Tag Archives: AI WEIWEI


January 20, 2023

Proposed office-to-residential conversion, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design

Some have called it renovation or maybe remodel. Everyday lexicon might use recycle. Architects strive for adaptive reuse. And the most current language enjoys re-purpose. Whatever is your R-word of choice, the world of design has become less fascinated with the new and more committed to the re-new or renewal.

The New York Times recently wrote, “First, on a planet with limited resources and a rapidly warming climate, it’s crazy to throw stuff away; second, products should be designed with reuse in mind.” Calling out architects, “Buildings are responsible for nearly 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.”

Proposed office-to-residential conversion, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design

Poon Design has been rethinking an existing 104,000-square-foot office building in Beverly Hills. Due to the pandemic, remote work, and changes in corporate culture, office buildings all over town are only partially occupied or worse, entirely vacant—empty carcasses of once thriving corporate activity. Accompanying this downturn is the demand for housing—apartments, condos, affordable/attainable housing, and/or workforce inventory. The Los Angeles Times summed it up, “Since the pandemic, the significant drop in employees showing up to work at an office has signaled building owners to consider converting office space into residential units.”

Proposed office-to-residential conversion, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design

Our vision for repurposing this four-story office building into apartments involves renovating the existing structure and infrastructure, inserting more elevators and stairs, creating balconies and garden areas, adding a rooftop village of residences, and offering community functions, e.g. gym, café, meeting rooms, and social areas. And the building already comes with hundreds of underground parking. And repurposing doesn’t have to apply to entire buildings. Here are examples from architecture to furniture, toys to art.

left: Discarded rubber toy duck (photo by toriastalesoftravel.com); right: Detail of chandelier at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
Chandelier at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

At our design for Chaya Downtown, we collaborated with London-based artist Stuart Haygarth to repurpose 1,500 toys and collectibles into this feature chandelier. Countless toys are discarded by families each year. Thousands are lost at the beach or park. Many end up in the trash. Why not resurrect all these lost colorful playthings?

left: Hand woven African baskets (photo from weaverstreetmarket.coop); right: Custom garden lights at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
Detail of garden lights at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

For this same project, we obtained handwoven baskets from Ten Thousand Villages, a global, maker-to-market, fair-trade retailer of artisanal crafts. We transformed these African baskets into garden lights. One might wonder how such a basket of fibrous tree and plant material can withstand the heat of an exterior light fixture. Our solution was clever: The light source is in the planting below the basket, not inside. Light shines up, the red and yellow colors of the basket transform the light into a warm glow, and reflect the beam downward.

left: Unhappy discarded stuffed animal (photo from slate.com); right: Stack of stuffed animals (photo from stuffedparty.com)
67 repurposed stuffed animals from my daughters (photo by Anthony Poon)

Back to toys, I found myself looking at six dozen discarded stuff animals from my grown two daughters and a niece. Using an Ikea lounge chair as a frame, I hand stitched each animal to create this very comfortable and nostalgic piece of furniture. Sitting in it recalls one’s youth as she laid in bed surrounded by her favorite stuffed animals.

left: Wooden wine crates (photo from turbosquid.com); right: Community table made of repurposed wooden wine crates at Deluca’s, The Americana at Brand, Glendale, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
Detail of community table at Deluca’s, The Americana at Brand, Glendale, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

At Deluca’s Italian Deli, our millworker repurposed old wine crates and gave a curated personality to the community table, where Poon Design also custom designed all the furniture.

left: Sunflower seeds (photo from jerky.com); right: Seeds at the Tate Modern, London, England (photo from luxuo.vn)
Seeds at the Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles, California, by Ai Weiwei, 2018 (photo by Olive Stays)

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese contemporary artist and activist, has explored several avenues of renewal and transformation in his large art installations. In London and more recently in Los Angeles, the artist led the production of 100 million “sunflower seeds” (hand-crafted in porcelain by 1,600 workers over two and a half years), and meticulously laid them out over the museum floor. The work asserts that the people of China can stand up together to counter communism.

left: Wood stools (photo from gist.github.com); right: Bang at the Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy, by Ai Weiwei, 2013 (photo by Elly Waterman/via Wikimedia Commons)
Stools at Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, California, by Ai Weiwei, 2018 (photo by Olive Stays)

Weiwei’s gathering of a thousand ancient stools highlights the handcrafted nature of the three-legged seat passed down through generations, while simultaneously demanding attention from a world where such artisanal work has been discarded and replaced by the government’s latest identity, one of mass produced plastic and metal.

left: Bicycle (photo from womenshealthmag.com); right: Forever Bicycles at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan, 2011 (photo by Ai Weiwei Studio)
Forever Bicycles at the Waller Creek Delta, Austin, Texas, by Ai Weiwei, 2014 (photo from reddit.com)

Similarly, this artist yearns for the authenticity of Chinese peasantry and their bicycles, the method of transportation most used by that class. Once expressing movement, the bikes now are combined together as sculpture, representing the current lack of freedom and the fixed society of contemporary China.

Through my mixed-media art, I too have explored the telling and re-telling of narratives, where I repurpose discarded old paintings, having a conversation with an artist I have never met.

Resurrection has its many Christian connotations. The Latin root, surgere, references a resurgence or revival–literally “to rise.” Whether a building or basket, stool or stuffed animal—whether repurpose or adaptive reuse—Merriam-Webster states that resurrection is “an instance of coming back into use or importance.” Again, why do we “throw stuff away”—from household items to entire buildings?


September 4, 2020

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design. Left: sushi counter with lights by Tom Dixon; upper right: bar with chandelier by Stuart Haygarth; lower right, dining room with mural by Ajioka (photos by Gregg Segal)

When architects and interior designers work together, there are four things to know. (This article is an excerpt from my lectures at UCLA Extension, architecture and interior design department with professor Eleanor Schrader.

This is the perception, but how large is the overlap? (diagram by Poon Design)


When creating buildings, there is a big arc from envisioning spaces and volumes, to working on details like lighting, and furniture—from the shape of the ceiling and angle of the wall, to bedding and wallcovering.

Many mistakenly believe that the overlap between the work of architects and that of interior designers is small. In reality, the overlap can be small, medium, or large—or even huge. For a successful project, this overlap must be acknowledged, and when agreed upon, we have collaboration. If not, the result is confusion, alongside battles of ego and territory.

(diagram by Poon Design)

With our design for Chaya Downtown (top photo), there was no overlap at all, since Poon Design was the architect AND interior designer. We also designed everything else—landscape, lighting, furniture, graphics, etc.—even curating art and programming music. And we got to collaborate with some famous artists.

In contrast, Poon Design teamed with the talented West Hollywood studio, Interior Illusions, for our successful design and construction of four communities totaling over 200 homes in and around Palm Springs. Poon Design created the architecture, crafted the spatial experience, designed the cabinetry, and specified materials, kitchen appliances, and lighting. Interior Illusions selected all the furniture, art, accessories, window treatments, and overall styling.

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, architecture and interiors by Andrew Adler/AVG, Interior Illusions, and Poon Design. (photos by Mark Ballogg)


A successful design takes more than just the talents of the architect and interior designer. Most don’t realize the extent of experts necessary to create a restaurant or school, hotel or museum. Even for a house, the team could include a soils geologist, civil engineer, structural engineer, AV/technology consultant, electrical engineer, energy compliance expert, and security advisor—just to name a few.


(diagrams by Poon Design)Every design decision has a ripple effect. No one should design in a vacuum. For example, the shape of a roof impacts structural and mechanical engineering, and the selection of a chandelier tests the allowable energy usage or the weight that the roof truss can support. Or, does the chosen porcelain tile for the floor meet the non-slip coefficient?

Architects, designers, consultants, and clients at work (photos by Poon Design and AVG)


What is the design concept? All participants of the entire team must have consensus on the project’s creative agenda—as in the artistic philosophy, the story. Think critically and avoid clichés, because they only show limited thinking. Cliches such as: warm and welcoming, eclectic, timeless, transitional, or the overused, “modern YET traditional.”

Grapes, by Ai Weiwei (photo by Cathy Carver, Hirshhorn Museum)

For this home, we wanted to design a contemporary house, but zoning required a Tuscan style. We called our approach, Mission Modern. Meaning, it would be a blend of the California Mission / Spanish Revival styles with Modernist architecture. More importantly, it was our “mission” to make the design “modern.”

Modern Villa at Monte Sereno, Palm Springs, California, architecture and interiors by Andrew Adler/AVG, Interior Illusions, and Poon Design. (photos by Lance Gerber and AVG)

The owners of Din Tai Fung sought an Asian restaurant, but not an Asian theme-park. They had no interest in red silk curtains, lanterns and golden dragons. We offered ideas we entitled, Contemporary Chinese. As just one example of many, traditional Chinese wood screens and patterns were reinterpreted in new materials, executed with modern technology like water jet- or laser-cutting.

Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, California (photos by Gregg Segal)


Whether architect, interior designer, or engineer, please avoid the ubiquitous hand waving. This ridiculous gesture signals the so-called genius idea from a pretentious design diva, who has little concern for the development, implementation, or even success of said genius idea. If a pompous designer envisions a wall of mirrors, his idea shouldn’t stop there. What kind of mirrors—clear, tinted, colored? What size—large panels, vertical tiles, mosaics? How are the mirrors attached? What kind of adhesive or fasteners?

Shop drawings for the sushi counter at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

Know how things work, not just how things look.

Drawing by Anders Nilsen for The New York Times

And know the parameters. Some architects like Italian Carlo Scarpa, or as Poon Design does with most of our projects, design every last detail, every last screw, as both architect and interior designer. Other architects stop their creative thinking at the face of the drywall and look to the interior designer to fit out the rest of the space. This approach bothers me. If an architect has created the most exciting ideas for the overall composition of the house, why can’t he continue his thinking as the design moves inside?

Left: project with only drywall completed (photo from homerepairninja.com); right: Olivetti Showroom, Venice, Italy, by Carlo Scarpa (photo from archlovers.com / Yellowtrace)


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.