Tag Archives: LIAM NEESON

CELLULOID HEROES

May 27, 2016

Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead (1949), Robert Reed in The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), Charles Bronson in Death Wish (1974), Paul Newman in Towering Inferno (1974)

Why are there so many architects in the movies and on TV?

In most cases, the fact that an actor is an architect on the small or big screen is superfluous to the actual plot. Though a popular trope, the role of the architect is no more than a characteristic, a trait assigned to the male lead, and in fewer cases the female lead, only to provide substance and gravitas.

This matter—the truth and accuracy of how architects are portrayed by Hollywood—is frequent coffee room or cocktail hour chatter among practicing architects. We are at turns offended or flattered, but always perplexed.

Here are the basic elements of the architect-in-entertainment mix-and-match dramatis personae toolkit:

 – affluent, but not necessarily rich
 – thoughtful and introspective
 – attractive
 – cultured
 – sensitive
 – artistic-with-a-job
 – highly intelligent
 – coolly professional

Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987), Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991), Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)
Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987), Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991), Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)

The writer and director of Sleepless in Seattle needed Tom Hanks to be the reserved, artistic businessman at the center of the story, so they made him an architect, not a poet, cop, or hedge fund manager. They also didn’t want Hanks actually being an architect most of the time. Those paying to watch a romantic comedy with Meg Ryan want to see Hanks as the sensitive, romantic architectural designer with an ideal nature, not Tom Hanks as a real architect trying to restart his laptop because the Revit software has crashed again, and then spending the rest of his day slaving for a client who can’t decide whether the exterior paint should be tan, sand, or beige, or whether the bathroom tile should be ivory, buff, egg shell, or ecru. Also, Hanks can’t spend his time hitting the pavement hoping to find another commission so he can pay his office rent.

Poets, cops, and denizens of Wall Street are equally charged character fodder, but for different purposes. The architect character is altruistic, worldly, cool, but not too cool, well dressed, and established. Architects are also considered not wild, emotional, or too, too sexy. (I would sometimes like to be, or at least thought of as being, one or two of those things.)

In a drama, the architect is the cool center, and often needs the supplement of other traits from the screenwriters’ playbook, such as diplomatic jury member or struggling educator, to beef up the character’s potentially monochromatic dimension. In comedy, the architect’s impartiality allows other cast members to shine uncontested with wit and satire. Architects are safe non-distractions.

Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994), Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996), Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996), Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)
Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994), Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996), Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996), Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)

Here’s a partial list of movies featuring architects:

Boris Karloff in The Black Cat (1934)
Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead (1949)
Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men (1957)
Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet (1960)
Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now (1973)
Charleton Heston in Earthquake (1974)
Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby (1987)
Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever (1991)
Steve Martin in HouseSitter (1992)
Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal (1993)
Richard Gere and Sharon Stone in Intersection (1994)
Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy (1996)
Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day (1996)
Matt Dillon in You, Me and Dupree (1998)
Matt Dillon in There’s Something about Mary (1998)
Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999)
Billy Crudup in World Traveler (2001)
Liam Neeson in Love Actually (2003)
Ashton Kutcher in Butterfly Effect (2004)
Michael Keaton in White Noise (2005)
Adam Sandler in Click (2006)
Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006)
Virginia Madsen in Firewall (2006)
Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)
Luke Wilson in My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
Tom Everett Scott in Because I Said So (2007)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Steve Martin (again) in It’s Complicated (2009)
Ellen Page in Inception (2010)
Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011)

Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999), Adam Sandler in Click (2006), Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006), Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)
Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango (1999), Adam Sandler in Click (2006), Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (2006), Zach Braff in The Last Kiss (2006)

Except for the Gary Cooper role, which came with the heavy expectation associated with Ayn Rand’s bestselling and controversial novel, The Fountainhead, I suspect most do not recall that the actors above portrayed architects. That’s how well the role was written and the stereotype applied. And as to the stereotype syncing with the real world, the roles are mostly male, reflecting an issue in the real architectural world, though that is changing for the better.

Serious movie fans will note some omissions on my list. I did not list the following, for the reasons stated:

Paul Newman in Towering Inferno: He’s really playing an architect in a real design and construction crisis, not playing a stereotype.

“The Architect” in the The Matrix movies: He’s not a builder of buildings per se, but a builder of an entire future world, which I certainly envy, but not quite to that extent, my ego aside.

Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies: As he is a vigilante murderer, I invoke the “exception proves the rule” cliché. Architects can be cool, but not cool killers.

For my full feature essay, go to the Film and Music Issue of the recent LA Home.

Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009), Ellen Page in Inception (2010), Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011), Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
Steve Martin in It’s Complicated (2009), Ellen Page in Inception (2010), Sean Penn in Tree of Life (2011), Josh Radnor in How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)

ALLURE OF AN ARCHITECT’S OFFICE

November 20, 2015

Design studio at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California

When we architects are being artistic, we call it the “studio.” When being professional, we call it the “office.” When wanting to sound prominent, we call it the “firm.”

We also call it the “practice.” Because no matter how long you practice at being an architect, you probably never get it right.

No matter the label for the architect’s work space, an apparent coolness and sexiness pervades. Even a heroic bravado.

The work of an architect unites art, science and business. Our workplace brims with creativity, doing so professionally. Ambitious yes, but our offices do not permeate with the obviousness displayed by the power office of a corporate attorney. Our design studios are for making art. Creative yes, but not the cliché of a starving artist’s workspace.

Conference room at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California
Conference room at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California

Whether a mom-pop-shop of a few architects, or a company of 500, our offices are modern and our work is noble. Never self-important like a wealthy developer with an over-wrought reception area and excessive conference rooms, architects just want to do exciting work in an inspiring space.

Even though it has been decades since computers replaced hand drafting, the architect’s studio is still thought of as containing those nifty drafting tables, lamps and stools. Even though it has been years since 3D printing has replaced the manual labor of a wood shop, the architect’s studio is still thought of as containing rolls of drawings and large-scale physical models.

Whether worn blueprints and color pencils vs. sleek computer monitors and a tablet, such items generate a stimulating backdrop. The visual impact of this architect’s studio exists in a hundred films, from Sleepless in Seattle, One Fine Day, to My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

top: Liam Neeson in Love Actually, 2003; middle: Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra in Jungle Fever, 1991; bottom: Luke Wilson and Anna Faris in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, 2006
top: Liam Neeson in Love Actually, 2003; middle: Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra in Jungle Fever, 1991; bottom: Luke Wilson and Anna Faris in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, 2006

The real estate industry coins the architect’s environment: “creative office space.” The features: 1) open floor plan allowing collaboration, 2) exposed structure and brick walls representing integrity, 3) concrete floors and industrial windows expressing an off-the-beaten-path personality, and 4) high ceilings with skylights inviting in heavenly inspiration.

Design studio at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California
Design studio at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California

Once a necessity of architects seeking affordable buildings in industrial neighborhoods, the warehouse-styled office has become standard. Take Culver City in Los Angeles or SOMA in San Francisco for example. The gritty tenant spaces are history. Now, everyone seeks creative studios—from tech companies to law firms, from accountants to real estate agents.

Upon visiting Poon Design’s quarters last year, PayPal and eBay witnessed an environment that supported solo flourishes of creative vigor as well as deep-diving teamwork. Shortly after, PayPal retained Poon Design to re-invent their corporate office culture.

PayPal / eBay, Silicon Valley, California, by Poon Design
PayPal / eBay, Silicon Valley, California, by Poon Design

Poon Design recently relocated to a unique area of west Los Angeles. On our block, we have a sheet metal fabricator, daycare, wine and cheese store, tire shop, and tattoo parlor. Alongside the vibe of a quaint family neighborhood, our back patio requires steel roll down doors and a chain link fence topped with barb wire.

As Eater LA proclaimed, “Poon Design has their own style: a little bit country, a little bit rock n’ roll.”

Desks and offices at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California
Desks and offices at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California
© Poon Design Inc.