Tag Archives: JEFF HABER

NO BED OF ROSES, PART 4 OF 4: CHALLENGES OF THE HUMAN CONDITION

March 11, 2022

Luma Arles Tower, Arles, France, by Frank Gehry (photo by Baptiste Buisson on Unsplash)

“Host Jeff Haber shares conversations with interesting people from all walks of life, using a positive, uplifting and funny approach,” from the podcast series, No Bed of Roses, brought to you by Kenxus. Edited excerpts below are from the full podcast of episode #1030. Take a look at part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Jeff Haber: Who’s out there that is inspiring you with what they’re doing? Is there anybody that catches your eye?

Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, Mechernich, Germany, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Lisa Therese on Unsplash)

Anthony Poon: There are a lot of influential people. I mean, Frank Gehry—I don’t know who doesn’t admire his work as an architect, artist, sculptor. Peter Zumthor, who is the architect of the new LACMA, the county museum under construction–he’s a Swiss architect, and everything he does is so poetic, so simple and elemental. One of my professors from Harvard is Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect who does amazing things, so creative, how he rethinks what the client wants, whether it’s a corporate headquarters or a house. He delivers a unique solution every time.

But I also look for inspiration in people that aren’t architects, to inspire my architecture. As an example, I love the music of Thelonious Monk. His music is offbeat; it’s sometimes discordant, sometimes rhythmically off. But at the same time, it’s beautiful, improvisational. I listen and ask, “How can that inspire what I’m writing, what I’m painting, or what building I’m designing?”

Album cover for Monk’s Dream

Jeff: Is there a project that you have where you would walk us through and say, “See this section here, I was listening to this for Monk, or this was inspired by something.” Are there pieces of projects that you could directly relate to a piece of music?

Courtyard of Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photo by George Lambros)

Anthony: A lot of times the relationship to music is abstract. It’s more of a conceptual influence. But there is a school that we designed just outside of Chicago in the city of Aurora. It’s an elementary school with a focus on the performing arts. I took a piece of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of his piano Partitas, and studied the score and notations. That helped me lay out the window patterns, inspired me to create a play of window shapes and bays projecting off the brick. The building looks very musical as it rolls down the street. Someone who doesn’t see this metaphor, it’s okay. All they might see is a very interesting building. Or someone might say, “I like how the scale has been broken down—less institutional looking and suits the size of the one- and two-story homes across the street.” The result is there, and people can read into what they will. I know from my standpoint, it started with Bach.

Greenman Elementary School and music of J.S. Bach (drawing by Anthony Poon w/ A4E)

Jeff: Is there a space that you have experienced, that has evoked very strong emotion for you? I’ve been into spaces that have moved me to tears.

Barcelona Pavilion, Spain, by Mies van der Rohe (photo by Tomas Val on Unsplash)

Anthony: Yes, I would say, “yes!”—plenty of times through travels and backpacking through Europe, visiting some of the historic churches, museums, and sculpture gardens—just walking into the Pantheon, or some of the chapels in Rome. A specific example, which may not be an obvious one is in Barcelona. There’s a pavilion, often called the Barcelona Pavilion or the German Pavilion, designed by Mies van der Rohe. It’s just this elegant marble, steel and glass composition, not much bigger than a small house, but it’s so perfectly put together. It was groundbreaking in the way it defined space and didn’t define space, the way you didn’t know whether you’re inside or outside. It’s such a pure piece of architecture.

Jeff: This is part of the human condition. We can be reduced to very base human instincts, and design can make us soar. When I worked as an actor, I had a teacher tell me, “You’re a conduit for something much bigger than you.” I don’t know if you feel that there’s a force bigger greater than you that is just channeling through you or not, as the artist that you are. Man, we have that ability to channel that energy. Design can help elevate all of us. Do you feel like you’ve connected with something bigger? Is there something to it? I might just puffing this up, or…?

(photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash)

Anthony: We definitely acknowledge something bigger. Our thinking is that our skills and talents are used to challenge the human spirit. And if it’s a temple, we’re there to enliven the human spirit. If it’s a school, we’re there the counter the children and say, “Is this the best way to socialize and learn?” We’re constantly asking these bigger picture questions because I think whatever skills or talents that I have, they’re to be used, tested, to take risks, and see if they can be offered to challenge the status quo.

NO BED OF ROSES, PART 3 OF 4: THE INTEGRITY OF MISTAKES

November 5, 2021

Taipei Stadium, Taipei, Taiwan, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by John Lodge)

“Host Jeff Haber shares conversations with interesting people from all walks of life, using a positive, uplifting and funny approach,” from the podcast series, No Bed of Roses, brought to you by Kenxus. Edited excerpts below are from the full podcast of episode #1030. Take a look at part 1 and part 2.

Jeff Haber: Along with design, you are an accomplished musician. What happened first for you growing up? Did you have a design bug? Did you have a music bug? Did you have any bugs at all? When did it start for you as a child?

Feeling Orange, 20” x 24”, 2019, by Anthony Poon

Anthony Poon: I would say I had a creative bug as a child. And it wasn’t specifically music or architecture. It was just the interest to make things, to build things, to take things apart. The different areas of my interests—architecture, writing, painting, music—they’re not separate endeavors. It’s all falls under one big umbrella of creativity and trying to communicate ideas through whatever medium I happen to be working on. Writing a musical number is not too much different than designing a Buddhist temple, or writing an essay. So when I was young, I played the piano, I painted, I drew, I played with Lego. It all kind of happened at the same time. It wasn’t a specific “bug.” It was just this interest in exploring and being creative—and the act of discovery.

Schroeder from the Peanuts, created by Charles M. Schulz (from vegalleries.com)

Jeff: You started as a classically-trained pianist. I saw that you were into jazz as well. Do you have something that you’re more drawn to musically?

Anthony: I’m drawn to jazz, probably because I can’t play it. A classically-trained musician and jazz music that is improvised and played spontaneously are two very different things. It’s like asking an opera singer to perform hip hop and rap.

left: Luciano Pavarotti (photo from wallpapercave.com); right: Jay-Z (photo from nytimes.com)

I have spent years of my life learning one classical piece, trying to master every one of those 100,000 notes that fly across the keyboard. One note off and my music teacher would say, “Well, that entire performance is ruined.”

Piano Sonata in B minor, by Franz Liszt, (from omifacsimiles.com)

I compare that to jazz musicians who just sit down at the piano or pick up their saxophone, and they just start playing. They’re just making things up. If there’s a mistake, let’s say a pianist hits an off note or the wrong harmony, he will bang that note a few more times to make sure you hear it. And then turn it into something!

That’s a kind of mentality doesn’t exist in my classical training, my pursuit for the absolute truth and perfection. Jazz is about spontaneity and playing impromptu, and it’s just fascinating to me. I’ve also been interested in how this jazz process can apply to the way we design our buildings. This goes back to overlaps and thinking of all this as being under one creative umbrella.

Jeff: For design, do you need to be that specific, as you do it in your approach to classical music?

Anthony: The traditional approach to architecture is kind of like studying classical music. It’s very rigorous, it’s methodical, and it takes years to design and build a building, sometimes decades. And in the sense that one piano note off and the whole performance is ruined relates to one calculation off for a steel truss in a movie theater and the entire roof collapses.

Under construction, DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, by Anthony Poon when w/ HHPA (photo by HHPA)

I like to add the jazz process into the creative architectural process, because sometimes I find the design process to be overwrought. I rather see what we can generate by doing things quickly, keeping an even flow of conversation. If we’re designing, let’s just grab whatever tools are at hand; let’s keep it loose and free to see what ideas we come up with. Both approaches, classical music and jazz music, have a place in the architectural process.

NO BED OF ROSES, PART 2 OF 4: THE FUTURE AND THE ARCHITECT’S CURSE

September 3, 2021

Concept sketch for Escena Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Anthony Poon, Poon Design

“Host Jeff Haber shares conversations with interesting people from all walks of life, using a positive, uplifting and funny approach,” from the podcast series, No Bed of Roses, brought to you by Kenxus. Edited excerpts below are from the full podcast of episode #1030. Take a look at Part 1.

Jeff Haber: Can you share maybe some moments where, “Wow, we didn’t really plan that, but that works beautifully.” And maybe a, “Uuh, that worked a lot better on the computer than it’s doing right now.”

Anthony Poon: You’ve touched on a sore spot. Maybe it’s just the curse of being an architect/artist, in that nothing is ever done. Nothing is ever complete. Everything always seems like it could be better.

Valley Academy of the Arts & Sciences, Los Angeles Unified School District, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, Design Architect, and GKK, Architect-of-Record, photo by GKK)

Even though we’ve completed buildings of all sizes, scales, and complexities, there’s always that moment when the building’s done, everyone’s patting each other’s back, ribbon’s been cut, etc. And there’s always going to be some architect thinking, “I wish that window was moved over six inches. It would have aligned so much better with that stone joint.” Or, “The way the sunlight could have come in and just hit that reception desk—if we just used a different kind of window treatment.”

Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE, Los Angeles, California (photo by Nabih Youssef Associates)

Maybe it’s the way we’re taught in school, always thinking it should be better. But you’re right; there are also surprises. We worked with the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE for their mixed-use complex, that 54-story hotel condo tower. We were asked to create a security screen at the street level, separating the street from the porte cochere, where all the high-end luxury guests arrive, the athletes, the celebrities, the affluent.

We created this kind of artistic sculpture. It’s about 90 feet long with 260 steel fins 10 feet high. These fins are slightly contoured. The result creates this amazing unintended illusion of movement. As you’re walking by, the images on the other side appear to be constantly moving and changing, even though they are actually stationary.

Crystal ball (photo by Jake Willett on Unsplash)

Jeff: I would imagine there’s part of your calculations where you go, “Well, average lifespan for a client’s project  looks like it’s three decades. So what will this space look like in decade one, two, and three?” Do you guys think about that? Work your crystal ball and say, “Where do we see design going over these next few decades? And how do we make this timeless?” Or do you just say, “Let’s do this now, what we’re inspired by now. And that’s it.”

Anthony: A colleague of mine had recently called architects, called me a futurist, in that we do have to project into the future and think about how a design will be used and how it will evolve. Now no one has a crystal ball. No one knows for example, that a pandemic is on the way and restaurants might change entirely or how schools are used. But we’re here to do our best to think ahead.

Villa Sunset, Los Angeles, California, by Martin/Poon Architects (photo by Anthony Poon)

I can think of one project and its big turning point. It was a large residential estate, designed before the days of iPads. This client wanted to create a specific room off of the entrance that he called the “document signing room.” He was a businessman, an executive. We designed this beautiful walnut-clad library where he would welcome his business associates, and he would sign and store documents there.

The amazing thing is, during the course of designing this project, the iPad was created as well as technology following that, apps like DocuSign. And all of a sudden, this client realized all those files he talked about getting signed and stored could all fit on his iPad. He could have them at his fingertips, and everyone can sign things electronically. So that room that we created, that we fetishized over, that he was so excited about, no longer needed to be there. It’s amazing how within 18 months, the entire way this one client did work within his house changed.

We try our best to predict these trends. But we don’t have crystal balls. We can’t say, “What is Apple going to produce next?” All we can do is design adaptability and flexibility into our designs so that when things change, we’re able to help our clients rework and adapt to a new and evolved lifestyle.

iPad (photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash)

Jeff: Is design informed by society, or does society inform design?

Anthony: It’s both. There is a reactive aspect to design in which we’re looking at society and culture, and we’re also looking at neighborhoods and how people use their specific individual spaces. We then respond to that.

But I think it’s the other way around too. Maybe it’s the ego of the artists. There are thinkers, whether they’re poets, architects, or writers, that create ideas that are definitely informing society—suggesting ways in which society could operate and function better. I mean, what would the world be without thinkers like Steve Jobs? What would the world be without beauty, the people who imagine how things could be better, or the inventors creating things? So I think it works both ways, that architects are responsive, reflexive, and respective of what society is telling us. But we’re also looking ahead and saying, “There might be a different way.”

NO BED OF ROSES, PART 1 of 4: PANDEMIC RESPONSE AND THE THREE-LEGGED STOOL

July 2, 2021

Whitefish River Run, Montana, by Poon Design (rendering by Mike Amaya)

“Host Jeff Haber shares conversations with interesting people from all walks of life, using a positive, uplifting and funny approach,” from the podcast series, No Bed of Roses, brought to you by Kenxus. Edited excerpts below are from the full podcast, episode #1030.

Podcast: No Bed of Roses, by Jeff Haber

Jeff Haber: Hey there, everyone, from beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado, halfway between Cheyenne in Denver and 5,003 feet above sea level. The dictionary defines architect as a person who designs buildings, and in many cases also supervises their construction. That definition is fine, but barely scratches the surface as you’ll learn from today’s guest.

Anthony Poon is an award-winning American classical pianist, mixed-media artist, published author, interior designer, guest lecturer, and oh, yeah, he’s an architect—a really talented one.

Anthony, let’s talk about the pandemic: You work primarily in California, or do you work in other areas as well?

Anthony Poon: Primarily California, but we get our fingers into other locations. I’m also licensed in Virginia and Montana. We’ve also done a lot of work in the Chicago area, and we’ve designed projects as far as Saudi Arabia.

Buddhist Pavilion, Natural Bridge, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Jeff: How much of an impact has the pandemic had on you currently? And how much of an impact will it have on the way you now go through your design process? How does this make you approach communal spaces?

Anthony: A lot of things that we responded to and changed due to the pandemic—well, a lot of these ideas will stay in place. For example, people have learned that their company teams can work remotely and still be effective. Or, the new views on hygiene and cleanliness should apply into the future, pandemic or not, i.e.: for a school, restaurant, retail, or going into any public space.

Berkeley Hall School Master Plan, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

I think of one of our clients, a development office in Beverly Hills. We’re asked to redesign their office because they now realize they don’t need to have 100% of their staff back in person. We are looking at a “hotel concept” and micro-offices where there are multiple areas that are shared and used at different points of the day. The office can be smaller in square footage, but still support the same size company or even bigger. Remote connections will stay around, but people will certainly come back together in person and collaborate. Human contact is so important. There’s also so many things we’re learning about mechanical systems, ventilation, and air conditioning. It was a crash course for everyone this last year. We’re not going to throw away that knowledge.

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

Jeff: What about the use of outdoor space? Is there anything you’re kind of ruminating on?

Anthony: When we talk about outdoor space, I’m thinking two things. One is the smaller scale spaces like that of a restaurant patio. And the other is the concept of public space. I’m talking streets, parks, communal spaces, and plazas.

Generally in California, you’re only allowed outdoor space that’s about half of your interior dining room. Well, that’s obviously changed because of Covid. New ordinances will be created to allow restaurants to keep doing what they are currently doing: have a permanent large outdoor patio. And it can’t be just temporary chairs and tables thrown up. The patio should include ideas like we did at Chaya Downtown where the outdoor dining is as thoroughly designed and detailed as the interior.

Traffic (photo by Tommy on Unsplash)

Now shifting to the other thing I said, public space. We need to start thinking about cities, say San Francisco or New York. People wonder, are they are coming back at the same density? How do you walk down the street when there’s hundreds of people? Who knows what’s going to happen in terms of distancing? So we need to think about street life and our public spaces, our parks. Certain communities closed down parts of streets for distanced foot traffic. Take Culver City, for example. There’s so much more outdoor dining downtown and public space. They city closed down certain traffic lanes to allow for that to happen. It’s very European, and no one is complaining about traffic and parking. We all still know how to get there, how to get to parking. Point is, we don’t have to design cities, particularly Los Angeles, to be about the car and this automobile street. We should think about the public spaces, pedestrians, where you can enjoy outdoor spaces.

Three-legged stool (photo from etsy.com)

Jeff: Heresy! What this man is saying for the car capital.

Anthony: Blasphemy!

Jeff: It’s not just designing. There’s the business of design. On a weighted basis, is it 50/50 between the creative flow and then client facing and all the ops that you have to deal with? What is that ratio, do you think?

Anthony: First, I would redefine it as a three-legged stool. The ratio is 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.

The first leg is the creative.

Anthony Poon’s mixed-media art in progress (photo by Anthony Poon)

The second is the logistics of science and engineering—and things like gravity. So you’ve created a beautiful project, but you still need to make sure it stands up, you still need to figure out the thickness of those concrete walls, and how much steel is being used. You need to coordinate with your structural engineer to make sure it all works.

Logistics of building (photo by Shivendu Shukla on Unsplash)

Now the last third is that of a business, that of an entrepreneur and a business owner. We have to go out there and we have to get work. We have to sign contracts. There are insurance policies. There are things to review with lawyers. There’s billing and making sure you get paid so that you can pay rent salaries. So it is a

Business: hitting the pavement (photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash)

Jeff: For any young person considering a career in architecture, any pro tips?
Anthony: Realize that you’re going into architecture for tremendous artistic rewards—that it’s an incredible profession because it is a career based around being creative. But I say ‘artistic rewards’ only because the financial rewards are challenging. It’s a roller coaster ride. You don’t often hear of architects being rich and famous, earning salaries of investment bankers and attorneys. And that’s okay. People go into architecture because it is hard and it is creative, not because they’re looking to be rich and famous.

© Poon Design Inc.