Tag Archives: AURA CYCLE

#167: 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.

#77: PLEASE STOP ASKING, “RESIDENTIAL OR COMMERCIAL?”

January 26, 2018

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Locke Pleninger)

When you meet a chef, do you ask, “Do you cook chicken or fish?”

If you did ask such a stupid question, the chef would be thinking how absurd you sound. At the same time, this chef would be thinking of the thousands of things he cooks, in addition to “chicken or fish.”

When someone meets an architect, the first (and only) question is , “Do you design residential or commercial?” Please realize that the field of architecture—that the world— is made up of much more than houses and office buildings.

The Container Yard art center, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

I would guess that “residential and commercial” architecture only comprises 5% of the types of projects we design. When one considers that architecture includes museums and galleries, bridges and highways, churches and temples, hospitals and pharmacies, schools and universities, community centers and parks, libraries and theaters, memorials and gardens, stadiums and arenas, parking structures and parking lots, etc. and etc., as well as the commonly acknowledged “residential or commercial”—architecture is everything that is designed and constructed around you. Architecture is both the blank canvas that provides for the imprint of your life, as well as the vessel that holds it.

In simply looking at my own architectural works, there are several dozen building types I have designed. What can architecture be?

An exhibition place to experience the wonders of the arts and science.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

A sacred place to gather and worship.

The lobby of the River of Life Christian Church, San Jose, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

An optimistic place of higher learning.

Harrington Learning Commons, Sorbrato Technology Center and Orradre Library, Santa Clara University, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

A sweet place to bite into candy.

Sugarfina, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

An energetic place for sports and competiion.

NFL stadium adjacent to Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi (w/ NBBJ)

An active place for education and emotional development.

Valley Academy of the Arts & Science, Granada Hills, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and GKK, photo by GKK)

A master planned place for growth and development.

Menlo School and Menlo College, Atherton, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

An invigorating place to sweat and recharge.

Aura Cycle, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Aura Cycle)

A public place where citizens can assemble.

Urban canopies and public plaza, Irvine, California, by Poon Design

A place of grief and remembrance.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, by Poon Design
Student Activities Center, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Anthony Poon)

A social place for student life.

We need all the above places  (and many more) to live, and we want these places to be heartfelt. We need places to go to work, and we want these places to be comfortable and efficient. We need schools, and we want these places to be encouraging and supportive. Our neighborhoods need places to gather, and we want these places to be democratic and energized. Our communities need churches to worship in, and we want these places to be inspirational and transcendent. Our businesses need places to thrive, and we want these places to be strategic and informed. Our politicians need places to debate, and we want these places to ignite strength and influence.

So next time you meet a chef, do ask him, “What kind of cuisine do you cook?” And next time you meet an architect, ask him, “What kind of projects do you design?”

© Poon Design Inc.