Tag Archives: HARVARD

#166: FLATTERY OR THEFT

March 3, 2023

right: Colline Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier; left: chapel in Zhengzhou, China (photo rom pinterest.ph, RMJM)

Often, two separate architectural projects by two separate architects appear similar. Sometimes too similar. Hmmm . . . it is simply a coincidence, did one design inspire the other, or has an idea been “appropriated”? In other words, stolen.

left: Lady Gaga (photo from soundcloud); right: Madonna (photo from news.madonnatribe.com)

In 2011, Lady Gaga released Born This Way, and comparisons to Madonna’s 1989 Express Yourself were swift, exacting, and accusatory. The two songs sounded more than just similar, and Lady Gaga was considered a plagiarist, a common thief. Gaga tried flattery stating that her song was not a copy, but rather, that she was inspired by Madonna—that the work was a tribute to the Queen of Pop.

In architecture, there are many creative overlaps between separate projects which can lead to the legal phrase, “likelihood of confusion.” But often the overlaps are innocent. The zeitgeist of ideas invades the media, websites, and magazine covers. Subconsciously, we design buildings that accidentally conform to pervasive aesthetic themes. But sometimes, there is thievery.

top: Saracen Casino Resort, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, by Marlon Blackwell; bottom: same project by HBG Design (photos by MBA)

In 2017, Marlon Blackwell Architects (“MBA”), designed the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas (top image in the above collage). In 2018, HBG Design supposedly “collaborated” with MBA to develop the project. When the client dismissed MBA for unclear reasons, they filed the now infamous 2019 lawsuit. According to Architectural Record’s January 2020 reporting, the suit “claims that HBG has continued to use MBA’s intellectual property without credit or payment, and asks for a judgment of no less than $4.45 million . . . and a declaration indicating MBA’s original authorship of the design.”

MBA won, and HBG’s design (bottom image in the above collage) must now be credited as “an original design by Marlon Blackwell Architects.” Though the financial settlement remains confidential, this victory for the original creator contributes to the ongoing discussion of intellectual property and authorship.

New York–New York Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by Frauke Feind, Pixabay)

What about Las Vegas producing themed-casinos based on great cities, e.g., Paris, New York (here and here), Venice, and Egypt? What about when an architect in China brazenly reproduces one of the greatest works of the International Style? (See opening image at top.)

For my personal exploration below, admittedly tongue-in-cheek, I mined some of my past designs and found many similar projects by other architects, some explicitly similar. Are they copies or merely independent invention?

right: Harvard student project by Anthony Poon (photo by Anthony Poon); left: 8 Octavia, San Francisco, California (photo from saitowitz.com)

As a Harvard graduate student in 1990, I designed this seven-story, vertically-slatted building in downtown Boston (right). In 2015, Stanley Saitowitz (one of my undergraduate professors at UC Berkeley  designed this eight-story, vertically-slatted building in downtown San Francisco (left).

top: Olympic Stadium 2000, Sydney, Australia, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi with NBBJ (rendering by NBBJ); bottom: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California (photo from hksinc.com)

While employed at NBBJ, my design partner, Greg Lombardi, and I designed this sports building for the 2000 Sydney Olympics (top). Our design never got built, but SoFi Stadium opened in 2020 to much fanfare (bottom). Both projects feature an iconic roof curving up from the ground and soaring towards the other side.

right: Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon with A4E (photo by Gregory Blore), left: Fontana School, Fontana, California (photo from architecture4e.com)

As Co-Founder and Design Principal of A4E, I led the team to create this school in Yuba City, California (left)—a design expressing structure, horizontal textures, and a folding roof. Years later after I left the company, A4E designed this Fontana school (right)—a design of similar sentiments.

right: Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal); left: Love Culture, Santa Monica, California (photo from shopa.off-77.tk)

My studio, Poon Design, designed this 2008 restaurant bar framed by an innovative, back-lit, decoratively-etched mirror composition (left). We won the 2009 International AIA Award, and our design was published extensively. Years later, this store installed a back-lit, decoratively-etched mirror composition (right).

right: Lifeguard Tower and Pier, Hermosa Beach, California, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi (rendering by Al Forster); left: Oslo Opera House, Oslo, Norway (photo by Beata May, galleo.co)

In 1993, Lombardi and I designed this glassy building situated on a plaza that slopes upwards to the sea (left). We won the 1995 AIA Merit Award, and our design was published extensively. In 2008, Norwegian firm, Snohetta, designed this glassy building situated on a plaza that slopes upwards to the sea (right).

Yes, the above commentary possesses some glibness. I understand that we architects sometimes design what is exclusively in our heads and sometimes what is non-exclusively part of a larger dialogue. I accuse no one of plagiarism, but often the resemblances are too striking to ignore.

#90: THOSE WERE THE DAYS: POST MODERNISM AND ROBERT A.M. STERN ARCHITECTS

October 12, 2018

Arata Isozaki’s iconic rendering that inspired an entire movement of architectural representation. Created for MOCA, Los Angeles, California

At the simple age of 24, I was employed by the world-famous Post Modern architect Robert A.M. Stern in New York City. Post Modernism, the architectural movement of the 1960s to the 1980s, may not be the most beloved style of design today and even many despise it. But Post Modernism does at times stutter a comeback in different forms.

Roy E. Disney Animation Building, Burbank, California, by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (photo by Xurble)

In my undergraduate years of the 1980’s at UC Berkeley, we enthusiastically studied and exhaustively examined Post Modernism. It was the significant philosophy of art and architecture. This style, in the most elemental explanation, posits the notion that good architecture should provide human scale, harmony and beauty. Sounds obvious? Not always so.

Provincial Capitol Building, Toulouse, France, by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc. (photo by Matt Wargo)

Post Modernism, often called “Po-Mo,” reacted strongly against the many buildings of Modernism that preceded Post Modernism. Cold white boxes lacking life and a sense of place–these minimal Modern buildings of steel and glass appeared inhumane to some architects and most day to day users.

Post Modern architects connected their designs to visitors by offering the sense of feeling grounded—offering a building that was simply warm and inviting. The iconography of classical architecture, such as a Greek column or a Renaissance arch, created this grounding. Such traditional features captured what people thought buildings should look like.

Denver Public Library, Michael Graves, (photo from michaelgraves.com)

Establishing the Po Mo movement as a 180-degree reversal from the evils of ice-y abstract Modernism, Post Modernists also added wit and charm. They did so through the use of vibrant colors, by making columns extra tall or extra fat, or by abstracting traditional forms into simple geometry, such as a triangle in lieu of a classical pediment. Though appearing to be merely a campy game of the visual arts, the movement added intellectual irony, rigorous research of historical precedence and proportions, and academic strategies of references.

A battle of history and precedence vs. looking forward to fresh ideas, currently occurring at the AT&T Corporate Headquarters, New York, New York, by Philip Johnson (photo by Kevin Lafontaine-durand); Inspired by a Chippendale highboy chest (photo from 1stdibs.com)
Perhaps taking the concepts of color, geometry and irony too far, the famous Memphis design room by Dennis Zanone (photo by Dennis Zanone)

In my early twenties, I was a smug, obnoxious young designer, which is a trait of plenty of new and naive architects. We believed even at our young age, that we had talents bestowed upon us that would certainly deliver world peace, or something idealistic and absurd like that.

Within Stern’s office of 100 of the best and brightest, I worked with defiance and sometimes too much confidence. Senior architects rolled their eyes in discomfort every time I made a statement of delusion and self-aggrandizing. I don’t know if it is our industry’s competitive style that causes this kind of behavior, or me just being an ill-advised juvenile architect. Maybe it was the Post Modern education that made me brash. After all, the Post Modernists boldly tossed aside the accomplishments of a previous generation, and replaced the old philosophies with new ideas that were forged through poking fun and having fun.

Collage illustrating some of the most well-known Post Modernist designs (photo from dezeen.com)
Robert A.M. Stern (photo by Witold Rybczynski)

On my last day at the office in 1988, Robert Stern gave me words of advice as I was leaving to Cambridge to start my graduate studies. Bob, as he liked to be called, wished me luck with a grin, “Harvard won’t teach you anything about architecture, but they will teach a Californian like you how to dress appropriately.”

(Other essays on Post Modernism: Humor, Tribute to Michael Graves and Lecture on Love. )

© Poon Design Inc.