Tag Archives: PETER ZUMTHOR

GLENSTONE: A CONVERSATION BETWEEN ART, LANDSCAPE AND ARCHITECTURE

September 13, 2019

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland (photo from thomasphifer.com)

To call Glenstone a mere museum is to misrepresent the power of how a visitor can experience art. The museum’s website posits, “Glenstone is a place that seamlessly integrates art, architecture, and landscape into a serene and contemplative environment.” And boy, it’s successful.

Glenstone blurs the lines between the three mediums. Know this: “Art” is not just a simple framed painting hanging on a gallery wall. At Glenstone, art is a relationship between several forces experienced as an enchanted journey through time and space.

The “Pavilions” forming the “Water Court” (photo by Anthony Poon)

For my soon to be published second book, I scribed, “Do I like playing a Beethoven piano sonata more than writing a position article on the design industry? Do I enjoy working on a large mixed-media art piece more than designing a Buddhist temple? I don’t see any such exercises as separate, or in any way, independent from each other. Artistic endeavors are not discrete. All my investigations, experiments, tests and failures fall under the shelter of a single umbrella, a simultaneous effort—that of a creative voyage with no starting point and excitingly, no end in sight . . . Music, painting, writing, architecture, and so on. For me, it is all one artistic gesture—interconnected, intertwined, inseparable.”

Compression Line, by Michael Heizer,1968/2016 (photo by Anthony Poon)

Over the years, Glenstone’s founders, Emily and Mitchell Rales, billionaire business leader and philanthropist, amassed an incredible private art collection of approximately 1,300 works from the 20th and 21st century: Twombly, Kelly, Heizer, Basquiat, Rothko, Koons, Serra, just to name a few—the Usual (but incredible) Suspects. In Potomac, Maryland, Glenstone opened in 2006 with safe and somewhat predictable Modern buildings by New York architect, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. The museum’s name is a mash-up of the nearby Glen Road and the indigenous Cardderock stone.

Design drawing by Thomas Phifer and Partners

In late 2018, the museum entered the transcendental world stage with architect Thomas Phifer and Partners’ powerful composition of the “Pavilions” and “Water Court,” with landscape collaboratively designed by Peter Walker of Berkeley, California. Glenstone’s 230 acres transformed into a state of mind that balances art, sculpture, installations, design, nature, water, light and all good things. Glenstone challenges one of my favorite places on Earth, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York.

The Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor, Braubunden, Switzerland Zumthor (photo from vals.ch)

Akin to the Minimalism of architect Peter Zumthor’s  Therme Vals Spa in Switzerland, Glenstone is dramatic and theatrical, despite its mute Pavilions. A dozen of them, each a single art experience, center around a sunken water garden. Who knew that saying nothing and being silent can say so much?  Here, an engaging and direct conversation occurs when a massive vertical wall of Cardderock stone meets the peaceful horizontal surface of reflecting water, while above is the infinity of a blue sky. Nothing more, nothing less, and yet, so much more.

Massive and poetic vertical surfaces of Carderrock stone-clad “Pavilions” (photo by Anthony Poon)

Even the museum staff are Minimalistic. Accompanying their drab grey cotton garb with pants cropped at the ankles, they each have a small name tag of slim horizontal chrome stainless steel. But the name tags remain blank!

The approach through broad landscape, the “Pavilions” in the distance like an enigmatic modern day Stonehenge (photo from glenstone.org)
Buried in nature, one comes upon the mystery Clay Houses (Boulder-Room-Holes), by Andy Goldsworthy 2007 (photo by Anthony Poon)

The overall result of Glenstone is a must-see, near-religious experience of Modern art, elemental architecture and the pastoral outdoors. Make a reservation; the museum only lets in a limited number of people per day.  And sorry, no photography allowed within the galleries.

THE ADVERTISING OF ARCHITECTURE: THE ARCHITECTURE OF ADVERTISING

May 4, 2018

(image from knowyourmeme.com)

Lawyers advertise. So too do dentists. They run commercials; they have ads online and in print.

Architects don’t typically advertise. Are we more principled and virtuous, then to succumb to the pandering of advertising?

Better Call Saul advertisement from the television series, Breaking Bad (image from amazon.com)

PART ONE

Some celebrated architects avoid the illicit exploits of marketing altogether. Frank Gehry’s company barely has a website. In a world where online presence is the most prevalent form of branding and outreach, Gehry offers a mere single page website, not the predictable encyclopedic collection of project images, the self-indulgent bragging rights of awards, and the prestigious list of clients.

Peter Zumthor on the other hand, is even more severe and reductionist. No website. Online, Zumthor is only mentioned in Wikipedia—and probably not of his doing or by his choice.

Poon Design business cards, unique design per staff member, (photo by Anthony Poon)

Architects commence their advertising through an old school tool, the business card. But why is that? Prior to a face to face meeting, architects spend months communicating with a client via email and text. The clients already have our information in their computers. Yet, when we finally meet in person, we exchange this absurdly ancient form of introduction, the small piece of cardstock that contains all the contact information that our client has already has.

My library of architecture books (photo by Anthony Poon)
left: Lecture at Yale University (photo from architecture.yale.edu); right: Louis Kahn, 1972 (photo by Robert C. Lautman)

Architects also advertise by having books written on their work, or less common, writing a book themselves and have it published—as I did. Alongside books, architects also focus on inclusion in the latest and trendiest of magazines and blogs. Though a sales-y endeavor, an architect can man a booth at a trade show, such as an industry convention. Having done this, my role was akin to desperately selling hot dogs at a baseball game. We can also teach, hopefully at a high profile university, generating community contacts and national exposure. Though social media is rampant and popular, I have yet to reap any substantive rewards. Meaning, besides likes, winks and shares, I have yet to reap actual clients and contracts from social media.

(photo by ShutterStock)
Networking and being out there (photo from healthliteracycentre.eu)

I believe the best form of advertising is simple: be out there. “Hitting the pavement” is an outdated slogan, but the theme is relevant to advertising: make relationships, establish rapport, meet and greet, shake some hands, and as declared with conviction in the 1992 film, Glengarry Glen Ross, “A.B.C.! Always Be Closing!”

PART TWO

upper left: really, ping pong in the office? (photo from salesforce.com); upper right: Amsterdam advertising agency themed as an indoor picnic (photo from fashionarchitecturetaste.com); lower left: really, a slide in the office? Ogilvy & Mather Jakarta (photo from officesnapshots.com); lower right: another staircase as an amphitheater and social area, Wieden+Kennedy (photo from retaildesignblog.com)

Much of the architecture created for advertising agencies makes me nauseous. I am tired of seeing those cliché images, i.e., during some random client meeting, an impromptu ping pong game breaks out, or someone skateboards through the office to hip hop music. The architectural forms comprise silly colors and patterns, funny shapes and angles, and the overused idea where a staircase is an amphitheater and social space. These are theme park ideas.

From our clients, it is fact that no one uses the air hockey table in the board room, and no one takes the fireman’s pole from a cubicle down to the yoga room.

Countering this, if I were to identify a cool design for an ad agency, I would direct attention to Mad Men.

Mad Men stage set (photo from Interior Design)

DESIGN AND DISCOMFORT: SIT AND BE CURIOUS

December 15, 2017

Digital intervention by MMTRA into the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, by Peter Zumthor (photo from behance.com)

I have written about a number of things that are in essence, big pains in the butt (pains, city process and bad clients, just to name a few). Recently, I asked two colleagues, Christine Fang  and Ji Ahn, who practice mindfulness and meditation: What do you do with the discomforts of life? I requested of them to provide me a peek into their training.

They tossed back some words: adventure, commit and experience—and sit and be curious. But somewhere along this pattern of words, Chris and Ji are aware that discomfort will inevitably rear its ugly head.

Spirituality and contemplation at Knight Rise, Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden, Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona, by James Turrell (photo by Sean Deckert)

Chris suggests, “I think I might be a masochist on some level. I love carving out new paths, going where no one else has gone before. But new paths mean discomfort. It’s all new terrain, whether something you’re confronting in the physical world, or in your mind. And you’re fighting the self-created inertia that makes you want to turn the other direction. New terrain means learning new things, and most certainly, making mistakes! As you keep at the new terrain, new becomes routine. Then when bored, the mind goes searching again for new terrain.”

Architecture framing nature, at a Buddhist Temple, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Similarly, Ji responds, “Growing up, I was attracted to unknown paths and adventure. Not knowing the end result gave me the space to be creative and an opportunity to imagine new possibilities. Being in this space of solitude, the exploration opens me up to be curious and to sit with discomfort that visits me in the process. Changing the relationship to our discomfort allows us to explore and grow. Within discomfort, we might be able to find joy and serenity.”

The elegant dialogue between building and landscape, at the Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, by Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz (photo by Landezine)

As the architect, my simple understanding: Through mindfulness and meditation, one creates space and stillness. Design-wise, what is this architecture that can support the simple tenet, “sit and be curious”? Chris and Ji suggest any of these possibilities as starting points.

  • A space of stillness found when experiencing nature, or
  • An area in one’s home to be safe and quiet, to reflect, or
  • A place dedicated to meditation.
Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photos by Anthony Poon)

Though not my thesis for projects (and though I only know of mindfulness as a visitor), my work finds a common ground with some of my two colleagues’ thinking.

twoPart café, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photos by Anthony Poon)

At twoPart café, my first public design from 1992, the simplicity of the architecture delivered a space of adaptability. More so, it was intentionally incomplete. Like a blank canvas with only a few brush strokes to motivate a visitor, twoPart enabled human development. Customers sought to advance their current affairs—whether reconciling with a loved one, pursuing that long sought after graduate degree, or finally finishing the Hollywood script.

Simplicity in elemental forms and materials, at the Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Fernando Guerra)

Though Mozart claimed that music should always be beautiful, I concur with Beethoven that music can do a lot more than simply be pretty. I believe music can be heroic or moody, ominous or bold, shocking or even off beat.

For architecture, spaces don’t have to always be pleasing, comfortable, serene or joyful, but whatever form architecture takes, the design supports people on their journeys.

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)

THE NOISE OF ARCHITECTURE

September 22, 2017

(photo from jimjenningsarchitecture.com)

I am not referring to the acoustic engineering of a concert hall or the aural quality of a restaurant. Rather, all works of architecture have a certain artistic volume level, from blank mute to in-your-face loud. The visual and experiential clamor of a building can reverberate with a subtle hum, or brash feedback and distortion.

Here I list fifteen projects that represent the dynamic range of architecture’s capacity to blare, starting with silence and increasing to an uproar.

1. If you are wondering where the architecture is, that is exactly the point. The Tidal Pools de Leca da Palmeira intentionally blur the lines between nature and manmade. In so doing, Alvaro Siza (here and here) created a quiet structure for Porto, Portugal.

(photo from mimoa.eu)
(photo from uncubemagazine.com)

2. Present though voiceless, Jim Jennings’ Art Pool + Pavilion in Calistoga, California, provides the visitor nothing to relate to. The project is powerfully hush and abstract. (Black and white image above.)

3. Looking like not much more than a barn, rock star architect, Peter Zumthor, delivers a house/office, offering only a single window for scale. Here in Hadlerstein, Switzerland, Zumthor barely speaks and shows off his capacity for restraint.

4. The Benesse House in the Kagawa District of Japan does not need to yell to get your attention. Practicing a meditative Zen-like harmony, Tadao Ando’s (here and here) building is at noiseless peace.

(photo by Tadao Ando)

5. What appears to be a typical sacred building starts at first through its name, the “Cardboard Cathedral.” Then it hits you: Shigeru Ban literally used cardboard tubes for this New Zealand project.

(photo by Stephen Goodenough)

6. Like a child’s toy, a cylinder on top of a box comprises the Stockholm Public Library in Sweden. But for Gunnar Asplund, this is no simple toy. The sheer scale and volume makes the building’s presence loud and clear.

(photo from architectsjournal.co.uk)

7. Wang Shu’s China Academy of Art seems to be contextual with the vernacular of Hangzhou, China. But it is the architect’s details and use of materials in innovative ways that provide this project a slight degree of commotion.

(photo from npr.org)

8. For his Experimental House in Muuratsalo, Finland, Alvar Aalto generated an outcry with his brick patterns.

(photo from Architizer.com)

9. Rafael Moneo (here and here) used a cylinder, as did Asplund above. But for Moneo’s Atocha Train Station in Madrid, the crisp brick pillars form a cylinder in an untraditional way. And they resound with a majestic boom.

(photo from europaenfotos.com)

10. For a housing project cutely entitled “Xanadu,” Taller de Arquitectura (here and here) created something that demands more attention that your generic hillside apartment. In La Manzanera Alicante, Spain, Xanadu may have some items that appear to be normal, like clay tile, gable roofs, painted stucco and residential scale windows—but upon a second look, the overall composition is a hullabaloo.

(photo by Ricardo Bofill)

11. The green, glazed terra cotta, exterior tiles on this addition possesses a visual bark, especially in counterpoint to the traditional original building. In Sarasota, Florida, Macado Silvetti clearly wanted the Center for Asian Art to create a racket when having the new holler to the old.

(photo from machado-silvetti.com)

12. I typical attribute the work of Antonio Gaudi to jazz. His fantastical improvised vision of the world, seen here at Casa Batlo in Barcelona, breaks the rules of composition and color, resulting in an intuitive, lyrical work.

(photo from apetcher.wordpress.com)

13. The historic collaboration between Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, and Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron (here and here) offered up the 2008 Olympics’ Chinese National Stadium, also known as the famous “Bird’s Nest”. This artistic structure in Beijing blasted onto the world stage with its surreal knitting of massive steel members, alongside the building’s enormous presence.

(photo from hoesthetics.net)

14. This image of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas has not been distorted. Frank Gehry (here, here, herehere and here) designed an interior that has quite an uproar—one that questions if such noise is good for the purpose of this facility, the healthiness of one’s brain.

(photo from newsroom.clevelandclinic.org)

15. Similar to the Center for Asian Art, above, this Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto represents a dialogue between old and new. But here, Studio Libeskind’s (LINK best friends) new addition screams and cries for attention. The juxtaposition fascinates, but does architecture need to bellow like this?

© Poon Design Inc.