Tag Archives: NEW YORK CITY

TRIBUTE: HUGH HARDY EXCLAIMS “HAPPY DAY! ONWARD!” (1932-2017)

March 20, 2017

Renovation of Radio City Music Hall, New York, New York, by Hugh Hardy w/ HHPA (photo by Radio City Music Hall)

I arrived at Hugh Hardy’s New York office in the Flatiron District. Mr. Hardy bellowed, “Anthony! How are you, my fine fellow?”—with a resonance of incredible welcome coupled with the thespianism of a Broadway musical. I visited Hugh’s architecture company only a dozen times, and each time, he greeted me with such sonority that his studio of young architects beamed with joy.

18 West 11th Street, New York, New York, by Hugh Hardy with HHPA (photo by Steve Minor)
18 West 11th Street, New York, New York, by Hugh Hardy with HHPA (photo by Steve Minor)

The field of architecture lost this hero last week, Hugh Hardy. Many can agree that every day, clients and colleagues would bask in Hugh’s warm spotlight. As he enjoyed his long career as if a kid on stage with a receptive audience, our legendary architect would bring his personal theater to Manhattan. For the record, nearly every important performing arts venue in New York City, as well as many other buildings around the country, were graced by Hugh’s architectural talents.

In the late 90’s, I joined Hugh’s company, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, known also as HHPA. In collaboration with Principal Norman Pfeiffer and his team, I headed up many of the design projects at HHPA’s Los Angeles’ office. Over my five years with the firm, I was fortunate to work on impactful projects: the 150,000 square foot DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame, and the 200,000 square foot library for the American University of Cairo, Egypt—just to name two of dozens.

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top: Library concept sketch for the American University of Cairo, Egypt by Anthony Poon; bottom: completed project by HHPA (photo by Pfeiffer Partners)
top: Library concept sketch for the American University of Cairo, Egypt by Anthony Poon; bottom: completed project by HHPA (photo by Pfeiffer Partners)

When Hugh visited his Los Angeles outpost for my first time, I witnessed his enthusiasm for design, an articulate language of leadership, and incredible showmanship—voice booming with drama and delight.

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top: Northwest Campus concept model for University of California, Los Angeles, by John Fontillas and Anthony Poon; bottom: six completed dormitory towers by HHPA (photo by Elon Schoenholz)
top: Northwest Campus concept model for University of California, Los Angeles, by John Fontillas and Anthony Poon; bottom: six completed dormitory towers by HHPA (photo by Elon Schoenholz)

Then, HHPA landed a big commission: three new dormitories and three renovated ones for UCLA. 2,000 new student beds in total. I represented the Los Angeles studio, and John Fontillas, friend, classmate and colleague (and future design partner to Hugh) represented the New York studio. Traveling east to New York for periodic design sessions, I watched Hugh command the company’s “war room” with grace accompanied by his sharp eye for constructive criticism.

Example: We completed the biggest commission of that period, Soka University—an entire hilltop campus in Southern California built from scratch. 103 acres, 20 college buildings, plazas, courtyards, lake, and so on. At the grand opening, Hugh was demanding, as he smiled, winked, and asked his team, “Is this the best you could do?”

Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, California, by HHPA (photo from www.sgi-d.org)
Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, California, by HHPA (photo from www.sgi-d.org)

Some of us laughed, uncertain as to whether it was meant to be serious or funny, inspiring or insulting. Some of us were uneasy that more than five years of our career were dismissed by this father figure of architecture. Most of us knew that Hugh had a vision for this world, and it extended beyond successfully re-envisioning his island of New York City.

Hugh Hardy was of this island. He walked the streets, and he rode the subways. Representing both the dreams of the people and the people themselves, he always reached for the brightest future, one “Happy Day” at a time. “Onward!”

Hugh Hardy in 1987 (photo by Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images)
Hugh Hardy in 1987 (photo by Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images)

THE WORLD FAMOUS I.M. PEI AND THE BEST JOB I NEVER HAD

May 13, 2016

Louvre Pyramid, Paris, France, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by Benh Lieu Song)

Though the job interview at I.M. Pei’s company started normal enough, it was over before it began.

Arriving in Manhattan, I only had a couple hundred bucks, my cousin’s sofa to crash on for two weeks, and my architecture portfolio. I needed a job. Badly.

Having just graduated college, my resume pathetically displayed only three months of professional experience, which consisted mostly of practicing how to write nice letters. I don’t mean correspondences and memos. I mean literally writing letters. I practiced my A’s, B’s and C’s.

My architectural portfolio from UC Berkeley
My architectural portfolio from UC Berkeley

To get an architecture job, it comes down to your portfolio, a black binder that holds your design work. I had received good advice ahead of time. A portfolio was not, as many young architects wrongly believe, a comprehensive chronological tome of all of one’s school work—from the first year of learning how to draw an apple, to the middle years of designing a house, to the final studio of something complex such as a civic center.

Imagine the bored interviewer listening to you drone on, “And in this third semester class, we designed a blah, blah, blah . . . for my fourth semester . . . now, let’s turn to page 108 of my portfolio . . .” No, a portfolio should be a vigilantly curated story of one’s creativity.

For my New York interviews, my portfolio was sound: A few school projects, a sample of drafting from an internship, and some personal pieces of photography and figure drawing. I was, I felt, a well-rounded candidate for an entry position.

East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by National Gallery of Art)
East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by National Gallery of Art)

I mailed dozens of resumes to architecture firms in NYC, from the highest profile corporations to the small studios. (No email back then.) One day after several rejections, I returned to a voicemail on my cousin’s answering machine. (No cell phones back then.) It was from the offices of I.M. Pei.

I..M. PEI!

Mr. Pei’s HR person left me a voicemail, asking if I was available for an interview. This was it: A dream come true for any young architect, a possible job at one of the most prestigious companies on the globe!

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo by Timothy Hursley)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo by Timothy Hursley)

Wearing my only suit and tie, I went through the usual motions with Pei’s interviewer. He asked a few questions about how I liked Berkeley, about my piano playing, etc. He then got to the meat of the interview: My portfolio. While flipping through my colorful pages, he explained the office building that I would design, if I got the job.

I’d already be assigned an office building to design!

John Hancock Tower, Boston, Massachusetts, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo from architectmagazine.com)
John Hancock Tower, Boston, Massachusetts, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo from architectmagazine.com)

But he was perplexed. He looked at my trivial portfolio. He studied my skimpy resume. Then looked at me. Then at the resume. Then me. Then resume.

Finally, he inquired in a puzzled state, “I don’t get it. How old are you?”

Before I answered, he repeated a little more aggressively, “How old are you?!”

Squeaking out, “I am 22 years old.”

Dumbfounded and perturbed, he demanded, “Where are the 17 years of experience?”

I was equally dumbfounded. “What 17 years are you talking about?”—trying not to be disrespectful of the eminent offices of I.M. Pei.

He asserted that this was an interview for a senior architect to design an 85-story office tower.

I explained, retreating for no real reason, “Sorry, but I have less than one year of experience.”

Choate Rosemary Hall Science Center, Wallingford, Connecticut, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo from pcf-p.com)
Choate Rosemary Hall Science Center, Wallingford, Connecticut, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo from pcf-p.com)

Long story short: A harried HR person made a mistake transcribing numbers between my resume and the office form my interviewer was looking at now. The embarrassed—though more frustrated than embarrassed—interviewer showed me, turning the office form around for me to witness. There indeed did my 22 year-old eyes see in one-inch tall letters: “17 years of experience. Good candidate!”

The interviewer expressed annoyance, angered by the sloppiness from his world-class company that prides itself on designs of perfect proportions, exquisitely executed finishes, and highly detailed precision.

My first job in New York City at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners, late 80’s
My first job in New York City at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners, late 80’s

Like a little boy whose ice cream scoop had fallen off his cone into the dirt, I picked up my portfolio and left the best job opportunity I never had.

A MIGHTY CITY FREEZES OVER, PART 2 OF 4

January 23, 2016

Central Park (photo by Denis Balin)

Not long after Manhattan’s ochre and sepia autumn, gentle blowing breezes become fiercely gusting winds. Winter’s gale wants so perversely to whip the flesh off our bones. It seems as if the city might blow away. Merciless, it was my first New York December. Circa 1986, a-city-freezing-over.

Snow appears shortly, a freeze paralyzing a monumental city. Sharp icy spirits bite my body. My skin, a brittle armor, feels weak and fragile—like the first thin layer of ice over a vast lake. As wind chills my stone dry face, snow starts to gather along my eyelids. The gust of a snowstorm. This frigid onslaught.

Midtown, New York, New York (photo by Crazy Frankenstein)
Midtown, New York, New York (photo by Crazy Frankenstein)

Days pass and snow continues to fall. Falling from nowhere in particular, trying so damn hard to cover the Earth, the snow stays afloat in circles of windy nonsense.

All is white. A severe week of this albinism weakens the city, strips the land not just of pigmentation, but of courage as well. Everyone hides inside. Different than a yellow and orange fall, a new color scheme is upon me. This palette is of white nothingness, aggressive in its modesty.

Around the city, I see colorless loosely-formed shapes, rounded soft configurations, like a world made child-safe. Everything is homogenous: an opaque white Jell-O poured into a city-scale mold.

At night, snow reflects the downward light from street lamps back upward. Peculiar because light is rarely thought of as illuminating up from the ground. Imagine walking on light. Imagine no shadows. Every piece of this mighty city has been ungrounded.

Grand Central, New York, New York (photo by White Spaces)
Grand Central, New York, New York (photo by White Spaces)

Any evidence that might suggest a breathing city, vanishes under a deep blanket of white silence. The town freezes to a death-like passivity. The great city lays low in forced hibernation. The quiet death I witness is poignant. The white repose is gentle as it is also frightening. A metropolis brought to its begging knees, is immobilized into delicate foreboding beauty. When a community sleeps a sleep as deep as this, the apparent finality is conclusive enough to rival mortality itself.

As the snow finally stops falling, as ice softens, the inhabitants come slowly out of their hiding places to once again stomp as they will, eager to take back their environment. The city turns an ugly scene of brown mud and slush. The colorless beauty I saw only moments ago is now trampled on by belligerent life. This vigor of street activity pecks away at winter’s lush blanket, leaving it a dirty muddy mess. I prefer the elegance of a resting death to this combative unattractive life.

© Poon Design Inc.