Tag Archives: EGO


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)


June 23, 2017

A secret society judges (photo from encyclopediasatanica.wordpress.com)

Inside the catacombs, we professors graded our architecture students. The Ancient Order, Secret Society, Illuminati, covert handshakes and all—I was there. Inside.

Community and convention center for San Francisco, my graduate school thesis project (photo by Anthony Poon)
Community and convention center for San Francisco, my graduate school thesis project (photo by Anthony Poon)

Grading the student’s work is no easy task. I can track attendance, for example, but how do I assign a letter grade to a design for a hypothetical city hall? Is the project attractive? Is it supposed to be attractive? Is it functional? How do I rate function? What is good architecture? Yes, I can see that there are enough restrooms, but is the overall design a great one?

Al Pacino as an evil lawyer in The Devil’s Advocate, 1997
Al Pacino as an evil lawyer in The Devil’s Advocate, 1997

If I were to give a student a B plus, can I justify my decision against the student’s family lawyer questioning why the project was not an A minus? An accusatory attorney might seek damages for how I ruined the student’s chances of a getting into a good graduate school.

Scary stories aside, this one grading session in mind was innovative and for the most part, effective. We graded as a group, not as a solo teacher handing out evaluations while in pajamas at his home office.

At this thoughtful school, five teachers arrived with the work of their dozen students. Roughly sixty grades were to be given out in a period of eight hours.

Here is the catch. Each teacher proposed the grade for his or her own student, and the other four teachers would have to agree. If grading something creative and subjective was difficult enough, we now had to agree as a group of authority figures. When ego and territory come into play, battles ensued

Gearing up for a turf battle in Warriors, 1979
Gearing up for a turf battle in Warriors, 1979

“You call that an A?” questions teacher one to teacher two. Teacher one declaring, “Look at my student’s work. This is a true A.”

Teacher three, “That certainly is no A. That is barely a B plus, damn it!”

“Are you insinuating that I only have B and C students?” defensively and insecurely teacher four screams.

Teacher five, “My students are better than yours!” Meaning: I am a better teacher.

Do you deserve this? (photo by Anthony Poon)
Do you deserve this? (photo by Anthony Poon)

This continues for a whole day. In the end, if we can all agree, the assumption is that the grade is fair. Or is it?

At times, the most aggressive teachers had the most A students, simply because the other teachers were worn out from the onslaught and debate. Perhaps, the meek teachers ended up with C students only because they were out-negotiated and intimidated?

High school for Boston, my second year graduate school project (photo by Anthony Poon)
High school for Boston, my second year graduate school project (photo by Anthony Poon)

Each educator wanted to walk out with a proud collection of A and B students. But the sad reality is that there are also C and D students, as well as complete failures, an F. This was a different kind of deliberation. A tragic one, actually. For our group to all agree that a student should fail a class, is disheartening.

Student Activities Center, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Anthony Poon)
Student Activities Center, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Anthony Poon)

At the end of the day, not a bad idea at all: to evaluate a student’s creative work as a group. Coming from various backgrounds—some of us solo entrepreneurs, mom-and-pop architects, corporate directors, or theorists—we teachers of architecture participated in a forum of examination and understanding. In the typical world of arbitrarily evaluating talent, I applaud our roundtable and believe that we have served with passion, conviction, and fair-mindedness.

© Poon Design Inc.