October 15, 2021

Royal Ontario Musuem, Toronto, Canada, by Studio Libeskind (photo from libeskind.com)

When adding to an existing building, the conventional agenda requests that the new structure match the old. A typical client request suggests that the point of connection between new and old be “seamless.” But there exists a different school of thought, a provocative one. Here, the new structure not only contrasts the old, but the addition is intentionally disruptive.

Antwerp Port House, Antwerp, Belgium, by Zaha Hadid Architects (photo by Claudia Lorusso on Unsplash)

Whether a new hotel wing, library expansion, or guest bathroom, adding onto an existing building results in a form of symbiosis. As described in science, a symbiotic relationship is two dissimilar organisms in close physical association. Architecture may not always be thought of as a living thing. But the way a space breathes with light and air, or when a building comes alive with visitors and experiences, or how a structure houses memories and enlightens the human spirit, architecture is indeed a unique form of organism.

Shoreham Street, Sheffield, England, by Project Orange (photo by Project Orange)
St. Francis Covenant Church, Santpedor, Spain, by David Closes (photo by Jordi)

When new meets old, the design can be traditional, even predictable, as in the “seamless” approach, where a visitor can’t tell that a building addition has been delivered. But the design can also be divisive, where the addition exploits the host through a parasitic relationship. With the old building as host, a new structure is an intervention, at times predatorial. This approach creates tension, a vibration between new and old, and results in a fantastical world of the unknown. We don’t just see the two parts, the new and the old. Now, we view a third thing: the relationship between new and old. One plus one doesn’t have to equal two.

Idea Exchange Old Post Office, Cambridge, Ontario, by RDHA (photo from ideaexchange.org)

In these examples, there exist no seamless transition, no resolution, no settled serenity. The designs are intentionally disturbing and anxious, perhaps a violent act of the architect. Like the grandstanding of creative ego, the hand of such an architect is akin to a street artist tagging a building. Some call it vandalism, and some call it art.

Museum of Military History, Dresden, Germany, by Studio Libeskind (photo by Novarc Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Diamond Exchange, Amsterdam, Netherlands, by CompanyZJA with Heyligers (photo from architecureprize.com)

Perhaps it is true that “opposite attracts,” as stated by psychologist Robert Francis Winch in the 50s. Or in this case, having architectural opposites can be deemed attractive. The projects seen here are not necessary outliers. The trend of confronting one’s context in an unexpected way has been around, ever since architects looked at their neighborhoods and believed there should be something new to do, something else. Like the urge to play hard rock music in a tranquil and pristine chapel.

To Be In Limbo, Jesuit Church, Vienna, Austria, by Steinbrener/Dempf and Huber (photo from steinbrener-dempf.com)
Fuller Loft Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles, California, by Brooks + Scarpa (photo from brooksscarpa.com)

It’s the desire for contrast. From Google: contrast, noun, /ˈkänˌtrast/: the state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.

Nearly everyone wants to be noticed in one form or another—even introverts. For some, to conform with the faceless masses and banal circumstances is to give up on the ambition to be an individual. We want to be distinctive. And noticed.

Rooftop addition, Vienna, Austria, by Coop Himmelb(l)au (photo by Wolf D. Prix)


May 10, 2019

Yard Sale, 16” x 20”, July 2018

Most of my life, I have been painting. At age five in my parent’s San Francisco house, I painted an extensive landscape mural from the entry hall up the stairs—without permission or notice. My mother and father were excited, but not pleased—a parenting dilemma of pride and scolding. At age ten, I was invited by my elementary school to paint a larger-than-life Captain America on the courtyard wall. So many years ago, I preceded today’s fanaticism with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For the past year, I have been exploring painting as an activity of searching, finding and intervening.

Flea Market Red, 27 ¼” x 31 ¼”, October 2018

My recent creative endeavors start with non-scientific searches at neighborhood garage sales, flea markets and second-hand stores. I seek traditional paintings, the classical still life of flowers in a vase. Also, I hope to find such paintings in their original period wood frame—the gilded, ornate, tacky frame. I have been fortunate finding many of these discarded paintings, and only for a few bucks.

Another Yard Sale, 19” x 23 ½”, July 2018
Detail of Fairfax Market Green, 26 ¼” x 30 ¼”, November 7, 2018

My first step of intervention is to tear out pages from my book, Sticks and Stones, Steel and Glass , and decoupage the pages onto various corners of the old flower painting. I do not stop at the limits of the canvas. In my art, I have always been fascinated in including the frame as part of the canvas. The pages and scraps from my book find themselves creeping up and over the aged wood frames.

I then create textures and hues with light acrylic washes. Following this is a signature gesture of mine, to give the subject of the painting an aura. Around the flowers and vase, I paint a halo or glow, as if to give new life. On top of this composition, I splatter gesso and drippings of tinted resin.

Detail of Flower Girl, 20 ½” x 24 ½”, September 2018

The result is an eccentric but visually dynamic work of juxtaposition. Colors, shapes and patterns from two different time periods collide—the original artist’s past and my present. Various mediums and techniques blur. Representation and abstraction coincide.

Garage Sale, 21” x 25”, February 2018

The visual noise invites the visitor to move back and forth, in and out, as she attempts to focus and grasp the mixed-media work. The visitor will appreciate the original flowers for a few minutes, before a splash of color draws his attention beyond the canvas. Then the viewer’s eye will be pulled into reading the words from my book. But some portions are illegible as a glob of gesso obscures the words. And so on. And so forth.

Detail of Habitat Flowers, 14 ½” x 17”, July 2018

This approach has created a few dozen works, with many variations on my premise. As I create, I am not sure if I am thinking about my approach to painting, or my approach to each day of my busy existence. But I like the unexpected collisions that result in new ideas. I like serendipity  and the unscheduled joys that typically would be undiscovered. I like that sometimes, risks must be taken, and it is okay to crash and burn. And I like knowing that timing and chance is everything, and perhaps I happened to finally get it right for this one moment of the day, or for this one painting.

A recent chapter of exploring abstraction, Gold Rush, 18” x 24”, November 2018
© Poon Design Inc.