Tag Archives: audience

THE GIFTERS PODCAST, PART 1 OF 2: ARTS, ARCHITECTURE, AND AUDIENCE

May 22, 2020

Jurupa K-8 School, Jurupa Unified School District, Riverside, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E)

I am pleased to be a guest on Christopher Kai’s podcast, The Gifters: Your Story is a Gift to the World (episode 209). As a global speaker, author, and executive coach, Mr. Kai speaks to Fortune 100 companies, from Google to New York Life, from American Express to Merrill Lynch. His podcast “shares inspiring stories from captivating entrepreneurs and extraordinary individuals who are changing the world.” Excerpts below.

Christopher Kai (photo from bookingworldspeakers.com)

Christopher Kai: Our guest today is Anthony Poon. He’s an architect and musician and author and an artist. Anthony, thanks so much for being here, where your story is a gift to the world. I’ve met a lot of people in my life, but I’ve never met a guy who’s a musician, author, artist, and architect. How do you have all these really cool interests? What started it all? How old were you when you had an inkling of some of your talents?

Anthony Poon: It started with music. In my mind, all of these four things are connected. My goal at an early age was to be a concert pianist. I trained and I practiced. As I got older, I started to think more practically about a career, and I’ve always enjoyed design and architecture.

There was a point of my life where I had to pick one path or the other. I was looking at two grad school applications, Juilliard for music vs. Harvard for architecture. I think the practicality of my Asian parents had me think, well, I better be an architect, because the odds are better for me to support myself, than being a classical pianist.

Me at St. Paul’s, Rancho Palos Verdes, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

I chose architecture. The great thing is that running a design company and being an entrepreneur still gives me the freedom to play piano, to write music, to teach, and even perform a little. I don’t think it would have worked the other way around where I am a concert pianist and trying to operate an architecture office.

The overlap in all of it is that my work requires an audience, whether I’m playing music for myself, for a small group, or for a large venue. Architecture too requires an audience. It requires visitors and users. When I author a book, I’m counting on there being a reader. When I do my mixed-media art, it also requires an audience. They are all forms of communication for me to share stories with others.

Alleyway, 30” x 42”, March 10, 2019, by Anthony Poon

Christopher: That’s inspiring. My business is based in L.A., but right now I’m currently in Miami, and one of the most inspiring architects here is a woman named Zaha Hadid. For you, who inspires you as an architect, and what can we learn as entrepreneurs? Primarily our audience are entrepreneurs, but I’m all about how we can learn from different people and different professions. Who’s one architect that you admire, and what’s one thing that you feel that you’ve learned as an architect that you can perhaps share with our listeners?

Anthony: The architect that comes to mind is Peter Zumthor. He is a Swiss architect. He’s currently designing the new controversial Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I admire him because he has crafted his role as an artist within the profession of architecture. He stays focused on what his philosophy is, and chooses only a few special projects every couple of years to work on—and therefore giving the projects his most inspired ideas. So Peter Zumthor, for those who don’t know—his work is beautiful. It’s elemental, timeless, and shows a lot of ideas around minimalism, abstraction, and materiality.

Proposed Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, by Peter Zumthor (rendering from LA Times)
Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine Concept, University of California San Diego, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, rendering by Douglas Jamieson)

Christopher: Do you feel some of your work is similar to that in terms of minimalistic and quality? What are some things that you’ve gleaned from him in your own practice as an architect?

Anthony: Our practice is a different. I think Zumthor can do what he does because he works in a small village in Switzerland. We work in the very vibrant communities of Southern California. Every project we take on is unique, and our project types are diverse. We do residential, commercial, retail, and restaurants. We also do schools and religious projects. Quite a broad mix. We think of all of our projects as telling a story, the story of the client, the client’s successes, maybe battle scars even, their vision for the company, or for an educational institution. This way our projects are full of content, material, and texture. Some make reference to history, some reference maybe a client’s most favorite piece of music or favorite poem. Our portfolio and the output is quite diverse, but intentionally so. (Stay tuned for part 2.)

THE ARCH PODCAST, FORM MAGAZINE, 1 OF 3: STORYTELLING THROUGH ART

October 4, 2019

Skull Painting, 44” x 52”, by Anthony Poon (2018)

Carol Bishop: Hi, this is Carol Bishop with Form: Pioneering Design. Thank you for joining The Arch, connecting and supporting the arts and design community. Today, we are fortunate to have Anthony Poon of Poon Design Inc. Poon Design is a multi-disciplinary studio in architecture, interiors, and place making. In addition, Anthony is a noted artist, musician, and author. To begin, I’d like to welcome you, Anthony, and ask you to give us an introduction.

Recording session for The Arch Podcast with Carol Bishop (photo by The Arch)

Anthony Poon: Thank you and good morning, Carol. I’m excited to be here. My professional focus is Poon Design Inc. We are an architecture company in Los Angeles, and we focus on a diversity of projects from residential to commercial, from mixed-use to sacred projects, educational projects as well as hospitality, restaurants and retail. I would say that’s my job. It’s what I do when I go to work. But my passion is actually any form of creative expression, whether it is architecture, music, writing, or painting.

The annual tuning of my 1957 Lindeman spinet piano (photo by Anthony Poon)

Carol: Well, let’s take that a little bit further because I’d like to know what led you to become an architect, musician, artist, writer, and how you balance these and what the connections are between them.

Anthony: It’s all about creative expression. It’s about communication. It’s about having ideas about the world, about culture, about society, and finding ways in which I can express that, that I can communicate that to an audience. It could be through the design of a library, it could be through the design of a park, it could be through performing music or composing. It could be through writing an essay, or painting a painting, or making a sculpture. In all forms of these artistic expressions, they’re all communicating something that I want to say.

Carol: Let’s take that as a starting point. Often, when you’re doing music or art, it’s a solitary experience. You’re honing your skills, you’re problem-solving what media to use. How do you marry idea and communication with that part of the structures of working in the arts?

Anthony: I would disagree that it is a solitary exercise. In every form of artistic experimentation, there is an audience. If I’m designing a building, if it’s a house, the audience or the client, is a family. If I’m designing a performing arts center, theater, or a concert hall, the audience would be the people that come to visit—to hear an event. If I am playing a piece of music, it could be for an audience of one, it could be for some friends or family, or it could be for hundreds of people at a recital. When I paint, when I do some mixed-media explorations, I’m thinking that this is not a piece just for me, that this is a piece to share with the world that could end up in someone’s living room. Even though I may be at my piano by myself, or at my studio with a canvas by myself, or with my sketchbook sitting at the gas station, the circumstances may be that I am in a solo mode, but the goal is to share something with a larger audience.

The audience (photo from business2community.com)

Carol: When you say that your designs have ideas, are you talking about stories or narratives? How do you integrate that into your work?

Anthony: Design is storytelling. What we do when we start a project is to learn as much as we can about the client, whether the client is a family or a corporation. It could be a restaurant or a hotel. We want to hear their stories. We want to hear their ambitions, their agendas, their success stories as well as maybe some battle scars. We want to know what they dream of and what they envision for their future.

If it’s a house, someone might tell us about some Thanksgiving dinner they envision throwing in a wonderful dining room—or a child sitting at a bay window reading a book and the way the sun comes through the leaves on the nearby tree. If it’s a restaurant, the client might tell us a story about the cuisine, how they approach getting their ingredients and how they prepare their meals. If it’s a school, there’s definitely an educational manifesto, what the curriculum is and what the methodology is for teaching.

We listen to all of this, and it becomes the story. It becomes what we call content. It is such pieces of information, facts, and stories that become the basis for how we design a building.

Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, a soon-to-be-published book by ORO Publishers, edited by Michael Webb, available early 2020

Carol: I know your second book (first one here ) is coming out called, Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, and so I’m very interested in it. Can you tell me something about it?

Anthony: This book is coming out hopefully the end of the year. It’s being published by ORO Publishers, a very prestigious international publishing group. This book is spearheaded by Michael Webb, the well-known architectural writer and critic. We’re honored that he has decided to lead this project. Michael came up with this incredible theme for us, Live, Learn, Eat—to suggest that this book covers three different categories of our work. “Live” obviously means our residential work, and that’s both custom design as well as tract housing. “Learn” is our educational work, our schools. “Eat” would be our bars and restaurants. As far as we know, we don’t think a book like this exists. There are plenty of books on architects designing homes. That’s the majority of books you’ll find at Barnes & Noble. There are many architects who specialize in restaurants, and there are the K-12 / higher education big firms that specialize in such.

Our monograph is a unique triple-threat book that shows how we operate at all scales and for many different kinds of clients. It makes me think with our increasing body of work and interest in many different project types, this theme can become an ongoing series of books about us over the years. We can do a book called something like, Play Work Pray, for example. “Play” could be our recreational projects. “Work” is our office buildings, and “Pray” would be our religious projects. And so on.

Linea Residence V, by Poon Design, Palm Springs (photo by David Blank)

Carol: In the end, do you have a manifesto?

Anthony: I don’t have a manifesto. I think there are daily goals and there are things that I want to achieve. But I think back to one of my employers, the late Hugh Hardy. He had always said that mission statements and manifestos are dangerous things, because once you put it out there, people will accuse you of not supporting your own mission statement or accuse you of being in contradiction to what you’ve set out to do.

A manifesto is quite ambitious. I could also be accused of being naïve to think that I could write a manifesto, whether it’s a paragraph or 100 pages. I think I prefer the jazz-like approach in which I get up each morning and wonder what the day will bring, and approach it more organically—and see how I can just come up with ideas for whatever I’m to confront each and every day of my life.

(The full podcast is here.)

 

THE MUSIC OF DESIGN

June 20, 2015

Courtyard of Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by George Lambros)

I believe that both music and architecture are languages. Through music and architecture, I can speak to an audience.

When I play the piano, whether it is a classic or my own composition, I tell a story. This narrative, my point of view, is also why I create architecture. In both music and architecture, I can tell a story to a single person, or to an audience of 10,000. I have created both musical and architectural experiences of sensation, character and emotion—over a passage of time—whether playing a short piece of Chopin’s for a friend, or creating a university library in which students begin the work of realizing their dreams.

Anthony Poon’s 1957 Lindeman piano
Anthony Poon’s 1957 Lindeman piano

Performing any work of music requires interpretation, and so it is for architecture. A civic center, a hospital, or a garden may be fully constructed as a physical environment, seemingly complete, but as a work of art, it can be visited, read and interpreted over and over again, in many different ways. Architecture is open ended, even incomplete.

A museum offers a different experience, as the empty vessel of a building is filled each time with the latest installation from a new artist. One room of a house might have begun as a family room, and later converted to a gym or office. Even if a person visits the same church every Sunday for decades, and the church itself has not physically changed, she or he may find new significance with each visit.

With music and all forms of architecture, a visitor is given the privilege to engage the work, and possibly declare it something quite different from the author’s intentions—here, the composer or the architect being the author. William Day, writer of jazz and art, stated: “Whatever is expressed in art leaves something unexpressed, and it is that which charms the imagination.”

Concept sketch for Greenman Elementary School, by Anthony Poon
Concept sketch for Greenman Elementary School, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E)

Leon Battista Alberti, an architect of the Renaissance, offered this: “Characteristics that please the eye, also please the ear.”

There are further similarities between my two fields of interest, of passion.

Both have structure. For architecture, it is gravity and the engineering feats of columns and walls holding up a roof. For music, it is a measure of time per bar. Within this, there is duration of beats that must mathematically equal the measure, i.e. one measure must have four quarter beats, or two half beats.

Both music and architecture have enhancements to the structure, whether it is arches and windows, or melody and rhythm.

Both music and architecture have further embellishments, whether it is tile, wood and stone, or harmonies and chords.

Both music and architecture have pattern and repetition, such as a sequence of roof trusses and floor pattern, or a repeating lyrical motif.

Street façade of Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (while w/ A4E, photo by Mark Ballogg
Street façade of Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Mark Ballogg)

As a young child, I banged on the piano until music came out of my hands. I also banged on wood blocks until architecture came out of my hands. I have enjoyed my journeys as both a musician and an architect. I enjoy that both have rules, such as the science of gravity in architecture and the science of sound waves in music. I like to embrace the rules, create within the rules, and then break them.

© Poon Design Inc.