Tag Archives: EDUCATION

THE DEMISE OF MENTORSHIP

December 17, 2021

Learn: Absorb knowledge like a sponge. Don't be a rock. (left photo by Pille R. Priske on Unsplash; right photo by USGS on Unsplash)

Relative to other industries, mentorship in architecture is scarce. Why? Let’s look at this from the viewpoint of a young architect. If a senior architect approaches the fresh-faced junior architect and offers, “I would like to mentor you. You would be my protégé.”

In many other fields, the young professional would be flattered by an influential industry leader taking him under the wing of mentorship. But not true in architecture. Why would some entry level architects find it demeaning? Is “protégé” such a bad word?

(illustration by Tumisa from Pixabay)

The junior architect may argue, “Protégé?! Me, a protégé of you?! I don’t need your guidance or mentoring.” And such comments of arrogance and disrespect would continue.

Our design education (here, here, and here) mothers us, inflating our self-worth. Like when an awful singer auditions for American Idol, and the judges cringe. Ignoring the rejection, the singer proclaims, “My mommy told me I am a great singer, so there!”

upper left: Luma Arles Arts Center, Arles, France, by Frank Gehry (photo by Baptists on Unsplash); upper right: East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., by I.M. Pei (photo from pcf-p.com); lower left: Design Pavilion, 2010 Shanghai Expo, by BIG (photo by Iwan Baan); lower right: Beijing headquarters for CCTV Headquarters, Beijing, China, by Rem Koolhaas (photo by DuKai/Getty Images)

It comes down to ego, youth, and naivete. When a legendary Pritzker-awarded architect completes a major new project, say a billion-dollar museum or civic center, immature architects are so ready to pounce, armed with nothing more than attitude and contempt. With no experience, no awards, and not much of completed projects other than their uncle’s kitchen renovation, these no-name fledging architects are already commenting negatively, as if they could have done better. They are instilled with so much confidence that it borders dangerously on superiority. And they say:

Frank Gehry? His work is all the same,”
I.M. Pei? Predictable corporate stuff,”
BIG? Cartoonish architecture,” or
Rem Koolhaas? He doesn’t even design the work anymore.”

And so on and so on. Sure, juvenile architects are entitled their opinion, even their condescending know-it-all opinions, but such hyperbole reaches levels of absurdity and delusion—to think they are better than architects 50 years their senior.

Gary Cooper as Howard Roark, The Fountainhead (1949)

At the crux of the demise of mentorship is this delusion, this self-aggrandization. If you think you know the ins and outs of an entire city at the bushy-eyed, fuzzy-tailed age of 25, then you don’t need a tour guide, GPS, or any kind of map. If you hold national design awards and have completed 100 projects of which many have graced the covers of magazines, then okay, you might not want to be mentored by an accomplished individual. But if all you have done is graduate college, in the process of getting your state license, completed a handful of minor projects, and are a literal struggling architect, then perhaps you should accept the guidance, training, and leadership of those that have come before you.

Yoda and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The success of a mentee is to be like a sponge, and be comfortable, excited actually, in such an open-minded position. Don’t be a stubborn rock. Don’t be a jerk when someone offers to help you.

lightbulb (photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash)

ARCHITECTURE FOR LEARNING

August 28, 2015

Multipurpose building, Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Gregory Blore)

Certainly, Poon Design has designed luxury estates for A-listers, Michelin-rated restaurants, and hospitality projects for cities like Beverly Hills.

Moreover, Poon Design thrives for a greater good. We embrace our opportunities for a higher social purpose, where vital agendas advance the lives of individuals and their communities. Of all our project types, we find ourselves grounded when designing educational buildings and campuses.

The school is one of the most influential works of architecture. Whether for a child, teenager, young adult or lifelong learner, architecture for knowledge substantiates one’s existence. Poon Design’s solutions promote curiosity, embrace social interaction, and inspire leadership, whether it is for an elementary school, student union or university library.

I have been fortunate, having designed over 50 educational projects. Focusing on young students, the four schools below tell my story of designing for Pre-K to 12th grade. (Future posts will discuss my work for higher education.)

Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Mike Amaya)
Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

BEL AIR PRESBYTERIAN PRESCHOOL, Los Angeles, California

As the first structured environment a child experiences, a preschool serves as both an introduction to the world and one’s first civic duty. At 23,000 square feet perched high in the Santa Monica Mountains, our “Village of Discovery” is ambitious: 120 students, 11 classrooms, 5 play yards, 3 pavilions for library/music/art, multipurpose hall, and administration building.

Poon Design’s vision delivers a community of small scaled, cedar buildings with large sheltering overhangs. Features include bamboo classroom flooring, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and an amphitheater.

Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Mike Amaya)
Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

GREENMAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, West Aurora, Illinois

This 63,000-square foot school finds innovative ways for the performing arts to flourish. The extra-wide staircase doubles as audience seating for impromptu performances. Second story balconies overlook double height spaces. Window compositions express rhythm and harmony. The 700 students are arranged in seven Small Learning Communities, alongside facilities for students of Aurora University—for hands-on, in-classroom training of future teachers.

top: Lobby and amphitheater staircase; bottom: Street façade, Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)
top: Lobby and amphitheater staircase; bottom: Street façade, Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)

HERGET MIDDLE SCHOOL, West Aurora, Illinois

With the metaphor of the American heartland, our 113,000-square foot school for 850 students sits as a heroic farmhouse on the 38-acre rural property.

Why do most schools have a monotonous narrow hallway, flanked by metal lockers? For our design, the light filled hallway is no hallway. It is 60 feet wide (not the standard 12 feet) and 30 feet tall (not the standard 9 feet). Rather than merely circulation, our groundbreaking energy-filled hall IS the library, technology center, life skills lab, and wood shop. Field stone, standing seam metal, brick walls, and wood plank details capture the vernacular design metaphor. Roof lines recall the old barns that once stood on the site.

top: Technology center and “Grand Hall”; bottom: Overall view, Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)
top: Technology center and “Grand Hall”; bottom: Overall view, Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)

FEATHER RIVER ACADEMY, Yuba City, California

Rather than design a single building with parking in front and playfields in back, we explore the school’s mission statement of “Learning in Action,” by interweaving the program across the entire property. The 25,000 square foot, 180-student school serves students referred by the probation department, expelled by their local schools, or even homeless.

Our undulating roofs create an ever-changing journey—symbolic of the path of learning. The campus itself is an open textbook, where aspects of the architecture teaches. As one example, the paving has the solar system inscribed in the concrete, where the paths of the planets arc throughout the property. An illustration of Pluto marks the school’s entry, Earth is described in the central courtyard, and the sun is represented by an eight-foot tall sundial.

top: Special education building and classroom buildings; bottom: Multipurpose and administration buildings, Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photos by Gregory Blore)
top: Special education building and classroom buildings; bottom: Multipurpose and administration buildings, Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photos by Gregory Blore)

We are honored to have received dozens of local and national design awards from KnowledgeWorks, DesignShare, Edutopia, Illinois Association of School Boards, and the American School & University Magazine, just to name a few.

Most significantly, our work has been honored twice with the National Grand Prize, given jointly from Learning By Design, The American Institute of Architects, and National School Boards Associations—for the best designed school in the country.

“School District 129 is fortunate to have Anthony Poon learn about us, and capture our spirit and beliefs about education in the buildings we will build for our children. I believe that Anthony’s thinking and his work is extraordinary, and will find its way to many honors. He will create the future dreams of this nation.” – Dr. Sherry Eagle, former Superintendent in West Aurora, Illinois, and Executive Director for the Institute for Collaboration at Aurora University.

© Poon Design Inc.