April 5, 2024

Lincoln Studios, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

As an architect, are you successful? How should we measure success?

(photo by S K from Pixabay)

Making money is an obvious gauge, but there’s more to life than a paycheck.

Good design should count for something, but design is subjective. So success might look towards an architect’s accolades, like design awards and national honors. But there must be more than bragging rights and industry fanfare.

FAIA Investiture Ceremony, 2022 AIA National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (photos by Olive Stays and Poon Design)

We architects enjoy seeing our name in the headlines, as well as photographs of our work gracing magazine covers and online features. But is this the result of being a successful architect or having a good PR agent?

Feature profile on Metropolis (photo by Grant Bozigian)

A portfolio with depth—with projects big and small, local and national—is surely a critical marker of success. Victory might also be evaluated on one’s international projects, evidence of a world traveling architect who jets off to yet another country in demand.

(photo by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay)

Often, the success of an architect is simply having a happy client. And the more clients, the more successful this architect must be. How many new clients did you close this year? But keep in mind that quantity isn’t quality

Design Roundtable, founded by Anthony Poon, at EYRC, Los Angeles, California (photo by Design Roundtable)

Success should come from both collaboration and being part of a team, as well as leadership and managing a team. One’s contributions to the industry should count for something, whether a thought-leader, teacher, community service advocate, or respected professional.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Perhaps, success is identified with the entrepreneurial path, being one’s own boss, having one’s name on the door, and having 10 employees or maybe 100. Or success can be within a corporation with an architect reaching the top of the company ladder, being named partner. Or perhaps doing either quietly under the radar without the need for the spotlight of conceit is worthwhile.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

As a struggling (starving) artist, can an architect be successful? Being part of a creative journey, searching one’s soul for answers, or mining the world for abstract ideas—such ambitious endeavors might be a measure of success regardless of the outcome.

For many, success in architecture comprises the simple things: being challenged and learning new skills.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

Happiness is often one of the more authentic measures of success. I believe most architects are happiest when getting to design, to be creative, to think back to how as a child, they could build things with Lego. It is about being part of open-ended travel through an existence of glorious ideas and imaginative designs, and then seeing such a vision come to fruition.

(photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)


August 13, 2021

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Poon Design)

Exploring personal interests and college ambitions, Jordan Estes, Santa Monica high school student, interviewed me on a broad range of topics swirling around being an architect. Hope you enjoy this well-rounded primer—from collaboration to fluidity to technology.

Jordan Estes: I’m Jordan Estes, and I’m here helping you understand the basics of design jobs. Today I’m talking to Anthony Poon, an architect from Los Angeles. Architecture is not just based on you and your own skill, right? It’s very team based?

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

Anthony: It’s a collaboration, and not just within my team at the office. It’s often a collaboration with the client too. When a client says they are interested in designing a house, library, or church, we have to understand what their vision is. They become part of the creative team.

Architecture is a collaboration of dozens of different trades and personalities. There are architects focusing on interiors or furniture design. Some focus on lighting. There’s the exterior of a building, or how one moves through space. Every project can be broken down into hundreds of little pieces.

For a modern picnic experience, custom benches with artificial grass, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Jordan: Even outside of your team, there’s other professions that work with you?

Anthony: The architect is like the conductor of an orchestra. An orchestra has all these different musicians—violinists, cellists, trombone players—and it’s the conductor’s job to make sure it all stays organized and sounds great. We’re organizing not just all of the designers, but helping to organize the construction trades from painters to electricians, plumbers to framers. Also, we’re coordinating the work of a structural engineer or technology consultant, security expert or elevator specialist. Many spinning tops

Conductor and his orchestra (photo by Yoon Jae-Son from Pixabay)

Jordan: And with the contractor, would you say that you work with them to actually get the project built?

Anthony: The general contractor is the conductor of his construction orchestra: plumbers, electricians, carpenters. Our job as the architect is to check in on construction regularly, make sure it’s meeting the design goals. And of course, every project has questions that come up during construction, and we’re around to work through them.

Construction for WV Mixed-Use Project, Manhattan Beach, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Jordan: How did you realize that you wanted to get into architecture? What traits did you have that allowed you to realize that architecture was right for you?

Anthony: I think most of my colleagues chose architecture because they started off very young with creative interests. It might be drawing, building things, playing with Lincoln Logs, or even taking a washing machine apart and trying to put it back together. I built a lot of model kits, cars, tanks, and rocket ships. I really liked making things. For me, it’s the interests in imagining some new world, some place where people can meet, where kids can go to a school, or a family live in a house. Realizing that you can actually do something creative like this in real life as a grownup is exciting.

Lego (photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash)

Jordan: When you went into architecture, is there anything that you didn’t expect—that you ended up just being surprised about?

Anthony: The thing that surprised me most was how challenging it is. The creative aspect is the enjoyable and rewarding side of architecture. But there’s so many other aspects to architecture. Every design you come up with has to meet a budget and a schedule. Getting through the city permitting process can be lengthy and torturous. And of course, there’s always those clients making changes and coming up with ideas different than what they said a month ago. The design process has a few more hiccups than anticipated.

Jordan: How do you choose clients, and what kind of structures do you design?

Not for me, popular faux-Cape-Cod style house (photo from idesignarch)

Anthony: The clients that we like to work with are the one that are interested in design, that are interested in the creative approach and being part of the artistic process. If someone comes to us and already knows what they want—saying, “We just want to have something like Cape Cod style”— that’s less interesting to us. That’s more of a cookie cutter approach. We’re looking for clients that are interested in the design process.

We don’t identify with any particular kind of building type. Some architects do. Some architects only design hospitals or parking structures, or maybe only performing arts centers. We specialize in design and that can mean helping any client to solve any kind of project. We focus a lot on hospitality, like restaurants and bars, sometimes retail. We also get our hands into educational design, and we do religious projects like Buddhist temples. And we also do cultural projects, visitor centers, multi-family buildings. It’s a wide range, and we’re excited by how far we are able to extend our talents.

Pico Mixed-Use Project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

Jordan: It seems like architecture is focused on fluidity. Fluidity in architecture is about change, making sure what you’re keeping and/or changing to adapt to the best possible situation.

Anthony: “Fluidity” is a really good word. I also like to think of the metaphor of jazz music and being able to improvise—stay loose and keep the process organic. If there’s a design question, there are dozens of ways of approaching it—lots of answers to the same question. We’ve got to stay “fluid” as you say, to come up with the best creative solution.

Jordan: How do you think architecture is changing as new technology gets developed?

Anthony: When I started in architecture, there were no computers. We were drawing by hand and putting pencil to paper. Then came computers. Computer-aided-design (“CAD”) became the software that replaced drawing by hand. It was a whole new world.

And now we’re entering 3D modeling. Rather than just drafting things, we’re actually building our projects in the computer in three dimensions digitally. On top of that, there’s AR/VR. We’re able to use these 3D models and take our clients for a walk into our projects. There are limits though. With all technology, it is four steps forward, three steps back.

From The Matrix, 1999 (photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

Jordan: I know a lot of jobs are being replaced with new technology. Are you concerned something like that could happen to architecture?

Anthony: It’s definitely a possibility, but I’m not too concerned. I think it will be some time before we’re replaced by some kind of machine. What we do is based on human relationships and a creative process. It’s not just cataloging; it’s not just drafting. But I do believe that software will eventually be able to design buildings for people. Ten years ago, people didn’t think computers could replace authors, but there is software out there that can write entire novels. The question is whether these novels are good.

Jordan: I think one of the best things about architecture is that because you focus on so many experiences, you could find a new profession somewhat easily.

Anthony: A bunch of classmates didn’t go into architecture. Architecture teaches you to problem solve, teaches you to think creatively about The Big Picture. A lot of architects moved into software engineering, graphic design or book publishing—even photography, furniture design, fashion design. I heard of one that started knitting sweaters—another one designing wedding cakes. Design is a broad field. It could be designing a car. It could be creating with paint colors for Home Depot.

Jordan: Thank you for letting me interview you. And to everyone who’s listening, I hope you learned something.


September 4, 2020

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design. Left: sushi counter with lights by Tom Dixon; upper right: bar with chandelier by Stuart Haygarth; lower right, dining room with mural by Ajioka (photos by Gregg Segal)

When architects and interior designers work together, there are four things to know. (This article is an excerpt from my lectures at UCLA Extension, architecture and interior design department with professor Eleanor Schrader.

This is the perception, but how large is the overlap? (diagram by Poon Design)


When creating buildings, there is a big arc from envisioning spaces and volumes, to working on details like lighting, and furniture—from the shape of the ceiling and angle of the wall, to bedding and wallcovering.

Many mistakenly believe that the overlap between the work of architects and that of interior designers is small. In reality, the overlap can be small, medium, or large—or even huge. For a successful project, this overlap must be acknowledged, and when agreed upon, we have collaboration. If not, the result is confusion, alongside battles of ego and territory.

(diagram by Poon Design)

With our design for Chaya Downtown (top photo), there was no overlap at all, since Poon Design was the architect AND interior designer. We also designed everything else—landscape, lighting, furniture, graphics, etc.—even curating art and programming music. And we got to collaborate with some famous artists.

In contrast, Poon Design teamed with the talented West Hollywood studio, Interior Illusions, for our successful design and construction of four communities totaling over 200 homes in and around Palm Springs. Poon Design created the architecture, crafted the spatial experience, designed the cabinetry, and specified materials, kitchen appliances, and lighting. Interior Illusions selected all the furniture, art, accessories, window treatments, and overall styling.

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, architecture and interiors by Andrew Adler/AVG, Interior Illusions, and Poon Design. (photos by Mark Ballogg)


A successful design takes more than just the talents of the architect and interior designer. Most don’t realize the extent of experts necessary to create a restaurant or school, hotel or museum. Even for a house, the team could include a soils geologist, civil engineer, structural engineer, AV/technology consultant, electrical engineer, energy compliance expert, and security advisor—just to name a few.


(diagrams by Poon Design)Every design decision has a ripple effect. No one should design in a vacuum. For example, the shape of a roof impacts structural and mechanical engineering, and the selection of a chandelier tests the allowable energy usage or the weight that the roof truss can support. Or, does the chosen porcelain tile for the floor meet the non-slip coefficient?

Architects, designers, consultants, and clients at work (photos by Poon Design and AVG)


What is the design concept? All participants of the entire team must have consensus on the project’s creative agenda—as in the artistic philosophy, the story. Think critically and avoid clichés, because they only show limited thinking. Cliches such as: warm and welcoming, eclectic, timeless, transitional, or the overused, “modern YET traditional.”

Grapes, by Ai Weiwei (photo by Cathy Carver, Hirshhorn Museum)

For this home, we wanted to design a contemporary house, but zoning required a Tuscan style. We called our approach, Mission Modern. Meaning, it would be a blend of the California Mission / Spanish Revival styles with Modernist architecture. More importantly, it was our “mission” to make the design “modern.”

Modern Villa at Monte Sereno, Palm Springs, California, architecture and interiors by Andrew Adler/AVG, Interior Illusions, and Poon Design. (photos by Lance Gerber and AVG)

The owners of Din Tai Fung sought an Asian restaurant, but not an Asian theme-park. They had no interest in red silk curtains, lanterns and golden dragons. We offered ideas we entitled, Contemporary Chinese. As just one example of many, traditional Chinese wood screens and patterns were reinterpreted in new materials, executed with modern technology like water jet- or laser-cutting.

Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, California (photos by Gregg Segal)


Whether architect, interior designer, or engineer, please avoid the ubiquitous hand waving. This ridiculous gesture signals the so-called genius idea from a pretentious design diva, who has little concern for the development, implementation, or even success of said genius idea. If a pompous designer envisions a wall of mirrors, his idea shouldn’t stop there. What kind of mirrors—clear, tinted, colored? What size—large panels, vertical tiles, mosaics? How are the mirrors attached? What kind of adhesive or fasteners?

Shop drawings for the sushi counter at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

Know how things work, not just how things look.

Drawing by Anders Nilsen for The New York Times

And know the parameters. Some architects like Italian Carlo Scarpa, or as Poon Design does with most of our projects, design every last detail, every last screw, as both architect and interior designer. Other architects stop their creative thinking at the face of the drywall and look to the interior designer to fit out the rest of the space. This approach bothers me. If an architect has created the most exciting ideas for the overall composition of the house, why can’t he continue his thinking as the design moves inside?

Left: project with only drywall completed (photo from homerepairninja.com); right: Olivetti Showroom, Venice, Italy, by Carlo Scarpa (photo from archlovers.com / Yellowtrace)
© Poon Design Inc.