Tag Archives: I.M. PEI

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING DAVID E. MARTIN

January 5, 2018

Residence in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France (photo from David E. Martin Architects)

How many friends of yours have hung out with First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis, as well as President Barack Obama? How many friends of yours have designed for Microsoft’s Bill Gates, as well as Apple’s Steve Jobs? Or renovated a house that sits on 60,000 acres in Austria?

Staying below the radar, David E. Martin, architect and humanitarian, has done the above. And that’s just for starters.

David E. Martin with First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis and with President Barack Obama, photographs taken 50 years apart

What can I say about David, my business partner, as he ponders retirement? It seems almost inconsequential to speak of his residential masterpieces that have graced cities around the world, or of his 18 years as project architect for legendary I.M. Pei.

During his stint at Pei’s company, David launched his own architecture office. In the wee hours before the sun rose, during his lunch breaks, and in the wee hours during the darkest of midnights, he grew his Manhattan company to 15 employees, as well as jump started some of today’s greatest designers. Oh, and David learned French and Italian too.

Residence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (photo from David E. Martin Architects)
Residence in Bel Air, California (photo from David E. Martin Architects)

I say ‘inconsequential’ above, because it is the philanthropy in Mr. Martin that strikes me. Unfortunately for the rest of us, his benevolence and altruism highlight how we are all ridiculously selfish—as we ponder what fancy car to lease next or the trendiest foodie restaurant for which to line up.

Not a tribute or a puff piece here, I just want to show some stunning pictures of David’s architectural projects and mention a few other things, like how he provided 40 hours a week of hospice work at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in west Los Angeles, year after year. No, not just a weekend gig of a few volunteer hours here and there. David’s license plate may at first glance reads, “HOTSPICE.” But no, it actually declares the compassionate message, “HOSPICE.”

Residence in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France (photo from David E. Martin Architects)

Or, providing over 500 scholarships to date for students throughout the world, such as at Princeton, Idyllwild,  Whitworth, Westminster in London, and Chiang Mai in Thailand, just to name a few.

Residence in Austria (photo from David E. Martin Architects)
Residence on Fifth Avenue, New York, New York (photo from David E. Martin Architects)

Years ago, when we got a big check from one of our first clients, David requested that we donate $10,000.00 to P.S. Arts. Greedy and horrified, I proclaimed WTH? But after doing so, I now understand that giving gracefully can surpass the noble things that an architect can do.

Residence in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France (photo from David E. Martin Architects)

To a mentor, colleague and friend, I scribble these notes not to speak of legacy or of Martin/Poon Architects, but rather, simply to say thank you.

IS TV FOR REAL? PART 2

February 17, 2017

Potential clients have come to my office asking for three free designs from which to pick—“the way we saw it on HGTV.” My anger aside from how reality TV twists reality, the client’s request compromises the integrity of the architectural process. (This article is a follow up to my past one, Is TV for Real?)

My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)
My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)

When I design for a client, I don’t draw three random schemes in a vacuum. I listen to the client first—their goals and dreams. When I show preliminary concepts, the client provides feedback on what they like and what they don’t. Through this back-and-forth process, a design develops, and is then refined. Not ever in a vacuum, the creative process is an exciting and thoughtful journey.

Okay, time for me to confess. Here and there, I have learned a few things from TV about color coordinating, selecting furniture, and being creative on a budget. I confess!

Also, the reality TV DIY shows have brought design to the forefront, that a well-crafted, nicely-styled life is desirable and achievable. In 15-minute bite size servings, these shows have delivered architecture to the mainstream.

Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949
Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949

In some distant past, clients were under the impression that design was a mysterious, closed-loop process. Now, many are conscious of how accessible good design advice is, whether from an award-winning architect or, yes, a charismatic TV personality.

I enjoy meeting with clients who already understand the concepts of an open floor plan, for example. Good or bad, these clients come prepared with Pinterest pages on style. Thank you reality TV. The clients and I can hit the ground running, proceeding with a shared foundation. Knowledge is power, after all, even in choosing paint colors.

Love-It-Web

Once was a cocktail debate between architects: “Who is the most influential voice in our industry?”

The usual suspects were tossed out as conversational sacrificial lambs. Local big names like Steven Ehrlich and Eric Owen Moss. Pritzker Prize winners like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. A safe go-to is naming the senior leaders like I.M. Pei and Renzo Piano.

National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)
National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)

Another angle is to suggest famous architects no longer living, but believed to be still influential today, i.e., Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier. Pretentiously, you can also try the obscure, though no less significant, such as Wang Shu, Sverre Fehn or Paulo Mendes de Rocha.

Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)
Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)

My contribution that night stopped the discussion. I proclaimed, “Martha Stewart!”

At the time, Martha Stewart utilized avenues of outreach in all forms, and was better known than any other designer in the country, maybe even in the world. If she stated with a quiet breath that “pink is to be used at table settings this season,” you could count on millions of dining tables across America set with something pink.

Stewart-2-Web

Let the debates and cynicism rage on. It’s all for the good. Martha, HGTV, Sunset, Houzz, Dwell, Wayfair, the plethora of magazines and blogs, etc.—all of it deserves gratitude from architects everywhere. To the widest audience, these mainstream entities deliver the concept of wanting good design. And for that, I say thank you.

Covers-Web

THE RELEVANCE OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

October 14, 2016

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC (photo by Patrick Witty, NGM Staff)

The overdue National Museum of African American History and Culture recently opened in Washington, DC. Masterfully composed by British architect David Adjaye, born in Tanzania—I ask the question: does such a museum have to be designed by an architect of African descent?

Was the 1993 Holocaust Memorial Museum, also in D.C., best designed by James Freed, born to a Jewish family in Germany? Was Freed’s vision compromised or complimented by the design partnership with Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei?

Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by AgnosticPreachersKid)
Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by AgnosticPreachersKid)

When this 70-year old Pei designed Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, did the Upper East Side New Yorker proclaim affinity for Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Gun N’ Roses, Nirvana, and Pink Floyd (all inductees)?

Actually no. In fact, Hall of Fame board members took the self-admitting ignorant architect to a series of rock concerts, to “give him a sense of the music,” according to director Larry Thompson.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by Vik Pahwa)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by Vik Pahwa)

When Seattle announced a museum honoring martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee, I was convinced that I could be the perfect architect. I am Asian, I was in the high school drama club, and I studied a little karate as a kid.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973)
Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973)

This all raises the question: What makes up qualifications and expertise in the field of architecture?

Mural design for doctor’s office, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design
Mural design for doctor’s office, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design

Poon Design is currently designing a (male) doctor’s office. If the project was specifically a gynecological clinic, would only a female architect produce the superior project? Should a woman architect not try her hand at designing a football stadium, since fans are mostly men and there are no female NFL players?

Proposed NFL Stadium adjacent to Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, by Greg Lombardi and Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by NBBJ))
Proposed NFL Stadium adjacent to Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, by Greg Lombardi and Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by NBBJ))

For downtown Los Angeles, I designed a large homeless shelter for the Catholic Charities. I also live in a nice house high up in the hills. Does this circumstantial detachment from gritty street urbanism preclude me from doing an effective design for the homeless? Apparently not. The AIA honored this important social project with the Design Award of Excellence.

Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ KAA, photo by Anthony Poon)
Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ KAA, photo by Anthony Poon)

Architects are trained to be problem solvers and visionaries for any kind of challenge, not only the challenges that relate to one’s personal experiences—whether it be race, religion or socio-political background. Or whether I took martial arts classes when I was 14 at the local YMCA.

I believe that if an architect is wired to be creative, trained with an open mind, and a lifelong learner, then an architect’s personal story could help a project, but is not necessary. Similarly, if an architect has no relevant background to the project’s goals, there is no doubt that the design can still be a tremendous success.

(Selecting an architect is of course also political, and that, my friends, is a topic for a future article.)

SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE ARCHITECTS

June 24, 2016

1940’s architects (public domain, photo from wikipedia.com)

Why do some people like having architects around as conversation pieces, while simultaneously accuse us of unbearable pretentiousness?

Arguably impressive and both cultured and irksome, architects have the ability to speak about almost anything, to pontificate, to provide diatribes on nearly any topic—from why Apple will fail or succeed, to the specs of a car vs. the specs of an espresso machine, to the latest documentary on documentaries.

Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue
Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue

Though most architects can provide “constructive criticism” on many topics, ask an architect about the last three Super Bowl championships. Or ask for a review of a Tom Cruise blockbuster. Rather than being a casual conversationalist, the architect might deliver a righteous discourse on the downfall of Western Civilization.

At times, there is the better-than kind of reaction to a situation that would typically draw an authentic human response, such as laughter to a good joke, or complacency at a family gathering. Many architects are skilled at displaying boredom as they try to appear as though their creative minds are preoccupied with the next big idea that will deliver world peace.

Architects try to be cool, want to be cool—and yes, some are. But many are just trying too hard. They are no better or worse than anyone else. The problem is that only architects seem unaware of this fact.

We possess our own absurd lexicon. (See, I just used the word “lexicon.”) A sentence almost makes sense as the architect speaks it, particularly when the client witnesses the conviction in an architect’s voice along with the poetic glaze in the eyes.

The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)
The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)

In a review of a new building, the Harvard Design Magazine actually spewed, “Unlike architecture that seeks to articulate understandings about the nature of things through expressive or metaphoric mimings, this remarkable building yields us actionable space.” Or, “Digital design finds its certainty in a parametric computation of infinite, noncritical formal variability, with its simultaneous assurance of all possibility and no particularity.”

Huh?

Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)
Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)

Maybe this convoluted speaking is pseudo-intellectualism, but in truth, it is ridiculous when you hear an architect (me included) present in full egomaniacal glory. Do we really need to use words like tectonic, datum, aperture, and gestalt all in one sentence? Do architects need to use the common tags “-ality,” “-ology,” and “-ity” to make words sound fancy? Words that gush out of the architect’s mouth too easily: actuality, phenomenology, specificity, and homogeneity.

How about the name of an architect’s company? There are the invented names that might sound like words you know, Morphosis and Architectonica, for example. There are abbreviations that are sort of the founder’s name, SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates), or MAD architects (Ma and Dang). And there is the use of the generic—such as OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), or FOA (Foreign Office Architects).

Also, my favorites are company names with unique spellings, punctuations, capitalizations, such as Office dA, SHoP, SPF:a, wHY, No.mad, or Coop Himmelb(l)au. How does the receptionist answer the phone? How does she spell the name when asked? “Capital this then that, no, lower case, now get rid of the space, yes, add an open parenthesis, no, it is actually spelled wrong, I mean, that is correct . . .”

Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)
Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)

Then there’s our appearance. Most architects are well-groomed, decently dressed (predictably black), and generally put together in some conscious way. When I say, ‘decently dressed,’ I don’t mean an overdressed fashionista. We do have a very conscious sense of our day-to-day uniform. The way we wrap an old scarf to appear blasé—this apparent indifference is rehearsed. When I say “well groomed,” architects may not broadcast their attention to personal hygiene, but you will not find too many architect’s looking like the absent minded professor/engineer with three-day unwashed hair and an overlooked belt loop.

Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life
Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life

For female architects, traditional conceptions of pretty femininity are ignored. I believe most female architects prefer to leave the cute outfits, glittery clanging jewelry, obvious make up, and high heels to fellow interior decorators. For male architects, impressions of metrosexuality are common: the neatness, a decent haircut, and clothes that just seem to work together, even if it is a simple crisp shirt and artfully distressed jeans.

Accessories are rare for any architect, but the carefully considered accent item might be present, such as the locally created wristband, a French fountain pen, or a custom designed wedding band. This approach to the personalized feature item might come from some famous predecessors. Le Corbusier (1887-1965) had his famous black shell, round rimmed glasses, of which Philip Johnson had Cartier make a replica in 1934—a trend which I.M. Pei continues today. Fortunately, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cape never caught on.

left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)
left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)

EPILOGUE: I confess that these characterizations are not all architects. But where is the fun if I can’t generalize, if we take ourselves too seriously?

Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother
Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother

THE WORLD FAMOUS I.M. PEI AND THE BEST JOB I NEVER HAD

May 13, 2016

Louvre Pyramid, Paris, France, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by Benh Lieu Song)

Though the job interview at I.M. Pei’s company started normal enough, it was over before it began.

Arriving in Manhattan, I only had a couple hundred bucks, my cousin’s sofa to crash on for two weeks, and my architecture portfolio. I needed a job. Badly.

Having just graduated college, my resume pathetically displayed only three months of professional experience, which consisted mostly of practicing how to write nice letters. I don’t mean correspondences and memos. I mean literally writing letters. I practiced my A’s, B’s and C’s.

My architectural portfolio from UC Berkeley
My architectural portfolio from UC Berkeley

To get an architecture job, it comes down to your portfolio, a black binder that holds your design work. I had received good advice ahead of time. A portfolio was not, as many young architects wrongly believe, a comprehensive chronological tome of all of one’s school work—from the first year of learning how to draw an apple, to the middle years of designing a house, to the final studio of something complex such as a civic center.

Imagine the bored interviewer listening to you drone on, “And in this third semester class, we designed a blah, blah, blah . . . for my fourth semester . . . now, let’s turn to page 108 of my portfolio . . .” No, a portfolio should be a vigilantly curated story of one’s creativity.

For my New York interviews, my portfolio was sound: A few school projects, a sample of drafting from an internship, and some personal pieces of photography and figure drawing. I was, I felt, a well-rounded candidate for an entry position.

East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by National Gallery of Art)
East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by National Gallery of Art)

I mailed dozens of resumes to architecture firms in NYC, from the highest profile corporations to the small studios. (No email back then.) One day after several rejections, I returned to a voicemail on my cousin’s answering machine. (No cell phones back then.) It was from the offices of I.M. Pei.

I..M. PEI!

Mr. Pei’s HR person left me a voicemail, asking if I was available for an interview. This was it: A dream come true for any young architect, a possible job at one of the most prestigious companies on the globe!

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo by Timothy Hursley)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo by Timothy Hursley)

Wearing my only suit and tie, I went through the usual motions with Pei’s interviewer. He asked a few questions about how I liked Berkeley, about my piano playing, etc. He then got to the meat of the interview: My portfolio. While flipping through my colorful pages, he explained the office building that I would design, if I got the job.

I’d already be assigned an office building to design!

John Hancock Tower, Boston, Massachusetts, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo from architectmagazine.com)
John Hancock Tower, Boston, Massachusetts, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo from architectmagazine.com)

But he was perplexed. He looked at my trivial portfolio. He studied my skimpy resume. Then looked at me. Then at the resume. Then me. Then resume.

Finally, he inquired in a puzzled state, “I don’t get it. How old are you?”

Before I answered, he repeated a little more aggressively, “How old are you?!”

Squeaking out, “I am 22 years old.”

Dumbfounded and perturbed, he demanded, “Where are the 17 years of experience?”

I was equally dumbfounded. “What 17 years are you talking about?”—trying not to be disrespectful of the eminent offices of I.M. Pei.

He asserted that this was an interview for a senior architect to design an 85-story office tower.

I explained, retreating for no real reason, “Sorry, but I have less than one year of experience.”

Choate Rosemary Hall Science Center, Wallingford, Connecticut, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo from pcf-p.com)
Choate Rosemary Hall Science Center, Wallingford, Connecticut, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo from pcf-p.com)

Long story short: A harried HR person made a mistake transcribing numbers between my resume and the office form my interviewer was looking at now. The embarrassed—though more frustrated than embarrassed—interviewer showed me, turning the office form around for me to witness. There indeed did my 22 year-old eyes see in one-inch tall letters: “17 years of experience. Good candidate!”

The interviewer expressed annoyance, angered by the sloppiness from his world-class company that prides itself on designs of perfect proportions, exquisitely executed finishes, and highly detailed precision.

My first job in New York City at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners, late 80’s
My first job in New York City at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners, late 80’s

Like a little boy whose ice cream scoop had fallen off his cone into the dirt, I picked up my portfolio and left the best job opportunity I never had.

© Poon Design Inc.