Tag Archives: HGTV

#88: SYMMETRY AND THE LIKE

August 31, 2018

left: Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California (photo from The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania/John Nicolais); right: Taj Mahal, Agra, India (photo by Getty Images

These images are what we commonly think of as symmetry. What you see on one side is mirrored on the other side. Classical architecture relied on symmetry for powerfully balanced compositions. But for a setting as peacefully symmetrical as the Taj Mahal, I find the architecture more interesting when accompanied by the asymmetry of life.

The symmetry of Taj Mahal is made more interesting with visitors and the asymmetry of life of Agra, India (photo by Getty Images)

The 1929 Barcelona Pavilion, by Mies Van Der Rohe  is hailed as one of the most significant contributions to the Modern architecture movement, with the pavilion’s Minimal walls and lines, blurring inside and outside. This structure is rarely mentioned in the conversations about symmetry. But that is only because we think that symmetry is when the right side is the same as the left side.

From what I learned in graduate school, I argue that symmetry can be such that the top half is the same as the bottom half. Top-and-bottom, not right-and-left.

left: Unexpected symmetry at the Barcelona Pavilion, Spain (photo from behance.net); middle: Axonometric drawing of the Barcelona Pavilion, Spain (drawing from handesi.wordpress.com); right: Unexpected symmetry at the Barcelona Pavilion, Spain (photo by Lindsay Koffler)

In challenging traditional symmetry, implied symmetry offers complexity. Here, the balance of symmetry is only suggested, not at all exact. As the eye moves from the vertical axis of symmetry to the right and to the left, the design is forgiving, no longer relentlessly mirrored halves. An architectural feature on one side is not replicated on the other.

left: Vanna Venturi House, Philadelphia, United States (photo by Maria Buszek); right: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, West Frankfort, Illinois (photo from stjohnchurch-wf.org)

Beyond architecture, film director Peter Greenaway enjoyed applying symmetry as a cinematic device. As a young student of classical paintings, Greenaway employed symmetry not just in the set design, but with how the actors moved into the scene and located themselves. Akin to architecture, the result creates classical balance. But in movies, the experience is progressing over time and not as a static building. Greenaway delivers an experience that is harmonious but also disturbingly artificial. Could such compositions of people and objects exist in real life?

Symmetry in Peter Greenaway films. Upper left, lower right and lower left: A Zed & Two Noughts (1985); upper right: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

Symmetry in a person’s face is considered to be an underlying trait of beauty and attractiveness. A balanced composition of facial features supposedly delivers a fetching handsome appeal. But exact symmetry in one’s face is impossible. Consider one of Hollywood’s leading actors, often complimented as being good looking. Digitally creating a face using the left side and mirroring it, then as another composition, using the right side and mirroring it, you will see how even the handsome Brad Pitt is not symmetrical. As above, his face only implies symmetry.

Brad Pitt montage (photo from memoliion.com)
Property Brothers from HGTV

These popular TV twins from HGTV exploit their identical look. But the outcome is like a Greenway scene— a contrived and awkward symmetry. Quite creepy actually, if you binge watch the show.

Lastly, this piano is symmetrical in exterior appearance. But inside, it is not. As with life, even things that strive for symmetry, harmony and balance, such things are often asymmetrical and lop-sided—and enjoyably so.

Schimmel Konzert K132 piano (photo from schimmelpianos.com)

#56: IS TV FOR REAL? PART 2

February 17, 2017

Potential clients have come to my office asking for three free designs from which to pick—“the way we saw it on HGTV.” My anger aside from how reality TV twists reality, the client’s request compromises the integrity of the architectural process. (This article is a follow up to my past one, Is TV for Real?)

My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)
My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)

When I design for a client, I don’t draw three random schemes in a vacuum. I listen to the client first—their goals and dreams. When I show preliminary concepts, the client provides feedback on what they like and what they don’t. Through this back-and-forth process, a design develops, and is then refined. Not ever in a vacuum, the creative process is an exciting and thoughtful journey.

Okay, time for me to confess. Here and there, I have learned a few things from TV about color coordinating, selecting furniture, and being creative on a budget. I confess!

Also, the reality TV DIY shows have brought design to the forefront, that a well-crafted, nicely-styled life is desirable and achievable. In 15-minute bite size servings, these shows have delivered architecture to the mainstream.

Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949
Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949

In some distant past, clients were under the impression that design was a mysterious, closed-loop process. Now, many are conscious of how accessible good design advice is, whether from an award-winning architect or, yes, a charismatic TV personality.

I enjoy meeting with clients who already understand the concepts of an open floor plan, for example. Good or bad, these clients come prepared with Pinterest pages on style. Thank you reality TV. The clients and I can hit the ground running, proceeding with a shared foundation. Knowledge is power, after all, even in choosing paint colors.

Love-It-Web

Once was a cocktail debate between architects: “Who is the most influential voice in our industry?”

The usual suspects were tossed out as conversational sacrificial lambs. Local big names like Steven Ehrlich and Eric Owen Moss. Pritzker Prize winners like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. A safe go-to is naming the senior leaders like I.M. Pei and Renzo Piano.

Nanjing International Youth Cultural Center, Nanjing, China, by Zaha Hadid (photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash)

Another angle is to suggest famous architects no longer living, but believed to be still influential today, i.e., Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier. Pretentiously, you can also try the obscure, though no less significant, such as Wang Shu, Sverre Fehn or Paulo Mendes de Rocha.

My contribution that night stopped the discussion. I proclaimed, “Martha Stewart!”

At the time, Martha Stewart utilized avenues of outreach in all forms, and was better known than any other designer in the country, maybe even in the world. If she stated with a quiet breath that “pink is to be used at table settings this season,” you could count on millions of dining tables across America set with something pink.

Stewart-2-Web

Let the debates and cynicism rage on. It’s all for the good. Martha, HGTV, Sunset, Houzz, Dwell, Wayfair, the plethora of magazines and blogs, etc.—all of it deserves gratitude from architects everywhere. To the widest audience, these mainstream entities deliver the concept of wanting good design. And for that, I say thank you.

Covers-Web

#14: EVERYTHING IS DESIGN

July 31, 2015

Poon Design business cards, by Danny Yee with Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

Design is everywhere. Whether decorating a home, building a new city hall, master planning a park, or embarking on a high speed rail—design is at the epicenter.

Design is indeed everything, from cake decoration, the season’s latest fashions, make up and blow outs, websites and branding, planning a wedding, a hybrid engine, to the ergonomics of a toothbrush handle.

Design is the nexus of all this and more.

Staggering: estimated 75 million viewers per month of HGTV, 1 million subscribers of Architectural Digest, 1 million subscribers to Sunset, 300,000 readers of Dwell, $100 billion comprising the US construction industry, 100,000 members of The American Institute of Architects, and so on. And the numbers grow daily.

Print and online: Metropolis, Communication Arts, Interior Design, House & Garden, Wallpaper, Elle Décor, Architecture, Architectural Record, A+U, Detail, Dezeen, The Architect’s Newspaper, arcspace, designboom, Architizer—just to name a few.

So many TV shows, books, websites, blogs, conventions, and media.

The design of a museum or a shoe store—the announcement often headlines the news. Architects as iconic figures in movies, DIY everywhere, prefab homes, style as content, going green—it is all part of a dramatic movement of design being universal. Everywhere.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat retail store, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design
Vosges Haut-Chocolat retail store, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design

In the past decades, stores have sprouted that made “design” approachable. Retail placed design on a mainstream platform and within the reach of consumers, with stores literally called Design Within Reach. The traditional Crate and Barrel offered a new hip and youthful company called CB2. Pottery Barn inserted their own design studios within their stores, led by in-house “designers.”

Each of these retailers sold design as a lifestyle, not just a commodity.

Even in the tabloids. Though it was a while ago, I can’t forget how Brad Pitt praised his own love for architecture. He also criticized how Jennifer Aniston, his then-wife, had no understanding of modern design. Jennifer countered with how Brad’s sense of design was cold, and that she preferred warm and cozy. (Was this about design or demeanor?)

With puzzling audacity, Brad then criticized architectural education, and somehow landed his dream job as an “architect” at the office of Starchitect Frank Gehry. Brad Pitt bellowed, “I’m really into architecture, structure and design. Give me anything and I’ll design it.”

Oscar-nominated actor Brad Pitt and Pritzker Prize architect Frank Gehry (photo source unknown)

I don’t know how and when design moved out of the privileged Renaissance world that commissioned Michelangelo and Palladio as architects. With great fury, design moved into everyday hands—from weekend warriors at Home Depot, to domestic goddesses wielding Martha Stewart paint swatches.

I welcome this movement that has delivered design to the general audience. With design topics at the forefront of conversations and with resources accessible to everyone, the world is a more thoughtful, delightful place.

© Poon Design Inc.