August 18, 2023

Joshua Tree National Park, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

I usually write about buildings, sometimes design, music, or life. But why not parks, as in the famed national parks of America? In a sense, parks are architectural, comprising journeys through space and time. Whether a house, school, temple, or even a park, visitors respond to their surroundings—a composition of light, proportions, materials, patterns, and textures. Here are thoughts on some national park visits, where the architect is not man or woman, but rather Mother Nature.

Joshua Tree National Park, California (photo by Christine Fang)

Joshua Tree National Park, California
Hundreds of years ago, the Mormon immigrants imagined the biblical figure, Joshua, in the greeting arms of the native trees, hence the park’s name. The Mojave and Colorado Deserts comprise this park popular to rock climbers, an environment with an eerie resemblance to a Star Trek stage set.

Glacier National Park, Montana (photo by Anthony Poon)

Glacier National Park, Montana
One million acres and over 130 mirror-like turquoise lakes, Glacier Park crosses the Canadian and United States border. Majestic mountains carved by the huge glaciers of the Ice Age extend beyond the limits of sight. There is no better setting to enjoy the famed Big Sky Country.

Zion National Park, Utah (photo by Anthony Poon)

Zion National Park, Utah
The prominent rust red color of Navajo Sandstone provides the visitor with both sky-reaching plateaus and challenging hikes at the floor of the 2,000-foot deep canyon, known as The Narrows. Declared a national monument by President Taft years before being named a national park, Zion’s Virgin River continues to widen and deepen the central canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (photo by Olive Stays)

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
The “hoodoos” of Bryce are mysterious and engaging. Haunting figural rock formations line the massive natural amphitheaters. “Hoodoo” translates to “bewitched,” and ancient legend claims that vengeful coyotes transformed visitors into the stone figures as punishment for their sins.

Olympic National Park, Washington (photo by Anthony Poon)

Olympic National Park, Washington
Within one of the largest and oldest communities of rain forests, Olympic Park boasts the largest spruce tree. At 200 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter, note in my image the scale of a visitor. 73 miles of wilderness coast includes the tranquil Lake Quinault, a dreamlike creation of serenity.

Sequoia National Park, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Sequoia National Park, California
Housed in the Giant Forest and named General Sherman, this tree is the largest one by volume in the world. This 404,000-acre park holds five of the ten largest trees on Earth, and presents Mount Whitney, the highest point in the country at 14,500 feet above sea level.

Kings Canyon National Park, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Kings Canyon National Park, California
Not far from General Sherman sits General Grant, the second largest tree in the world. Here at Kings Canyon, a glacier-carved valley measures a mile deep. With the park’s 1,200 species of plants, dramatic valleys and rock outcroppings, naturalist John Muir called Kings Canyon, “a rival to Yosemite.”

Yosemite National Park, California (photo by Eberts)

Yosemite National Park, California
Regarding Half Dome, the immense quartz rock formation, an 1864 park report claimed, “The only one of the prominent points about Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot.” Like many ambitious hikers, I have climbed this famed hike of 5,000 feet in rise. The 16-mile roundtrip took me 12 hours, and I have conquered Half Dome twice.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Part of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah Park’s geology dates back over one billion years. Along the 500 miles of trails, dense forests contrasting endless panoramic views, and waterfalls throughout, Skyline Drive’s 105 miles run the ridge of the mountains. Also, the Civil War was fought on these grounds.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (photo by Anthony Poon)

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Let’s wrap up my notes with the grandfather of them all, the mighty Grand Canyon. In sports, there are moments of undisputed glory, such as the knock out in boxing, the dunk in basketball, or the no-hitter in baseball. The Grand Canyon is the home run of parks around the world, where no photograph has ever captured its vast size and scale. Surreal and majestic, this canyon, up to 18 miles across and one mile deep, is the most renowned example of the natural force of erosion and the beauty from gradual diminution.


August 2, 2019

If our design doesn’t yell for attention, then we are successful. Intentionally, our architecture here is not raucous, but rather, enjoys its peaceful disposition.

Poon Design Inc. has completed four sacred buildings for the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center of Natural Bridge, with construction plans for the fifth building underway. The several-hundred-acre setting of the international Buddhist retreat property acknowledges the late Shamar Rinpoche, also known as the 14th Shamarpa and the distinguished Red Hat Lama of Tibet.

For this non-profit organization, our architecture investigates economical design that is both neutral and dramatic, both traditional and modern. Universally sacred, all the projects express a crafted architecture of both human and spiritual hands.

The relics of Shamar Rinpoche are preserved within a gold-leafed stupa. (photo by Anthony Poon)
(photo by Anthony Poon)

In the summer of 2018, Bodhi Path dedicated the Reliquary Building for the 14th Shamarpa. Poon Design’s structure preserves the relics of this eminent lama held within a gold-leafed stupa, one of only three such stupas commissioned worldwide.

The environmentally-friendly building sits gracefully in nature, enjoying the changing seasons, indoor-outdoor connections, connecting to the rest of the property that has expansive views to the Blue Ridge Mountains. We choose to not make a noisy statement, and instead, search for meditative stillness in architecture. And in keeping with Buddha’s teachings, we approached this modern reliquary temple, in accordance with principles of balance and equanimity—through what some may say is a Path of Moderation.

(photo by Mark Ballogg)
The stupa is softy and naturally lit by a dramatic skylight. (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Poon Design’s architectural language is universally sacred. Our design for this blessed building starts with a historical form that provides a spiritual backdrop that is both calm and theatrical, both classical and contemporary. For whomever visits this reliquary structure, architecture serves as a vessel of experiences and events. Sacred architecture can treasure memories, house beliefs and sustain confidence.

Our building nestles into the trees, gently sitting on the land. (photo by Mark Ballogg)

This 14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building completes the 250-foot long site axis that spiritually and visually links our previously completed Buddhist temple and support building at the top of the hill, to the pond at the bottom, where a wood bridge and campus entry are located.

The structure faces the pond that greets visitors to this retreat center. (photo by Mark Ballogg)
Our design process at Poon Design.

Discussion of future buildings include a dining commons, dormitory and additional cabins, museum and visitor center, just to name a few. Stay tuned, and read this feature of our work in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, often called, “A beacon for Western Buddhists.”

Construction plans underway for the fifth building, Bodhi Path Dining Commons (rendering by Encore Studio)


December 15, 2017

Digital intervention by MMTRA into the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, by Peter Zumthor (photo from behance.com)

I have written about a number of things that are in essence, big pains in the butt (pains, city process and bad clients, just to name a few). Recently, I asked two colleagues, Christine Fang  and Ji Ahn, who practice mindfulness and meditation: What do you do with the discomforts of life? I requested of them to provide me a peek into their training.

They tossed back some words: adventure, commit and experience—and sit and be curious. But somewhere along this pattern of words, Chris and Ji are aware that discomfort will inevitably rear its ugly head.

Spirituality and contemplation at Knight Rise, Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden, Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona, by James Turrell (photo by Sean Deckert)

Chris suggests, “I think I might be a masochist on some level. I love carving out new paths, going where no one else has gone before. But new paths mean discomfort. It’s all new terrain, whether something you’re confronting in the physical world, or in your mind. And you’re fighting the self-created inertia that makes you want to turn the other direction. New terrain means learning new things, and most certainly, making mistakes! As you keep at the new terrain, new becomes routine. Then when bored, the mind goes searching again for new terrain.”

Architecture framing nature, at a Buddhist Temple, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Similarly, Ji responds, “Growing up, I was attracted to unknown paths and adventure. Not knowing the end result gave me the space to be creative and an opportunity to imagine new possibilities. Being in this space of solitude, the exploration opens me up to be curious and to sit with discomfort that visits me in the process. Changing the relationship to our discomfort allows us to explore and grow. Within discomfort, we might be able to find joy and serenity.”

The elegant dialogue between building and landscape, at the Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, by Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz (photo by Landezine)

As the architect, my simple understanding: Through mindfulness and meditation, one creates space and stillness. Design-wise, what is this architecture that can support the simple tenet, “sit and be curious”? Chris and Ji suggest any of these possibilities as starting points.

  • A space of stillness found when experiencing nature, or
  • An area in one’s home to be safe and quiet, to reflect, or
  • A place dedicated to meditation.
Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photos by Anthony Poon)

Though not my thesis for projects (and though I only know of mindfulness as a visitor), my work finds a common ground with some of my two colleagues’ thinking.

twoPart café, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photos by Anthony Poon)

At twoPart café, my first public design from 1992, the simplicity of the architecture delivered a space of adaptability. More so, it was intentionally incomplete. Like a blank canvas with only a few brush strokes to motivate a visitor, twoPart enabled human development. Customers sought to advance their current affairs—whether reconciling with a loved one, pursuing that long sought after graduate degree, or finally finishing the Hollywood script.

Simplicity in elemental forms and materials, at the Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Fernando Guerra)

Though Mozart claimed that music should always be beautiful, I concur with Beethoven that music can do a lot more than simply be pretty. I believe music can be heroic or moody, ominous or bold, shocking or even off beat.

For architecture, spaces don’t have to always be pleasing, comfortable, serene or joyful, but whatever form architecture takes, the design supports people on their journeys.

© Poon Design Inc.