Tag Archives: AIA

AWARDS, HONORS AND BRAGGING RIGHTS

June 29, 2018

(from starburstmagazine.com)

We are both blessed and lucky, as accolades shower the work of Poon Design Inc. With several dozen national awards, alongside local and regional ones, I am honored–especially with our recent win of one of the most prestigious awards in the industry: the National AIA Award.

Each and every project requires grueling work and commitment. For some projects, ten years have been exhausted to transform a design sketch into an award-winning reality.

Panorama Residence at Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Lance Gerber). Awarded the 2014 National Silver Award, Best Single Family Home, National Association of Home Builders, the 2013 National Gold Award, Detached Home Built for Sale, Best in American Living, National Association of Home Builders, and the 2013 Finalist, Mid-Century Re-Imagined, Dwell magazine.

From neighboring jurisdictions to countrywide juries, the prizes bestowed on my design team validate our creative pursuits. Sharing the honors with our clients validates their trust in us.

But here is the thing: every architect I know calls himself or herself an “award-winning architect.”

2009 International Design Competition Finalist: Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery and Memorial Park, Alexandria, Virginia, by Poon Design (rendering by Zemplinski)

And every company calls themselves an “award-winning firm” with “award-winning projects.” We all have awards. Some are prestigious, like the national award of excellence from The American Institute of Architects. Some are unimpressive, like a local chapter of an unheard entity. (We have some of those.) And some are ridiculous, like an in-house award from a third-rate corporate firm for an employee identified as “our company’s best improved designer.” With the last dubious honor from a company whose name is withheld, the flattered architect prances around the room as an “award-winning architect.”

One of the highest honor in architecture, the international Pritzker Prize (photo from themartian.eu)

Speaking of prestigious, only a few in our industry have taken home the monster award of them all, the annual Pritzker Prize. Commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture, this lifetime achievement award has been bestowed on only three dozen laureates around the globe—one per year. And only half a dozen are from the United States.

Jennifer Lawrence receives the Academy Award for Best Actress in Silver Linings Playbook, 2013 (photo from cnn.com)
Awarded the 2009 International Design Award for Best Restaurant from The American Institute of Architects, Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

Nobel Prize or a provincial award, my colleagues and I all try to be modest. We try to not let our artistic egos get out of control, and try to not believe our own hype. We feign humility like a Hollywood actor saying in a soft-spoken voice, “I am just honored to be nominated.” As each actor is up for that coveted Oscar statue, we hear that commonplace statement of decorum and a self-defense mechanism, if one ends up losing. I too have said the same cliché, before hearing my name called as a winner, and particularly after I have lost. “I am just honored to be here,” stated in a mock tone of diplomacy, as if losing is okay. It’s not.

Architects love their walls that display plaques, honors, and trophies. In my previous Beverly Hills office, I chose to not be so obvious. All our awards hung in the kitchen. If a client happened to glance a certain direction when seeking coffee, the crowded wall of our glory displayed our documented and supposed greatness.

One of my first awards: McDonald’s Honor Award for the Mayor McCheese Coloring Contest, 1973

Poon Design’s current studio in Culver City takes the predictable position of pandering. Upon walking in our front door, there they are. Hanging on the large brick wall, the shining awards greet you. A grand and insufferable, but necessary PR statement of bragging rights.

At the 2018 National Awards Ceremony in New York City, for The American Institute of Architects (photo by Poon Design)

Architecture is a challenging competitive field. As a daily struggle, it is not for the faint at heart. Whether a peer award or an honor from a distinguished jury of civic leaders, I say thank you to all those for making the field of architecture a lot more exciting.

Our most recent award, one of the highest honors in the country: the National AIA Award, Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by James Butchart)

“WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE”

July 14, 2017

Crowds gathering for the public reviews and professor critiques of student project, Wurster Hall, University of California, Berkeley (photo from ced.berkeley.edu)

Late 80’s, College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley. This public review of my studio project concludes my undergraduate studies. The class assignment: design a hypothetical church on the banks of Lake Merritt, Oakland. Analogies of good vs. evil, discussions about faith, designs representing religion, etc. saddled every student’s work.

More than an academic exercise for a mere letter grade, The American Institute of Architects co-sponsored our class, structuring it as a design competition. The winners’ drawings and models would become a public architectural exhibition.

Carefully balanced on two feet, I stood at the front of the class. 40 people in the audience and counting: classmates, faculty, professionals, and members of the AIA. Dauntlessly, I presented my heroic and sardonic church: a boxy concrete temple imprisoned in a giant steel frame, seven stories tall. My artistic composition equated religion to a sanctuary within a constricting cage.

Model of church project by Anthony Poon
Model of church project by Anthony Poon

I knew my idea was good. For my drawings, I created a technique that preceded computer generated images. I employed diamond tipped technical pens filled with black Indian ink, drawing on large translucent plastic sheets. On the backside, I applied adhesive color films, each layer surgically cut by hand with an X-Acto No. 11 razor blade, known for its similarity in shape to an actual surgeon’s knife.

Drawings of church project by Anthony Poon
Drawings of church project by Anthony Poon

Concluding my bold presentation and audacious metaphors, I beamed a self-assured smile.

My professor, Lars Lerup, was already revved up. He lambasted my design, hurling bombastic criticism at my “sad attempt to understand the meaning of architecture and the sublime.” The professor’s assault was both self-servingly theatrical and pretentiously dogmatic. For twenty minutes, not stopping for a single breath, Lerup was clearly on the offensive against a foolish student. As Lerup’s back-up dancers, the faculty seated with my professor propped him up with their complete silence.

Tired from the past sleepless nights, I didn’t mind too much. Perhaps I knew my work was good. Or maybe I just didn’t care because I was soon to graduate.

Design studios, Wurster hall, photo by ced.berkeley.edu
Design studios, Wurster Hall, (photo from ced.berkeley.edu)

My professor glared at me for any kind of reaction, any kind of acknowledgement that I was learning at his world class institution. Not responding, I stood there smiling politely. Carefully balanced on two feet.

He would not, could not stand for this, as his shrieking reached an all-time high in melodrama, and an all-time low in appropriateness from an educator towards his student.

In session, a public review of a student project, Wurster Hall, photo by guide.berkeley.edu
In session, a public review of a student project, Wurster Hall (photo from guide.berkeley.edu)

The professor shouted, “Anthony, why are you smiling?! I want you to WIPE THAT SMIRK OFF YOUR FACE! Or I will do it for you!!”

Continuing this tirade for a few more minutes, Lerup eventually lost steam against an opponent that was not interested in being his opponent. And then, it was over. I jigged and hopped out of Wurster Hall.

The looming Wurster Hall, College of Environmental Design, prime example of the Brutalist movement from 1950 to 1970, completed in 1964, designed by Joseph Esherick, photo by Falcorian
The looming Wurster Hall, College of Environmental Design, prime example of the Brutalist movement from 1950 to 1970, completed in 1964, designed by Joseph Esherick (photo by Falcorian)

EPILOGUE: The American Institute of Architects selected me as one of the competition winners. I also graduated with High Honors, Magna Cum Laude. As I said, I knew my work was good.

OUTRO: I ran into Lars Lerup in New York a year later, and that my friends was an even more outrageous story. More another day.

HERMOSA BEACH FIASCO: ARCHITECTURE OF POLITICS

March 25, 2016

Suspended steel and wood fishing platforms offer a unique experience above the ocean, under the existing concrete pier, Hermosa Beach, California, by Lombardi/Poon Architects

My first public commission—I learned how difficult life as an architect would be. A decade-long saga of city politics, professional contradictions, and the theft of my intellectual property taught me to fight.

My design partner, the late Greg Lombardi was 30. I was 29. Calling ourselves Lombardi/Poon Architects, our shingle was barely even hung when we entered an international design competition organized by The American Institute of Architects (“AIA”). The city of Hermosa Beach sought an architect with a vision for the redesign of their waterfront and pier.

In contrast to the proposals for hotels, shopping malls and amusement parks, our design was simply a graceful open space that gathered together the city, beach, ocean, sun and horizon.

Greg Lombardi and me, first of hundreds of local and national articles, Daily Breeze, 1993
Greg Lombardi and me, first of hundreds of local and national articles, Daily Breeze, 1993

It was a miracle. Lombardi/Poon Architects won! We beat out everybody—competitors from around the world, architects twice and thrice our senior.

But this was just the start of a staggering journey, a trial by fire.

After the celebration presenting Greg and me to national media outlets, before we got to bask in my triumph, the city council of Hermosa Beach stripped us of our win. The council proclaimed that they themselves should choose the winner, not the AIA. That the city’s public dollars were being spent, it seemed logical that the council should have a say in the winner.

It was a devastating blow. How would we win a second time? The council members were politicians from various business backgrounds—not architects of the AIA. The original competition was reviewed by experts who were qualified to assess abstract design concepts and read technical drawings.

In the end, Lombardi/Poon swooped up my second miracle, against hundreds of competitors. We won, again! We shook hands all over again, stood for press conferences again.

But.

Development of our design could not start. The citizens of Hermosa Beach rumbled—wanted their vote for the winning architect. Understandable, it’s their waterfront and pier. Our design was to go before a public vote by the town.

Public plaza sloping down to the beach and up to the horizon, with renovated lifeguard tower, palm trees in an elliptical arc, bike path, and ribbon-like metal canopy
Public plaza sloping down to the beach and up to the horizon, with renovated lifeguard tower, palm trees in an elliptical arc, bike path, and ribbon-like metal canopy

Stripped once again of the win, I now witnessed my future: the ups and downs of a rollercoaster journey to come. The destiny of the project moved down the line from a professional AIA jury, to a layperson group of elected officials, to now, people who were even further from understanding architectural drawings.

A third miracle. Lombardi/Poon won once again! The people of Hermosa selected us as the architect, one year since our initial victory.

However.

With how state funds are to be spent, Hermosa had to validate their fiscal responsibility. Legislative requirements forced Hermosa to invite any and all architects to interview for the job—for our job that Greg and I already won several times—on which we were already working.

We now had to interview against senior companies, and the city council’s job was to look at credentials, not creativity. I could feel that the outcome would swing to a firm who, on paper, would be more qualified to develop our project.

I had to fight for my opportunity as I would have to again and again over the long architectural haul of a career. My plan? Engage a structural engineer who had such depth of experience that he would make my inexperience go unnoticed.

Public space, new palm trees, pier canopy, and optional glass skin for renovated lifeguard tower to reflect the water, sky and sun (watercolor by Al Forster)
Public space, new palm trees, pier canopy, and optional glass skin for renovated lifeguard tower to reflect the water, sky and sun (watercolor by Al Forster)

This idea failed horribly. During the public interviews, my saving grace of retaining an engineer of age and gravitas proved to be my worst mistake.

He took to the microphone, presented himself, stating in his best salesperson-like booming voice: “We are so excited to be considered by HUNTINGTON Beach.”

Greg and I cringed. Hermosa Beach, you idiot!

This was akin to a rock band thanking Milwaukee, when they were on stage in Cleveland. Like shouting “Go USC” at a UCLA game. Calling your spouse by the wrong name. You get the drift.

Our misguided engineer continued, live on television: “We would love to work with Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach would do so well to have our skills.” Huntington this and that.

No surprise, Lombardi/Poon Architects loss the project that we created and won several times over.

And it got worse.

New fishing platforms and ribbon-like metal pier canopy
New fishing platforms and ribbon-like metal pier canopy

A large corporate company from Irvine won the contract to develop Greg and my project. And in an unethical turn of events, this company sought to steal our design and credit its creation as their own. I received a letter that had a legal tone to it. The company’s founding partner declared that the Hermosa Beach project now belonged to him. Furthermore, he asserted that he might mention our names in the future, “if he so desired and at his convenience.”

This arrogant asshole was steamrolling over us, two fresh young architects two years into their first public commission. The senior architect’s malicious actions constituted theft—shoplifting of Lombardi/Poon’s intellectual property.

Master plan for waterfront and pier
Master plan for waterfront and pier

I took the first step of a ritual that so many adults do through out their life: I called a lawyer. It would be my first time, but not my last. Unfortunately, my attorney assessed that this Irvine architect could legally do everything he claimed.

I decided to visit face-to-face with this self-important jerk of an architect. Presenting the recognition from Hermosa Beach, the hundreds of articles crediting Greg and me, and our recent AIA design award for this project, I made clear his unethical actions. I don’t know if he felt guilty, or if he no longer cared, or maybe he was impressed with my tenacity. He apologized for his nasty letter.

Year three: here is where the end begins. The project loss its funding, due to the political delays. Only the first phase of our vision was developed and completed. By me.

Lifeguard tower renovated to bring in maximum natural light and ocean breezes, as well as allow views and access to the beach for safety
Lifeguard tower renovated to bring in maximum natural light and ocean breezes, as well as allow views and access to the beach for safety

EPILOGUE: I ran into the horrible founding partner ten years later. Of course, he did not recognize me. I re-introduced myself, and his posture displayed embarrassment. Looking worn and exhausted, he appeared as if architecture defeated him. For this little man, I had no feeling one way or another.

As I drove home that afternoon, west towards the ocean, I acknowledged my ambition and resolve. And I buckled my seat belt for more challenges to come in this career of lunacy called Architecture.

© Poon Design Inc.