Tag Archives: DAVID ADJAYE

#172: A DAY AND A HALF IN NEW YORK CITY

July 7, 2023

Lobby of 130 William Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

Having wrapped up client meetings in New York City, I had some time to myself. With nothing on the agenda, no one to meet, not much in particular to do, I put on walking shoes to wander this island of Manhattan (here and here). In a day and a half, I visited 20 new architectural works, walking 44,631 steps. Doing the math, that is nearly 20 miles.

THURSDAY

Midtown 

Royalton Hotel lobby, 44 West 44th Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

11:30 a.m.: I launched from my Times Square hotel, Philippe Starck’s acclaimed Royalton hotel. In the 1980s, Starck renovated this 1898 hotel, his first hotel re-envisioning. This stylish, irreverent renovation propelled Starck onto the global stage of design. Today, some of the ideas have become questionable, e.g., no mirror directly over the bathroom sink?

Left: Steinway Tower, 111 West 57th Street; right: Central Park Tower, 225 West 57th Street (photos by Anthony Poon)

11:52 a.m..: The Steinway Tower displayed optimism and technological/construction advancement, earning the title, the “World’s Skinniest Skyscraper,” designed by SHoP Architects.

12:12 p.m.: Within the famed “Billionaire’s Row” and its collection of “Supertalls,” the Central Park Tower cantilevered (somewhat awkwardly) building masses to grab views of Central Park. Architect AS+GG offered the tallest residential tower in the world, also the 15th tallest building in the world.

American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, 101 Park Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

12:25 p.m.: How could I not stop into this random find, the Museum of the Dog? I toured an extensive collection of dog-related art, from paintings of presidents’ dogs to porcelain dog statuettes, from an exhibit on the history of the leash to the comprehensive library of books on dogs.

550 Madison Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:02 p.m.: Formerly the AT&T Building completed in 1984, Philip Johnson’s design with its infamous Chippendale crown received both Post-Modernist acclaim and the worst of ridicule. Last year, Norwegian Snohetta offered this new public garden, a wonderful oasis tucked into dense urbanity.

KAWS, 280 Park Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:29 p.m.: Artist Brian Donnelly, also known as the popular KAWS, blurs fine art and corporate art. Inside this generic corporate lobby, Donnelly installed a work of surrealism and wackiness.

MoMA, 11 West 53rd Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

4:31 p.m.: Yoshio Taniguchi’s 2004 redesign of MoMA mined the complexity of many levels, galleries, security points, and city facades to provide a coherently, exquisitely tailored museum.

Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street (photos by Anthony Poon)

7:09 p.m.: “When in Rome…” as the saying goes. I visited Times Square’s Hudson Theatre to watch the Tony-nominated performance of Jessica Chastain in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Was the outrage back in 1879 really about a wife merely forging a husband’s signature? Seriously?

FRIDAY

Midtown 

Hearst Tower, West 57th Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

9:14 a.m.: I have always enjoyed a modern addition colliding into a traditional building. At the Hearst Tower, Norman Foster added a 40-story steel and glass structure on top of a 1928 Art Deco, limestone, six-story landmark. “Juxtaposition” is an overused word in architecture, but here it is appropriate.

Upper West Side

Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, 415 Columbus Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

9:53 a.m.: Certainly to be the next New York architectural icon and tourist mecca, I arrived at the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation just days before its grand opening. Jeanne Gang authored an oddly beautiful and Grotesque structure inspired by the geologic flow of wind and water—expressed by spray-on structural concrete, akin to that of a swimming pool.

Chelsea

Old Tree, Highline (photo by Anthony Poon)

12:02 p.m.: Plenty has been written about the successes (and some failures) of the Highline. But artist Pamela Rosenkranz’s Old Tree caught my eye, a fuchsia-red sculpture standing within the grays and grit of its city backdrop. She questioned what is artificial vs. natural.

The Vessel, 20 Hudson Yards (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:14 p.m.: Created by Heatherwick Studio, the Vessel heroically rose 16 stories with 150 interconnecting staircases and 80 landings. But after three suicides from the top in one year, the Vessel closed. Today, only the ground level was available to visitors—ending the once-promised Eiffel Tower of Manhattan.

The Shed, 545 West 30th Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:36 p.m.: Mere steps from the Vessel sits the kinetic Shed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It is rare for architecture to move, yet the retractable shell of steel and fluorine-based plastic opens and closes on eight massive wheels 6 feet in diameter, transforming an outdoor space into a theatrical performance space, event hall, or exhibition space.

Little Island, Pier 55 (photo by Anthony Poon)

3:09 p.m.: A quirky visionary project, entitled Little Island, sits on 132 concrete structures called “tulip pots.” Heatherwick Studio, the same architect for The Vessel, created a 2.5-acre artificial island of rich topography and luxurious greenery, accented by a 687-seat amphitheater.

Lower Manhattan

left: “Jenga Tower”; right: “Bean,” 56 Leonard Street (photos by Anthony Poon)

3:31 p.m.: At the street level of the aptly titled “Jenga Tower,” sculptor Anish Kapoor brought an iteration of his famous “bean” from Chicago. Whereas that city was often called “The Second City” to Manhattan, it is here that Manhattan is second place getting a self-derivative art piece.

Perelman Performing Arts Center, 251 Fulton Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

4:35 p.m.: Architect REX’s Perelman Performing Arts Center will, when completed, serve as a hopeful beacon, transforming day to night, from a mute white cube to a glowing marble lantern. The design will complement the World Trade Center, its 9/11 Memorial, and the infamous Oculus, the most excessive subway station.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church & National Shrine, 130 Liberty Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

5:38 p.m.: Speaking of Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus, this architect/engineer brought a second landmark to the area, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church & National Shrine. Replacing the original 19th century church destroyed on 9/11, the new Byzantine-inspired building glowed, like the Perelman Center, as a lantern of renewal—through the use of thin slabs of translucent Pentelic marble—the same kind of stone used at the Parthenon in Athens.

Courtyard of 130 William Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

6:32 p.m.: Sir David Adjaye’s work is reductive, raw, deceptively simple. This 66-floor luxury condo tower explored arches and arches . . . and even more arches. The darkly-tinted, heavily-textured, hand-cast concrete panels expressed both an enigmatic mystery and somber toughness.

Temple Court, Beekman Hotel, 5 Beekman Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

7:00 p.m.: I concluded my NYC tour with a sumptuous meal at Tom Coliccho’s Temple Court restaurant set within the historic 1883 Beekman Hotel. The 2016 renovation of the Romanesque Revival structure, one of the city’s first skyscrapers, restored the splendor of its nine-story atrium.

A view out of my hotel window, the richness of the rarely seen back-of-house, city fabric (photo by Anthony Poon)

(I thank John Fontillas, Principal of H3, for his insights into generating this list to play architectural tourist.)

#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.