Tuning in: 6 construction tech documentaries to stream now

ESPN, the Food Network, a binge of your latest Netflix obsession. Kicking back with the small screen is worth making time for — especially when there’s the chance you might actually learn something new. To help with that last bit, we’ve rounded up six of our favorite construction documentaries available to stream online now.

On your next rainy day indoors, or if you’re feeling particularly motivated one evening, consider tuning in to one of the six episodes or films listed below. Educational and inspiring, these programs show the past, present and future of construction worldwide.

"Abstract: The Art of Design"

Where to watch it: Netflix

Debuting earlier this year, the eight-part first season of the Netflix original documentary "Abstract: The Art of Design" explores the multifaceted design world, from illustrators to photographers to architects. If you only have time for one episode, we recommend No. 4, which profiles the Copenhagen- and New York–based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Founded in 2005 by its larger-than-life namesake, Bjarke Ingels, the firm is known for a diverse portfolio of work spanning New York City’s towering 2 Word Trade Center; Google’s new Mountain View, CA, campus; a master plan for the Smithsonian Institution South Campus, in Washington, DC; and a forthcoming power plant in Copenhagen whose sloped roof will double ask a ski run.


"Super Tunnel"

Where to watch it: Netflix

Sit back and watch as engineers bore 26 miles of tunnels beneath the streets of London as part of the city’s $23 billion Crossrail project. The tunneling process was captured in an October 2016 PBS documentary that shows how the team has been able to carry out the massive undertaking — complete with 130-year-old masonry that behaves "more like stainless steel than brick and mortar" — without disturbing the existing London Underground subway system and while protecting the historical buildings overhead. The project is still ongoing, with continued track installation, station build-out and train testing planned for this year.


"Block by Block: The Men Who Built India’s Tallest Building"

Where to watch it: YouTube

Hat tip to ArchDaily for including this short film in its list of Architecture Documentaries to Watch in 2017. A project of Mumbai-based studio Landmarc Films, the 23-minute documentary shows the day-to-day life of workers on the local Palais Royale, which is nearing completion as the tallest building in India at a height of 1,050 feet.

While companies and governments in the region have been criticized for a lax approach to worker safety, this project seeks to set an example for improving conditions for the vast migrant labor force that is building India’s fast-growing megacities. At its peak, the 88-story project had 4,000 workers on site, many of whom were also put up in worker housing where they received food and healthcare. The film shows the impact of those efforts on worker well-being and project productivity.


"If You Build It"

Where to watch it: Netflix

If you build it, they will come … eventually. "If You Build It" tells the story of a pair of designers who successfully carried out a year-long design-build community improvement project in North Carolina’s rural Bertie County with the help of area high school students. The process wasn’t without resistance, however, from the school board to the students themselves. The documentary shows how the designers, community leaders and students overcame their differences, and the odds, to complete the job.

(See also: "Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio," which documents the work of architecture students at Auburn University to design and build community infrastructure for and with the residents of Hale County, AL. It’s not available to stream, but you can visit the project website for ways to watch.)


"Eero Saarinen: The Architect Who Saw the Future"

Where to watch it: PBS

Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen is known for his vast, curvilinear designs — perhaps most notably the St. Louis Arch (a commission for which he beat out his father, renowned architect Eliel Saarinen) as well as Dulles International Airport, in Virginia, and the John F. Kennedy International Airport’s TWA Flight Center. In this documentary, Eero’s son Eric Saarinen, a photographer and producer, combines present-day footage of his father’s structures captured using 6K drone photography with archival film and interviews with contemporary architects and critics. The documentary is part of PBS’s American Masters documentary series, which has told the stories of accomplished artists from Maya Angelou to Neil Young.


"Build It Bigger"

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video

From supertalls to high-tech stadiums to housing that can withstand hurricanes, "Build It Bigger" gives viewers an inside look at some of the most ambitious public works and other construction projects in recent history. Led by host and executive producer Danny Forster, the film explores the developments from the perspective of the crews that work on them and of the people whose physical and social communities they directly impact. The series ran on Discovery’s Science Channel from 2006 to 2011. Episodes can be purchased and viewed on Amazon Prime Video for $1.99 to $2.99 each. (You can also check out the host's "Extreme Engineering" television series on Amazon Prime Video.)


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