September 22, 2017

(photo from jimjenningsarchitecture.com)

I am not referring to the acoustic engineering of a concert hall or the aural quality of a restaurant. Rather, all works of architecture have a certain artistic volume level, from blank mute to in-your-face loud. The visual and experiential clamor of a building can reverberate with a subtle hum, or brash feedback and distortion.

Here I list fifteen projects that represent the dynamic range of architecture’s capacity to blare, starting with silence and increasing to an uproar.

1. If you are wondering where the architecture is, that is exactly the point. The Tidal Pools de Leca da Palmeira intentionally blur the lines between nature and manmade. In so doing, Alvaro Siza (here and here) created a quiet structure for Porto, Portugal.

(photo from mimoa.eu)
(photo from uncubemagazine.com)

2. Present though voiceless, Jim Jennings’ Art Pool + Pavilion in Calistoga, California, provides the visitor nothing to relate to. The project is powerfully hush and abstract. (Black and white image above.)

3. Looking like not much more than a barn, rock star architect, Peter Zumthor, delivers a house/office, offering only a single window for scale. Here in Hadlerstein, Switzerland, Zumthor barely speaks and shows off his capacity for restraint.

4. The Benesse House in the Kagawa District of Japan does not need to yell to get your attention. Practicing a meditative Zen-like harmony, Tadao Ando’s (here and here) building is at noiseless peace.

(photo by Tadao Ando)

5. What appears to be a typical sacred building starts at first through its name, the “Cardboard Cathedral.” Then it hits you: Shigeru Ban literally used cardboard tubes for this New Zealand project.

(photo by Stephen Goodenough)

6. Like a child’s toy, a cylinder on top of a box comprises the Stockholm Public Library in Sweden. But for Gunnar Asplund, this is no simple toy. The sheer scale and volume makes the building’s presence loud and clear.

(photo from architectsjournal.co.uk)

7. Wang Shu’s China Academy of Art seems to be contextual with the vernacular of Hangzhou, China. But it is the architect’s details and use of materials in innovative ways that provide this project a slight degree of commotion.

(photo from npr.org)

8. For his Experimental House in Muuratsalo, Finland, Alvar Aalto generated an outcry with his brick patterns.

(photo from Architizer.com)

9. Rafael Moneo (here and here) used a cylinder, as did Asplund above. But for Moneo’s Atocha Train Station in Madrid, the crisp brick pillars form a cylinder in an untraditional way. And they resound with a majestic boom.

(photo from europaenfotos.com)

10. For a housing project cutely entitled “Xanadu,” Taller de Arquitectura (here and here) created something that demands more attention that your generic hillside apartment. In La Manzanera Alicante, Spain, Xanadu may have some items that appear to be normal, like clay tile, gable roofs, painted stucco and residential scale windows—but upon a second look, the overall composition is a hullabaloo.

(photo by Ricardo Bofill)

11. The green, glazed terra cotta, exterior tiles on this addition possesses a visual bark, especially in counterpoint to the traditional original building. In Sarasota, Florida, Macado Silvetti clearly wanted the Center for Asian Art to create a racket when having the new holler to the old.

(photo from machado-silvetti.com)

12. I typical attribute the work of Antonio Gaudi to jazz. His fantastical improvised vision of the world, seen here at Casa Batlo in Barcelona, breaks the rules of composition and color, resulting in an intuitive, lyrical work.

(photo from apetcher.wordpress.com)

13. The historic collaboration between Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, and Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron (here and here) offered up the 2008 Olympics’ Chinese National Stadium, also known as the famous “Bird’s Nest”. This artistic structure in Beijing blasted onto the world stage with its surreal knitting of massive steel members, alongside the building’s enormous presence.

(photo from hoesthetics.net)

14. This image of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas has not been distorted. Frank Gehry (here, here, herehere and here) designed an interior that has quite an uproar—one that questions if such noise is good for the purpose of this facility, the healthiness of one’s brain.

(photo from newsroom.clevelandclinic.org)

15. Similar to the Center for Asian Art, above, this Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto represents a dialogue between old and new. But here, Studio Libeskind’s (LINK best friends) new addition screams and cries for attention. The juxtaposition fascinates, but does architecture need to bellow like this?


December 9, 2016

The Model Shop at Gehry Partners, Los Angeles (photo by Thomas Mayer)

I got the job! Unfortunately.

Not too many architecture companies were hiring during the economic recession of the 90’s. Though I held an impressive piece of simulated parchment that stated in fancy calligraphy, “Master of Architecture,” I could only find temp work as a paralegal, basically a data entry person.

After two years, one of my hundreds of resumes reached the right person. I received a call from the offices of Frank O. Gehry and Partners!

Biomuseo, Panama (photo by Victoria Murillo)
Biomuseo, Panama (photo by Victoria Murillo)

Yes. FRANK GEHRY. The formidable architectural genius of his generation. The most important American architect since Frank Lloyd Wright.

Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (photo by Eve Wilson)
Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (photo by Eve Wilson)

The Gehry interviewer welcomed me, shook my hand, and examined my resume. With tie and blazer, I sat there thinking my application was solid: noteworthy degrees, years of experience in San Francisco and New York City, and a handful of letters of rec. I had my portfolio as well, but as you’ll see, we never got to that.

Showing no indication of being impressed, the interviewer asked dryly, “Do you know how to use a table saw? A band saw? A palm sander?”

I smiled confidently, “Yes, of course.” But I was starting to see where this meeting was going.

I realized that I was not being interviewed for an architectural position, not even a drafting role. I was being interviewed for the infamous “Model Shop,” where young professionals set their egos aside and laboriously, meticulously produce physical models of Gehry’s designs. Some were beautiful presentation models with the quality of fine furniture. Some were rough studies of an inkling of an idea that the genius architect dreamt up in his sleep.

Model Shop displaying the new Facebook Campus (photo from Facebook Corporate Communications)
Model Shop displaying the new Facebook Campus (photo by Facebook Corporate Communications)

Nonetheless, I swallowed my pride. I needed a job that was in my field, regardless of whether I was designing one of Gehry’s concert halls or emptying his trash can. Regardless of the backward step for my career arc, I expressed my most convincing enthusiasm about joining this Gehry organization. After all, my updated resume would carry one of the grandest architectural names of all time.

The interviewer congratulated me, “Okay, you got the job!”

Starting pay was a generous $8 an hour. Adding insult to injury, the interviewer then laid out the terms. Every year, each Model Shop employee gets an automatic raise. That sounded promising, until, with a weird congratulatory wink-wink-smile, he added, “Each year, you get 25 cents more on your hourly rate.”

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by David Giral)
Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by David Giral)

(Was this a joke? Did I hear wrong? I calculated that it would take me 16 years to get back to the salary of my first job as an entry-level architect in New York.)

I pushed back all the warnings in my head, and replied, “I would be honored,” again delivered with a convincing tone. I could not return to being a paralegal temp.

The tipping point was not a point, but a blow.

Winton Guest House, original location: Wayzata, Minnesota, current location: University of St. Thomas, Owatonna, Minnesota (photo from artribune.com)
Winton Guest House, original location: Wayzata, Minnesota, current location: University of St. Thomas, Owatonna, Minnesota (photo from artribune.com)

When the interviewer asked me when I could start the job, I responded, “In a week.”

“No, it must be much sooner,” demanded the interviewer.

I squealed, “How about in three days?”

He pressed, exclaiming, “No, even sooner.”

Frank Gehry at work (photo from Sketches of Frank Gehry)
Frank Gehry at work (photo from Sketches of Frank Gehry)

It was past 9 PM. The interviewer announced his command. “We have many deadlines, and I need you to take off that tie.” He pointed to a stack of plywood surrounded by tools, and with no wink-wink this time, he asserted, “Start your job NOW.”

At this point, the magic of the Pritzker-Prize-winning, AIA Gold Medalist Frank Gehry evaporated like a handprint on the surface of water.

I picked up my unseen portfolio, rejected the offer, and left the offices of Gehry. With my tie still on.

Within a year, I officially launched my own firm. Yes, my company also has a model shop. Just this morning, I used the band saw to cut my own pieces of plywood.

For more, read my review on the Gehry retrospective at LACMA.

© Poon Design Inc.