Tag Archives: jazz

THE PERFECTION OF IMPERFECTION IN ARCHITECTURE AND MUSIC

August 4, 2017

Patina’d signage of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Wabi-sabi: This Japanese aesthetic concept has been around for centuries. Today, in our worrisome world, Wabi-sabi has returned with a vengeance and popularity. This philosophy describes a type of beauty that is imperfect, ever changing, and even, wonderfully flawed.

Intensely and vividly sculpted, Auguste Rodin’s sculptures displayed a desire to express an incomplete craft. Rather than the predictably perfect, classical marble sculpture, this 19th century French artist’s works are imperfect sculptures from the human hand. And he is eager to display his flawed humanity.

In Rodin’s finished pieces, one can see the imprints of his tools and fingers—and even his fingernails.

left: An example of sculpting clay in preparation for final bronze, though not Rodin (photo from philippefaraut.com); right: Honore de Balzac by Rodin (photo from nevalee.wordpress.com)

At Poon Design Inc., certain projects request that we celebrate what might be wrongly judged as flaws and inconsistencies in our architecture. We prefer hand-crafted architecture, not things machine-made or mass-produced. Like jazz, like weathering, like life with patina, our architecture expresses the perfection of imperfection. Or even the imperfection of perfection.

left: Design inspiration of a bird’s nest (photo from community.qvc.com); right: Meditation retreat house, guardrail made from industrial piping and hemp twine, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

If technology in design and fabrication produces items that are  too perfect, then technology can be a crutch. Although technology has made our production efforts efficient, technology has also made our activities too textbook-finished. Today, we can design any kind of wall pattern on a laptop, and then have water jet or laser cutting machinery create that exact pattern on several large slabs of marble or steel panels. With a push of a button, the quality is flawless, the exercise is easy, and the pattern is perfect. But perhaps too perfect.

left: Design inspiration of motion within silk cloth; right: Parking structure, fabric pattern represented in water-jet cut perforated metal panels, Irvine Spectrum Center, California, by Poon Design

If too perfect, is such a work impressive? Where is the human hand?

left: The graphic density of a classical music score; right: The graphic lightness of a jazz music score
Me performing Khachaturian’s Toccata in E Flat minor, at the 2012 Architects in Concert, “Unfrozen Music”

The graphic weight of a classical music score suggests a complete work, while the jazz score wants more notes. A jazz score is beautifully incomplete and imperfect. No matter how many musicians fill in the missing notes, the music may never be perfect. And folks, this is okay.

When I practice my classical repertory, it is at times painful and laborious—as I try so hard to hit each of the 500,000 notes perfectly. I strive for perfection, truth and the absolute.

In jazz, I am given only a basic outline. A jazz player fixates little on classical perfection. Jazz is intuitive and improvisational. As I stated that life with patina is good, jazz music encourages patina, imperfections and powerful individuality.

Detail of Buenos Aires-inspired ironwork at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

In classical music, when a wrong note is played, it is quickly buried under a flurry of other notes. When a mistake is made in a jazz performance, that ‘mistake’ is exploited as a wonderful and positive thing. The jazz musician will bang on that wrong note a few more times to make sure the audience hears it. The performer makes something new and special out of the wrong note. Wabi-sabi.

left: inspiration of African basket making (photo by Holt Renfrew); right: Exterior light fixtures made from actual handmade baskets shipped from the African commune called Ten Thousand Villages, installed at the outdoor dining of Chaya Downtown, fabricated and designed by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

ARCHITECTURE FROM A TO Z

April 29, 2016

Campus Library, American University in Cairo, New Cairo, Egypt, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Pfeiffer Partners)

ALLOWANCE
Allow creative ideas to resonate in your head. Like wine aging in a bottle, the clamor of an idea seasoning in your cranium is called imagination.

BE
Be original. Be remembered. If you do the same thing over and over again, you will always get the same results, of which, most have already been done, or might be boring and forgettable.

CREATE
The medium of our art is not just pens and paper, paint and canvas, or software and megabytes. The medium of our art is life itself. Design your world.

Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)
Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, by Poon Design (staging by Interior Illusions, photo by Lance Gerber)

DIVISION
There should be no divisions between architecture, graphics, landscape, fashion, poetry, music, photography, theater, and all artistic endeavors. In the act of creation, design industries must overlap and blur, operating as a comprehensive force of artistry. Our contribution to progress and civilization.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, by Giorgio de Chirico, 1914
Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, by Giorgio de Chirico, 1914

EXISTING
Promote society’s advancements, and acknowledge the legacy of traditions. Beware: nostalgia can be a yearning for a false past that either does not apply today, or never truly existed. “Nostalgia” is made up of two Greek roots: nostos “returning home,” and algos “pain.”

FOCUS
Focus. Listen. Don’t forget what you have heard.

GATHER
Design communicates more than aesthetics. Design communicates ideas: everything from our culture and community, to the solutions for each client. We call this content.

HIGH TO LOW
Our work explores everything, from high art to pop art, from Schubert to So You Think You Can Dance.

Jeanine Mason on So You Think You Can Dance
Jeanine Mason on So You Think You Can Dance

IS
Form is function, and function is form. Style is not superficial. Though a purist, don’t assume that style is only artificial. That trap is known as pretentious unpretentiousness. Understand style as the expression of character.

JUICE
Design is about thinking strategically. As in chess, plan all your moves. Start by seeing a few moves ahead, then grasp for more. This is called experience.

KIN
All works of art are in progress. A good idea advances, evolves, and changes.

LEVERS
Good design balances imagination and reality. Architecture must balance greatness and fantasy, with things like schedule and budget.

Harrington Learning Commons, Sorbarto Technology Center and Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Poon)
Harrington Learning Commons, Sorbarto Technology Center and Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Poon)

MUST
Process and product: both fascinate. The end of the journey is as exciting as the journey itself. We design both the outcome and the process that leads to the outcome.

NOT
Do not subscribe to the cliché, “Work hard, play hard.” Work can also be play. We do not divide our lives into boring work and fun play.

OUT LOUD
Enjoy your life. Laugh out loud. Arthur Rubenstein suggested that one should not practice piano too much: Limit your practice time, enjoy your life, and you will have much to express when playing piano.

Hands of Arthur Rubenstein (photo by Yousuf Karsh)
Hands of Arthur Rubenstein (photo by Yousuf Karsh)

PRACTICE
Don’t take yourself seriously, but take your work seriously.

QUIRKY
As in jazz, when a mistake is made, exploit it as a delightful thing. In classical music, when a wrong note is played, it gets buried under a flurry of other notes. In jazz, when an unintentional note is hit, the musician bangs on that note a few more times to make sure the audience hears it.

READY
Embrace improvisation and creating impromptu. Be prepared to make up things off the top of your head, from the tips of your fingers.

SLEEP
A fresh mind has the most creative potential. Don’t subscribe to the romanticized and fatalistic belief that sleepless nights bring about incredible imagination. And don’t believe that an artist needs to struggle, bleed, and die to be considered a genius.

Danae, by Gustav Klimt, 1907
Danae, by Gustav Klimt, 1907

TAKE
Take a lunch break every day. Give your brain a rest. Even if the day is hectic, take that break—not just to have it, but to decree that you are still in control of your day.

UNDO
If your work is boring you, do something different. If you are boring yourself, be someone else.

(photo from warosu.org)
(photo from warosu.org)

VICTIM
Try not to dress in all black. Don’t be a fashion cliché.

WRITTEN
Read everything: not just design magazines and blogs. Read poetry. Read the classics. Read autobiographies, non-fiction, comic books, music. Even read horoscopes and advice columns.

XANADU
Get used to senselessness and not knowing everything. The world is asking for too many answers. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” so said Albert Camus.

Sisyphus (photo from theonwardupwardjourney.com)
Sisyphus (photo from theonwardupwardjourney.com)

YOUTH
Like a young student, believe that you will save the world through your idealistic spirit. Hold tight your hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

ZENITH
Terms used to describe Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: icon, masterpiece, seminal and absolute. The curse of The Ninth prevented superstitious composers from attempting to write a tenth symphony and surpass perfection. It goes so far as believing that the composer will die after writing his own Ninth. Gustav Mahler did. What would the world be if Beethoven had written a Tenth Symphony?

Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

 

JAZZ-LIKE: THE CURIOUS THING ABOUT STYLE, PART 2 OF 2

March 3, 2016

Kit-O-Parts concept model for Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, by Poon Design

What can architecture learn from jazz? Specifically, what can architects designing buildings learn from musicians creating jazz?

I recently posted my design approach as two parts: Product and Process. In that post, I discussed the ‘Product’ being works of juxtaposition.  In today’s post, I explore my ‘Process’ being jazz-like.

Conference room pin-up wall for a chapel for an Air Force retirement community, San Antonio, Texas, by Poon Design
Conference room pin-up wall for a chapel for an Air Force retirement community, San Antonio, Texas, by Poon Design

Many things bog an architect down, such as calculations that ensure a structure won’t collapse. Budgets, city codes, and construction surprises also burden us. The nature of our day to day design work is slow and tedious. From start to finish, a completed building requires years or decades. Even generations. Whether Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica or a local wine store, the architectural process is sluggish and overwrought. At times, painfully so.

With graphic design, on the other hand, a logo can be designed and implemented efficiently. In less than a month, boom, the logo appears on a website. (Sorry, my graphic artists’ friends, I know it is much more complicated than this, but in comparison . . .)

Process for “Sexy Conversation,” 40” x 40”, mixed media, by Anthony Poon
Process for “Sexy Conversation,” 40” x 40”, mixed media, by Anthony Poon

In jazz, musicians sit at their instruments, glance at each other, perhaps a wink, then a smile. And boom: music. A jam session begins, and the audience immediately enjoys the sounds and rhythms.

Spontaneity and improvisation are words that describe jazz. In contrast, as a classically-trained pianist, I was taught a mindset akin to architecture, where at great lengths and with agony, each and every move is carefully conditioned and rigorously rational.

When performing Liszt, I wouldn’t just discard the sheet music and riff on an Etude. Or maybe I would, but then it becomes something other than Liszt—and that might not be good. With architecture, I wouldn’t just discard the structural calculations for a hillside foundation and doodle my own geotechnical assumptions. A well-built castle isn’t constructed on sand.

Study models for a chapel for an Air Force retirement community, San Antonio, Texas, by Poon Design
Study models for a chapel for an Air Force retirement community, San Antonio, Texas, by Poon Design

Is there room for speed in architecture? How about intuition? Social psychologist David Sudnow comments on jazz as moving “. . . from no one place in particular to no one place in particular . . .” I wish architecture had this kind of freedom.

Though I can’t actually be like a jazz pianist playing impromptu, I still try. Every day, I attempt to hand draw ideas freely without the constraints of either a T-square or the laptop. Rather than picking the appropriate shade of olive from the Pantone color book, I use my color markers and pencils. Swiftly and even blindly, I grab at colors, blending in a mad flurry seeking hues of discovery and spontaneity.

Anthony Poon’s drafting table
Anthony Poon’s drafting table

Jazz and juxtaposition—two words I might use to describe my work. Very likely, I will replace these two words with different words the next time an interviewer asks me, “What is your style?” In the end, I leave the labeling of the work to the historians, intellectuals, critics, and fans. When I am long gone, I hope my design legacy is given a provocative designation of style.

(For more, see a feature on my process at The Art Issue of LA Home magazine.)

Anthony Poon’s sketches, studies and notes
Anthony Poon’s sketches, studies and notes

THE CURIOUS THING ABOUT STYLE, PART 1 OF 2

December 31, 2015

For this food blogger’s residence in Pasadena, we juxtaposed the technology of parametric algorithms on to polyethylene, the material used to make household cutting boards.

Recently, I was asked by an interviewer, “What is your style?”

This question is often asked, and not just of architects, but creatives of all sorts: fashion, graphics, advertising, cuisine, etc. The media typically aims to capture one’s design philosophy in a sound bite digestible by mainstream readers.

Many interior decorators have a packaged response. I hear words like “eclectic,” “warm and welcoming,” “contemporary yet timeless.” I am not sure what kind of design results from this mash up of clichés.

Architects have a hard time speaking of their style. Hugh Hardy, one of my past employers, argued that once you answer the dreaded question, your critics will constantly be assessing your work to see if you have lived up to your declarations.

What is style after all?

With extensive education, a higher degree and a 250-page graduate school thesis, many architects simply can’t and won’t summarize their creative philosophy in 20 words or less. For some, “style” is a bad word, and it shouldn’t be an elevator pitch.

upper left: Federal National Council’s Parliament Building, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emiretes by Ehrlich Architects; upper right: McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, by Antoine Predock Architect Studio (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri); lower left: Dominus Estate, Yountville, California, by Herzog & de Meuron (photo by dominusestate.com); lower right: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Andy Ryan)
upper left: Federal National Council’s Parliament Building, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emiretes by Ehrlich Architects; upper right: McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, by Antoine Predock Architect Studio (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri); lower left: Dominus Estate, Yountville, California, by Herzog & de Meuron (photo by dominusestate.com); lower right: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Andy Ryan)

Some colleagues who talk about their architectural style do so with clever labels. Steven Ehrlich, based in Los Angeles, calls his work “Regional Modernism.” New Mexico architect Antoine Predock is a self-described “Cosmic Modernist.” Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland has been coined, “Elemental Reductivists.” From New York, Steven Holl’s work involves “typology, phenomenology and existentialism.”

For architects such as Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando or Richard Meier, their style has been accused of being formulaic. Many would argue that all their buildings look the same. Is this so bad? Don’t all the Beatles’ songs and Beethoven Sonatas sound similar? (This topic of formula will be discussed in an upcoming blog.)

Oscar Peterson Trio (photo by Paul Hoeffler)
Oscar Peterson Trio (photo by Paul Hoeffler)

So now it is my turn to answer the universal question of style. My response should not be trite, but rather complex—but not pretentious.

I answered in two parts: Process and Product. My Process is inspired by jazz—the spontaneity and the improvisational spirit. (More another day.)

My Product, meaning the final structure, say a house or school, is driven by juxtaposition. I enjoy combining things together, either comfortably or awkwardly, to see what might arise: the modern and the traditional, the hand crafted and the machine made, the broad strokes and the finicky details, just to name a few.

Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design
Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design

For a Buddhist meditation retreat in Virginia, Poon Design created a guardrail that juxtaposed a galvanized off-the-shelf steel frame with natural twine made from hemp. Yes, you can smoke it.

Student Center, University of California, Riverside, by Anthony Poon while w/ HHPA (rendering by Gilbert Gorski)
Student Center, University of California, Riverside, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, watercolor by Gilbert Gorski)

For the University of California, our student center combined traditional campus brick and limestone, with sleek glass curtain wall and over-scaled weathering zinc shingles.

At Mendocino Farms, we blended a funky old school vibe, such as chalk board walls, vaudeville signage, clothespins, and industrial piping, with high-end luxury, such as Carrara marble, walnut planks, stainless steel trim, and custom furniture.

Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design
Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

Juxtaposition is not just my artistic approach, but the interests in my life as well. I like Brahms and I also like American Idol. I like Rembrandt and Pop Art. I like omakase sushi with a Coke, as well as McDonald’s with sake. I wear Gucci with the Gap. Love Nan Goldin and commercial photography. I read biographies, but also comic books. I like watching ping pong and the Superbowl. Reality shows that follow CNN.

I like the diversity and the messiness. I like unexpected results.

ARCHITECTURE IS

April 18, 2015

Tools from Anthony Poon’s art studio

Architecture is not a painting because it is three-dimensional. Architecture is not sculpture, because it is more than an object that you engage by walking around, at an imaginary perimeter. Akin to installation and experiential art if it was permanent, architecture is a space and a place that one moves through in time—maybe once, maybe over and over again.

Architecture is a journey and a work of art that exists to attract and serve. Architecture has beauty, has form, and has function.

University Library, American University in Cairo, New Cairo, Egypt, by Anthony Poon (while w/ HHPA)
University Library, American University in Cairo, New Cairo, Egypt, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA)

In its making, architecture can be created slowly and methodically like a surgeon working on a painstakingly complex procedure. Architecture can be created strategically, like a general preparing for a battle. Or architecture can be created impromptu and improvisationally like a jazz musician sitting down as his keyboard playing a tune of which he has no idea where it began and where it will go.

Architecture is about persistence, courage, optimism, and passion, and perhaps, a bit of insanity. What other field is the intersection of art, science, business, and even human survival? What other field provides emotional, spiritual and intellectual responses, as well as put a roof over our heads?

W-V Mixed Use Project, Manhattan Beach, by Poon Design, photo by Gregg Segal
W-V Mixed Use Project, Manhattan Beach, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

We need places to live, and we want these places to be warm and welcoming. We need places to go to work, and we want these places to be comfortable and efficient. We need schools, and we want these places to be inspiring and safe. Our neighborhoods need places to gather and socialize, and we want these places to be democratic and energized. Our communities need churches to worship in, and we want these places to be aspirational and uplifting. Our businesses need places to thrive and grow, and we want these places to be strategic and informed. Our rulers need places to create and debate policies, and we want these places to be powerful and influential.

Architecture is all that. And more.

© Poon Design Inc.