Life doesn’t offer us very many stark choices. But 28 years ago, very late one night in my cramped Chelsea studio apartment, I faced such a choice.

I clenched two graduate school applications: one for The Juilliard School of Music, and the other for Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. I had to decide which of my passions would eventually become my vocation.

My mother’s Hong Kong edition of the Beethoven Sonatas, Volume One
My Mother’s Hong Kong edition of the Beethoven Sonatas, Volume One (photo by Anthony Poon)

Music was my first passion. My goal was to be a world-class concert pianist. I spent years and years of practicing piano, composing music, studying composers, and performing recitals. When I put pen to paper, it was often to mark notes, chords, melodies and harmonies. I wanted to play for the world.

I was also one of those kids drawn to Legos. I created cars, planes, robots, musical instruments, and of course, buildings. As I grew older, my visions for physical structures were captured in pencil, in paint, in clay, in cardboard, in any form of material I could get my hands on. I continued to create dreams and sculpt worlds of peace and progress. Of intention. I dreamed of places for people to live, to grow, to fall in love, and to find meaning in their existence. I wanted to shape the world.

On that night in 1987, I had to choose.

I pondered how many famous pianists I could name, I could only come up with a short list: Rubenstein, Horowitz, Ashkenazy, Arrau, Serkin, and just a few more. The odds of my making that short list seemed slim. Yet there are hundreds of successful architects in every city. I figured that I could be a practicing architect and still practice music. But not the other way around. I could not be a concert pianist and also lead an architecture firm.

I chose Harvard and my place in the art of architecture, and all the other arts, sustains me to this day. I have designed homes, restaurants, schools, shopping centers, churches, basketball arenas, performing arts centers, museums, university buildings, visitor centers, memorials, and parks and playgrounds. Most importantly, I have designed places where people live, grow, connect, and flourish. Architecture is both the blank canvas that provides for one’s life imprint, as well as the vessel that holds one’s life.

Northern California Lifestyle / Retail Center by Poon Design
Northern California Lifestyle / Retail Center by Poon Design

I still play the piano nearly every day, whether it is a small bit of Brahms and Bach, a session of improvisation, or Rodgers and Hammerstein for my young daughters to sing and dance.

My choice of one passion didn’t negate the other. Indeed, the passion not chosen continues to inform the other.

© Poon Design Inc.