‘How Did They Build That?’ Host Jay Ellis Talks Season Two and His Love For Architecture

published Aug 31, 2022
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Graphic of Jay Ellis
Credit: Photo: Getty Images/Monica Schipper/Stringer; Design Apartment Therapy

Historical architecture, underrated locations for travel, and fascinating construction — what else could you expect from a television series on the Smithsonian Channel? In season two of Smithsonian’s “How Did They Build That?,” you may recognize a charming voice that will be familiar if you’ve recently binge-watched “Insecure” or seen “Top Gun: Maverick.”

As the series’ host, Jay Ellis takes viewers on a literal journey around the globe to chat with the “star-chitects” who developed captivating structures. With insight from Lord Norman Foster, David Adjaye, Daniel Libeskind, Patrik Schumacher, and Santiago Calatrava along with other experts like Nehemiah Mabry, Ellie Cosgrave, Corina Kwami, and Hayley Loren, Ellis mentioned that it was “inspirational” to hear the architects’ visions.

Apartment Therapy had the opportunity to learn about Ellis’ experience as the host for the second season, his hidden love for architecture, and the most memorable parts of filming “How Did They Build That?”

Apartment Therapy: While keeping yourself busy with the “Insecure” finale and “Top Gun: Maverick”, how did it feel to be tapped by the Smithsonian for this project?

Jay Ellis: It was amazing, and a lot of fun. I don’t know if the Smithsonian knew this or not. Or if the Smithsonian channel/institution knew this, but I’m a huge architecture nerd. I love it — residential, commercial, all of the above. I remember when my manager called me, and I was like, “Wait, what? How do they know that?” So, it was an honor, a lot of fun, and I’m really grateful for the experience.

AT: What were your favorite episodes to host from season two?

JE: There is a library that is built like a stack of books that is absolutely amazing. I think it’s in the northwest. But it’s literally a stack of books from the outside, and it’s absolutely amazing. There’s another building in Balboa, Spain, that was really cool. I was being introduced to these structures. They sent over a packet with all this information on all these buildings. And some of them I knew, some of them I did not know, I would say the majority of them, I actually did not know. But I was being introduced to them and fell in love with each one of them whether it was their design, construction, the process, or the intent behind the building. Every single one of them is so unique in terms of their challenges and what their ultimate use is and what they look like. So I think with every single structure, there was always something to love with every single one.

AT: So I know this season covered a variety of American structures, is there anything cool or fascinating that you learned about architecture while filming this series?

JE: I learned something every single episode; with every single building, there was something new to learn. I think one of the things that’s really cool to me is when architects and builders start talking about new materials that typically aren’t used in commercial construction or large scale construction. I’m constantly learning because every single structure, building, architect, designer, builder and engineer is different. To see these new materials being applied is such a cool glimpse on what 20 years from now looks like.

AT: Between geometry geeks and star-architects, did you have any memorable conversations with the experts featured in this series?

JE: To hear an architect’s vision for something and where they found that inspiration is such a wild thing. In their mind, [they] can design it and tell you how big it should be on the site and its weight and all these things. You meet these engineers who are absolutely brilliant, and they tell you [that] in order to achieve an architect’s vision, this is what we have to do and this is how it has to be engineered. It reminds me a lot of teamwork or making a film or television show where everyone has to have the same goal.

Whether this will be your first time viewing “How Did They Build That?” or you’re ready to start season two, both seasons are available to stream on the Smithsonian Channel.