Tag Archives: MICHAEL WEBB

LIVE LEARN EAT INTERVIEW PART 2 OF 2: RESTAURANTS BY POON DESIGN INC.

April 30, 2021

A wall of honed sandstone at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

(The complete Zoom interview is here, and part 1 on school design is here. The book, Live Learn Eat, is available at Amazon and your local retailers. Excerpts below.)

Michael Webb: Let’s finally get to restaurants. You’ve designed more than 50 varied examples, working on both generous and frugal budgets. Like schools, restaurants have to accommodate all their uses in the kitchen and dining area, and in between. How do you choreograph those movements?

Anthony Poon: That’s a good word, Michael, choreography.

Architect Anthony Poon and author Michael Webb on Zoom; lower image: pages of Live Learn Eat, displaying Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California (photo by Mark Ballogg)

All of us who go to restaurants spend time in the dining room, at the bar, or the outdoor patio. Behind the walls is a tremendous amount of activity. Roughly 50% of a floor plan goes to the back of house. It’s like a theater where one sees the play—sees what’s presented to them at the front of the stage—but they are not explicitly aware of all the activity going on behind stage, all the people running around. In the case of restaurants, there’s dozens of people in the kitchen with 30 cooktops, waiters dashing around, dishwashers, circulation moving everywhere—all while trying to present the most elegant dining experience for the user.

We choreograph all this—like a football coach with his green board, drawing X’s and O’s in chalkboard lines—to understand how a waiter needs to move from spot A to spot B, and not conflict with diners coming in for their nice anniversary dinner. There’s quite a lot of planning before we even get to choosing, for example, light fixtures and materials.

Concept diagram for Din Tai Fung, Americana at Brand, Glendale, California

Michael: A lot of this is both physical, but also intangible. Restaurants define themselves by their cuisine, their service, and the atmosphere, the feel of the place, the acoustics, the way that everybody dresses. There are places that are super casual, others that are more formal. How do you bring all those things together in a seamless whole?

Kit-o-parts model for Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Poon Design)

Anthony: We offer to our restaurants what we call comprehensive design. It starts with looking at the type of cuisine and the service model. It might be the handcrafted sandwiches of our client, Mendocino Farms. It could be the world famous dumplings of the Chinese restaurant, Din Tai Fung. We look to how their ideas can be represented in the architecture, but space-making goes far beyond architecture. For a lot of our restaurant clients, we have designed the architecture and the interior design, of course, but also bring in landscape ideas and lighting design. Also, we custom design furniture, and handle graphic design, the branding, website, and for some clients, even evaluate their uniform design.

Graphic design for the Chaya restaurants, by Sue and Danny Yee with Poon Design

And then comes the music. Architecture is more than the experience you feel as you walk into a restaurant. As a musician, I believe that music is part of that architecture. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a restaurant and the general manager has plopped in his iPod, and it’s just playing his playlist, a selection of music irrelevant to the style and flavor of the dining room.

At Poon Design, we feel that music should support the ideas of the chef. It’s the same way that some might say, “Let’s look at the way sunlight moves through the day, through the windows, through the restaurant.” We ask the same thing. What kind of music should be playing at lunchtime when the professionals arrive? At happy hour when everyone’s celebrating the end of an exhausting workday? What’s the appropriate music for fine dining? As a crowd winds down for late night drinks or dessert, what’s the kind of music for that? We think of music the same way we think of lighting design, the same way we pick the fabric for a banquette, or the wood stain for the tabletops. It’s all a comprehensive, integrated experience.

Artisanal plaster arches made by hand in Marrakesh, Morocco, and installed at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California (photos by Poon Design and Marrakesh Designs Ltd.)

Just one last aspect, Michael, you’ve mentioned the acoustics. That plays into the quality of experience as well. I’m sure many of you have been to restaurants where you sit three feet from your friends, and you can barely hear their voices, because there’s such a loud ringing in the restaurant. Finally, you leave the restaurant after 90 minutes realizing your throat is sore from having yelled so much, and your ears are ringing from all the reverberation.

Sushi Noguchi, Yorba Linda, California (photo by Poon Design)

Part of the quality of the restaurant architecture is not just what it looks like but what it feels like—to all the senses. For music, that’s the ears. But we have to also bring our technical experience with acoustic engineering to control the sound, give a wonderful environment that is not just visual, but that is physical, that is aural.

Michael: I’d been told that restaurants actually welcome noise, because people drink more and eat faster, and therefore, the turnover and the profit is greater—that there is actually a kind of country movement against quiet acoustics of the kind that existed when there were carpets, upholstery, curtains, and all the old-fashioned things that we remember from long ago in restaurants. Now it’s all hard reverberant surfaces.

Anthony: All of our restaurants clients want their spaces to have a certain buzz—a kind of energy sounding through the room. No one wants to walk in and feel like it’s the university library where it’s too quiet. People go to restaurants for social contact, to be amongst a community of people, similarly to the difference between watching a movie at home on Netflix vs. going to a theater with a large group. There are people you might not even know, but that’s a certain valuable social experience.

Elliptical wine room with shaped slatted ceiling at Heritage Fine Wines, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Most restaurants will want music playing with a certain hum of sound, but it’s about controlling that, like playing the restaurant as if it’s an instrument. Like a musician, you tune it to the right feel. Some restaurants want a certain hyper energy during happy hour, where there’s loud music and a pulse. Other restaurants want that elegant, fine dining experience.

We start by looking to the restaurateur and asking them, what is your experience? Then we tune it to what they want as an identity, an acoustic identity. Just as a quick lesson, we explain to our clients what we call the ABC of acoustic design. A meaning absorb, B meaning block, and C meaning cover.

Chandelier of 1,500 recycled plastic toys and collectibles by a collaboration of Stuart Haygarth and Poon Design, Venetian-influenced mirror décor, and custom furniture, at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

We choose materials to absorb what we want to absorb. You mentioned carpet. That’s a great material, but of course, very hard to maintain. There are so many other materials that could be used to absorb sound.

Block is about blocking out the sound no one wants to hear. No one wants to hear noises from the kitchen and washing dishes. So we want to block that as well as other back of house sounds—the restrooms, or the cars outside.

Cover is thinking about what sounds you want to cover and what you want to let in. If you’re on an outside patio on a busy street, you may want to cover the sound of cars honking, but you might want to pick up some of the energy of the city. You can cover unwanted noise with music. You can cover that with a fountain.

Michael: One of your star clients in Southern California was Din Tai Fung, who you mentioned earlier. The global chain that moved from its original place in Taiwan. Why do people line up for hours to get in? And what do they expect when they get in?

Entry with a restoration of a mid-century structure at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

Anthony: People have waited several hours, even as much as five hours in the San Francisco location to get in. Visitors are expecting a lot, not just from the quality of the food, but also the experience, the service, and of course, the interior design and architecture. We’re proud to be the architect for the restaurant institution that the New York Times have named “one of the top 10 restaurants in the world.”

Design-wise, there were two main themes. The first: Din Tai Fung is famous for their dumplings, of which every day, they hand-make roughly between 50,000 to 100,000 dumplings per location. Folded carefully by hand, each fold represents a different artistic style and what the content is within the dumpling, releasing flavors and aromas as it goes into your mouth. We featured the dumpling-making as a theatrical element. As you enter, there is a large glass exhibition kitchen that presents all the dumpling makers as they’re making dumpling one by one, by hand. And the entire restaurant centers around this one activity, this one architectural feature. People come, even people not dining, just to sit there and watch this artistry in real time.

Dumpling exhibition kitchen at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

The second design aspect was this: Din Tai Fung is a traditional Chinese restaurant with cuisine and ideas from quite a legacy of family recipes. But this restaurant did not, in our minds, want to be a Chinese theme park, not a Chinese Disneyland. The clients were not interested in golden dragons, red silk cloths, phoenixes, and Chinese calligraphy. So we reinterpreted the legacy, both in aesthetics and in technique.

For example, we studied the traditional Asian, wood, privacy screens. Then we re-envisioned the traditional patterns, modernized them, and gave it a contemporary graphic feel. We took sheets of walnut plywood and water-jet cut our patterns, a new technique, or laser cut metal plates, then powder coated a finish. It’s a way of blending new construction techniques with traditional ideas, respecting Asian heritage and history, but also looking to the future.

Din Tai Fung, Americana at Brand, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

Michael: Din Tai Fung can afford to do it in a very sophisticated way, but a lot of restaurateurs are working on a shoestring, and don’t want to burden themselves with a huge overhead before they proved themselves. Even some of the most important restaurants in L.A. has started in a very modest way. And when your clients have a tight budget, how do you make the best use of that?

Internally LED-lit walls of 3-form acrylic panels at Memphis, Manhattan Beach, California (photo by Sean Rosenthal)

Anthony: Most of our restaurant clients aren’t the big famous Michelin-rated ones. A a number of our clients have been small businesses—even a first restaurant cobbling together through family and friends, their first budget to launch a restaurant. We have to respect that, to know there are limits, and pick our design battles. We decide where best to spend money, being thoughtful and efficient in using dollars.

Custom furniture: outdoor benches wrapped in artificial grass and dining tables with adjustable legs made from plumbing parts, at Mendocino Farms, Marina del Rey, California (photos by Poon Design)
Chalk art at Mendocino Farms, FIGat7th, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)

It also has to do with the conceptual approach. Mendocino Farms was one of our clients of which we’ve done one then several of their restaurants. We achieved a wonderful aesthetic through their interests in hand-crafted sandwiches within a kind of gastropub feel.

That gave us the opportunity to explore materials in a new way, to use industrial components, or maybe building materials right off the shelf. For example, plumbing parts were used to make the legs of a tabletop that looks cool and also adjustable in height. Or chalkboard paint on the walls with large chalk murals.

For the location near the Grove, each chandelier was made of chicken wire with 400 wooden clothes pins attached. It created a beautiful lighting effect, affordable too, and captures the aesthetic of that restaurant.

Chandelier at Mendocino Farms, 3rd and Fairfax, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)
Gold Rush, 18″ x 24″, November 2018

Michael: We’ve discussed the three themes of the monograph—homes, schools, and restaurants—but you have many other talents. You’re a classically trained pianist, an accomplished artist, published author, and your eight-person firm has tackled many other commissions from sacred spaces, to graphics, furniture and lighting design. How have you been able to achieve so much with such modest resources?

Anthony: I like to think of the metaphor of the jazz ensemble or maybe the small orchestra. We’re all highly trained and intelligent designers. We bring different unique talents, whether it’s interior design, lighting design, or construction expertise, maybe a graphics person. Everyone at Poon Design has multiple interests outside of the architecture field too, from photography to writing to studying history. We even had a literal rocket scientist on our staff for five years, who studied architecture at UCLA.

Cover and pages of Life Learn Eat, displaying WV Mixed-Use Project, Manhattan Beach, California (photo by Gregg Segal) Book published by ORO Editions.

We assemble together all these talents and work organically. Our studio is a collaboration of everyone putting ideas together, bouncing off each other—similar to some of the ideas that jazz music represents, such as improvisation and spontaneity. I think it’s that kind of freedom and thinking that allows a smaller team to set forth some pretty big ideas.

Michael: What are your ambitions for the next decade, once we’re through the pandemic?

Anthony: We’re hoping to continue our design ambitions on a larger scale. We already work on projects from schools to restaurants, sacred structures, churches, mixed-use, and cultural projects. And it’s all for a sense of community, neighborhood, equality, and equity. We will continue what we do, but for a broader civic audience, and touch as many people as we can, as many participants of the public that want to engage good architecture and design.

Doheny Plaza, West Hollywood, California, by Poon Design (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

LIVE LEARN EAT INTERVIEW PART 1 OF 2: SCHOOLS BY POON DESIGN INC.

November 13, 2020

Pages of Live Learn Eat: Greenman Elementary School and Preschool, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, A4E, and Cordogan, Clark & Associates (photo by Mark Ballogg)

(The complete Zoom interview is here, and edited excerpts are below. The book, Live Learn Eat, is available at Amazon and your local retailers.)

Christine Anderson: Thank you for joining us today for a lively talk about a fabulous new book on the work of architect and artist, Anthony Poon, entitled Live Learn Eat. Our author, the noted architecture and design writer, Michael Webb, knows a good deal about living, learning, and eating—as he has traveled all over the world and has written a new memoir called Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering. Let’s take a deep dive into the design world of Anthony Poon.

Live Learn Eat Zoom event with Michael Webb and Anthony Poon, by CA+D, August 15, 2020

Michael Webb: Yes, it’s true. I have spent half my life traveling abroad and writing about the best new architecture, but sometimes I make exciting discoveries in my own backyard. As a prime example, I give you Anthony Poon of Poon Design Inc., whom I describe as a pragmatic perfectionist, an architect who obsesses over the details, but has a firm grasp of function and value. I had the great pleasure of writing a monograph on Anthony, Live Learn Eat, which is being published this week. Live Learn Eat explores three typologies in which Poon has designed and excelled; houses, schools, and restaurants. If you think about it, living, learning, and eating are some of the most basic human activities, and typically they promote social interaction. Please join Anthony and I as we discuss his timely and timeless designs.

Metal/wood shop and central hallway at the Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, A4E, and Cordogan, Clark & Associates (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Let’s talk school design, which is a field in which you’ve excelled. You and a colleague (Gaylaird Christopher) master-planned an entire school district in Illinois, enhancing/rebuilding and/or designing from ground up 18 different schools. What did you learn from that?

Anthony Poon: Our approach to educational projects, PreK to 12 and higher education, focuses on the teachers and students. A lot of conventional school projects start with only the utilitarian program of how many classrooms, how many students in a classroom, square footages, how much storage do you get? Instead, we said, “Let’s look more closely at the educational curriculum and philosophy of each of these schools, and see how we can capture that in our architecture.”

We think of a school design as an open textbook. We believe that every aspect of the building can teach. And we look to the teachers and ask, “How do you teach, and what can we do to support the way the students learn?” So, for example, if this is an elementary school that supports the idea of flexible co-teaching, we would design the classrooms with walls as movable partitions, where two or three classrooms can come together and learn as a group.

Anthony Poon’s design sketch for the Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, with A4E

We’ve even used floor patterns to teach. For example, to introduce students as they approach the math wing in a high school, the flooring shows mathematical notations. Or as you walk down the hall to the music room, our floor design displays the music score of the high school fight song, which allows students to walk, skip on the notes, and actually hum them, as they walk into the music room. So, it’s looking at every opportunity in the architecture to say, “What are we teaching, how can these students learn, not just from their teachers, but from the actual building itself?”

Interior studies by Anthony Poon; Garage doors connecting classrooms to a communal learning environment at the Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, A4E, and Cordogan, Clark & Associates (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Michael: Which again, introduces some basic issues of what makes a school building function well, for both the students and the teachers who have different needs, and perhaps parents who come to visit. But there’s always that complexity of interaction between different people, different groups, different students. Talk, if you will, about that, what is at the core of designing the school?

Anthony: It’s an ongoing topic, as we’re talking with some of our educational clients about the future of schools? Of course, there’s the proportion of the classroom and the number of students that would allow for certain physical distancing during this pandemic. But, what we are really looking at is the core ways that a school functions. For example, fresh air has always been relevant in the quality of a classroom. But over the years with air conditioning and mechanical systems, we’ve conditioned these classrooms so tightly that the idea of fresh air—the idea that a student can open up a window and let air in—doesn’t seem to be an option. With where schools are now, the idea of air, as it’s being studied by our office clients and restaurant clients too, is a critical aspect.

Roll up garage door connects the special education classroom with the exterior gardens at the Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon and A4E (photo by Gregory Blore)

Just the way students move through a campus, whether it’s higher education or a preschool campus, is critical to their life at school. The school is the existence that students have as the first entry into being a civil servant and a part of a community outside of their home.

Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (renderings by Amaya)

As they move through a school, we want to really map this out, not just in terms of the function and making sure they can all get off the bus and not get overcrowded at the front door and get to the classroom, but study where they socialize, where they form their network of communities. Think of it almost like a mini city. We’re sort of urban planning how people meet, how they react, how they respond to each other, or when necessary, just move along as efficiently as possible.

Greenman Elementary School and Preschool, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, A4E, and Cordogan, Clark & Associates (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Michael: I imagine that most school boards are working on a very tight budget and that cost is a very critical factor. Unlike houses, schools get a lot of hard knocks. Students can be very destructive, kind of aggressive. And how do you balance those two things? You can’t use cheap materials, or finishes because they’re just going to look horrible in no time at all. Yet you have to stay within the set budgets.

Anthony: You mentioned our schools in the Chicago area (for example, Greenman Elementary School and Herget Middle School). The publicly funded budgets were reduced, very economical. And you’re right, Michael, if you asked anyone who runs a school, they’ll say it’s one of the most abused buildings. I think the kids haven’t yet learned to care for their environment. So our buildings need to be durable, affordable, and easy to maintain over the next five years, 10 years, even 50 years.

It’s about how you use materials and where you apply them. With one of our projects (Feather River Academy), for example, we used concrete block for the walls—very durable, indestructible actually, and extremely affordable. But if you use that kind of gray concrete block as it comes off the shelf, the school is going to look like a prison. We used different colors, different finishes from smooth and ground face to split face. Then created striking patterns. To soften the concrete block, we added planks of redwood, but up high on the wall, which allowed the wood to stand against anyone who’s looking to vandalize the surface.

Redwood siding, grey ground face concrete block, and black split face concrete block comprise the exterior of the administration building at the Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon and A4E (photo by Gregory Blore)

Michael: Smaller firms like yours are getting squeezed out of this educational market by large firms. The same in the healthcare industry that specialize and, in fact, are grinding out very similar solutions for very different problems. Talk about the need for fresh thinking and what you can bring to a typology that a big firm is probably not going to.

Anthony: The words “expertise” or “experience” are some things that a lot of clients seek. As we pursue projects, a client might ask to see our last five completed high schools in the last five years, which is a difficult statistic to meet as a boutique design studio, maybe easier to meet if you’re a 500-person architectural corporation. But clients have to also be careful that “experience” from some companies may fall into the trap of a cookie cutter solution, where those architects too quickly go to their library of past design solutions and replicate them for new clients.

Pages of Live Learn Eat: Anthony Poon’s concept sketches for the Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California

That’s the opposite of the way we approach things. We want all our schools, actually all our projects, to be as customized to our clients as possible: to understand each of our clients, what the mission statement is, to tell their story, to talk about their successes and even maybe some battle scars and lessons learned. We will make a project that is unique to every institution and every educational client that we’re working with. We look for clients that understand the value of design. If they are looking for a big firm to crank out a school design, one they’ve seen often and repeated in the district, Poon Design is not the right fit. We’re the one that wants to learn who you are, who your students are, and how your teachers teach. And we want to create something unique to you.

Study model and overall view of the Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, A4E, and Cordogan, Clark & Associates (photo by Mark Ballogg)

THE GIFTERS PODCAST, PART 2 OF 2: PROBLEM SOLVING, PRESENTATION, AND PUBLICATIONS

September 25, 2020

Steampunk-inspired sketch by Anthony Poon

Please enjoy more excerpts from Christopher Kai’s podcast series with me, The Gifters: Your Story is a Gift to the World. (episode 209). Excerpts from part one are here.

Christopher Kai: If you do not share your voice, your voice won’t be heard, and if your voice isn’t heard, you’re never really going to do what you say you want to do. What do you think architects know that other people might not, relative to the thinking process?

My sold out panel discussion on architecture and music at the Wende Museum with Culver City Mayor, Thomas Small, and architects, Stephen Ehrlich, Whitney Sanders, and Craig Webb from Gehry Partners. I performed Brahm’s Intermezzo in A, Opus 118, No. 2. (photo by Betsy Staes)

Anthony Poon: I think of two things. The first is architects are trained to be problem solvers. They’re trained to examine a broad number of topics all at one time, and look for solutions and options, prototype and test, and do a lot of what the business world is calling Design Thinking. It’s all a skill set that can apply to cooking a meal in your kitchen, to designing a library, to even raising children.

The other thing in architecture—as you talk about communication and presentation—is that though a lot of architects are talented, and though everyone has great ideas in their head, the key part is to be able to tell these stories, to present a narrative. You have to make a convincing presentation to the client, whether it is a husband and wife, board president of a museum, or decision makers at the university. You have to be able to communicate your ideas, and you have to do it convincingly. You have to tell them the why, how it’s important to them, and what the value is that they get out of your design ideas. If you don’t do this well, then you’re just a lonely poet sitting in your bedroom, jotting things down on a private piece of paper, but not getting your ideas out there.

Christopher: You get to create an idea, put it on paper, and then literally see it coming to fruition in an actual building. Tell us a little bit about your book because you’re also an author as well.

Sticks and Stones / Steel and Glass: One Architect’s Journey, by Anthony Poon (photo by Anthony Poon)

Anthony: I have two books published and one in the works. The book that came out three years ago is called Sticks and Stones / Steel and Glass: One Architect’s Journey. It’s a book that was inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. If you know that book, he reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of running restaurants and the food service industry. I took that model giving a behind-the-scenes look at the architecture world. My book is part autobiographical, part behind the scenes, part rants and raves, and part essays.

The second book is coming out next month on Amazon, called Live Learn Eat. It’s edited by the acclaimed author, Michael Webb, who spearheaded this project. It is a large format book on our architectural work at Poon Design Inc., and there are three chapters. Live presents our ideas about affordable and attainable housing. Learn is a chapter on our work in the education world—designing schools, K through 12 and preschools too. And the final chapter Eat, are our projects in hospitality, bars, restaurants. Together, it’s kind of a triple threat book.

Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, edited by Michael Webb (photo by Anthony Poon)

Lastly, my third book, in the works, is a fictional book. I’m calling it an ‘architectural thriller’ in which several architects compete for a famous project in San Francisco: the conversion of Alcatraz Island into a new world museum. It’s a book of intrigue, a book of murder—talks about ego and arrogance, vanity and legacy, passion and desire. Architects start to mysteriously die off during the design competition. A John Grisham-type of thriller meets Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead.

The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand (photo by Anthony Poon)

Christopher: Anthony, thanks so much for being on The Gifters podcast. If you want to learn from a person that has such an eclectic and diverse palette of skillsets, definitely check out Anthony Poon.

LIVE LEARN EAT: A NEW BOOK ON THE WORK OF POON DESIGN INC.

July 24, 2020

Edited by Michael Webb and internationally published by ORO Editions

So many books with so many beautiful photos of architecture; so many coffee-table books of extraordinary designs, heroic forms, and exquisite details. When approached about creating a book on our work, I hesitated. I did not want to propose yet another catalog of glossy pictures. If I were to offer a monograph (as this type of book is often called) to a broad audience of design enthusiasts, I wanted this book to tell a story, to display our creative journey and hopefully prove a thesis or two.

WV Mixed-Use Project, Manhattan Beach (photo by Gregg Segal)
Linea Modern, Palm Springs, California (photo by James Butchart)

Spearheaded and edited by acclaimed architectural critic, Michael Webb, and entitled Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, the “triple-threat” publication features our work in three areas: homes, schools, and restaurants. With all three, we not only strive to make our architecture handsome and striking, but we also communicate ideas, expressing everything from our culture and the community we live in, to the specific needs of each client. We call this content; each and every client of ours has ambitions for their existence, memories of past successes, and lessons learned. This is the basis for our design process.

Greenman Elementary School, School District 129, Aurora, Illinois (drawing by Anthony Poon w/ A4E)
STEM lab, under construction, Berkeley Hall School, Los Angeles, California

I enjoy looking at how ideas are conceived. How did the architect get here? What are the hundred steps, missteps, and side steps—from the very first sketch on the back of a napkin to the finished project? A monograph should dedicate some of the graphic real estate of the pages to the journey, showing the roses that are noticed along the path, as well as the thorns.

Din Tai Fung, The Americana at Brand, Glendale, California (sketch by Anthony Poon, photo by Gregg Segal)
Mendocino Farms, Fig at 7th, Los Angeles, California (photo by Poon Design)

For a recent podcast, the interviewer asked me, “Of your various activities, what creative pursuit do you like best?” Akin to the challenges of identifying one’s favorite rock band or flavor of ice cream, there is no reasonable answer. Do I like playing a Brahms Intermezzo more than writing a position article on the design industry? Do I enjoy working on a large mixed-media art piece more than designing a Buddhist temple? I don’t see any such exercises as separate, or, in any way, independent from each other. Artistic endeavors are not discrete. All my investigations, experiments, tests, and failures fall under the shelter of a single umbrella, a simultaneous effort—that of a creative voyage with no starting point, and, excitingly, no end in sight.

226 pages, 9 1/2″ by 9 1/2″, hard cover, fully illustrated

Internationally published by ORO Editions. Receive a 20% discount when ordering directly from the publisher through August. This book is also available now on Amazon and your local retailers.

Stay tuned for our next two books. One is the second volume, Work Shop Pray. This monograph will feature our designs for offices and work places, retail projects, and sacred structures. For the other book, I have authored an architectural novel. Taking place in present day San Francisco, architects are being murdered as they compete for a new museum at the infamous Alcatraz Island. The 350-page tale of murder and intrigue examines ego and arrogance within the creative process

THE ARCH PODCAST, FORM MAGAZINE, 1 OF 3: STORYTELLING THROUGH ART

October 4, 2019

Skull Painting, 44” x 52”, by Anthony Poon (2018)

Carol Bishop: Hi, this is Carol Bishop with Form: Pioneering Design. Thank you for joining The Arch, connecting and supporting the arts and design community. Today, we are fortunate to have Anthony Poon of Poon Design Inc. Poon Design is a multi-disciplinary studio in architecture, interiors, and place making. In addition, Anthony is a noted artist, musician, and author. To begin, I’d like to welcome you, Anthony, and ask you to give us an introduction.

Recording session for The Arch Podcast with Carol Bishop (photo by The Arch)

Anthony Poon: Thank you and good morning, Carol. I’m excited to be here. My professional focus is Poon Design Inc. We are an architecture company in Los Angeles, and we focus on a diversity of projects from residential to commercial, from mixed-use to sacred projects, educational projects as well as hospitality, restaurants and retail. I would say that’s my job. It’s what I do when I go to work. But my passion is actually any form of creative expression, whether it is architecture, music, writing, or painting.

The annual tuning of my 1957 Lindeman spinet piano (photo by Anthony Poon)

Carol: Well, let’s take that a little bit further because I’d like to know what led you to become an architect, musician, artist, writer, and how you balance these and what the connections are between them.

Anthony: It’s all about creative expression. It’s about communication. It’s about having ideas about the world, about culture, about society, and finding ways in which I can express that, that I can communicate that to an audience. It could be through the design of a library, it could be through the design of a park, it could be through performing music or composing. It could be through writing an essay, or painting a painting, or making a sculpture. In all forms of these artistic expressions, they’re all communicating something that I want to say.

Carol: Let’s take that as a starting point. Often, when you’re doing music or art, it’s a solitary experience. You’re honing your skills, you’re problem-solving what media to use. How do you marry idea and communication with that part of the structures of working in the arts?

Anthony: I would disagree that it is a solitary exercise. In every form of artistic experimentation, there is an audience. If I’m designing a building, if it’s a house, the audience or the client, is a family. If I’m designing a performing arts center, theater, or a concert hall, the audience would be the people that come to visit—to hear an event. If I am playing a piece of music, it could be for an audience of one, it could be for some friends or family, or it could be for hundreds of people at a recital. When I paint, when I do some mixed-media explorations, I’m thinking that this is not a piece just for me, that this is a piece to share with the world that could end up in someone’s living room. Even though I may be at my piano by myself, or at my studio with a canvas by myself, or with my sketchbook sitting at the gas station, the circumstances may be that I am in a solo mode, but the goal is to share something with a larger audience.

The audience (photo from business2community.com)

Carol: When you say that your designs have ideas, are you talking about stories or narratives? How do you integrate that into your work?

Anthony: Design is storytelling. What we do when we start a project is to learn as much as we can about the client, whether the client is a family or a corporation. It could be a restaurant or a hotel. We want to hear their stories. We want to hear their ambitions, their agendas, their success stories as well as maybe some battle scars. We want to know what they dream of and what they envision for their future.

If it’s a house, someone might tell us about some Thanksgiving dinner they envision throwing in a wonderful dining room—or a child sitting at a bay window reading a book and the way the sun comes through the leaves on the nearby tree. If it’s a restaurant, the client might tell us a story about the cuisine, how they approach getting their ingredients and how they prepare their meals. If it’s a school, there’s definitely an educational manifesto, what the curriculum is and what the methodology is for teaching.

We listen to all of this, and it becomes the story. It becomes what we call content. It is such pieces of information, facts, and stories that become the basis for how we design a building.

Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, a soon-to-be-published book by ORO Publishers, edited by Michael Webb, available early 2020

Carol: I know your second book (first one here ) is coming out called, Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, and so I’m very interested in it. Can you tell me something about it?

Anthony: This book is coming out hopefully the end of the year. It’s being published by ORO Publishers, a very prestigious international publishing group. This book is spearheaded by Michael Webb, the well-known architectural writer and critic. We’re honored that he has decided to lead this project. Michael came up with this incredible theme for us, Live, Learn, Eat—to suggest that this book covers three different categories of our work. “Live” obviously means our residential work, and that’s both custom design as well as tract housing. “Learn” is our educational work, our schools. “Eat” would be our bars and restaurants. As far as we know, we don’t think a book like this exists. There are plenty of books on architects designing homes. That’s the majority of books you’ll find at Barnes & Noble. There are many architects who specialize in restaurants, and there are the K-12 / higher education big firms that specialize in such.

Our monograph is a unique triple-threat book that shows how we operate at all scales and for many different kinds of clients. It makes me think with our increasing body of work and interest in many different project types, this theme can become an ongoing series of books about us over the years. We can do a book called something like, Play Work Pray, for example. “Play” could be our recreational projects. “Work” is our office buildings, and “Pray” would be our religious projects. And so on.

Linea Residence V, by Poon Design, Palm Springs (photo by David Blank)

Carol: In the end, do you have a manifesto?

Anthony: I don’t have a manifesto. I think there are daily goals and there are things that I want to achieve. But I think back to one of my employers, the late Hugh Hardy. He had always said that mission statements and manifestos are dangerous things, because once you put it out there, people will accuse you of not supporting your own mission statement or accuse you of being in contradiction to what you’ve set out to do.

A manifesto is quite ambitious. I could also be accused of being naïve to think that I could write a manifesto, whether it’s a paragraph or 100 pages. I think I prefer the jazz-like approach in which I get up each morning and wonder what the day will bring, and approach it more organically—and see how I can just come up with ideas for whatever I’m to confront each and every day of my life.

(The full podcast is here.)

 

© Poon Design Inc.