Tag Archives: A4E


March 3, 2023

right: Colline Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier; left: chapel in Zhengzhou, China (photo rom pinterest.ph, RMJM)

Often, two separate architectural projects by two separate architects appear similar. Sometimes too similar. Hmmm . . . it is simply a coincidence, did one design inspire the other, or has an idea been “appropriated”? In other words, stolen.

left: Lady Gaga (photo from soundcloud); right: Madonna (photo from news.madonnatribe.com)

In 2011, Lady Gaga released Born This Way, and comparisons to Madonna’s 1989 Express Yourself were swift, exacting, and accusatory. The two songs sounded more than just similar, and Lady Gaga was considered a plagiarist, a common thief. Gaga tried flattery stating that her song was not a copy, but rather, that she was inspired by Madonna—that the work was a tribute to the Queen of Pop.

In architecture, there are many creative overlaps between separate projects which can lead to the legal phrase, “likelihood of confusion.” But often the overlaps are innocent. The zeitgeist of ideas invades the media, websites, and magazine covers. Subconsciously, we design buildings that accidentally conform to pervasive aesthetic themes. But sometimes, there is thievery.

top: Saracen Casino Resort, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, by Marlon Blackwell; bottom: same project by HBG Design (photos by MBA)

In 2017, Marlon Blackwell Architects (“MBA”), designed the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas (top image in the above collage). In 2018, HBG Design supposedly “collaborated” with MBA to develop the project. When the client dismissed MBA for unclear reasons, they filed the now infamous 2019 lawsuit. According to Architectural Record’s January 2020 reporting, the suit “claims that HBG has continued to use MBA’s intellectual property without credit or payment, and asks for a judgment of no less than $4.45 million . . . and a declaration indicating MBA’s original authorship of the design.”

MBA won, and HBG’s design (bottom image in the above collage) must now be credited as “an original design by Marlon Blackwell Architects.” Though the financial settlement remains confidential, this victory for the original creator contributes to the ongoing discussion of intellectual property and authorship.

New York–New York Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by Frauke Feind, Pixabay)

What about Las Vegas producing themed-casinos based on great cities, e.g., Paris, New York (here and here), Venice, and Egypt? What about when an architect in China brazenly reproduces one of the greatest works of the International Style? (See opening image at top.)

For my personal exploration below, admittedly tongue-in-cheek, I mined some of my past designs and found many similar projects by other architects, some explicitly similar. Are they copies or merely independent invention?

right: Harvard student project by Anthony Poon (photo by Anthony Poon); left: 8 Octavia, San Francisco, California (photo from saitowitz.com)

As a Harvard graduate student in 1990, I designed this seven-story, vertically-slatted building in downtown Boston (right). In 2015, Stanley Saitowitz (one of my undergraduate professors at UC Berkeley  designed this eight-story, vertically-slatted building in downtown San Francisco (left).

top: Olympic Stadium 2000, Sydney, Australia, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi with NBBJ (rendering by NBBJ); bottom: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California (photo from hksinc.com)

While employed at NBBJ, my design partner, Greg Lombardi, and I designed this sports building for the 2000 Sydney Olympics (top). Our design never got built, but SoFi Stadium opened in 2020 to much fanfare (bottom). Both projects feature an iconic roof curving up from the ground and soaring towards the other side.

right: Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon with A4E (photo by Gregory Blore), left: Fontana School, Fontana, California (photo from architecture4e.com)

As Co-Founder and Design Principal of A4E, I led the team to create this school in Yuba City, California (left)—a design expressing structure, horizontal textures, and a folding roof. Years later after I left the company, A4E designed this Fontana school (right)—a design of similar sentiments.

right: Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal); left: Love Culture, Santa Monica, California (photo from shopa.off-77.tk)

My studio, Poon Design, designed this 2008 restaurant bar framed by an innovative, back-lit, decoratively-etched mirror composition (left). We won the 2009 International AIA Award, and our design was published extensively. Years later, this store installed a back-lit, decoratively-etched mirror composition (right).

right: Lifeguard Tower and Pier, Hermosa Beach, California, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi (rendering by Al Forster); left: Oslo Opera House, Oslo, Norway (photo by Beata May, galleo.co)

In 1993, Lombardi and I designed this glassy building situated on a plaza that slopes upwards to the sea (left). We won the 1995 AIA Merit Award, and our design was published extensively. In 2008, Norwegian firm, Snohetta, designed this glassy building situated on a plaza that slopes upwards to the sea (right).

Yes, the above commentary possesses some glibness. I understand that we architects sometimes design what is exclusively in our heads and sometimes what is non-exclusively part of a larger dialogue. I accuse no one of plagiarism, but often the resemblances are too striking to ignore.


November 25, 2016

Career training building in foreground; multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria in background (photo by Gregory Blore)

I have clients that make getting out of bed worth the effort, after I have fallen asleep at 2:30 a.m. working on their project. These are clients that show up early to my office, eager to see the freshest designs for their vacation house or new church. They find joy in my creative process.

For a good client, architecture takes on an extraordinary role. (This is a counterpoint essay to my recent one, Bad Apples.)

Sketch of Feather River Academy (drawing by Anthony Poon, A4E)
Sketch of Feather River Academy (drawing by Anthony Poon, A4E)

With my Pasadena studio named A4E, I served Superintendent Jeff Holland, designing an innovative campus in Yuba City, California. Named Feather River Academy, this “alternative education program” teaches students who have failed in traditional academic venues.

My business partner Gaylaird and I proposed a straightforward but innovative approach: let the students design their school.

Jeff supported this off beat approach, which landed me in a kick-off “client” meeting with disaffected youth, some accompanied by their parole officers, some single mothers at 15. If one were to assume that this group of lost teenagers would not be engaged in a stuffy architectural process, one would assume incorrectly.

Me and my Kit-of-Parts, with students in hands-on design meeting (photo by A4E)
Me and my Kit-of-Parts, with students in hands-on design meeting (photo by A4E)

At this first meeting, I showed up with a tabletop-size physical model of the site. I also arrived with what eventually became a signature of mine over the years, the Kit-of-Parts.

Kit-of-Parts. For each programmatic element of this new school, I brought colored blocks of foamcore: classrooms, gym, cafeteria, offices, art room, etc. Green and tan cardboard represented the outdoor areas: basketball court, social spaces and parking. I made all my pieces to scale. The clients/students literally had the building blocks of their future school.

Classrooms on left; special education building on right (photo by Gregory Blore)
Classrooms on left; special education building on right (photo by Gregory Blore)
Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria on the left; the administration building on the right (photo by Gregory Blore)
Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria on the left; the administration building on the right (photo by Gregory Blore)

I quickly learned from the students: no to big buildings, yes to a village of smaller buildings, nothing institutional or prison-like. They wanted classrooms directly adjacent to the basketball court, sought an open campus feel of one-story structures, and so on. The design results of these sessions became the basis of the entire campus plan.

Furthering the participatory process, our studio hosted one of these students as an architectural intern, so as to be part of developing his own school, while learning at a professional design company.

At the time to present to the Board of Education in a large televised public hearing, this same student, once labeled “at-risk,” was our primary presenter. The Board received his presentation and personal statements with applause. Feather River Academy opened its doors in 2005, and shortly after, was honored with a dozen national design awards.

Design drawing for village of classroom (drawing by Glen Hensley, A4E)
Design drawing for village of classroom (drawing by Glen Hensley, A4E)

Guilty of profiling, I have categorized my best clients. Those of us in the service industry relying on customers, we all know these people.

The Experienced and The Knowledgeable
The Charitable and The Big Hearted
The Personal and The Empathetic
The Once-In-A-Lifetime and The Probably Never Again
The Excited and The Appreciative
The Remarkable and The Ground Breakers

There is no end to clients that are professional, altruistic, generous, sympathetic, cheerful, unwavering, heroic, and inventive. Some are veritable humanitarians, and some are even spiritual deities. Literally. See: To Accommodate and To Defer.

Though there are bad clients, the ones that send me home shrieking with frustration, the ones where money is lost, and the ones that literally frighten me—it is the good clients that get me up every morning.

Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria (photo by Gregory Blore)
Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria (photo by Gregory Blore)
© Poon Design Inc.