Tag Archives: MOZART


June 28, 2024

Circle House, Three Lakes, Wisconsin, by Poon Design

I am a storyteller. Whether music, painting, writing, or architecture, the creative act is one of communication—the sharing of ideas. And not necessarily mine.

As an architect, I want to know your story, ambitions and dreams, successes, and yes, even your battle scars. I call all of this content. Architecture gives this content a physical expression, capturing a narrative in sticks and stones, steel and glass.

Circle House, Three Lakes, Wisconsin, by Poon Design

If I am designing your residence, the approach is more than just the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. I want to know the story of your family. How many kids? How many pets? Does the mother-in-law live with you? How are the holidays celebrated? Do certain family members sleep with the windows open?

Lincoln Studios, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

If designing a corporate headquarters, the agenda is not just about usable square footage and meeting rooms. Instead, what is your mission statement? What are the business objectives? In-person, remote, or hybrid? What is the corporate culture? Private offices vs. Zoom rooms and hoteling areas?

Herget Middle School, West Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon w/ A4E (photo by Mark Ballogg)

If a school, let’s talk less about the number of classrooms and storage areas, and more about the educational methodology? How to teachers teach? How to students learn? How do they have lunch then play?

Joss Cuisine, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

If a restaurant, go beyond the number of stools at the bar and seats in the dining room. Rather, what is the food concept? What is the service model? Who are the diners? Table cloths or not?

Kinrgy by Julianne Hough, West Hollywood, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Encore)

Architecture as storytelling is the manifestation of our ideas and themes—broad and specific, explicit and implicit, abstract and tactile. And all this should drive the design decisions from the Big Picture (e.g., shape of a building and overall character) to the details (e.g., cabinet wood species and bathroom tile patterns).

Café Dulce, Vernon, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

When learning a Mozart piano sonata, what is Mozart trying to say to us? What is his story? Is it just notes and chords, or is there a story behind the music? Maybe a love story, funeral march, or a dance festival? Consider also, Beethoven’s 1798 Rondo a Capriccio, also known as Rage Over a Lost Penny. Beethoven believed his maid stole a penny. Fueled by his frustration, Beethoven wrote this piano Rondo. And the notes captured his anger, sharing a story of fury and annoyance.

Me at the piano, Rolling Hills Estates, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

When I play this work, how should I add my story to Beethoven’s story? Should I play extra loud exploding with irritation, moderately to temper his temper, or humorously to suggest the absurdity of the circumstances with his accused maid?

(photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash)

Whether I am playing music, painting, writing, or designing, there is one overarching theme: the audience. All my works are created for an audience. Music’s audience might be just one person, a small group, or a concert hall audience. A painting might hang at a local art show or in a museum. A writing might an introspective journal entry or a published book soon to be a movie. And in architecture, the audience is many fold, from the client to the daily users, from the cleaning crew to the critics, from an accidental visitor to a design fanatic.

Find an audience. Tell a story.


November 10, 2023

Cenotaph for Newton, by Etienne-Louis Boullée (1784)

A common misconception is that architecture strives to be beautiful. The famed 1st century Roman architect, Virtruvius, did proclaim that architecture must have venustas—the Latin term for “beauty.” But for every Mozart seeking  beauty,  there is a Beethoven pursuing other qualities—challenging ones even. Indeed, some works of architecture are odd, strange, and even supernatural—if such a word can be used to describe a building.

Merriam-Webster defines supernatural as “relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil,” and “departing from what is usual . . . to transcend the laws of nature.” Below, I describe a few projects that have peaked my interests, that perhaps relate to a demigod, bucking the rules of the expected.

right: Temple of Divination; left: Classicism and Romanticism, by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (circa 1800)

18th century French architect, Jean-Jacques Lequeu—alongside colleagues, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and Etienne-Louis Boullée—offered peculiar visionary designs that, though never constructed, stoked curiosity. On the left, Lequeu offers a river of fire entering a Greek temple, while honey perfume counters the burning odor. On the right, the design of a hunting gate celebrates the spoils of victory, displaying the heads of the hunted and defeated.

Casa dos Leões, Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Henrique Oliveira (photo by Eduar, from yatzer.com)

In 2009, artist Henrique Oliveira birthed the Casa dos Leões, a parasitic organ-like visitor within a townhouse in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Oliveira comments, “My works may propose a spatial experience, an aesthetic feeling, a language development and many more nominations to refer to the relation it establishes with the viewer.” Just random words. For me, the message—whatever it may be—is one of uneasiness.

Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of Witch Trials, Vardø, Norway, by Peter Zumthor (photo by thisispaper.com)

Perhaps it isn’t just the official title: the Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of Witch Trials. Or not just the experiential results designed by artist Louise Bourgeois and architect Peter Zumthor. The eeriness of this 2011 Norwegian project arrives through its thesis: To commemorate the 1621 trial and execution of 91 individuals suspected of witchcraft.

Conical Intersect, Paris, France, by Gordon Matta-Clark (photo from researchgate.net)

Commenting on the demolition of a building and the destruction of a community, American artist Gordon Matta‐Clark presented an ambitious architectural intervention in 1975. Through excavation and carving, he juxtaposed the history of a location with the recent eviction of the inhabitants—a commentary on memory and powerlessness, origin and futures unclaimed.

Apartment, Vienna, Austria, by Adolf Loos (photo from vivanht.com)

Austrian architect and theorist, Adolf Loos, authored this 1903 room of intimacy, luxurious, and whiteness for his wife, Lina. He was 32, and she was 19. The angora sheepskin bed skirt that becomes the floor is sensual even erotic, but also bizarre even creepy.

Valley, Netherlands, Amsterdam, by MVRDV (photo by Ossip van Duivenbode)

It’s as if the conventional steel and glass high-rises dissolved away revealing 200 quirky cantilevered apartments, like a residential canyon carved into corporate masses. Located in Amsterdam, the 2022 design of three towers includes apartments, offices, restaurant, and cultural facilities—as well as contradiction and the unconventional.

Petra, Jordan (photo by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay)

Petra, the surreal and archaeological city in present-day southern Jordan, holds a rare accolade as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A town chiseled into the sandstone cliffs, Petra displays the advancements of the Nabataean Arabs, a civilization dating back 2000 years ago. The city was not constructed by traditional building methods of adding materials one on top of another. Rather, Petra was created from cutting and removing stone sections of a mountain—construction through subtraction.

Na Hale ‘Eo Waiawi, Honolulu, Hawaii, by Patrick Dougherty (photos from amusingplanet.com)

North Carolina-based sculptor, Patrick Dougherty, works with tree branches and twigs as a painter would acrylics and oils. Not just mind-boggling, multi-story bird nests, the projects are temporal like much in nature, intended to make a statement then dissolve and disappear.

Setenil de las Bodegas, Southern Spain (photo by artsartistsartwork)

Known as the Cave Village of Spain, this southern town comprises whitewashed homes constructed into the surrounding cliffs. The earthly masses hovering over the residences become an omnipotent daily presence to confront, a physical burden to accept. Most would build a city atop a mountain, or within like Petra, but not underneath.

Back to music—adjectives of Mozart’s music might be delightful, lyrical, and exquisite. Whereas for Beethoven: intimidating, discordant, and aggressive. And so it might be with some architecture.


December 6, 2019

My sketches for the chapel of the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas

Please enjoy more excerpts from the podcast The Arch with Form magazine, and the acclaimed author and artist, Carol Bishop. Previous excerpt is here.

Carol Bishop: Many of your projects touch communities. You do churches for various different kinds of religious groups. You do educational structures. You do libraries. Can you elaborate on these?

Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Foaad Farah)

Anthony Poon: The community aspect is very important to us. As much as we enjoy doing projects like designing homes or the one-off projects, we feel that our skills and talents should serve a much broader community. One of the things we enjoy doing most are our schools, serving teachers, administrators, and children. We enjoy doing projects that bring communities together. We enjoy building out communities, which is one of the aspects of our residential work, not just doing one house at a time, but doing a hundred homes at one time and envisioning what an entire neighborhood could be.

Alta Verde Escena, a 130-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Carol: Are there any particular challenges, whether with the codes or concepts or clients when you are designing these types of buildings? For example, when you were asked to do the Air Force Chapel, how did you marry the military and the spiritual layers?

Chapel for the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas (rendering by Mike Amaya)
The triangular floor plan for the chapel

Anthony: That’s a complicated question, so I’ll answer in two parts. The first: You bring up what is one of the most challenging parts of architecture and maybe the most tedious. We’re talking about things like city codes, the permit process, and the science and engineering of making sure a building doesn’t fall down. We’re talking about client wishes, building program, square footage, and of course on top of all of this is the budget and the schedule. There are all sorts of these kind of technical aspects that we have to problem solve. Once we get those taken care of, we then, on top of all of that, have to add the artistry. We have to then add our creativity.

It’s kind of like learning a piece of music. Say you’re learning a Mozart sonata and there are literally 10,000 notes to learn to play correctly—to get each note perfect as it was written by the composer. But once you do that, it’s not considered music yet. That’s just painting by numbers. That’s just getting each note correct. After you’ve done that, and that can take years, you then have to add your interpretation. You have to add your story, your style, your idea of what that Mozart sonata really is about.

Chapel exterior (rendering by Mike Amaya)

To jump to your second part of the question, we did a proposal for a chapel at a retirement village for the Air Force in San Antonio, Texas. You talked about marrying the practical and the spiritual, and that’s exactly how we viewed it. We studied sanctuary spaces and gathering spaces, assembly halls, and considered what would be the most effective kind of floor plan. We came up with a triangular floor plan that allows all of the attention to focus to the front of the chapel. But it was more than just a geometric exercise. We added to our composition metaphors of the Air Force, of heroicism, of strength, a majestic character. And we took that triangular form and gave it a presence on the outside where the building reaches for the sky. In that sense, it became a metaphor for the Air Force and how strength and heroic actions can lead to good things.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial

Carol: Well, I have to ask you about this project because of the name, the Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial.  Could you tell us something about that?

Anthony: That’s a proposal for a project in Virginia. And it’s haunting and extraordinary. There was a development in Alexandria where developers started to excavate the land to build commercial buildings. They came upon graves, coffins and bodies of the freed slaves. Obviously, construction stopped. The city asked for proposals of what to do, how to develop this. If it should be developed, what would be the right thing to do?

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

We designed a memorial park where half of area left all the burials as they were found. They were all given grave markers of stone. We created a path of wood that floated over the graves so that you can look upon and honor those who have been lost. We envision that the brass handrail of this wooden path would have names etched on the metal. The path lands in the other portion of the city block, where we designed a park as a gift back to the community.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

Carol: More and more, we see that there are two camps. One is no color, just white, white, white.  The other camp is: Let’s just pour on the most hideous colors so that my building shines. What is your take on color for your projects?

Anthony: Color is a whole philosophy. You’ll have architects like Richard Meier who primarily uses white. He’ll explain that through the color white, we see all the colors of the rainbow. You’ll have all of the Post-Modernists from the ’70s and ’80s using a lot of colors as a reaction to modernism and abstract art. Post-Modernists used pastels and bright colors. Michael Graves used burgundy and peach and orange and ochre.

Linea, a 14-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Our view is that color is a specific analysis and study for every project. There are projects where we believe the project should have a neutral palette. There are projects that we believe color should be used. For example, we’ve done a community in Palm Springs called Linea . It’s 14 homes. All the homes are white, intentionally so. They’re white inside. They’re white outside. The cabinets are white. The flooring is white. The countertops are white. Some might argue that this is very clinical or very sterile. We see it as being tranquil and peaceful. We see it as reflecting the maximum amount of sunlight coming in through the windows.
We also see it, importantly so, as a blank canvas for the owner of this house to add their own personality, to bring in their own colors of their life, whether it’s in the furniture, the art on the wall, a throw, the window treatment, or the colors they wear as clothing, as they move through this very calming environment.

Greenman Elementary School, School District 129, Aurora, Illinois (by Anthony Poon w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates)

On the other hand, we’ve done projects for schools where we think for an elementary school, there should be some vibrant colors to energize the space. In one elementary school that we did in Chicago, in the hallway for the windows we used red, green and yellow glass set in as accent pieces within the regular clear glass window system. In this way, kids can look back out at the world and see it through the lens of red, see it through the lens of yellow, to see what the world looks like. Colors becomes an educational device, something to alter your perception, to have their mind wonder.

Colorful glass tile shower, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design)


December 15, 2017

Digital intervention by MMTRA into the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, by Peter Zumthor (photo from behance.com)

I have written about a number of things that are in essence, big pains in the butt (pains, city process and bad clients, just to name a few). Recently, I asked two colleagues, Christine Fang  and Ji Ahn, who practice mindfulness and meditation: What do you do with the discomforts of life? I requested of them to provide me a peek into their training.

They tossed back some words: adventure, commit and experience—and sit and be curious. But somewhere along this pattern of words, Chris and Ji are aware that discomfort will inevitably rear its ugly head.

Spirituality and contemplation at Knight Rise, Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden, Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona, by James Turrell (photo by Sean Deckert)

Chris suggests, “I think I might be a masochist on some level. I love carving out new paths, going where no one else has gone before. But new paths mean discomfort. It’s all new terrain, whether something you’re confronting in the physical world, or in your mind. And you’re fighting the self-created inertia that makes you want to turn the other direction. New terrain means learning new things, and most certainly, making mistakes! As you keep at the new terrain, new becomes routine. Then when bored, the mind goes searching again for new terrain.”

Architecture framing nature, at a Buddhist Temple, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Similarly, Ji responds, “Growing up, I was attracted to unknown paths and adventure. Not knowing the end result gave me the space to be creative and an opportunity to imagine new possibilities. Being in this space of solitude, the exploration opens me up to be curious and to sit with discomfort that visits me in the process. Changing the relationship to our discomfort allows us to explore and grow. Within discomfort, we might be able to find joy and serenity.”

The elegant dialogue between building and landscape, at the Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, by Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz (photo by Landezine)

As the architect, my simple understanding: Through mindfulness and meditation, one creates space and stillness. Design-wise, what is this architecture that can support the simple tenet, “sit and be curious”? Chris and Ji suggest any of these possibilities as starting points.

  • A space of stillness found when experiencing nature, or
  • An area in one’s home to be safe and quiet, to reflect, or
  • A place dedicated to meditation.
Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photos by Anthony Poon)

Though not my thesis for projects (and though I only know of mindfulness as a visitor), my work finds a common ground with some of my two colleagues’ thinking.

twoPart café, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photos by Anthony Poon)

At twoPart café, my first public design from 1992, the simplicity of the architecture delivered a space of adaptability. More so, it was intentionally incomplete. Like a blank canvas with only a few brush strokes to motivate a visitor, twoPart enabled human development. Customers sought to advance their current affairs—whether reconciling with a loved one, pursuing that long sought after graduate degree, or finally finishing the Hollywood script.

Simplicity in elemental forms and materials, at the Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Fernando Guerra)

Though Mozart claimed that music should always be beautiful, I concur with Beethoven that music can do a lot more than simply be pretty. I believe music can be heroic or moody, ominous or bold, shocking or even off beat.

For architecture, spaces don’t have to always be pleasing, comfortable, serene or joyful, but whatever form architecture takes, the design supports people on their journeys.


October 13, 2017

Album cover of 1984’s West Side Story, featuring opera giants, Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras, instead of Broadway stars Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant

In 1984, opera legend Kiri Te Kanawa sought success in an unexpected arena. Courageously stepping into the world of Broadway, she recorded her jazzy version of the 1957 Bernstein and Sondheim musical, West Side Story.

Album cover of 1982’s Mozart and Haydn Trumpet Concertos, performed by Winton Marsalis

One year prior, jazz great Wynton Marsalis waltzed onto the classical stage with trumpet concertos by Mozart and Haydn—setting aside Marsalis’s New Orleans Dixieland roots.

Whether these two artistic efforts were successful or not, the term “crossover” entered the mainstream lexicon. Te Kanawa and Marsalis crossed over to uncharted universes, creating new sounds and challenges.

Fascinating crossovers continued when Cole Haan combined their leather dress shoes with a Nike athletic sole. With the shout out to the two worlds that have collided, Cole Haan expressed both types of shoes in one intentionally un-unified design.

Zerogrand shoe by Cole-Haan, a classic dress shoe with a startling running sole (photo from eBay.com)

Crossovers challenge complacency. Critics panned BMW’s 2009 X6 for being a confused crossover. Was it an SUV, a luxury sedan or a wagon? The car performed poorly at all three, thereby not succeeding as a crossover.

2009 BMW X6 Xdrive50i (photo from motertrend.com)

In architecture, one version of a crossover is the building type known as mixed-use. As the name implies, this kind of architecture contains a mix of uses—a single project that mixes various functions. What does such a building look like? For a mixed-use design that, for example, houses apartments, corporate spaces, an Apple store, and an art gallery—what should be the building expression and personality? A big house? An office building? A shopping center? A museum?

University Center, University of California, Riverside, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, rendering by Doug Jamison)

For one of our mixed-use projects, we designed our building to display each of its components individually, much like the Cole Haan / Nike shoe. Calling our approach the Layered Cake, our University Center comprised four levels—each level expressing a different style of architecture.

On the ground floor, curved limestone volumes with playful windows contain the student retail stores. Consistent with campus standards, red brick wrap the second floor, the cafeteria. The third floor, all contained in sleek corporate-y glass, holds the administrative offices. The student activities and organizations perch themselves on the fourth floor. Clad in zinc shingles, each student club projects out to the campus, cantilevering to get attention.

Los Angeles Mixed-Use Building, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

We continue the exploration of our Layered Cake concept with a project soon to start construction. Our design ideas crosses over between retail, offices, apartments and parking.

WV Mixed-Use Building, Manhattan Beach, California, by Poon Design and Lazar Design+Build (photo by Gregg Segal)

Exploring a visually cohesive approach, our mixed-use building in Manhattan Beach weaves together various programs through lines and shapes, such as the folding roof and the folding glass storefront of the ground level commercial spaces. The folding forms capture the recreational culture of a beach town and the graphic quality of ocean waves. In a subtle and playful manner, the folding roof also displays the name of the project “WV,” coined after the name of the client developer.

VitraHaus, Weil am Rhein, Germany, by Herzog & deMeuron (photo from archdaily.com)

At the VitraHaus, the various mix of uses are contained in the most common form known in architecture, a gable roof house. Except here, the volumes are not only stretched to strange proportions, but stacked haphazardly one on top of another, offering an unlikely personality. These house-like forms are more than a collision of homes. The various buildings contain retail galleries, arrival spaces, conference center, and restaurant—literally crossing over each other.

Grace Farms, New Canaan, Connecticut, by SANAA (photo from archdaily.com)

A crossover project could also be expressed by expressing nothing in particular, implying no specific functions and thereby is multipurpose. The spaces are flexible and poetic, and unlike the BMW X6 which fails at doing nothing well by trying to do many things, this visitor center in Connecticut succeeds by not trying to do anything at all.

© Poon Design Inc.