Tag Archives: BRUCE LEE

#180: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

December 22, 2023

Study models, Golf Performance Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

We architects call our industry the “practice of architecture.” This is so, because we are still practicing. It is not called the accomplishments of architecture or the perfection of architecture. It is rare that architects consider themselves accomplished. Even after several decades of professional practice, I am still just practicing.

Poon Design Inc. (photo by Anthony Poon)

The practice of architecture embraces the unreachable goal of perfection. As a classical pianist, I relate. To perform a work of Bach or Chopin, for example, you have to practice…and practice…and practice. The goal is perfection, but in classical music, is perfection attainable? Consider the odds: Can even the most accomplished concert pianist play a piano sonata consisting of one-million notes and not make a single mistake? And make it beautiful?

In architecture, no matter how great a completed building is, we always think it could be better—should be better. Even when a glorious beam of sunlight gracefully illuminates an art gallery the we successfully designed, we will still judge our work. “Oh, the stone trim should have had a sandblasted finish instead of honed, then the reflection would be a few degrees softer. And the window should be moved over two inches for optimal, blah, blah.” No one cares, but we try and try again to get it right.

Construction mock up for the acoustic wall treatment of a music room, Pacific Palisades, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

A moving target, we must try to learn all the code requirements, whether structural engineering, fire exits, energy compliance, water percolation, or ADA compliance. Such items and hundreds more change constantly as a city plan checker issues yet another addendum. The process has become so convoluted that even the plan checkers themselves do not know the requirements they have drafted.

Sketches, Golf Performance Center, Los Angeles, California (by Anthony Poon)

At times, technology moves at a pace faster than the practice of architecture. With AI, 3D printing, modular, BIM, AR/VR, computational design, robotic fabrication, building performance analysis, etc., we are always learning, or falling short of learning, the latest and greatest in software and equipment.

3D printed models for an office-to-housing conversion, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

If each new client, good or bad, was the exact same as the previous, then we could practice our client service skills to perfection. The meetings, presentations, and decision-making processes would become routine, hence being well-practiced and eventually needing no more practicing. But of course every client is different in personality, expectations, experience, and thinking.

Studies for Enzoani Bridal Salon, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Poon Design is a boutique design studio. Each project is custom designed, never a cookie cutter solution. If our work was like Richard Meier’s elegant white structures, then when it comes time to pick a paint color, the choices are white 1 vs. white 2. That’s it. But for our projects, each being unique, the choices are endless, not just the 98 shades of white, but maybe vivid colors, pastels, or earth tones.

Material research for The Improv, Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Beyond the creative world of design, the practice of architecture also involves the logistics of running an office, e.g., marketing and business development, hiring and staffing, payroll and accounting, insurance and rent, state employer laws, and so on.

So in the end, with each project, with each client, with another year under our belt, with another national design award, we get closer to being accomplished as a professional. But even then, we will all say this is still the “practice of architecture.”

Sketch for mixed-use project, Redlands, California (by Anthony Poon)

Bruce Lee once said, “Practice makes perfect. After a long time of practicing, our work will become natural, skillful, swift, and steady.” But for architects, such perfection may take a lifetime or longer.

#157: “BE WATER, MY FRIEND”

August 26, 2022

The Building on the Water, Huai’An City, Jiangsu Province, China, by Alvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira (photo WZWX)

Throughout architecture, the element of water has played an impactful role—whether as a lead actor or the backdrop. Of the many ways water has been employed in design, five come to mind.

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, by Jørn Utzon, (photo by Scott Chin, Pixabay)

1. AS SETTING
With some projects, water is the venue, the scenery. Such watery backgrounds are so significant, that one can’t imagine these projects without their liquid surroundings—as if a fish out of its water. Picture if you will the Sydney Opera House set within a desert or perhaps, the streets of New York City (here and here).

Casa Malaparte, Capri, Italy, by Adalberto Libera (photo from issimoissimo.com)

2. AS SOUND
Water is most often thought of as physical, as moisture we touch. But upon my pilgrimage to the famed Fallingwater, a home built over a waterfall, I learned of water not as wetness, but rather as sound. All the famous photographs of this structure did not prepare me for how loud, even deafening, the rush of aquatic was. Other such varied places, such as the tranquil fountains at Alhambra or the aggressive splashing at Embarcadero Plaza, the resonance of water in motion becomes the aural aspect of architecture.

Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, by Frank Lloyd Wright (photo by Venti Views, Unsplash)
Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia, Spain, by Pavel Notbeck and José Contreras (photo by Tomasz Hanarz, Pixabay)
Vaillancourt Fountain, Embarcadero Plaza, San Francisco, California, by Armand Vaillancourt (photo by Peter Hartlaub)
Venice, Italy (photo by Ekaterina Zagorska, Unsplash)

3. AS BUILDING MATERIAL
Akin to wood, stone, steel, or glass, water can also be employed as part of the physical palette of materials. The Blur Building uses water to be an “architecture of atmosphere,” stated the designers. Or what would Venice be if all the waterways were generically concrete and asphalt? At the Therme Baths, the water may be necessary for the functioning of this spa, but this element offers equal strength and boldness to the stone walls of local Valser Quartzite.

Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (photo by Beat Widmer)
Therme Baths, Vals, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor (photo from premiumswitzerland.com)

4. AS REFLECTION
Water can provide a mirror-like surface, one of introspection, intrigue, and/or investigation. Architects have taken advantage of this quality to provide dramatic effects, whether furthering civic identify in Washington D.C., offering the perfect postcard of the Taj Mahal, or creating bizarre appeal in Spain. But the reflecting surface of water is not only fragile but sometimes temporary—shattered by a mere gust of wind or a ripple-causing pebble.

Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., by Robert Mills (photo by David Mark, Pixabay)
Taj Mahal, Agra, India, by Ustad Ahmad Lahori (photo by Olena Tur / Shutterstock)
City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain, by Santiago Calatrava (photo from designsdelis.blogspot.com)

5. AS POETRY
Lastly, the mere use of water can transport a project to otherworldliness, transcending the design beyond that of a mere building. Water can offer a spirituality that approaches the sublime. Akin to poetry, the impact of water here is immeasurable and intangible, but long lasting.

Garden Hotspot Restaurant, Sansheng Township, Chengdu, China, by MUDA-Architects (photo by Arch-Exist)
San Cristóbal stables, Mexico City, Mexico, by Luis Barragán (photo from guilfoilandwulfson.com)
The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, by Jean Nouvel (photo by Juliana Malta, Unsplash)

I conclude with one of Bruce Lee’s most profound quote, “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless—like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

#47: THE RELEVANCE OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

October 14, 2016

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC (photo by Patrick Witty, NGM Staff)

The overdue National Museum of African American History and Culture recently opened in Washington, DC. Masterfully composed by British architect David Adjaye, born in Tanzania—I ask the question: does such a museum have to be designed by an architect of African descent?

Was the 1993 Holocaust Memorial Museum, also in D.C., best designed by James Freed, born to a Jewish family in Germany? Was Freed’s vision compromised or complimented by the design partnership with Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei?

Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by AgnosticPreachersKid)
Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by AgnosticPreachersKid)

When this 70-year old Pei designed Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, did the Upper East Side New Yorker proclaim affinity for Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Gun N’ Roses, Nirvana, and Pink Floyd (all inductees)?

Actually no. In fact, Hall of Fame board members took the self-admitting ignorant architect to a series of rock concerts, to “give him a sense of the music,” according to director Larry Thompson.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by Vik Pahwa)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners (photo by Vik Pahwa)

When Seattle announced a museum honoring martial artist and actor, Bruce Lee, I was convinced that I could be the perfect architect. I am Asian, I was in the high school drama club, and I studied a little karate as a kid.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973)
Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973)

This all raises the question: What makes up qualifications and expertise in the field of architecture?

Mural design for doctor’s office, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design
Mural design for doctor’s office, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design

Poon Design is currently designing a (male) doctor’s office. If the project was specifically a gynecological clinic, would only a female architect produce the superior project? Should a woman architect not try her hand at designing a football stadium, since fans are mostly men and there are no female NFL players?

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

For downtown Los Angeles, I designed a large homeless shelter for the Catholic Charities. I also live in a nice house high up in the hills. Does this circumstantial detachment from gritty street urbanism preclude me from doing an effective design for the homeless? Apparently not. The AIA honored this important social project with the Design Award of Excellence.

Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ KAA, photo by Anthony Poon)
Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ KAA, photo by Anthony Poon)

Architects are trained to be problem solvers and visionaries for any kind of challenge, not only the challenges that relate to one’s personal experiences—whether it be race, religion or socio-political background. Or whether I took martial arts classes when I was 14 at the local YMCA.

I believe that if an architect is wired to be creative, trained with an open mind, and a lifelong learner, then an architect’s personal story could help a project, but is not necessary. Similarly, if an architect has no relevant background to the project’s goals, there is no doubt that the design can still be a tremendous success.

(Selecting an architect is of course also political, and that, my friends, is a topic for a future article.)

© Poon Design Inc.