Tag Archives: LACMA

THE GIFTERS PODCAST, PART 1 OF 2: ARTS, ARCHITECTURE, AND AUDIENCE

May 22, 2020

Jurupa K-8 School, Jurupa Unified School District, Riverside, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E)

I am pleased to be a guest on Christopher Kai’s podcast, The Gifters: Your Story is a Gift to the World (episode 209). As a global speaker, author, and executive coach, Mr. Kai speaks to Fortune 100 companies, from Google to New York Life, from American Express to Merrill Lynch. His podcast “shares inspiring stories from captivating entrepreneurs and extraordinary individuals who are changing the world.” Excerpts below.

Christopher Kai (photo from bookingworldspeakers.com)

Christopher Kai: Our guest today is Anthony Poon. He’s an architect and musician and author and an artist. Anthony, thanks so much for being here, where your story is a gift to the world. I’ve met a lot of people in my life, but I’ve never met a guy who’s a musician, author, artist, and architect. How do you have all these really cool interests? What started it all? How old were you when you had an inkling of some of your talents?

Anthony Poon: It started with music. In my mind, all of these four things are connected. My goal at an early age was to be a concert pianist. I trained and I practiced. As I got older, I started to think more practically about a career, and I’ve always enjoyed design and architecture.

There was a point of my life where I had to pick one path or the other. I was looking at two grad school applications, Juilliard for music vs. Harvard for architecture. I think the practicality of my Asian parents had me think, well, I better be an architect, because the odds are better for me to support myself, than being a classical pianist.

Me at St. Paul’s, Rancho Palos Verdes, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

I chose architecture. The great thing is that running a design company and being an entrepreneur still gives me the freedom to play piano, to write music, to teach, and even perform a little. I don’t think it would have worked the other way around where I am a concert pianist and trying to operate an architecture office.

The overlap in all of it is that my work requires an audience, whether I’m playing music for myself, for a small group, or for a large venue. Architecture too requires an audience. It requires visitors and users. When I author a book, I’m counting on there being a reader. When I do my mixed-media art, it also requires an audience. They are all forms of communication for me to share stories with others.

Alleyway, 30” x 42”, March 10, 2019, by Anthony Poon

Christopher: That’s inspiring. My business is based in L.A., but right now I’m currently in Miami, and one of the most inspiring architects here is a woman named Zaha Hadid. For you, who inspires you as an architect, and what can we learn as entrepreneurs? Primarily our audience are entrepreneurs, but I’m all about how we can learn from different people and different professions. Who’s one architect that you admire, and what’s one thing that you feel that you’ve learned as an architect that you can perhaps share with our listeners?

Anthony: The architect that comes to mind is Peter Zumthor. He is a Swiss architect. He’s currently designing the new controversial Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I admire him because he has crafted his role as an artist within the profession of architecture. He stays focused on what his philosophy is, and chooses only a few special projects every couple of years to work on—and therefore giving the projects his most inspired ideas. So Peter Zumthor, for those who don’t know—his work is beautiful. It’s elemental, timeless, and shows a lot of ideas around minimalism, abstraction, and materiality.

Proposed Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, by Peter Zumthor (rendering from LA Times)
Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine Concept, University of California San Diego, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, rendering by Douglas Jamieson)

Christopher: Do you feel some of your work is similar to that in terms of minimalistic and quality? What are some things that you’ve gleaned from him in your own practice as an architect?

Anthony: Our practice is a different. I think Zumthor can do what he does because he works in a small village in Switzerland. We work in the very vibrant communities of Southern California. Every project we take on is unique, and our project types are diverse. We do residential, commercial, retail, and restaurants. We also do schools and religious projects. Quite a broad mix. We think of all of our projects as telling a story, the story of the client, the client’s successes, maybe battle scars even, their vision for the company, or for an educational institution. This way our projects are full of content, material, and texture. Some make reference to history, some reference maybe a client’s most favorite piece of music or favorite poem. Our portfolio and the output is quite diverse, but intentionally so. (Stay tuned for part 2.)

SIX ICONOCLASTS: MARCHING TO THEIR OWN DRUM

February 28, 2020

The Factory, Catalonia, Spain, by Ricardo Bofill (photo from thisiscolossal.com)

There are the Usual Suspects, and we all know who they are. Featured on our magazine covers, these architects take home the big-name awards, are invited to international competitions, and cash in on their prestigious commissions. Then there are those creative minds that march to their own drum, exploring ideas that resound privately in their head. Rarely in the zeitgeist of the mainstream, these architects flourish in bizarre ways and have tremendous influence.

Pavilion for Japanese Art, LACMA, Los Angeles, California, by Bruce Goff (photo from lacmaonfire.blogspot.com)

From Oklahoma to France, from California to Spain, from Alabama to New Mexico, these six artists did and do not follow the status quo. Instead, they sought solutions of ingenious personal expression— sometimes even unsettling forms and imagery.

left: Gryder House, Ocean Springs, Mississippi; right: Struckus House, Los Angeles, California, both by Bruce Goff (photos by Elena Dorfman)

BRUCE GOFF (1904 to 1983)
As I often enjoy doing with my design work, Goff too finds inspiration in music as well. He leans on Claude Debussy and Balinese music. He also happens to like seashells. Eclectic and unconventional, Goff’s work was sublimely organic—starkly original with never-before-seen forms and unusual materials. Regardless, a world-class institution like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art took a huge risk and scored big with hiring Goff.

Les Arcades et Les Temples du Lac, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Gregori Civera)
Kafka Castle, Sant Pere De Ribes, Spain, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Ricard Bofill)

RICARDO BOFILL (still in practice)
Bofill’s early works represented some of the most interesting explorations in Post-Modernism. With facile classical skills, this artist added fantasy and twisted plays of scale. For Bofill’s dystopia, see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Additional projects are other-worldly explorations into geometry and mind-bending repetition. His reconstruction of an abandoned cement factory transforms dilapidated structures into his personal residence and park, as well as offices for his architecture company (first image).

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Sheats Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California, by John Lautner (photo from archdaily.com)

JOHN LAUTNER (1911 to 1994)
This Southern California architect captured the sunny optimism of the region. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner similarly stretched the rules of structural engineering as well as spatial relationships. He pioneered new possibilities with poured-in-place, steel reinforced concrete. Lautner was a Mid-Century visionary of brave new worlds.

Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by hotellacasadelsol.com)
Sagrada Familia Church, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by Getty Images, Tanatat Ponghibool)

ANTONI GAUDI (1852 to 1926)
When I visited Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, it was only then that I realized that an architect can indeed build his fanciful visions that seem to appear from a hallucinatory fugue. Like a jazz musician, Gaudi improvises, experimenting with Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, taking engineering risks and aesthetic chances. 140 years later, the world is still dedicated to completing Gaudi’s design of the Sagrada Familia Church, an ambitious vision that was conceived before we even had the technology to execute the design.

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Community Center, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo by Johann Strey)

SAMUEL MOCKBEE (1944 to 2001)
Look closely at the Lucy Carpet House. By its name, yes: Those are carpet tiles stacked up to make part of the exterior skin. The design used 72,000 worn carpet tiles held in compression by wood beams on top. And the smell, you might ask? The tiles were stored for seven years to prevent off-gassing. The multi-faceted red structure has a bedroom on top of a tornado shelter. Inventive, novel and philanthropic, Mockbee and his Rural Studio often worked with rural, disadvantaged communities.

Pierre Cardin’s Bubble House, Cote d’Azur, France, by Bart Prince (photo from odditycentral.com)

BART PRINCE (still in practice)
Call it weird—rebellious too. Some would argue that Prince’s work was ugly or better yet grotesque. A colleague of Bruce Goff, Prince’s work was unprecedented and imaginative, whether you saw courageous splendor or awkward shapes. His architecture is a collision of myths, dreams and nightmares, laced with raw materials straight from the shelves of your local hardware store.

Fu Residence, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, by Bart Prince (photo from Robert Peck)

Ayn Rand promoted the Roark-ian ideal through her Objectivist view that “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Does this apply to my six iconoclastic architects above? Let’s just say that Individualism has it merits, as these architects value self-reliance in the creative process–as they cherish their artistic freedom

SOCIAL MEDIA IN A WORLD OF #DISCONNECTING

January 17, 2020

One of the most photographed and Instagrammed scenes in Los Angeles, the exterior pink wall at the Paul Smith boutique, Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Is there purpose in social media for the industry of architecture? I have heard about the exposure an architect can get from incessant posting on Instagram, Facebook, Linked In, etc. But as colleagues brag about numerous followers and subscribers, I ask several questions: What is the currency of Insta followers? Is there tangible value beyond bragging rights? If anyone can simply buy anonymous followers (as in fake), does it matter whether you have 1,000 subscribers or 1 million?

Instagram: @anthonypoondesign and @anthonypoonart

A test of one’s authenticity is not the number of followers but the percentage of engagement. Meaning, for each post, how many followers respond, comment, and/or like? If only a tiny handful of your so-called one million followers engage with your post, this then is evidence that the high volume of seemingly excited fans doesn’t exist at all, probably purchased from an app and algorithm.

Linked In: Anthony Poon and Poon Design Inc.

At Poon Design Inc., we do participate in this universe of socials, not too actively, but we do. We feel that we have to, as we try to keep up with the Jones and their pretty pictures. We understand that a digital presence has some importance in establishing our brand. But who really follows the social media of architecture studios? We hope it is our clients, or maybe the teenage daughter of one our clients? Are our past clients Rick Caruso and Donald Bren personally surfing Instagram and Facebook every morning looking for architects to hire for their gazillion-dollar developments? Probably not.

Alongside the Paul Smith store (above), this is the other most photographed and Instagrammed scenes in Los Angeles, the lamp posts at Urban Light by Chris Burden, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California (photo from Pinterest/Julianne)

One resulting evil of all this hoopla is what is referred to as the “Instagrammable Moment.” This is that one photograph, that one single moment that supposedly captures the essence of an entire architectural project. And such Instagrammable moments run rampantly redundant on the Internet, i.e. the lamp posts at LACMA or the pink wall of the Paul Smith boutique on Melrose. There is nothing wrong with a beautiful image, but is it superficial and even cruel to reduce the rich journey called architecture down to a single moment in time, a single visual gesture? Who reduces an entire novel to one sentence, for the mere purpose of easily-digestible PR? The additional problem is that some architects design their whole project with that one Instagrammable image in mind, as if nothing else matters.

Often seen on social media, the soaring and dynamic (and somewhat misleading) image of the U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota (photo from archdaily.com)
The full story of the stadium looking clunky and clumsy in comparison to the Instagrammed image of soaring and dynamic architecture (photo from americanfootball.fandom.com)

So back to currency, what can an architect do with a “bank account” of followers? So far, other than the periodic amusement of posting a nice picture and seeing who comments, I personally haven’t figured out the value of all this commotion. Didn’t we all enjoy Facebook for a brief moment, only to now see that no one uses it anymore?

Facebook: Poon Design Inc.

PETER ZUMTHOR AND ELEMENTAL IDEAS

November 3, 2017

Zumthor’s original 2013 presentation model for LACMA. Though it looks like a conceptual diagram, this is actually the complete design for the project. (photo from inexhibit.com)

There are the usual suspects: Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei, and so on. Call them celebrity architects or call them “Starchitects,” but one greater walks amongst these mere mortal rock stars. I speak of the one who is called an “architect’s architect.” He is Pritzker-winning, Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.

Many non-architects may not even know the name of the enigmatic Zumthor, for his Haldenstein-based practice is small and artisanal, perhaps even cultish. But in a short time to come, Los Angeles will know Mr. Zumthor’s work.

LACMA’S campus building architects
upper left: William Pereira (photo by George Carrigues); upper right: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (photo by Alison Martino); middle left: Albert C. Martin Sr. (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); middle right: Bruce Goff (photo from thepowerplayermag.com); lower left: Rem Koolhaas (photo by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times); lower right: Renzo Piano (photo by Museum Associates / LACMA)

He has proposed a courageous addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (“LACMA”). This museum campus has had a string of prominent designs of their time, from the 1965 concrete structures of William Pereira to the curious 1986 Post Post Modern addition of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Architects (my previous employer), from the 1994 purchase of the iconic Streamline Modern May Company department store by Albert C. Martin Sr. to the quirky yet poetic 1988 Pavilion for Japanese Art by Bruce Goff, and from the controversial 2004 unbuilt $300 million glass roof from Rem Koolhaas (my previous teacher, herehere and here) to the elegant but underwhelming 2008 and 2010 buildings of Renzo Piano.

Exterior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)
Interior view of Zumthor’s 2017 proposal for LACMA (photo from archdaily.com)

Contrasting all this noisy activity, Zumthor’s proposal is so elemental and simplistic that you have to wonder if this is pure genius, or is it a blob of ink that accidentally got turned into the $600 million dollar project?

However, this is how Zumthor excels. He generates ideas like we all did in architecture school or even as a child. Innocently.

Simple ideas come to us all, and if we stay true to our opening statement, then our architecture can result in greatness. But in the real world of client changes, limited budgets, unrealistic schedules, and construction shortcomings, our ideas of greatness are at best compromised. At worst, our ideas drown in a tidal wave of mediocre practicality and code compliance.

The Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo from arcspace.com)

Somehow, project after project, Zumthor keeps his conceptual visions alert and alive from the first day of the design process to the final day of construction. Take for example some of his concepts, such as this one for a hotel in Chile. The presentation appears to be no more than twigs, rocks and debris—literally. Yet , Zumthor addresses the mundane necessities of things like bathroom plumbing and air conditioning, or budget and constructability, and time after time, his final building parallels the essence of his first idea.

Presentation models for Zumthor’s Nomads of Atacama Hotel, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile (photo Peter Zumthor, Buildings and Projects, Volume 5)

If we common architects delivered such a presentation as the hotel above, in what seems like no more than a teenager’s effort, we would be laughed out of our client’s conference room. The genius of Peter Zumthor is almost Warholian. Not only are the ideas of Zumthor artistic in nature, but he is able to artfully convince a Board of Directors that his ideas are artistic and worth pursuing at all costs. As often critiqued, Andy Warhol’s genius was most profound not in the work, but rather, in how he convinced everyone that he was a genius.

Peers would not take this kind of cynicism with Zumthor. As the media discouraging called Zumthor’s LACMA scheme the “ink blob,” reminiscent of the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits, we had faith in our hero. This architect of poetry and practicality will work in the fire escapes and exit signs,  the desert sun beating through the enormous panes of glass, and the structural engineering to bridge over six lanes of traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.

Proposed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (photo from dezeen.com)

With recent museums in Los Angeles, such as The Broad , the Petersen , the above mentioned Renzo Piano buildings at LACMA, and the in-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures also by Piano, each of these projects will look like what happens when talented architects try too hard, yelling like a child for attention. And then, Zumthor walks in the room with grace and calmness.

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Zumthor (photo by Felipe Camus)

THE ROAD TO FRANK GEHRY: WHAT HAPPENED AT LACMA?

November 5, 2015

Gehry’s vulcanized fiber wall, LACMA, Los Angeles, California (photo by Lily Poon)

When The Simpsons make fun of your work, you have arrived, right?

Many think of architecture as a final product, such as a building, a park or a piece of furniture. Many forget about the creative journey that arrives at the final product.

Process and product—in life as in design, getting there is as gratifying as being there.

I ask this of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: why is the process that architect Frank Gehry is famously known for absent from your current exhibit?

left: Model of Gehry’s design for the Louis Vuitton Foundation, LACMA, Los Angeles, California (photo by Ella Poon); right: Louis Vuitton Foundation by Gehry, Paris, France (photo by Fondation Louis Vuitton)
left: Model of Gehry’s design for the Louis Vuitton Foundation, LACMA, Los Angeles, California (photo by Ella Poon); right: Louis Vuitton Foundation by Gehry, Paris, France (photo by Fondation Louis Vuitton)

Simply entitled “Frank Gehry,” LACMA delivers their latest blockbuster show. Now in his late 80’s, Gehry’s career has been showered with every accolade, i.e. AIA Gold Medal, Pritzker Prize, and the National Medal of Arts awarded by the U.S. President. So why did the museum capture five decades of Gehry’s work by displaying only two aspects: early sketches (the beginning) followed by a large physical model (the conclusion)?

Sure, there are other aspects in the show, like photographs and video clips. But where is the most fascinating aspect, Gehry’s artistic explorations? Well known for his ingenious studies—the process of drawing and drawing, building models of all sizes, variations and permutations, material and construction research, and innovative technological applications—these (samples below) are missing at LACMA.

left: Study models for the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by Hisao Suzuki); right: Sketches by Gehry for the Guggenheim Museum
left: Study models for the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by Hisao Suzuki); right: Sketches by Gehry for the Guggenheim Museum

Here’s what I think. Over the years, Gehry’s imaginative process has been unfortunately labeled by the mainstream as “crumpled paper.” When this architect designs, his studies do look like crumpled pieces of paper. Dozens of them. Hundreds of them.

Doomed, Gehry’s thoughtful research has been labeled not just formulaic, but cliché. Even my 10-year old daughter’s class studied his work, calling it crumpled wads of paper. As such, all the children giggle.

Clip from The Simpsons 2005 episode “The Seven-Beer Snitch”
Clip from The Simpsons 2005 episode “The Seven-Beer Snitch”

To reach the height of pop-culture zeitgeist, for better or for worse, a 2012 episode of The Simpsons parodied Gehry’s designs. Fictionally, Marge’s crumpled letters inspired one of Gehry’s most prominent buildings, the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Though Gehry cooperated with the TV show, he later stated how he is “haunted” by the Simpsons’ gag. Disappointed, Gehry confesses, “Clients come to me and say, crumple a piece of paper. We’ll give you $100, and then we’ll build it.”

I believe LACMA, or even Gehry himself, chose to counter the ill-fated wrinkled paper theme. But by doing so, perhaps too much has been edited out. The previous exhibit at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica curated a much more revealing and exciting show, presenting Gehry’s inner workings and the in-betweens.

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Gehry, Los Angeles, California (photo by Patrick Krabeepetcharat)
Walt Disney Concert Hall by Gehry, Los Angeles, California (photo by Patrick Krabeepetcharat)

Years back in Maui, I drove the legendary “Road to Hana.” When I arrived in Hana, I was dissatisfied by this small nondescript community. I then realized the point was not Hana itself, but rather, the road to Hana. I looked back at my delightful day—at how the 65-mile drive toured me through rain forests, waterfalls, beaches, bridges and the sunset.

In architecture and in life: think process and product. Enjoy the trek and smell the roses.

(Exhibit closes March 20, 2016, Frank Gehry, LACMA)

© Poon Design Inc.