May 21, 2021

Book cover design by Anthony Poon (photo by Anthony Poon)

Here’s the pitch for my upcoming novel. “San Francisco cloaked in fog and secrets: Architects are being murdered as they compete for a new museum of art at the notorious Alcatraz Island. This mystery of death and intrigue examines ego, arrogance, and redemption within the creative process. Who will win and at what cost?”

Lands End, San Francisco (drawing by Anthony Poon)

Due to the quarantine, there was a slow down at my office. So, I decided to author another book, entitled Death by Design at Alcatraz. For this blog, as well as other outlets, I have written about design, architecture, art, music, and life. I have published two non-fiction books  (Live Learn Eat  and  Sticks and Stones | Steel and Glass), but I have never taken a serious stab at writing fiction.

My idea was this: an ‘architectural thriller.’ This 350-page novel is a mystery of obsession exploring the heights and depths within the world of architecture. An editor once told me that if I were to try my hand at fiction, it would be best to write what I know. Here are the things I know:



1.  San Francisco
2.  Architects and clients (good apples and bad apples)
3.  Design competitions
4.  Ambition and ego

The book summary: On a fog enshrouded morning, a world-famous architect plunges to his death off a cliff. Yet, Magnar Jones, billionaire developer, does not allow death to interfere with his twisted agenda. He still has five architects competing for his prized commission: the redesign of Alcatraz Island, the notorious federal prison, into the World Museum of Abstract Art. Magnar’s devious plan? To turn his design competition into a spectator sport, where architects soon find themselves prisoners. Who will succeed—and at what cost?

Book cover (design by Anthony Poon)

The architects in my story are as follows.

–  The Neurotic Entrepreneur: university professor and Post Modernist
–  The Husband-Wife Team: Ivy League-educated
–  The Corporate Jerk: armed with the formulaic resources of a global company
–  The British Dame: pseudo-intellectual arrogance and trust funded
–  The Mid-Century Modern Fanatic: Los Angeles’ flamboyant designer
–  The European Starchitect: dressed in black on black, pretentious master architect

There is also the billionaire Oklahoman Narcissistic Developer Client—vain, egotistical, and talks too much. And of course, his Enigmatic Girlfriend—young “Blondasian” influencer.

Construction scene (drawing by Anthony Poon)

Excerpt, “The setting of Alcatraz is both solemn and beguiling. Surrounding the group sits remnants of old buildings, storied concrete carcasses. Cracks on the island’s tough surface show the arcs of beginnings and ends, both life and death. One fissure hiding under broken glass welcomes a tiny struggling patch of grass, a flourishing survivor in a vast surface of ruined asphalt and compacted dirt. Standing guard, the remnants of the taller buildings peer down upon the visitors and demand that the island is respected. Twisted corroded iron bars protrude from beaten stone walls, as if a child’s cow lick that won’t lay flat regardless of the amount of saliva. The counter balance to this, these disparate elements, is the surrounding icy-cold waters that extend until unseen within a silky veil of fog, which on a luminous enough day, provides a cryptic silhouette of the city docks.”

To be published by Goff Books later this year, Death by Design at Alcatraz includes my hand illustrations introducing each chapter. Pre-orders available at Amazon.

Jerri Levi, publisher of FORM: Pioneering Design Magazine endorses, “If you want to learn about the intrigues of San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island and the obsessed architects seeking to imprint it with their own ambitious and deadly stamp, then look no further. A fast-paced and exciting read.

Maybe my next project will be a screenplay about Frank Lloyd Wright. True story: An unfortunate 1914, while Wright was working, his servant set fire to Wright’s Wisconsin residence. The servant bolted all the windows and doors shut. Except for one. As the inhabitants exited through the only escape from the blaze, the servant waited at this open window with an axe. Seven people were brutally murdered, including Wright’s mistress.

(image from The Ogden Standard)


March 25, 2016

Suspended steel and wood fishing platforms offer a unique experience above the ocean, under the existing concrete pier, Hermosa Beach, California, by Lombardi/Poon Architects

My first public commission—I learned how difficult life as an architect would be. A decade-long saga of city politics, professional contradictions, and the theft of my intellectual property taught me to fight.

My design partner, the late Greg Lombardi was 30. I was 29. Calling ourselves Lombardi/Poon Architects, our shingle was barely even hung when we entered an international design competition organized by The American Institute of Architects (“AIA”). The city of Hermosa Beach sought an architect with a vision for the redesign of their waterfront and pier.

In contrast to the proposals for hotels, shopping malls and amusement parks, our design was simply a graceful open space that gathered together the city, beach, ocean, sun and horizon.

Greg Lombardi and me, first of hundreds of local and national articles, Daily Breeze, 1993
Greg Lombardi and me, first of hundreds of local and national articles, Daily Breeze, 1993

It was a miracle. Lombardi/Poon Architects won! We beat out everybody—competitors from around the world, architects twice and thrice our senior.

But this was just the start of a staggering journey, a trial by fire.

After the celebration presenting Greg and me to national media outlets, before we got to bask in my triumph, the city council of Hermosa Beach stripped us of our win. The council proclaimed that they themselves should choose the winner, not the AIA. That the city’s public dollars were being spent, it seemed logical that the council should have a say in the winner.

It was a devastating blow. How would we win a second time? The council members were politicians from various business backgrounds—not architects of the AIA. The original competition was reviewed by experts who were qualified to assess abstract design concepts and read technical drawings.

In the end, Lombardi/Poon swooped up my second miracle, against hundreds of competitors. We won, again! We shook hands all over again, stood for press conferences again.


Development of our design could not start. The citizens of Hermosa Beach rumbled—wanted their vote for the winning architect. Understandable, it’s their waterfront and pier. Our design was to go before a public vote by the town.

Public plaza sloping down to the beach and up to the horizon, with renovated lifeguard tower, palm trees in an elliptical arc, bike path, and ribbon-like metal canopy
Public plaza sloping down to the beach and up to the horizon, with renovated lifeguard tower, palm trees in an elliptical arc, bike path, and ribbon-like metal canopy

Stripped once again of the win, I now witnessed my future: the ups and downs of a rollercoaster journey to come. The destiny of the project moved down the line from a professional AIA jury, to a layperson group of elected officials, to now, people who were even further from understanding architectural drawings.

A third miracle. Lombardi/Poon won once again! The people of Hermosa selected us as the architect, one year since our initial victory.


With how state funds are to be spent, Hermosa had to validate their fiscal responsibility. Legislative requirements forced Hermosa to invite any and all architects to interview for the job—for our job that Greg and I already won several times—on which we were already working.

We now had to interview against senior companies, and the city council’s job was to look at credentials, not creativity. I could feel that the outcome would swing to a firm who, on paper, would be more qualified to develop our project.

I had to fight for my opportunity as I would have to again and again over the long architectural haul of a career. My plan? Engage a structural engineer who had such depth of experience that he would make my inexperience go unnoticed.

Public space, new palm trees, pier canopy, and optional glass skin for renovated lifeguard tower to reflect the water, sky and sun (watercolor by Al Forster)
Public space, new palm trees, pier canopy, and optional glass skin for renovated lifeguard tower to reflect the water, sky and sun (watercolor by Al Forster)

This idea failed horribly. During the public interviews, my saving grace of retaining an engineer of age and gravitas proved to be my worst mistake.

He took to the microphone, presented himself, stating in his best salesperson-like booming voice: “We are so excited to be considered by HUNTINGTON Beach.”

Greg and I cringed. Hermosa Beach, you idiot!

This was akin to a rock band thanking Milwaukee, when they were on stage in Cleveland. Like shouting “Go USC” at a UCLA game. Calling your spouse by the wrong name. You get the drift.

Our misguided engineer continued, live on television: “We would love to work with Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach would do so well to have our skills.” Huntington this and that.

No surprise, Lombardi/Poon Architects loss the project that we created and won several times over.

And it got worse.

New fishing platforms and ribbon-like metal pier canopy
New fishing platforms and ribbon-like metal pier canopy

A large corporate company from Irvine won the contract to develop Greg and my project. And in an unethical turn of events, this company sought to steal our design and credit its creation as their own. I received a letter that had a legal tone to it. The company’s founding partner declared that the Hermosa Beach project now belonged to him. Furthermore, he asserted that he might mention our names in the future, “if he so desired and at his convenience.”

This arrogant asshole was steamrolling over us, two fresh young architects two years into their first public commission. The senior architect’s malicious actions constituted theft—shoplifting of Lombardi/Poon’s intellectual property.

Master plan for waterfront and pier
Master plan for waterfront and pier

I took the first step of a ritual that so many adults do through out their life: I called a lawyer. It would be my first time, but not my last. Unfortunately, my attorney assessed that this Irvine architect could legally do everything he claimed.

I decided to visit face-to-face with this self-important jerk of an architect. Presenting the recognition from Hermosa Beach, the hundreds of articles crediting Greg and me, and our recent AIA design award for this project, I made clear his unethical actions. I don’t know if he felt guilty, or if he no longer cared, or maybe he was impressed with my tenacity. He apologized for his nasty letter.

Year three: here is where the end begins. The project loss its funding, due to the political delays. Only the first phase of our vision was developed and completed. By me.

Lifeguard tower renovated to bring in maximum natural light and ocean breezes, as well as allow views and access to the beach for safety
Lifeguard tower renovated to bring in maximum natural light and ocean breezes, as well as allow views and access to the beach for safety

EPILOGUE: I ran into the horrible founding partner ten years later. Of course, he did not recognize me. I re-introduced myself, and his posture displayed embarrassment. Looking worn and exhausted, he appeared as if architecture defeated him. For this little man, I had no feeling one way or another.

As I drove home that afternoon, west towards the ocean, I acknowledged my ambition and resolve. And I buckled my seat belt for more challenges to come in this career of lunacy called Architecture.

© Poon Design Inc.