Tag Archives: ALTA VERDE ESCENA

MID-CENTURY MODERNISM: POINT OF DEPARTURE

March 24, 2023

Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Hunter Kerhart)

100,000 attendees descended on Palm Springs last month for Modernism Week 2023, the 10-day design festival celebrating Mid-Century Modernism (“MCM”). As a feature lecturer, I presented The Myth of Mid-Century Modernism—positing that we honor the design style of the 1950s and 1960s, but should not embalm it. For the thousands of MCM fans and fanatics, my position was blasphemous of sorts.

Speaking at the Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs (photo by Olive Stays)

There are a dozen ideas from MCM that serve well as design themes—to be adapted not regurgitated. Acknowledge past legacies, but look forward not backward.

Case Study House #9 / Entenza House, 1950, Pacific Palisades, California, by Eames and Saarinen (photo by Julius Shulman)
Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois (w/ A4E and Cordogan Clark, photo by Mark Ballogg)

The MCM concept of the open floor plan countered the traditional compartmentalization of homes. At Poon Design, we applied the open floor plan to the design of a middle school. Rather than the conventional 12-foot wide by 10-foot tall, congested hallway lined with lockers, we created a 60-foot wide by 30-foot tall corridor—more a central atrium. Within sits the community functions open and accessible—library, math amphitheater, woodshop, and social areas.

Mirman Residence, 1959, Arcadia, California, by Buff, Straub and Hensman (photo by Julius Shulman)
Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photos by James Butchart)

In California, we are blessed with moderate climate—not too hot, not too cold—that allows us to bring the outside in, blurring the division between interior and exterior. With today’s advanced engineering, the span of openings are wider. Technology even allows for sliding doors to disappear into walls.

Case Study House #22 / Stahl House, 1960, Los Angeles, California, by Pierre Koenig (photo by Julius Shulman / J. Paul Getty Trust
14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, Natural Bridge, Virginia (photos by Mark Ballogg)

Expansive walls of glass are prevalent in MCM homes. Here, we apply the ideas of lightness and transparency to a Buddhist temple. In the day, the walls of glass mirror the surrounding landscape, and at night, the glass disappears.

top: Alexander Home, Twin Palms, 1955, by William Krisel; bottom: Park Imperial South, 1960, by Barry A. Berkus, Palm Springs, California (photos from palmspringslife.com)
Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California (w/ A4E, photo by Gregory Blore)

Often called the “butterfly” and “accordion” roof, we used such shapes not as an MCM gesture on a house, but as a unifying theme throughout a high school campus. Our roof lines recall the local mountains and serves as a metaphor for the institution’s mission statement, “Learning in Action.”

Frey House II, 1964, Palm Springs, California, by Albert Frey (photo from psmuseum.org)
top and bottom left: Mendocino Farms 3rd and Fairfax; bottom right: Mendocino Farms Fig at 7th, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)

A restaurant can capture the imagination through wit and charm by applying 400 wood clothespins on chicken wire making a chandelier, faux grass expressing a new concept of the American picnic, and a mural-like chalkboard continuous from wall to ceiling.

top: Century Modern Pattern 01 (from happywall.com); bottom: color palette (from kathykuohome.com)
top left: Vosges Haut-Chocolat Factory and Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois (photo by Anthony Poon); top middle: Joss Cuisine, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Poon Design); top right and second row left: S/B Residence, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design); second row middle: Greenman Elementary School, West Aurora, Illinois (w/ A4E and Cordogan Clark, photo by Mark Ballogg); bottom left: Coral Mountain Residence C, La Quinta, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Lance Gerber); Villa Sunset, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Martin/Poon)

We enjoy the application of color and patterns, but not just as decoration—rather, to add personality to a space, to capture the spirit and character of the owner—whether a purple chocolate factory, red powder room, of multi-colored gymnasium.

left: Eichler Home, 1950s, California, by Joseph Eichler (photo from sunset.com); right: Sputnik chandelier, 1939, by Hans Harald Rath of J&L Lobmeyr (photo from etsy.com)
top: Aura Cycle, West Hollywood, California (photo by Aura Cycle); bottom left: Doheny Plaza, West Hollywood, California (photo by Hunter Kerhart); bottom right: S/B House, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design)

Light can be more than simply a source of illumination. Consider light to be similar to stone, wood, or metal. Meaning, light can also be a building material. Light can be an element to be shaped, harnessed, and applied like a painter applies oils to a canvas.

Round House, 1968, Wilton, Connecticut, by Richard Foster (photo by Iwan Baan)
bottom: Heritage Fine Wines, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Poon Design)

Having dominated architectural outcomes for centuries, the classical principles of architecture were open to MCM reinterpretation. At this wine store, the cabinetry possesses a traditional look with its cornice, trim and paneling. Yet, we applied such a traditional look to an elliptically-shaped showroom. Upon entering, the bottles of Bordeaux embrace the visitor.

Eichler Homes, Burlingame, California, by Joseph Eichler (photos by Anthony Poon)
top: Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California (photo from earth.google.com); bottom: Residence I-3, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Chris Miller)

As the Case Study Housing program attempted, Poon Design also sought to provide attainable, budget-driven, mass produced homes. Building and selling 230 contemporary homes in four new Palm Springs communities has earned us the highest national honor from the American Institute of Architects, the 2018 Best in Housing, alongside dozens of other regional and national awards.

left: MCM Hilltop Community, 1950, Seattle, Washington, by Paul Kirk; right: Roberts House, 1955, West Covina, California, by Richard Neutra (photo by Cameron Carothers)
Din Tai Fung, Costa Mesa, California (photos by Poon Design)??? Glendale, California (photos by Poon Design and Gregg Segal)

New tools and technology allowed us to exploit MCM’s drive for a high sense of craft. Giant lampshades at the famed Din Tai Fung restaurant reinterpret historic Chinese screens. Through computer scripted patterns alongside milling techniques of oak plywood, we created lampshades and skylights that are works of sculpture, expressing a devotion to detail and innovation.

Case Study House #8 / Eames House, 1949, Pacific Palisades, California, by Charles and Ray Eames (photo by Julius Shulman, J. Paul Getty Trust)
top: Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gregg Segal); graphic design for Chaya (by Poon Design)

MCM architects sought to provide design services combining three prominent strains: architecture, interiors and landscape. For our Chaya Downtown restaurant, we went further to deliver a cohesively designed environment. We created the branding, website, and graphics. We also designed furniture and lighting, as well as curated the art. We continued our pursuits to include the employee uniforms and even the selection of music. Music too is an element of architecture. What is heard during the morning hours of coffee is different than the business lunches—different than festive happy hour, different than an elegant dinner, and different than late night cocktails.

Case Study House #22 / Stahl House, 1960, Los Angeles, California, by Pierre Koenig (photo by Julius Shulman / J. Paul Getty Trust)
The Point Lifestyle Center, Irvine, California

We continue the optimism of MCM at larger scales and more ambitious programs than housing. For this lifestyle center serving the Asian community, the first floor comprises an Asian fish market, the second is a Korean spa, the third a Japanese karaoke bar, and the fourth a Chinese rooftop garden restaurant.

Kaufmann House, 1946, Palm Springs, California, by Richard Neutra (photo by Slim Aarons)

The design concepts of Mid-Century Modernism endure, because they are timeless and universal. The challenge is to look to MCM concepts as a platform to launch into the future—as inspiration not as nostalgia, for interpretation not replication.

DESIGNING COMMUNITIES: RISKS AND REWARDS

May 13, 2022

One of five prototype residences, Saudi Arabia (rendering by Encore)

Architects like to put their stamp on as much as possible, from the design of a chair to the whole house, from a theater to a museum. How about entire neighborhoods? When designing a community of homes, there are risks and rewards. Sure, the ego is stroked to see design ideas implemented across an urban fabric. But there are also pitfalls. Beware.

130-home community, Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California (photo by Google Earth)

At Poon Design Inc., we have been fortunate to have designed eight communities from scratch, from California to Montana to Saudi Arabia—totaling over 200 built homes and another 100 on the way.

20-condominium, 8-building community, Big Mountain River, Whitefish, Montana (rendering by Mike Amaya)

When designing one residence, there is an overly precious approach, a fetishization of exploring the domesticity of a single client. But when designing a community of over 100 dwellings, the architect now confronts not just the house as a single object, but the relationship between the objects—not just each note of the music, but the connection between the notes.

20-condominium, 8-building community site plan, Big Mountain River, Whitefish, Montana

Here, the composition is no longer a single structure, but a body of dozens upon dozens of residences, as well as the open spaces between and around them. Take for example: roads and sidewalks, gardens and entry gates, motor courts and driveways—yes, even a stormwater water management. Designing a neighborhood is creating a place where diverse families intersect, where lifestyles overlap, where utopian ideas are possible. The scale of our work still includes the design of kitchen cabinets and bathroom tile patterns, but it now explores how a fire truck enters the community, puts out a fire, and turns around. We are shaping the land, like a giant given ablank canvas the size of a city.

Brainstorming session at Poon Design Inc. for mass production housing in Palm Springs, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Some of our projects mentioned above fall into the category of tract housing or mass production housing, meaning that the 40-home community is not a design of 40 unique homes, but rather, a composition of four homes strategically curated to ward off architectural monotony. From a financial standpoint, the four-house-approach allows the developer efficiencies in construction costs and schedule.

130-house site plan, Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California

For aesthetic variety, unimaginative architects only apply superficial ideas. Yes, you can alter paint color, exterior materials, and landscape. But we do not support the typical tract home methods of adding artificial roof forms, like a fake gable on one and a token trellised porch on another, when both happen to be for the exact same floor plan. No, any modifications must have a reason that is supported by the design concept of that particular house.

Though rewarding and artistically challenging, the big risk with designing entire neighborhoods is frightening yet simple. If you make one mistake, 100 homes have this mistake, so now you have made 100 mistakes. For example, if the roof is not designed appropriately and leaks, now 100 homes probably leak. So have your lawyer and liability insurance ready for a class action lawsuit. In contrast, when designing a single custom house, a problem is usually addressed with a question from the client, then a meeting with the contractor. But with designing entire communities, the architect doesn’t likely know the homeowners who bought these mass produced, spec homes.

LEED worksheet for Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California

In everything ones does, there are risks, and there are rewards. We pick our battles, and we gauge the return on investment. What happens if we fail? What happens if we succeed?

THE ARCH PODCAST, FORM MAGAZINE, 2 OF 3: SACRED WORKS AND COLOR

December 6, 2019

My sketches for the chapel of the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas

Please enjoy more excerpts from the podcast The Arch with Form magazine, and the acclaimed author and artist, Carol Bishop. Previous excerpt is here.

Carol Bishop: Many of your projects touch communities. You do churches for various different kinds of religious groups. You do educational structures. You do libraries. Can you elaborate on these?

Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Foaad Farah)

Anthony Poon: The community aspect is very important to us. As much as we enjoy doing projects like designing homes or the one-off projects, we feel that our skills and talents should serve a much broader community. One of the things we enjoy doing most are our schools, serving teachers, administrators, and children. We enjoy doing projects that bring communities together. We enjoy building out communities, which is one of the aspects of our residential work, not just doing one house at a time, but doing a hundred homes at one time and envisioning what an entire neighborhood could be.

Alta Verde Escena, a 130-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Carol: Are there any particular challenges, whether with the codes or concepts or clients when you are designing these types of buildings? For example, when you were asked to do the Air Force Chapel, how did you marry the military and the spiritual layers?

Chapel for the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas (rendering by Mike Amaya)
The triangular floor plan for the chapel

Anthony: That’s a complicated question, so I’ll answer in two parts. The first: You bring up what is one of the most challenging parts of architecture and maybe the most tedious. We’re talking about things like city codes, the permit process, and the science and engineering of making sure a building doesn’t fall down. We’re talking about client wishes, building program, square footage, and of course on top of all of this is the budget and the schedule. There are all sorts of these kind of technical aspects that we have to problem solve. Once we get those taken care of, we then, on top of all of that, have to add the artistry. We have to then add our creativity.

It’s kind of like learning a piece of music. Say you’re learning a Mozart sonata and there are literally 10,000 notes to learn to play correctly—to get each note perfect as it was written by the composer. But once you do that, it’s not considered music yet. That’s just painting by numbers. That’s just getting each note correct. After you’ve done that, and that can take years, you then have to add your interpretation. You have to add your story, your style, your idea of what that Mozart sonata really is about.

Chapel exterior (rendering by Mike Amaya)

To jump to your second part of the question, we did a proposal for a chapel at a retirement village for the Air Force in San Antonio, Texas. You talked about marrying the practical and the spiritual, and that’s exactly how we viewed it. We studied sanctuary spaces and gathering spaces, assembly halls, and considered what would be the most effective kind of floor plan. We came up with a triangular floor plan that allows all of the attention to focus to the front of the chapel. But it was more than just a geometric exercise. We added to our composition metaphors of the Air Force, of heroicism, of strength, a majestic character. And we took that triangular form and gave it a presence on the outside where the building reaches for the sky. In that sense, it became a metaphor for the Air Force and how strength and heroic actions can lead to good things.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial

Carol: Well, I have to ask you about this project because of the name, the Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial.  Could you tell us something about that?

Anthony: That’s a proposal for a project in Virginia. And it’s haunting and extraordinary. There was a development in Alexandria where developers started to excavate the land to build commercial buildings. They came upon graves, coffins and bodies of the freed slaves. Obviously, construction stopped. The city asked for proposals of what to do, how to develop this. If it should be developed, what would be the right thing to do?

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

We designed a memorial park where half of area left all the burials as they were found. They were all given grave markers of stone. We created a path of wood that floated over the graves so that you can look upon and honor those who have been lost. We envision that the brass handrail of this wooden path would have names etched on the metal. The path lands in the other portion of the city block, where we designed a park as a gift back to the community.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

Carol: More and more, we see that there are two camps. One is no color, just white, white, white.  The other camp is: Let’s just pour on the most hideous colors so that my building shines. What is your take on color for your projects?

Anthony: Color is a whole philosophy. You’ll have architects like Richard Meier who primarily uses white. He’ll explain that through the color white, we see all the colors of the rainbow. You’ll have all of the Post-Modernists from the ’70s and ’80s using a lot of colors as a reaction to modernism and abstract art. Post-Modernists used pastels and bright colors. Michael Graves used burgundy and peach and orange and ochre.

Linea, a 14-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Our view is that color is a specific analysis and study for every project. There are projects where we believe the project should have a neutral palette. There are projects that we believe color should be used. For example, we’ve done a community in Palm Springs called Linea . It’s 14 homes. All the homes are white, intentionally so. They’re white inside. They’re white outside. The cabinets are white. The flooring is white. The countertops are white. Some might argue that this is very clinical or very sterile. We see it as being tranquil and peaceful. We see it as reflecting the maximum amount of sunlight coming in through the windows.
We also see it, importantly so, as a blank canvas for the owner of this house to add their own personality, to bring in their own colors of their life, whether it’s in the furniture, the art on the wall, a throw, the window treatment, or the colors they wear as clothing, as they move through this very calming environment.

Greenman Elementary School, School District 129, Aurora, Illinois (by Anthony Poon w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates)

On the other hand, we’ve done projects for schools where we think for an elementary school, there should be some vibrant colors to energize the space. In one elementary school that we did in Chicago, in the hallway for the windows we used red, green and yellow glass set in as accent pieces within the regular clear glass window system. In this way, kids can look back out at the world and see it through the lens of red, see it through the lens of yellow, to see what the world looks like. Colors becomes an educational device, something to alter your perception, to have their mind wonder.

Colorful glass tile shower, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design)

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)

THE COMPLEXITY OF SIMPLICITY

January 20, 2017

Garden Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Anthony Poon)

Many have heard the instructional 1960’s acronym from the U.S. Navy: K-I-S-S.

It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. These days, this pithy recommendation is delivered from anyone in the role of doling out advice, from architecture professors to life coaches, from advertisers to attorneys, from editors to campaign managers.

Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette, 2006
Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette, 2006

But life gets complicated, and keeping things simple is not so easy. So what do we do?

A traditional wedding gown possesses an abundance of trim, lace, shoulder pads, embroidery, tones and textures. Not just a statement of the period fashion, all this creative noise and fuss was required, because it is actually difficult to keep the dress simple. What I call the gown’s ‘wedding cake décor’ was sometimes intentionally applied to camouflage the limits of craft. A clever game of misdirection enshrouded careless seams, poor stitching, low quality fabric, and even laziness.

Consider the modern day minimal bridal gowns by Vera Wang and Jil Sander. Without all the fussiness to detract, the simple designs must make an explicit statement of quality. Each stitch of tread, cut and drape, profile movement, and shimmer of silk must astound. It is no easy task to keep the dresses minimal and fashionable, as well as express the exquisite notion of bespoke craft. It is easier to simply camouflage shortcomings with crap.

Bridal gown by Vera Wang, fall 2015
Bridal gown by Vera Wang, fall 2015

In architecture, the application of trim crosses over from the wedding gown. The use of architectural crown moldings, door casings, base boards, wainscot, window trims, and so on, offer visual interest, detail and scale—and even a phenomenological connection to the human body.

But such design trim and wedding cake decor were also used to hide the flaws of construction. Where a smooth white plaster wall could not perfectly meet a polished stone floor, perhaps due to lack of skill or the limitations of the tools back then, a base board was installed as a transition—to basically hide gaps.

Moldings (photo from architectualmouldings.wordpress.com)
Moldings (photo from architectualmouldings.wordpress.com)

We all want to keep things simple, but to achieve this higher level of mindfulness, one has to work hard at making it look easy. At Poon Design, we call upon the analogy of a duck, where though it glides so gracefully across the lake, it is beneath the water’s surface that little feet paddle furiously.

Don’t underestimate the rigors required to achieve simplicity, whether a wedding gown, a work of architecture or the appearance of a duck leisurely floating in a figure eight.

Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe (photo from wallpaper.com)
Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois, by Mies van der Rohe (photo from wallpaper.com)

Minimalist architect, Mies Van Der Rohe, gave us one of the most impactful phrases in design and in life: “Less is more.” Alongside this three-word philosophy, he paved the way for what is commonly called “clean lines.” Whether in a modern house, a Tesla or an Ikea dining table, we often comment on how “clean” the lines are.

For my own work, Mies’s iconic Farnsworth House and other such projects of sculptural clarity inspired Poon Design’s and developer Andrew Adler’s 14 boldly austere yet luxurious estates in Palm Springs. Our compositions posit lucidity and precision. Autonomy and self-referentiality comprise the unapologetic purging of the conventional beliefs for adornment.

Residence G at Linea, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Anthony Poon)
Residence G at Linea, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, Andrew Adler and Prest-Vuksic (photo by Anthony Poon)

Steve Jobs’ exploration into a philosophy of ascetic beauty is legendary, to the degree of severity. As researched today at Apple, the minimalist one button on the iPhone is being studied to be deleted, so as to achieve an even higher level of simplicity and artistry. Stupid.

iPhone 7 home button (photo from wccftech.com)
iPhone 7 home button (photo from wccftech.com)
© Poon Design Inc.