Tag Archives: NILE NIAMI


April 1, 2022

(photos left to right: Pyramid at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France, by Michael Fousert; Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, by Anthony Delanoix; Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York, by Dennis; Burg Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, by Nick Fewings; all from Unsplash)

(This essay comprises excerpts from my presentation, The Creative Process and The Ego, on February 18th at Modernism Week 2022, Palm Springs, California.)

Architects design homes, schools, skyscrapers, entire cities. Who has given architects this role and influence in society, and what have we done with it? From the Pyramid at the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower , from the Guggenheim to the Burg Khalifa in Dubai—architect’s egos are stamped all over cities, all over the world. Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, even has drawings to literally redesign Earth.

Me presenting, The Creative Process and The Ego, Modernism Week 2022, Palm Springs, California (photo by Olive Stays)

Master builder, master designer, master creator—architects have been granted the responsibility to impact communities and cultural progress, through the flexing of creative muscles. The offering of world icons and or definitive works stems from both talent and skill, as well as confidence and ego. Consider Philip Johnson’s pithy quote.

But ego can lead to influence, influence to power, and power to arrogance. And arrogance can either drive a project into successful territory or regrettable disaster. For the latter, two projects come to mind.

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, a hotly debated project known as Munger Hall has every architect, student, parent, and community member up in arms. For this proposed $1 billion, 1.7 million square foot, 11-story dormitory for 4,500 students, there has been a very little support. For the amateur architect and developer, Charlie Munger (billionaire and partner to Warren Buffet) and Southern California architect-of-record, VTBS (yes, B-S), the wrath bestowed on this project approved is universal. To sum it up, there has not been so much loathing in recent history. There are many reasons for the abhorrence, but the main objection is that 95% of the dorm rooms will have NO WINDOWS. No natural light. No fresh air. No view to the outside.

Munger Hall (drawings and rendering from VTBS), Charles Munger (photo by Lane Hickenbottom/Reuters)

The arrogance of Munger comes from believing that: 1) Fronting the construction cost gives him the unconditional ticket to design whatever he wants, and 2) he and VTBS are convinced that windowless dormitory rooms are not just acceptable, but a creative success, even a bragging right. And everything from science to history, and real life to design guidelines, have proven this idea to be horrific.

Consider the residential estate in Bel Air, California, simply called “The One.” The conceit within that title alone reeks of egotism. Here, this spec house, with an asking price of $500 million, includes 105,000-square-foot, 20 bedrooms with a 5000-square-foot master bedroom suite, 42 bathrooms, a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, 50-car garage, and four swimming pools—to name a few details.

“The One,” Bel Air, Los Angeles, California (photo by Michael Leonard, The Society Group)

Bel Air is a community of wealth, where some of the largest mansions have been built over the years. As seen above, the two circled homes are such mansions of prestige and wealth. And between them is the out-of-scale, gargantuan vanity of developer Nile Niami and architect Paul McClean. The cautionary tale? No one wants such a home. The property recently sold for only $141 million, which is a mere one-third of the asking price.

Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy (photo by Guy Dugas, Pixabay); Medici family (image from historyhit.com)

Historically, architects were given such power by an omnipotent clients such as the Medici’s, but in today’s culture of individualism and self-promotion, such projects as Munger Hall and The One are fueled by confidence and salesmanship, perhaps even narcissism.

Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentices (photo from drtuesdaygjohnson.tumblr.com

Author Meryle Secrest wrote of Frank Lloyd Wright, “If he had intended to live out his life in the columns of newspapers, he could not have acted any more effectively. . . again and again, courting the press . . . Wright’s appetite for whatever might further his career was gargantuan.”

Accusations of megalomania have been projected onto Bjarke Ingels and his company, BIG, with 550 employees in offices in Copenhagen, New York, London, and Barcelona. Ingels himself counters the Miesian platitude, “Less is more,” and instead proclaims, “Yes is more.”

Bjarke Ingels (photo by Thomas Loff); Ingels sketching (photo from youtube.com); W57, New York, New York (photo from claudejobin.com)

Check yourself. When does confidence become righteousness, talent become ego, and prowess become arrogance? How does self-assurance and pride become condescension and smugness? Who shall “inherit the earth”?


October 9, 2015

$500 million residence under construction, Bel Air, California (photo by McClean Design/Caters News Agency

Down my street, a colossal house (if you can call it a “house”) is under construction. Staggering statistics. Completing next summer, this 112,000-square-foot speculative house will list for $500 million. You read it correctly: not $5 million or $50 million.

But Five Hundred Million Bucks!

Brought to us by Hollywood-film-producer-turned-home-builder Nile Niami, the contemporary estate has a main residence with three additional homes, a 5000-square-foot master bedroom suite, four swimming pools, a 30-car garage, and a lawn the size of half a football field. This modern day castle will come not just furnished, but fully styled. Not only will the dining chairs be selected and window treatments installed, the artwork will be curated and procured. Even the toilet paper will be carefully specified, and presented on handmade dispensers by Italian millworkers.

Persson residence, Trousdale Estates, California, by Roman James Design Build (photo by The Pinnacle List)
Persson residence, Trousdale Estates, California, by Roman James Design Build (photo by The Pinnacle List)

In comparison, the recent sale of the nearby $70 million Trousdale Estates residence to Minecraft creator Markus Persson seems like a modest hillside condo. Because Persson came to the deal with hard cold cash practically in bags, he beat out Beyonce and Jay-Z who lacked this leverage and nerve.

I think that it is unfortunate that Persson’s new home is merely 23,000 square feet and has only one swimming pool.

Okay, another head-scratching trend: Micro-Apartments.

In opposition to grandiose excess in design, comes this current desire for smallness. Many want Micro-Apartments—from carbon-footprint-minimizing hipsters, to efficiently-living single professionals, to prudent young couples.

Micro-Apartment (photo from EconomicPolicyJournal.com)
Micro-Apartment (photo from economicpolicyjournal.com)

As essentially one room, the architecture is definitely no mansion. The typical design is only 50 to 200 square feet. You read it correctly: not 500 square feet or 5,000 square feet.

But Fifty Square Feet!

Micro-Apartment, Venice, California, by Vertebrae Architecture
Micro-Apartment, Venice, California, by Vertebrae Architecture

This tiny single space combines living and dining areas, kitchenette and sleeping zone, which is sometimes a Murphy wall bed. Other domestic components play a game of Transformers. A dining table drops down from a wall like an ironing board. A cantilevered desktop slides out from under a window sill. On demand, full height screens slide and reconfigure to one’s daily needs.

As clever as these compact homes are, urbanists highlight many drawbacks. For example, the high density of Micro-Apartments in one city block delivers ten times more cars, congestion, consumption and waste.

What is California Dreamin’? Is it the biggest luxurious estate you can dream up? Or is luxury in the form of an ingenious shoebox condominium?

Luxury estate in Beverly Hills, California, by Martin/Poon Architects
Luxury estate in Beverly Hills, California, by Martin/Poon Architects

At Poon Design, we have designed California homes that are over 35,000 square feet comprising a dozen buildings. We have also designed studio apartments in Crenshaw for young professionals whose proud possessions are only an iPhone and a futon.

With either, who is to judge the appropriate quality of life?

Extra-large vs. petite, both proven successful by sales—these two trending philosophies represent a continuing dividing society. Imagine the homeowner with twenty Ferrari’s living in a 100-sqaure foot house. Similarly, imagine the young self-proclaimed savior of our planet trying to live at a property with three homes and three swimming pools.

Both fantasies are amusing, but tragic allegories.

© Poon Design Inc.