Tag Archives: TECHNOLOGY

WINDOWS: “EYES TO THE SOUL”

November 2, 2018

A lot of traditional windows (photo by Andre Goncalves)

“Eyes are the window to the soul,” so said Shakespeare, Da Vinci and many other philosophical minds. Is it just a cliché? How about: Can one witness the soul of a building through its windows?

For light, view and air, windows are basically openings in a building’s exterior wall. Whether circular or rectilinear in shape, whether big or small in size, whether adorned with a classical frame or a minimal contemporary composition, windows are typically a clear and flat sheet of glass.

But today, technology accompanied by an architect’s vision (or ego) have transformed windows far beyond that sheet of glass.

Dutch Embassy, Berlin, Germany (photo by Achim Raschka)

Above and below, both Modern projects (by Rem Koolhaas of OMA) displayed are not shy in exhibiting its internal functions, activities and soul. In Old World architecture, stairs were often expressed primarily by a vertical massive form, such as a stone stair tower. Not so with this modern embassy. Its large abnormal corner window expresses the grand staircase of the upper floors, along with the embassy’s social energy.

Educatorium, Utrecht, Netherlands (photo by Hans Werlemann)

This university center is less about windows in the traditional sense of openings in an exterior wall, but rather, these windows are the exterior wall. As giant, full height, edge-to-edge planes of glass, a viewer is greeted with a building eager to expose the full shape of the auditorium atop a student cafeteria. One could say that we have a “naked soul.”

Elbphilharmoine, Hamburg, Germany (photo by Raimond Spekking)

Historically, glass was transparent and flat, and glass meant nothing more than that. With advances in fabrication and experimentation, the varying degrees of the glass transparency/translucency, as well as three-dimensional sculpting, offer new kinds of expression. The conventional idea of “frosted” glass that one might find in a residential bathroom, is surpassed by glass surfaces and forms of all sorts: fluted, mirrored, reeded, scored, and fritted—as well as concave, convex, and other such artistic explorations.

Therme Baths, Graubunden, Switzerland (photo from theredlist.com)

Another kind of window, though not often thought of as a conventional window, is the skylight. A skylight can be utilitarian, nothing more as it lets in natural light. Or a skylight can be sublime. With our metaphor of eyes to one’s soul, who looks into a skylight? Perhaps, the skylight as a window on the roof, is less about eyes looking in or out, but letting the external world grace the inside. Less about seeing a view from a living room window, as one example, a skylight lets the sky in, which is more about how one’s soul can be touched. As Zumthor acheived.

A museum that tells a story with three skylights as the narrator. Shelter for Roman Ruins, Graubunden, Switzerland (model photos from payload67.cargocollective.com; interior photo from arcdog.com)

Windows are used for scale, to give a building’s facade a human element. Windows connect the inside to its surroundings, and vice versa. For most, windows are thought of as openings. And as “eyes to the soul,” these openings, outside of the world of architecture, can also be the opening weekend for a movie, the job opening, or a “window of opportunity.” As we look into these windows and openings, into these eyes, we observe souls of all sorts. Whether the souls are uplifted and wonderful, or challenged and confronted, it is this depth in life, as well as the architecture around us, that feeds the human spirit.

left: Job posting (by Poon Design); right: Joe Montana and the 49ers (photo from joemontansrightarm.com)
Sudpark, Basel, Switzerland (photo from herzogdemeuron.com)

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)

EIGHT THINGS I DISLIKE ABOUT ARCHITECTURE

September 2, 2016

1893 Chicago's World Fair, Illinois

ONE

Clients who change their minds every other day. I get it; it’s their project and it’s their money. They are the customers, and I would not have a business without them. But I am hired to be the design authority. So why is all my expertise cast aside, only to have me arbitrarily move a wall six inches in one direction, then three inches in another direction, then back to the original position—and then, do this again 20 more times over months?

Figure drawing by Anthony Poon
Figure drawing by Anthony Poon

TWO

The business of architecture. To have work, I have to market the company— promote, promote, promote. I also bill clients, pay insurance and rent, manage finances, execute contracts, and take care of payroll and taxes. Being an entrepreneur and sole proprietor, such are mandatory activities, but they interfere with doing what I love: to draw, design and create.

THREE

Technology that has overtaken artistry and imagination. Computers are powerful and convenient. I can’t imagine my business without them, but they are just one of many tools. Some architects have forgotten how to use their hands, their eyes, and their souls. And some clients believe (incorrectly) that simply with the use of a computer, architects should be able to do more work and do it faster.

Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design
Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

FOUR

The frightening responsibility of what I do. Poorly selected kitchen cabinets might compromise the aesthetics of a house, but an incompetent design of fire exits for 10-story student dormitories is a life and death matter.

Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)
Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)

FIVE

Interior decorators who call themselves interior designers, as if to suggest these decorators shape architectural space, structure and light. Whether decorator or designer, why is it that they (alas, many of my friends are interior decorators/designers) garner higher pay than architects? Is selecting the right hue for a pillow sham as significant as my design for a high school?

Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design
Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design

SIX

Red Tape: working with the bureaucracy of city agencies to obtain approvals, even for the simplest of things. I do appreciate the need for the Department of Building and Safety to protect us against the unscrupulous and derelict, but I am neither unscrupulous nor derelict. I have better things to do than spend hundreds of hours waiting in line to submit a soils report, only to be rejected because today is the staff party for their July birthdays, and the counter has abruptly closed.

SEVEN

Bleeding for the art. Architecture is a struggle, and if it was easy, we probably wouldn’t be interesting in doing it. But most architects work way too hard, struggle too much. Pritzker-awarded Rafael Moneo once told our class not to worry. Without missing a beat and in all seriousness, this head of Harvard’s architecture school declared, “You have more than the five calendar days left to complete the project; you have ten days. Five days and five nights. Do not sleep!”

Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)
Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)

Fountainhead-WebEIGHT

The ego of some architects with their overly curated philosophical platforms laced with intellectual superiority. Architects, charged with solving design challenges with innovation and efficiency, do have a vital role in society. But are we rock stars? Are we “Starchitects?” I often wonder whether Ayn Rand was serious about the greatness of architects, or was she simply elbow jabbing the profession, slyly mocking us.

© Poon Design Inc.