Tag Archives: MICHAEL WEBB

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 Acadmey), 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.