand Designs is yet another reality show that walks us through some incredible homes. The show is hosted by Kevin McCloud and has been running since 1999. Unlike some of the other shows on this list, however, Grand Designs gives you a bit more insight into the construction process since these homes are at varying levels of completion. At the beginning of each episode, McCloud introduces us to the clients and the vision for the final project. Each episode closes out with a tour of the finished home.
Why you should watch: Grand Designs is a clear pick for architects and designers for the great homes included in the series but also because each episode introduces the viewer to the design and construction process. Since the show has been going on for so long, you are also sure to find plenty of variety to suit your own design style.
Synopsis: Blown Away is a televised glassblowing competition where 10 glassblowers compete for an art residency at the Corning Museum of Glass and a cash prize of $60,000. Each artist is challenged with a theme and object to create as artists are slowly eliminated until just one remains.
Why you should watch: Though it's not about architecture, Blown Away is a great show for designers who appreciate craftsmanship. With each difficult assignment, participants are asked to consider high-level concepts and balance them with time restraints and their own personal ability. You’ll be amazed at the incredible works these glass artists come up with.
Tales from the Loop
Synopsis: Tales from the Loop is an Amazon original series based on the work of digital artist and designer Simon Stålenhag. Each episode of the series is based on the life of a resident of Mercer, Ohio. As you watch, you will slowly begin to learn more about the town and its underground facility called the “Loop”— where researchers attempt to “make the impossible possible.”
Why you should watch: This show is a great watch for designers and architectural visualizers. It is based on the work of Simon Stålenhag, a popular digital artist whose design style includes surreal representations of technological futures. Since this show is based on incredible artwork, you’ll find beautifully composed scenes and some really beautiful storytelling in the alternative architecture of Tales from the Loop.
Synopsis: Part of the Star Wars franchise, The Mandalorian is a series that centers around the mysterious character simply known as the Mandalorian. He is a bounty hunter hired to find and bring back “The Child,” often lovingly called Baby Yoda. He later decides to escape with the infant and attempt to bring it back to its kind. The events of this series occur five years after the Star Wars film Return of the Jedi.
Why you should watch: The Mandalorian is a high-budget production that architects and designers might enjoy for its extensively developed space architecture. As the Mandalorian and his companion travel, you will also see plenty of interesting space cultures and beautiful interiors in space desert towns or high-tech spaceships. If you love sci-fi architecture and out-of-this-world structures, you’ll love all of the creative designs in The Mandalorian.
American Horror Story: Hotel
Synopsis: As you may have guessed from the title, this pick is an American horror show centering around a hotel. American Horror Story: Hotel is actually the fifth season of this anthology series and includes new cast members like Lady Gaga. The show takes place in Hotel Cortez in Los Angeles, California where homicide detective John Lowe investigates tragedies. The hotel is plagued by a few murderers including the Ten Commandment Killer and the Countess.
Why you should watch: American Horror Story: Hotel takes place in a beautiful hotel loosely based on the mysterious Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. The dramatic, double-height lobby is adorned with red and gold details not modeled after any real hotel. Production designer Mark Worthington shares that the design had some architecture history inspiration, explaining: “Tonally, I thought Art Deco would make sense for the horror genre because it can be dark and spiky and odd and the composition is strange. It’s beautiful, but it isn’t necessarily inviting.”
Synopsis: This science-fiction series takes place hundreds of years in the future while humans begin colonizing other planets. Now, Mars and Earth are nearing war. The main characters include detective Josephus Miller, Chrisjen Avasarala of the United Nations Security Council, and the ship’s officer James Holden. This team and the crew must uncover a conspiracy that will have a dramatic impact on the impending war.
Why you should watch: We love The Expanse for its great world-building and conceptual ideas about space architecture. Similar to The Mandalorian, this show imagines a new type of architecture and how design may change from Earth to Mars, or wherever else humans may go. We also love the spaceship interiors that act as a backdrop for many scenes in this series.
Synopsis: Cowboy Bebop is another space Western. It is a popular anime about a bounty hunter crew traveling in their spaceship called the Bebop. Most episodes follow the team’s latest bounty as they travel through space. While the show is full of interesting new places, a common theme of Cowboy Bebop is a constant battle against isolation and loneliness. It is considered by some to be the best anime series ever made.
Why you should watch: This anime earns a place on this list because of its incredible world-building. As you watch, you may find interesting clashes in architectural styles that inhabit different planets. You may be able to find influences from Gothic cathedrals, alleyways that seem to be straight out of Tokyo, and futuristic buildings that look like the latest Zaha Hadid project. If you don’t watch it for the storyline, watch it for these great design influences and world-building.