Tag Archives: ELEMENTAL

PODCAST: DESIGN INFLUENCER GROUP AND THE NEW RULES OF DESIGN & ARCHITECTURE

August 23, 2019

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by James Butchart)

I was honored to be an inaugural member of Josh Cooperman’s Design Influencer Group, or better yet, “DIG.” As part of the Convo By Design’s platform, DIG was launched to examine, “industry trends and information not just about design, but about the business of design . . . design creatives are being asked to do more, for less.” Cooperman introduces, “The Design Influencer Group is a forum for a select group of design trade professionals to discuss these industry issues and design ideas that are shaping our design community here in Southern California.”

Josh Cooperman: What are the new trends of design and architecture?

Anthony Poon: We’re here today having a round table discussion with landscape designers, architects, interior designers, people of all sorts. The trend is that there are no boundaries, that people who are architects are also furniture designers. They’re also landscape architects. Interior designers are designing textiles and plumbing fixtures. It’s all one big blur of a movement of creativity.

Josh: What are the new rules?

Anthony: I think the exciting thing is that there are no rules. In the old school days, architects were well-defined, and so too were landscape designers, urban planners and furniture makers. The fact that there are no rules is what makes us all want to do what we do. It’s a form of creative entrepreneurship—everyone coming up with ideas and making it work. Learning as you go.

Thematic painting by Shag

Josh: With change comes casualties?

Anthony: I’m going to propose a trend that is the opposite of what some think is trendy. I call it, “The Death of Mid-Century Modern.” Sure, Mid-Century Modernism is popular. We all know it’s exciting; it’s everywhere. And I just came back from speaking at Modernism Week in Palm Springs.

My trouble with Mid-Century Modernism is that it’s become not just a fad, but a predictable formula. People are collecting Mid-Century Modern design as if they’re painting by numbers. These fans purchase that perfect pottery, the Eames chair, the avocado green paint, etc. We all know the elements that make up the beautiful Mid-Century composition, but if you’re just putting the pieces together like a mindless formula, like painting by numbers, then all you’ve got is a generic composition of random pieces that don’t speak to your personality.

Design should be individual, should be unique. It should tell a story about who you are. Mid-Century Modern is no different than saying you want an Elizabethan home, or that you want a Grecian temple, or any of these past historical theme parks. It’s not design. It’s not creativity, and I am getting tired of seeing these predictable clichés. No one should want to live in a museum of Mid-Century cliches.

Concept sketch for the Aztec Center Student Union, San Diego State University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA)

Josh: What’s next in design?

Anthony: I think what’s next should not be driven by styles, clichés and formulas. It should be driven by the elemental qualities of architecture. Elemental items—we’re talking about things like indoor/outdoor connection. We’re talking about proportions, air, light, scale, composition. These are the things that are “what’s next.” “Next” should not be a discussion of a trendy shade of green paint, but rather the crafting of a spatial experience, a creative journey.

My footage on YouTube here. My podcast segment on iTunes starts at 43:52.

Study model for the Aztec Center Student Union, San Diego State University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA)

PETER ZUMTHOR AND ELEMENTAL IDEAS

November 3, 2017

Zumthor’s original 2013 presentation model for LACMA. Though it looks like a conceptual diagram, this is actually the complete design for the project. (photo from inexhibit.com)

There are the usual suspects: Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei, and so on. Call them celebrity architects or call them “Starchitects,” but one greater walks amongst these mere mortal rock stars. I speak of the one who is called an “architect’s architect.” He is Pritzker-winning, Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.

Many non-architects may not even know the name of the enigmatic Zumthor, for his Haldenstein-based practice is small and artisanal, perhaps even cultish. But in a short time to come, Los Angeles will know Mr. Zumthor’s work.

LACMA’S campus building architects
upper left: William Pereira (photo by George Carrigues); upper right: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (photo by Alison Martino); middle left: Albert C. Martin Sr. (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); middle right: Bruce Goff (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); lower left: Rem Koolhaas (photo by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times); lower right: Renzo Piano (photo by Museum Associates / LACMA)

He has proposed a courageous addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (“LACMA”). This museum campus has had a string of prominent designs of their time, from the 1965 concrete structures of William Pereira to the curious 1986 Post Post Modern addition of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (my previous employer), from the 1994 purchase of the iconic Streamline Modern May Company department store by Albert C. Martin Sr. to the quirky yet poetic 1988 Pavilion for Japanese Art by Bruce Goff, and from the controversial 2004 unbuilt $300 million glass roof from Rem Koolhaas (my previous teacher, herehere and here) to the elegant but underwhelming 2008 and 2010 buildings of Renzo Piano.

Exterior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)
Interior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)

Contrasting all this noisy activity, Zumthor’s proposal is so elemental and simplistic that you have to wonder if this is pure genius, or is it a blob of ink that accidentally got turned into the $600 million dollar project?

However, this is how Zumthor excels. He generates ideas like we all did in architecture school or even as a child. Innocently.

Simple ideas come to us all, and if we stay true to our opening statement, then our architecture can result in greatness. But in the real world of client changes, limited budgets, unrealistic schedules, and construction shortcomings, our ideas of greatness are at best compromised. At worst, our ideas drown in a tidal wave of mediocre practicality and code compliance.

The Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo from arcspace.com)

Somehow, project after project, Zumthor keeps his conceptual visions alert and alive from the first day of the design process to the final day of construction. Take for example some of his concepts, such as this one for a hotel in Chile. The presentation appears to be no more than twigs, rocks and debris—literally. Yet , Zumthor addresses the mundane necessities of things like bathroom plumbing and air conditioning, or budget and constructability, and time after time, his final building parallels the essence of his first idea.

Presentation models for Zumthor’s Nomads of Atacama Hotel, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (photo Peter Zumthor, Buildings and Projects, Volume 5)

If we common architects delivered such a presentation as the hotel above, in what seems like no more than a teenager’s effort, we would be laughed out of our client’s conference room. The genius of Peter Zumthor is almost Warholian. Not only are the ideas of Zumthor artistic in nature, but he is able to artfully convince a Board of Directors that his ideas are artistic and worth pursuing at all costs. As often critiqued, Andy Warhol’s genius was most profound not in the work, but rather, in how he convinced everyone that he was a genius.

Peers would not take this kind of cynicism with Zumthor. As the media discouraging called Zumthor’s LACMA scheme the “ink blob,” reminiscent of the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits, we had faith in our hero. This architect of poetry and practicality will work in the fire escapes and exit signs,  the desert sun beating through the enormous panes of glass, and the structural engineering to bridge over six lanes of traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.

Proposed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (photo from dezeen.com)

With recent museums in Los Angeles, such as The Broad , the Petersen , the above mentioned Renzo Piano buildings at LACMA, and the in-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures also by Piano, each of these projects will look like what happens when talented architects try too hard, yelling like a child for attention. And then, Zumthor walks in the room with grace and calmness.

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo by Felipe Camus)
© Poon Design Inc.