Tag Archives: Charles Moore


September 1, 2017

Yes, the façade is intended to look like it is crumbling. The “Indeterminate Façade” of the BEST store, Houston, Texas (photo from siteenvirodesign.com)

Architecture possesses this important and noble side, such as the design of the historic cathedrals in Europe, New York’s September 11 Memorial, or inspiring public schools . But what about humor? Can a building be funny?

Yes! Architecture can be a witty query or a laugh-out-loud punch line.

This International Style by Le Corbusier is certainly tasteful, but it is NOT FUNNY. Weissenhof, Stuttgart (photo by Andreas Praefcke

The 70’s and 80’s spawned Post Modern architecture, here and here. In response to the preceding Modern movement from the Bauhaus, the famous German design school, Post Modernism employed clever metaphors and satire—and even campy spoof. Bauhaus’ austerity in design and self-righteous seriousness had a philosophical challenger in Post Modernism, and the protest was loud.

The entire façade has lifted up to welcome you. The “Tilt Building” of the BEST store, Towson, Maryland (photo from siteenvirodesign.com)
An entry has been created by dislocating a corner of the building. The “Notch Building” of the BEST store, Miami, Florida (photo from siteenvirodesign.com)

Take for example the BEST Products stores completed between 1972 and 1984, designed by the New York design company named SITE. Throughout nine cities, this architecture firm designed large stores which were conceived not just as works of ironic art, but also tongue-in-cheek commentary on the big box stores. Though many critics argued that SITE’s one-liner jokes are vapid, the cleverness in the architecture raised design conversations to fresh new levels.

Piazza d’Italia, New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Notes From Architecture)

The Piazza d’Italia stands as an iconic example of humor and irony. An endless lists of essays, blogs, books, exhibits, and lectures have both bestowed intellectual admiration, as well as unleashed hostile mockery on this project. This skillful and insane jam session of architecture apparently had inspiration from the Italian immigrant stories of New Orleans. For historicists, purists and contrarians alike, the architecture of this public plaza possesses every idea that floated into the imagination of the architect, Charles Moore.

upper left: A bust of Moore spewing water into the fountain (photo from devriesdesigndiary.blogspot.com); upper right: Angular Ionic column capital reimagined in facets of chrome stainless steel (photo source unknown); lower left: Fragments of history with layers of colors (photo by Polly Neill); lower right: Illuminated with neon (photo by Helena from flixster). Piazza d-Italia, New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Helena)

Bizarre interpretations of everything from the Roman orders of classicism, to shapes that defy the Vitruvian rules of beauty, function and structural rationality, flaunt their bravado. Moore did not believe that “Less is more.” He supported the quote from fellow Post Modernist, Robert Venturi, “Less is a bore.”

At Piazza d’Italia, the visitor engages confusing references to historic temples, as well as modern materials like neon lighting and chrome. Arcs of water define column capitals in space and time, incomplete colonnades and arches suggest a work in progress, and De Chirico-esque clocks and long shadows critique the passages of life. This masterful work of Post Modernism is accompanied by a courage akin to a standup comedian.

Kitakyushu International Conference Centre, Japan (photo from rebloggy.com)

In these two examples from the earlies nineties, the observer might react with “WTF?” and “Has the architects lost their minds?” On the other hand, one could compliment architect Arata Isozaki’s facile use of geometries and colors to create sublime imagery.

For Kengo Kuma, what might appear to be nothing more than an aesthetic disaster, on further examination, the juxtaposition of everything but the kitchen sink (or maybe including the kitchen sink) has delivered something strikingly surreal and incomparable.

Mazda M2 Building, Tokyo, Japan (photo from ryanpanos.tumblr.com)

In-your-face jokes can be hilarious, but not always so with architecture, as is this unfortunate example of the “Big Basket Building” for the Longaberger Company, makers of wooden baskets. Designed by architects NBBJ, the seven-story headquarters is a basket, literally. At 160 times bigger than a typical picnic basket, the novelty is adroit and the engineering of massive steel planks and plates is fascinating.

Picnic basket (photo from polkcitylibrary.com)

Due to tax debt, the Longaberger had to vacate the property. After 24 months on the market at increasing discounts to the sales price, the architectural novelty had no legs in the real estate market. Unless you sell baskets for a living, no one wants to work in a giant basket.

Whether in architecture or literature, in painting or dance, creative forces can be profound, poetic and beautiful. And such forces can also be light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek and glib. Perhaps all of the above can occur at the same time. And that’s no joke.

Longaberger Company, Newark, Ohio


April 1, 2015

Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas, Nevada, by The Jerde Partnership (photo from vegasexperience.com)

In February, architectural giant Jon Jerde passed away and the profession lost one of its giants.

Over twenty years ago, I won my first international architectural competition: the redesign of the pier and waterfront for Hermosa Beach, California. Led by The American Institute of Architects, the committee that selected me was shepherded by legendary architect, educator and community leader, Charles Moore.

The media believed that being awarded this civic commission, my first large scale project, Mr. Moore was “handing his baton” to this young architect.

Me. I was not even 30.

A week later, Moore unexpectedly passed away. When reporters interviewed me, all I could say to at the press conference was, “His death is very sad.”

From that point, every time my name came up alongside Moore’s, the press reiterated like a broken record, “Poon says of Moore’s passing, ‘His death is very sad’.” This ridiculously generic phrase became an empty banner: my sad cliché that did no justice to the prolific career of Charles Moore.

So it is here with Jon Jerde, I will attempt more substance.

Though I was never fond of Mr. Jerde’s style of architecture—his bright colors, his awkward classical motifs, his funny shaped geometric forms, and his somewhat cartoonish results—I loved how he infused happiness and a dream-like sensibility into his projects. He created a new sense of community, of urbanism, of creating gathering spaces for cities.

From early in my education, I followed his work from the groundbreaking Horton Plaza shopping center in downtown San Diego, to Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, to the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas. They were visionary statements about the world.

Jerde often said he didn’t want his projects to be thought of as shopping malls or shopping centers. Though his projects were primarily retail, his projects transcended the nomenclature of his developer clients. Jerde’s work went beyond the superficial word of “style.” Jerde and his firm, The Jerde Partnership, were pioneers and innovators.

Jerde articulated his vision with bold sincerity. “We yearn for the marriage between the magic and the banal,” he once said. “We put people in a popular and collective environment in which they can be most truly and happily alive.”
Jerde called his intentions and actions, “Placemaking.”

A sense of place is hard to define, but one knows when a place has a there there. The simple key is that Jerde’s projects catered to people, not for example, cars or commerce. At his projects, a visitor can feel a sense of community, whether it is a grand space for thousands to gather or a simple bench to sit and relax. Jerde’s work transforms buildings and plazas into significant public destinations that promotes health, joy and well-being.

Jerde stamped his philosophy of “Placemaking” on more than 100 projects around the globe, from the United States to Rotterdam, from Istanbul to Beijing.

His death is more than sad. It is a loss not just for the field of architecture and urban planning, but for the progress of cities.

© Poon Design Inc.