Tag Archives: MORPHOSIS

#186: ANOTHER BAKER’S DOZEN

April 26, 2024

Broad Beach Residence, Malibu, California (photo by Iwan Baan)

A few years ago, I listed some of my favorite buildings in the city of Los Angeles. Today, I offer another dozen favorites from Southern California, but outside of Los Angeles proper. There are many wonderful works of architecture in our region that to choose only thirteen is impossible. Regardless, here are some in no particular order, from residences to retail, from restaurants to religious to research.

Broad Beach Residence, Malibu, California (photo by Iwan Baan)

1: The 10,800-square-foot, six-bedroom Broad Beach Residence offers a new form to residential architecture. The triangular composition by Michael Maltzan Architecture starts narrow at the street and expands towards the beach and ocean, maximizing views to the horizon. This martini glass-shape houses two major bedrooms hovering above a courtyard with swimming pool and basketball court, replete with indoor-outdoor enjoyment of the Malibu coast.

(W)rapper, Culver City, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

2. The old saying goes, “Love me, hate me, but don’t ignore me.” So it is for this Culver City office known as the (W)rapper, by Eric Owen Moss Architects. The 17-story structure has the honor of being 2023’s most written about building. The bizarre steel exoskeleton with its aggressively cantilevered stairs, oddly shaped glazing, and large expanses of solid walls result in a sublime and grotesque presence in a low-lying skyline. The verdict: I admire the courage.

Prada Epicenter, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

3. In Beverly Hills, OMA reinvents shopping at the Prada Epicenter on Rodeo Drive. From the street, the floor rolls up to the second level, becoming an amphitheater to display fashions or socialize. The traditional storefront display is subverted by eliminating the condition. Instead, the store opens to the street in its entirety—secured at closing by a massive aluminum panel that rises out of the sidewalk. Street retail displays are set in the concrete floor, where a shopper looks downward on, separated by elliptical glass panels upon which one stands, if feeling courageous. Unfortunately, many of the architect’s original ideas did not survive recent renovations.

Gardenhouse, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

4. MAD Architects—creators of the upcoming, monumental, 300,000-square-foot Lucas Museum of Narrative Art—designed a whimsical mixed-use project of 18 condos and commercial spaces. Entitled Gardenhouse, the architects envisioned a 48,000-square-foot “hillside village” in Beverly Hills, where an assemblage of quirky house-like forms rise from the building’s living façade.

Frank Gehry’s house, Santa Monica, California (photo by IK’s World Trip)

5. During the many decades of its making, the neighbors hated this house. To their astonishment, the masterful creation has become one of the most famous residences in the world, a living thesis of and personal residence to Frank Gehry’s seminal ideas. For the existing Dutch colonial, Santa Monica house, the architect engaged the traditional personality with torn apart walls and roofs revealing a skeletal expression of wood studs. Enter the 1970s premiere of chain link fence, raw plywood, and corrugated metal to the world of high design.

Chiat/Day Building, Venice, California (photo from The Architect’s Newspaper)

6. Gehry at it again, this time in Venice. Often called the “Binocular Building,” the Chiat/Day headquarters, now occupied by Google, blurs the line between art and architecture. Visitors and cars enter the 75,000-square-foot building through the binoculars, a functional sculpture with offices within, created with artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Brugge. On the right sits a tree-like composition in copper panels, and on the left, a contrasting enameled metal ship form.

Maison Martin Margiela, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Poon Design)

7. Thinking of the Maison Martin Margiela store in Beverly Hills, I am reminded of the Sparkletts water delivery truck and its tiny shimmering discs—a kinetic surface reflecting the sun. Played out on a much larger scale, architects Johnson Marklee covered the Margiela’s façades entirely in these mirror-like discs. Always in motion (and not captured well in a photograph), this visual treat sparkles while displaying wind patterns swooshing down the retail street.

Kate Mantalini, Beverly Hills, California (photo from morphosis.com)

8. Though Kate Mantalini closed in 2014, this Beverly Hills restaurant was an icon, both socially and architecturally. As a place to see-and-be-seen, the design was no quiet backdrop. Architect Morphosis created an energetic living room of art, sculpture, and architecture: angled walls, oculus/skylight sundial, steel beam compositions, curved mural of boxers, striped black and white tile floor, and irreverent giant headshots of Andie MacDowell (why her?). The final result remains in memory as a local attraction and an influential early work from the Pritzker-prized architect.

Wayfarers Chapel, Rancho Palo Verdes, California (photo by Olive Stays)

9. When the Wayfarers Chapel first opened in Rancho Palo Verdes, the 1950s site was not the lush forest of trees as one encounters today. On a bluff overlooking the ocean, Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright) designed a crystalline glass and wood structure surrounded by majestic skies and vast land. As dramatic as the chapel’s origin was, the current state is no less powerful—now a magical building surrounded by dense trees. One enters as if in a romantic fairy tale. Last year, the chapel was named a National Historic Landmark. (Unfortunately due to recent land movements, the chapel has been slated to be dismantled and reconstructed at a new location TBD.)

Riviera United Methodist Church, Torrance, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

10. A lesser known work from Richard Neutra, the Riviera United Methodist Church displays the simplicity and elegance of colleague Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more.” Neutra introduced the International Style to California, alongside his once-roommate at the famed Kings Road House, Rudolf Schindler—architect of said house (which was no. 14 on this list). Coincidentally in the early 1900s, both Neutra and Schindler arrived from Austria and worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. For this church, Neutra embraced the rectilinear nature of post-and-beam construction, adapting it to the fresh air of Redondo Beach.

Case Study House No. 8, Pacific Palisades, California (photo from archilovers.com)

11. The Case Study House No. 8, also the Eames House, served as the modest 1,500-square-foot personal residence and 1,000-square-foot design laboratory for husband-wife architects, Charles and Ray Eames. For this National Historic Landmark in the Pacific Palisades, the house should possess an “unselfconscious” and the “way-it-should-be-ness.” Through new technologies, off-the-shelf materials, and standard components, the architects pioneered much of today’s pre-fab, modular construction industry. (L)

Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla, California (photo from twbta.com)

12. With the Neurosciences Institute, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects created a “monastery for scientists.” In La Jolla, three structures—theory center, 350-seat auditorium, and labs—nestle into the earth and form a courtyard. As is typical of the architects’ work, this research campus explores the most sublime and fetishized (obsessive?) details and materials: sand blasted concrete, redwood panel sun shades, bas-relief surfaces, jade green serpentine stone, fossil stone from Texas, and bead-blasted stainless steel. This tactile environment confronts all the senses.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies, California (photo by Adam Bignell on Unsplash)

13. Ask any architect, this is the hero of them all: the Salk Institute. If a work can be named one of greatest of all time, Louis Kahn’s 412,000-square-foot research center in La Jolla is high on this list. Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine, asked the architect to “create a facility worthy of a visit by Picasso.” With influences from monastery design, Kahn’s profound composition inspires scientists, architects, and everyday visitors, with its otherworldly beauty and axial relationship to the clouds, horizon, and beyond.

(For my 2023 favorites from around the world, visit here.)

#173: MODELS AND SUPERMODELS

July 28, 2023

Staples Center and downtown Los Angeles, California – materials: acrylic, lacquer paint, LED lighting, incandescent lighting, fluorescent lighting, and mini-television, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by John Lodge)

It makes me uneasy when architects replace physical models with computer renderings, replacing a centuries-old craft with software-driven images that pander more to marketing and promotion than exploration and abstract thinking.

Fröbel blocks (photo from frobelgifts.com)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother gave her young son the Fröbel blocks, to encourage the inquisitive boy to think three-dimensionally, to create structures like an architect. German educator, Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852), conceived of a set of wooden cubes, spheres, and cylinders for children to capture their curious need to organize, create, and build. Fröbel proclaimed, “The active and creative, living and life-producing being of each person, reveals itself in the creative instinct of the child. All human education is bound up in the quiet and conscientious nurture of this instinct of activity; and in the ability of the child, true to this instinct, to be active.”

Chaya Downtown restaurant, Los Angeles, California – materials: foamcore, various woods, museum board, chip board, acrylic, and craft paper, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

For generations, architects, young and old, engaged in a process of building miniature physical representations of design ideas. Whether Lego or Lincoln Logs as a kid or laser cutting and a 3D printer as a professional, the making of a physical model in scale was inherent in the process of all architects.

Enzoani bridal store, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – materials: foamcore, laser prints, basswood, spray paint, and museum board, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
University Center, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California — materials: foamcore, chip board, museum board , craft people, metallic paper, aluminum cars and people, and wire trees, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

I separate “physical model” from today’s “digital model,” the latter meaning a computer file, a virtual three-dimensional object. Digital modeling has reaped tremendous advancements in photorealistic renderings and “fly-throughs.” The sexy presentation drawings provide a client with an image as if standing there looking at the real building.

At times, computer renderers can’t seem to control their self-indulgence as the renderings are over-the-top with multiple light sources, mirror-like reflections on glistening surfaces, over saturation of colors and patterns, perfect skies and sunsets, and supermodels populating the buildings—all resulting in a surrealism that overtakes any substance of the rendering. These exciting images try to show the real thing, but often fail. Renderings should capture the personality and emotion of the space, the story of the design, not a photorealistic replication of materials and surfaces.

Sports City Stadium, Doha, Qatar, by Meis

There is limited tactile connection in computer processing, other than the clicking of one’s mouse. And architecture, both its process and final product, is tactile and physical. I like feeling how a graphite lead gently wears into the toothy surface of a sheet of vellum. I like scoring a piece of chipboard with an X-Acto No. 11 blade, then carefully bending the chipboard with both hands.

Toppings Yogurt, Pacific Palisades, California – materials: museum board, foamcore, acrylic, stainless steel, cork, copper, stone, honeycomb plastic panel, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)
San Diego Civic Theatre, California – materials: foamcore, basswood, museum board, laser prints, and craft paper, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

As a physical object, a model is the closest thing to the physical building. But of course, it is a smaller version. But it is through such abstraction that one can comprehend the concepts driving the design. The client can hold a model and study it from infinite angles, or place her eyes, head even, into a large model to experience the space.

Herget Middle School, West Aurora, Illinois – materials: foamcore, laser prints, basswood, spray paint, and museum board, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Anthony Poon)

Whether a detailed representational model with little people, cars, and trees, with colors and textures suggesting the actual materials of construction, or a concept model made fast and crude, torn apart and glued back together experimenting ideas that flash into the imagination of the designer—models are an investigative design tool.

Model making at Gehry Partners, Los Angeles, California (photo by R+D Studio)

Frank Gehry’s process centers around making models with his famed model shop, as does Morphosis with its obsessive use of a large format 3D printer, evidenced by the new book, M3: Modeled Works. This 1,008-page tome focuses exclusively on photos of physical models that span founder Thom Mayne’s career, displayed in reverse chronology, from high tech to low tech model making tools.

Educational Center and Library Addition, Holocaust Human Rights Center, University of Maine, Augusta – materials: museum board, acrylic, modeling paste, gesso, and acrylic paints, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

Whether architectural models are created with recycled corrugated cardboard and discarded scraps or exotic woods and archival museum-quality materials, the design themes told are can be powerful, poetic even. The thing to keep in mind is that model making is but one tool in the process, as is rendering software, as is A.I. or color pencils.

Korean Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California – materials: museum board, acrylic, modeling paste, gesso, and acrylic paints, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

#162: OCMA REVIEW: THE BEAUTY OF EXCESS

December 9, 2022

Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Upon visiting the recently completed Orange County Museum of Art, I thought of Christina Aguilera or Patti LaBelle. Maybe Whitney Houston too. All three singers engage in vocal acrobatics, excessive riffs of attention-grabbing notes in virtuoso succession. So too with the new museum designed by Culver City-based Morphosis.

View from the civic plaza, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne, founding architect of Morphosis, designed the $93 million, 53,000-square-foot museum, also known as OCMA—in the long line of museums of four letters, e.g. MOCA, MOMA, NMNS, CMOA, and so on. At OCMA, 25,000 square feet is dedicated to displaying the museum’s 4,500 works from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Mayne states that he created “a gradient of architectural intensity, from complex forms at the museum’s entry to rectilinear and flexible forms within the galleries.”

Approaching from the street, the low profile rectilinear building presents an understated curbside appeal. But entering the plaza and greeted by Richard Serra’s 65-foot-tall sculpture of his signature weathered steel, the architect’s ambition for “architectural intensity” rings true.

Atrium, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Sweeping, tilting, and undulating forms, wrapped in individually-custom white terra cotta panels, rise up to the sky—not unlike a composition from Frank Gehry’s repertory. OCMA’s sinuous and muscular character on the outside continues within. A central space twists and warps three-stories high, punctuated by glass and steel bridges crossing each other haphazardly. The building represents fantastical gestures afforded by digital technology. Such advance software results in the Construction Documents (once called blueprints) that instruct the construction team how to turn such heroic shapes from curved lines on paper to reality.

Doors out to roof terrace, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

This contemporary building shines brightly as both an icon and a rebel within the unabashedly conservative region of Orange County. Of such exciting building forms and interior spaces that counter the idiom, “less is more,” one has to ponder if such shapes and surfaces are warranted in the first place. Besides the thrill I felt touring and confronting such a sculpturally innovative building, are all these design moves necessary? Was the money well spent? How many brain cells were damaged in figuring out how to defy gravity?

left: Cooper Union, New York, New York (photo from morphosis.com); top middle: Viper Room Development, West Hollywood, California (rendering from archdaily.com); top right: Kolon One & Only Tower, Seoul, South Korea (photo by Jasmine Park); bottom middle: Bill and Melinda Gates Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (photo by Roland Halbe); bottom right: Yangtze River International Conference Center, Nanjing, China (photo by Fangfang Tian)

I enjoy the projects of Morphosis, these designs of virtuosity and flair. Save a few restrained structures like the Taubman Complex at Lawrence Technological University, Morphosis’ body of work challenges architecture as art, graphic representation, and construction methods—the artistic soul as well—and employs the keenest minds and highest tools of technology. The results are no doubt incredible and stunning.

Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

But one has to question, isn’t architecture more than making sexy forms? In a recent symposium at Los Angeles’ Colburn School, Mayne attempted to (unsuccessfully) deflect questions about his work being mostly about composition and aesthetics. Today, architecture is more than the shape and form of a building, more than how it looks. At its best, architecture involves sustainability/carbon neutrality, community engagement, social equity/diversity, resilience, biophilia, affordability and access, adaptive reuse, philanthropy, and ethical labor practices.

Regardless, I am a fan of the work at Morphosis, and this brings me back to the aforementioned singers. Sure, they sing unnecessary notes. Sure, it sounds gratuitous and self-serving. Much of the vocal lines, often called “runs,” are excessive, merely indulgent passages that show off one’s fancy skills. But admittedly, I like it. I find it exhilarating even intoxicating to be transported beyond what a standard performer’s voice can do. So too with the architecture of Morphosis.

#158: LOS ANGELES BAKER’S DOZEN

September 16, 2022

(photo by Julius Schulman)

As a Los Angeles architect, I am often asked, “What are your favorite buildings in the city?” Considering houses, concert halls, schoolstemples—it is difficult to answer. There are so many great works of architecture. To have parameters, I stuck to the City of Los Angeles. I did not include the many treasures in adjacent cities like West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, etc.. Also, I couldn’t decide on the typical “top ten,” like I have done each year (2019, 2020, and 2021). So in no particular order, here you go: a Baker’s Dozen.

(photo by Juan Carlos Becerra on Unsplash)

1: In the evening, the John Ferraro Building, commonly known as the LADWP Headquarters, glows like a beacon of downtown. More than a 1960s office building, architect A. C. Martin created an iconic structure metaphoric of the department’s command over water and power. Floating in a massive reflecting pond that hovers over the parking, the building captures one end of the city’s grand axis that aligns the Music Center and Grand Park, and terminating at City Hall.

(photo from raimundkoch.com)

2: A city-within-a-city, Emerson College by Morphosis offers a collegiate identity unlike anything before. Within 107,000 square feet, two large sinuous structures sit within a ten-story, frame-like building—providing housing for 190 students, educational spaces, production labs, and offices. The technology of computational scripting guided the patterns of the aluminum sunscreens and organic building shapes.

(photo from plansmatter.com)

3: Few homes capture the zeitgeist of the Mid-Century Modern movement alongside the family life of the homeowners. Husband and wife design giants, Charles and Ray Eames, created this Case Study House No. 8, simply called the Eames House, to serve as their residence, work space, and design laboratory. The beauty of the architecture stems from the simplicity of form, lightness on the site, and prefabricated materials. Each year, 20,000 design fanatics tour this National Historic Landmark.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

4: Rafael Moneo Arquitecto graces the urban landscape with his Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Serving as the mother church for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, this design explores a myriad of tilted lines (an avoidance of any right angles), solid concrete walls several feet thick, and the dramatic control of light and shadows—delivering a complex composition of tension/calm, grandeur/intimacy, and mystery/faith.

(photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)

5: The 1892 landmark Bradbury Building by George Wyman and Sumner Hunt is a classic masterpiece of traditional materials, ornate details, and sun and air. Appearing in numerous works of fiction, movies, television, and music videos, the five-story office building was honored as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, Los Angeles’ oldest landmarked building—today restored to perfection. The skylit atrium—casting intricate shadows of ironwork against surfaces of tile, brick, and terracotta—delivers the beating heart of the building.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

6: The existing 1953 Getty Villa—a passable recreation of a 1000 A.D. Roman house—pales in comparison to the 2006 addition by Machado Silvetti. For this museum dedicated to the classical arts, the contemporary renovations and surgical insertions offer a contrasting dialogue of old and new , of history and the future. Like a palimpsest, the layers upon layers of materials, exquisite details upon exquisite details border on excessively articulate, yet reaches the sublime.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

7: Frank Lloyd Wright’s  Hollyhock House was the first American work of contemporary design added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sometimes referred to as Mayan Revival, the ambitious courtyard house of 1921 comprises an intricate balance of split level floor plates, roof terraces, and steps throughout. The hollyhock—the favorite flower of the owner and oil heiress, Aline Barnsdall—drives the architectural patterns, decorative details, and stained glass windows.

(photo from lacma.org)

8: Upon completion in 1988, the Pavilion for Japanese Art baffled visitors. The enigmatic 32,000-square-foot building by Bruce Goff—a bizarre combination of sweeping roof forms, cylindrical towers, tusk-like beams, green stucco, and translucent windows—divided critics. Was the work visionary or grotesque? Master architect Peter Zumthor has decided the Pavilion’s worth: His master plan for the campus of LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), has already demolished nearly all existing structures. Goff’s building will remain.

(photo by Talal Albagdadi from Pixabay)

9: The honeycomb exterior skin of The Broad captivates passersby on this busy downtown street. An instant architectural icon and Instagram-able moment, this three-story museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro presents a porous wrapper the architects call the “veil”—composed of 2,500 rhomboidal forms of fiberglass-reinforced concrete. Within this “veil” sits the “vault”—the concrete core of the museum housing laboratories, offices, and the massive collections of art not currently on exhibit.

(photo by Anthony Poon)

10: The Stahl House, or to many, Case Study House No. 22, is one of the most famous homes in the history of the architecture world. Designed by Pierre Koenig and made known by Julius Shulman, considered the greatest architectural photographer of all time, the soaring hilltop residence made the 2007 AIA list of “America’s Favorite Architecture.” My one criticism is this: The kids have to walk through the master bedroom to get to their two bedrooms. Perhaps an exploration of domesticity?

(photo by Anthony Poon)

11. Both a work of art and architecture. Sabato Rodia, Los Angeles’ own Antoni Gaudi, constructed the Watts Towers with few tools and mostly his bare hands. From 1921 to 1954, this Italian immigrant construction worker toyed with concrete, rebar, wire, and tile—even ceramics, seashells, and broken bottles. Recognized with honors over time, the project was designated a National Historic Landmark, and one of only nine folk art sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places in Los Angeles.

(photo from jamesfgoldstein.com)

12. A master class in late Mid-Century Modernism, John Lautner gave us the Sheats-Goldstein Residence, a daring home set into the ledge of a sandstone hill. The intimacy of the arrival counters the living room’s explosive embrace with the city view and surrounding nature. The geometry of triangles upon triangles, a revolutionary concrete roof structure, and endless glass walls have captivated pop culture with cameos in films from Charlie’s Angels to The Big Lebowski.

(photo by Futuregirl from Pixabay)

13. No list of local great buildings can exclude Frank Gehry’s almighty Walt Disney Concert Hall. Though the architect had to travel to Bilbao, Spain to prove he is the most famous architect of our time, though the Disney Concert Hall took 15 years to complete and resulted in 300% over budget, the project stands as prominent as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the Sydney Opera House.

As mentioned, there are so many iconic masterpieces just outside of Los Angeles. Here are half a dozen. And for my favorite buildings of all time, here.

top left: Creative Artists Agency, Beverly Hills, by I.M. Pei and Associates (photo from techooficespaces.com); top middle: Prada Epicenter, Beverly Hills, by OMA (photo by Anthony Poon); top right: Horatio Court, Santa Monica, by Irving Gill (photo by smallatlarge.com); bottom left: Broad Beach Residence, Malibu, by Michael Maltzman Architecture, Inc. (photo from mattconstruction.com); bottom middle: Schindler House, West Hollywood, by Rudolf Schindler (photo from makcenter.org); bottom right: Art Center College, Pasadena, by Craig Ellwood (photo by u/archineering)

#57: “IT ALL SOUNDS THE SAME TO ME”

March 3, 2017

Beatles statute, Liverpool, England (pPhoto by Amanda Malec on Pexels)

I often hear, “Yeah, that song is okay I guess. I think all the songs of [insert band name] sound the same to me.” In architecture, similar criticism is imposed on our most famous creators.

Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)
Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)

Is sameness a bad thing? Most of The Beatles songs sound similar, with those peppy lyrics and obvious chord progressions, as do much of Beethoven’s music, with his mishmash of beauty and rage.

All of Mamet’s work reads the same with that staccato rhythm, as does Poe’s chilling tone. Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt—each pursued his lifelong personal expression, resulting in what one might wrongly dismiss as being all the same.

Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966
Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966

If the work is genius, as generally agreed upon for the names above, is it so bad that it is all the same? Should we complain about Apple products being all the same? Oh, that predictable minimal simplicity, the beautiful Zen-like posture.

Apple products (photo by LUM3N from Pixabay)

I do think many of Franks’ architecture looks like variations-on-a-theme, but I like all the projects. Here, I speak of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry (here and here).

I see no problem. But I do find it hilarious when critics look at similar appearing projects and assign reasons for how each one is different. Different metaphors for the same building—for example, Gehry was exploring how a fallen city rises from the ashes. Or, Gehry was expressing the blossoming of a flower. Or, Gehry was fascinated with sun rays beaming outward. And so on.

Projects by Gehry Partners
upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by SaraJanssen from Pixabay); upper right: DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany (photo from cnn.com); lower left: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo by Reza Rostampisheh on Unsplash); lower right: Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle, Washington (photo from pinterest.com)

When interviewing an architect, you will often hear him profess, “I do not have a singular style.” The word “style” (here and here) is considered a dirty word, as if architecture is a superficial thing and not the evolving amalgamation of intensive client research, the balance of program, building codes and science, and the careful consideration of budget and schedule.

Many architect’s say that they don’t have a singular style because they don’t want to be typecast, like Jim Carrey doing slapstick. Architects also fear the word “style,” particularly when used in trite reference to something like Picasso’s “Blue Period.” In this phase between 1901 and 1904, Picasso mainly painted monochromatically in either shades of blue or blue-green. And it was all spectacular.

Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)
Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects
upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)

But here’s the thing. All architects, world famous or quietly practicing in her neighborhood, have a certain look to their work, specific aspects of exploration that are individual to each and every architect. In fact, most good architects have that singular style, and I argue that there is nothing wrong with it.

Obvious celebrated examples are Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Morphosis, and Tadao Ando. For each of these designers, one can suggest that all their work is uninteresting because it all looks the same—that they only subscribe to a certain style. Is this so wrong? No.

Projects by Morphosis upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)
Projects by Morphosis
upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)

Even for the lesser known local architects working under the radar, he too has a style where their designs look the same, possibly because this architect loves designing homes with wood siding and metal roofs, or offices that are modern with stainless steel trim. It’s not a compromising position for an architect to have areas of interest, be responsive to local materials and construction methods, and to possess a personal vision of the world. In fact, you want an architect to have a strong viewpoint on the environment around him. If not, what are you hiring, just a drafting service?

Projects by Tadao Ando upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)
Projects by Tadao Ando
upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)

#48: HALLOWEEN AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

October 28, 2016

(photo from whitewaydelivers.socialtuna.com)

Halloween costumes are typically representational, not abstract. Costumes are always something—like a princess, pirate or witch. On Halloween, Harry Potters, President Obamas and Katniss Everdeens roam the streets.

But. What about costumes based on abstract concepts? Can one dress up as wonder, rigor or overtime?

As with the Post World War II art movement known as Abstract Expressionism, can Halloween costumes be non-representational? Can costumes be non-thematic, non-literal and non-figurative?

Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949
Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949

Whereas traditional artists painted water lilies, ballerinas and the crucifixion, Abstract artists painted subjects like color and emotional output or the action of paint drippings. Abstract artists rejected portraying objectified and recognizable classical content.

Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874
Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874

So I ask: Can trick-n-treaters attempt a similar philosophical position? This could offer entertaining debate when responding to the prerequisite question at a costume party, “Who are you supposed to be?”

Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952
Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952

Rather than answering Darth Vader, the sexy nurse or Donald Trump, the answer would be complex, because the question is actually “What are you supposed to be?”

Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563
Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563

Or maybe, “How are you supposed to be?”

The Halloween tradition known as “guising” or going out in public with a disguise, started as early as the 16th century in Scotland, and was first documented in America as 1911. Guising is a design topic as well.

Classical architecture used figurative themes so as to establish rapport with the visitor. For example, the Greek column comprises three components: 1) base, 2) shaft and 3) capital. This composition was intended to reference the human form: 1) feet, 2) body and 3) head.

The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo by Hisashi Oshite on Unsplash)

Modernist architects, many stemming from the seminal Bauhaus period of 1919 to 1932, discarded this idea of representation. Akin to Abstract painters, these architects designed buildings of abstraction and lack of traditional adornment.

As a contemporary example, Pritzker-winner Thom Mayne turned away from Old School theories, such as the 1st century BC Vitruvian rule that architecture must be “firmatas” (strong), “utilitas” (functional) and “venustas” (beautiful).

For Mayne’s 1987 design of the Cedars Cancer Center, he offered a complex vision that was intentionally unsettling. The design is a “tough” building, so as “to instill confidence in patients’ ability to fight the disease,” according to Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times.

Besides being a ninja, the Batman, or a zombie from The Walking Dead, I suggest exploring new ideas during the Halloween frenzy. How about going as: the sky or appetite, or maybe frequency or generosity? Hmmm, food for thought.

(photo by Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash)

© Poon Design Inc.