Tag Archives: MEDITATION


August 4, 2017

Patina’d signage of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Wabi-sabi: This Japanese aesthetic concept has been around for centuries. Today, in our worrisome world, Wabi-sabi has returned with a vengeance and popularity. This philosophy describes a type of beauty that is imperfect, ever changing, and even, wonderfully flawed.

Intensely and vividly sculpted, Auguste Rodin’s sculptures displayed a desire to express an incomplete craft. Rather than the predictably perfect, classical marble sculpture, this 19th century French artist’s works are imperfect sculptures from the human hand. And he is eager to display his flawed humanity.

In Rodin’s finished pieces, one can see the imprints of his tools and fingers—and even his fingernails.

left: An example of sculpting clay in preparation for final bronze, though not Rodin (photo from philippefaraut.com); right: Honore de Balzac by Rodin (photo from nevalee.wordpress.com)

At Poon Design Inc., certain projects request that we celebrate what might be wrongly judged as flaws and inconsistencies in our architecture. We prefer hand-crafted architecture, not things machine-made or mass-produced. Like jazz, like weathering, like life with patina, our architecture expresses the perfection of imperfection. Or even the imperfection of perfection.

left: Design inspiration of a bird’s nest (photo from community.qvc.com); right: Meditation retreat house, guardrail made from industrial piping and hemp twine, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

If technology in design and fabrication produces items that are  too perfect, then technology can be a crutch. Although technology has made our production efforts efficient, technology has also made our activities too textbook-finished. Today, we can design any kind of wall pattern on a laptop, and then have water jet or laser cutting machinery create that exact pattern on several large slabs of marble or steel panels. With a push of a button, the quality is flawless, the exercise is easy, and the pattern is perfect. But perhaps too perfect.

left: Design inspiration of motion within silk cloth; right: Parking structure, fabric pattern represented in water-jet cut perforated metal panels, Irvine Spectrum Center, California, by Poon Design

If too perfect, is such a work impressive? Where is the human hand?

left: The graphic density of a classical music score; right: The graphic lightness of a jazz music score
Me performing Khachaturian’s Toccata in E Flat minor, at the 2012 Architects in Concert, “Unfrozen Music”

The graphic weight of a classical music score suggests a complete work, while the jazz score wants more notes. A jazz score is beautifully incomplete and imperfect. No matter how many musicians fill in the missing notes, the music may never be perfect. And folks, this is okay.

When I practice my classical repertory, it is at times painful and laborious—as I try so hard to hit each of the 500,000 notes perfectly. I strive for perfection, truth and the absolute.

In jazz, I am given only a basic outline. A jazz player fixates little on classical perfection. Jazz is intuitive and improvisational. As I stated that life with patina is good, jazz music encourages patina, imperfections and powerful individuality.

Detail of Buenos Aires-inspired ironwork at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

In classical music, when a wrong note is played, it is quickly buried under a flurry of other notes. When a mistake is made in a jazz performance, that ‘mistake’ is exploited as a wonderful and positive thing. The jazz musician will bang on that wrong note a few more times to make sure the audience hears it. The performer makes something new and special out of the wrong note. Wabi-sabi.

left: inspiration of African basket making (photo by Holt Renfrew); right: Exterior light fixtures made from actual handmade baskets shipped from the African commune called Ten Thousand Villages, installed at the outdoor dining of Chaya Downtown, fabricated and designed by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)


July 20, 2015

Buddhist Temple by Poon Design

In its purest form, architecture is shelter. Architecture protects us from many things. It shelters us from the elements, like soaking rain or blistering sun. Architecture also defends—from trespassers or the relentless noise of the city.

But architecture is more than a roof over your head, more than a wall against intruders. Architecture is more than psychological armor, and more than a physical fortress. Architecture is much more than something that guards us from the negative.

In fact, architecture is a container of the positive. As a place of gathering, architecture is a vessel of experiences and events, whether for a family in a house, students in a school, or employees at a company.

Architecture is a place to rest. To learn. To grow. To connect. Architecture is also a place to retreat.

Assembly Building by Poon Design
Assembly Building by Poon Design

For a 45-acre Buddhist retreat in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, Poon Design created three buildings, with more to come. Our buildings were designed with no agendas to win national design awards or garnish attention from the press, as did the ambitious yet curious museum in a nearby town. For Poon Design’s work with the Buddhists, I had no political thoughts to advance my career. I had no proclamations of launching a new style of design. Poon Design simply sought to create vessels for gathering.

Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia, by Randall Stout Architects (photo by skyscrapercity.com)
Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, Virginia, by Randall Stout Architects (photo from skyscrapercity.com)

To begin with, I was blessed to be selected as the personal architect to Shamar Rinpoche (1952-2014) the 14th Shamarpa and the Red Hat Lama of Tibet, one of the most central figures of Buddhism, on par with the Dalai Lama. It isn’t every day one works personally with a high Tibetan lama descended from a line of holy men going back to the 13th Century.

Being in Rinpoche’s enlightened presence intimated to me that the architecture should plainly defer. Over six years with this Buddhist foundation, Poon Design created places to simply rest, learn, grow, and connect. We designed a temple, a meditation retreat house, and an assembly building.

Meditation Retreat House by Poon Design
Meditation Retreat House by Poon Design

By being of modest design, our architecture acknowledges Buddhists teachings. Poon Design starts with vernacular language, for example a wood barn and a gable roof. When Googling “vernacular,” one finds the definition as “the language spoken by the ordinary people in a particular region,” and “architecture concerned with domestic and functional rather than monumental buildings.”

So there it is: architecture that is intentionally non-monumental. The beauty of the ordinary.

Buddhist Temple by Poon Design, blessing ceremony with Shamar Rinpoche (photo by Christine Fang)
Buddhist Temple by Poon Design, blessing ceremony with Shamar Rinpoche (photo by Christine Fang)

With the Buddhist temple, we subscribe to the vernacular–both in construction method and the stylistically neutral design. This pavilion, atop a 150-foot hill, is hand-crafted by community labor through authentic heavy timber construction methods. This methodology transforms tree trunks into extraordinary structures, without modern techniques of fabrication. The laborious carpentry from local woodworking artisans features joinery that uses scribed carpentry and pegged mortise-and-tenon connections.

The evolving master plan explores other possibilities: visitor center, museum, dormitory, cabins, administration building, and so on. When all said and done, the structures will be indeed shelter. And yes, the structures will provide a roof over one’s head. But all these projects, past and future, capture two essential aspects of architecture: to accommodate and to defer. A lesson in design, and sometimes, in life as well.

© Poon Design Inc.