Tag Archives: OMA

#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 from OMA)

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.

Gardenhouse, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Nic Lehoux)

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 from archdaily.com and johnstonmarklee.com)

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.)

#163: THE MOST BREATHTAKING BUILDINGS OF 2022

December 30, 2022

(photo from Adam Mork)

In 2017, I listed my all-time favorites. In 2019, I presented ten projects I called the most seductive. In 2020, the adjective used was most intriguing. In 2021, my essay displayed buildings that were the most striking. For the end of 2022, I highlight what takes my breath away. Defining breath-taking typically involves words such as awe-inspiring, astonishing, wondrous, and even out-of-this-world.

(photo from Adam Mork)

1: The western coast of Greenland offers the Ilulissat Icefjord Centre, both a research center and eloquent sculpture. Focusing on the study of massive glaciers and climate change, Dorte Mandrup’s design expresses the human condition within the science of ice, such as archeological artifacts contained in prisms of glass.

(photo by MVRDV)

2: MVRDV’s “art depot” at the Museumpark, Rotterdam, comprises multiple exhibit halls, a rooftop garden, and restaurant. This Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen takes a behind-the-scenes approach by presenting all current works along with ones usually hidden in storage, both in full display. The architect sees the mirrored exterior as an innovative response to complementing the surroundings.

(photo by Iwan Baan)

3: Google Bay View aims to operate the 42-acre campus on carbon-free energy by 2030. For Silicon Valley in Mountain View, California, a collaboration between Denmark’s  BIG and England’s Heatherwick Studio created 1.1 million square feet of building, which includes an event center for 1,000, short-term accommodation for 240 employees, 20 acres of open space, and three main buildings covered in lightweight translucent canopy structures.

(photo by Office of Architecture in Barcelona)

4: The project’s title, Origami House, is apt as this Barcelona house folds, creases, and rises out of the land adjacent to a forest and golf course. Designed by Office of Architecture in Barcelona, the paper white crispness and hidden service facilities (where are the stairs?) delivery a surreal composition, part home, part arts and crafts, and part dreamscape.

(photo by CreatAR Images)

5: MAD Architects conceived the Quzhou Stadium in China as “a piece of land art.” Though with allusions to Bradbury’s science fantasy, this 30,000-seat stadium is no fiction. As an Earthwork, it links the worlds of art installation, landscape design, and architecture, while also straddling the visions of a mad man and artistic genius.

(photo by Leonardo Finotti)

6: Since the 18th century, coffee has been a mainstay of Brazil’s economy. For the city of Carmo de Minas, Gustavo Penna Arquiteto & Associados deliver an iconic headquarters for CarmoCoffees. Introverted and introspective, save for the concave skylight, this warehouse for processing, tasting, and selling coffee explores the colors found in coffee beans.

(photo by Iwan Baan)

7: Sou Fujimoto reinterprets nature at the Hungarian House of Music in Budapest’s City Park. Inspired by sound waves, the roof structure with its 100 Swiss cheese-like holes is both inspired by nature and “neo-nature.” The connection from inside to outside is exploited though a continuous translucent glass façade, like a candy wrapper.

(photo by W Workspace)

8: Tens of thousands of aluminum pieces make up the high-relief exterior of the Museum of Modern Aluminum. Bangkok possesses a deep history of aluminum production, and he city of Nonthaburi became home to this 4,300-square-foot, prickly composition by HAS Design and Research. Serving as both a public space and urban getaway, the museum is viewed as an extension of the natural landscape offering contemplation on this busy street.

(photo by Atelier FCJZ)

9: Different than the Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Johnson’s Glass house, both using glass in the vertical direction, Yung Ho Chang explores glass in the horizontal direction. Unlike the two renowned precedents which allow views out to the landscape, the Vertical Glass House focuses on viewing up to the sky and down to the earth. Located in Shanghai, China, the residence is poetic and ambitious, though with glass floors, perhaps impractical.

(photo by OMA, Chris Stowers)

10: OMA often explores new types and forms of architecture. With the Taipei Performing Arts Center in Taiwan, the exploration reveals powerful results if not clumsily beautiful. OMA reversed the typical floor plan where the audience and performance spaces are central within the overall structure. Instead, the technical support spaces are now in the middle, and the audience is dramatically cantilevered on the exterior, hovering over public spaces, greeting the city’s fabric.

(For my recent list of faves in Los Angeles, visit here.)

#129: THE MOST INTRIGUING BUILDINGS OF 2020

January 15, 2021

Phoenix Central Park, Chippendale, Australia (Right photo by Martin Mischkulnig; left photo by Julia Charles)

As I stated at the close of 2019, I avoid “The Best of” list, because I don’t know how to define “the best.” For the end of 2019, I instead listed ten worthy projects that fit my list of The Most Seductive Buildings. For the end of 2020, the operative adjective is intriguing.

To intrigue is an act of arousing one’s curiosity or interest—to fascinate. Being intriguing can be illicit or titillating. In no particular order, I list below ten projects from last year that intrigue, enthrall, and captivate.

(photo by Hong Sung Jun)

1: For this shopping center in Korea’s Gwangyo, OMA explores the Grotesque. Like Beethoven countering Mozart’s premise that music is supposed to be pretty and lyrical, architect Rem Koolhaas has created something ugly and even frightening, yet extraordinary—beautiful in its own unabashed way.

(photo by Cristobal Palma)

2: A single poetic gesture from architect Ryue Nishizawa graces this promontory in Los Vilos, Chile. The shaped concrete roof of a weekend house is as graceful as the Pacific Ocean waves. The glass walls embrace the limitless surroundings and deliver a small structure as a gift to Mother Nature.

(photo by Chong‐Art Photography)

3: 14,600 triangular panels, each 3 feet by 7 feet, recall flowing silk, as well as nod towards Guangzhou’s tattoo culture. The design of the Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre honors the district’s history as a trading port, the Silk Road on the Sea, through the wavy skin of tessellated red aluminum panels, by Steven Chilton Architects.

(photo by Richard Barnes)

4: At the D.C. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with this project known simply as the Reach, Steven Holl Architects created building additions that blur the lines between architecture, art, sculpture, and landscape. As oddly shaped toy-like pieces, the new performance, rehearsal, and education components sprinkle themselves across a sculpted green lawn on the Potomac.

(photo by Dan Glasser)

5: Dedicated to the French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, the 40,000-square-foot museum presents over 20,000 items of couture clothing and accessories, including drawings and sketches. Elegant throughout, as are Laurent’s clothing designs, the building by Studio KO explores the patterning and texture of brick as if a woven fabric. Sophisticatedly and with understatement, architecture and fashion collide in Marrakesh, Morocco.

(photo by Nic Lehoux)

6: An unexpected addition to the housing market of Beverly Hills, MAD’s residential building speaks to us like a layered cake. With retail and commercial components on the bottom wrapped by a living wall in the middle, the structure is topped off with a rooftop village of eighteen houses, each expressing its own gable form. Conceptual strong, the resulting mixed-use project succeeds through the committed execution of a simple diagram.

(photo by Edmund Summer)

7: The Naila House in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, explores the iconic phrase, “less is more.” Architect BAAQ’ composed this house in a cross-shaped courtyard arrangement of four volumes, with airy facades facing the Pacific Ocean. Contrasting the weight of the concrete plinth, vernacular wood screens and walls allow the home to breathe and connect to the rocky landscape and nearby beach. Ignoring the typical comforts of home, the simplicity of the design challenges our architectural complacency.

(photo by Shengliang Su)

8: A captivating creation of wings and courtyards with more wings and courtyards within, the Shou County Culture and Art Center expresses the old square-ish town surrounded by city walls. Drastically different from the above courtyard project in Mexico, this project by Studio Zhu-Pei, handsomely composed and forcefully intimidating, contains within each courtyard the energy and diversity of the historic Ahui Province and Huai River.

(Top photo by Qingshan Wu; bottom photo by Archstudio)

9: By ARCHSTUDIO, my third courtyard project on this list is a renovation of a Beijing residence with seven pitched-roof buildings. Old meets new not seamlessly in aesthetic and structure, but seamlessly in experience, thoughtfulness, and Feng Shui. Modern materials and fabrication methods, such as curved glass and cantilevers, confront dilapidated wooden beams and arched doors.

(photo by Martin Mischkulnig)

10: (See first image and above.) The unconventional sensuality of conventional materials define the Phoenix Central Park, by Durbach Block Jaggers Architects and John Wardle Architects. A 13,000-square-foot visual and performing arts center supports the ongoing transformation of an ignored inner-city suburb in the Chippendale neighborhood of Sydney. Billionaire client and art collector, Judith Neilson, demanded “a total work of art” from the two collaborating design studios.

(For the list of my all-time 15 favorite buildings, visit here.)

#113: ARCHITECTURE DESIGN COMPETITIONS: ARE THEY WORTH IT?

February 7, 2020

National Congress, Brasilia, Brazil (photo by Andrew Prokos)

The design competition is both an opportunity and a trap, both worthwhile and something from which to run away. Frequently, clients establish a competition where architects are invited to submit free ideas for the hopeful chance of being victorious, winning a commission of a lifetime, and immediately be thrown into the glorious spotlight of worldwide acclaim. But beware.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C. (photo by Hu Totya)

Most design fans know the incredible story of Maya Lin . At the young age of 21, she beat out a competitive field of international architects to take home the winning commission of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Lin went from an unknown undergraduate student at Yale, to having designed one of the most beloved architectural monuments in history.

Even for veterans of our industry, the incredible impact of winning can resonate forever. Oscar Niemeyer organized the 1957 competition to design Brasilia in Brazil, and the victory to a team of designers changed lives forever, engraving in every architect’s mind an everlasting image of iconic architecture (photo at top). For me, I have entered a dozen design competitions. Some I won and some I lost. My first international victory was at 29, when I ungracefully stepped into the limelight by winning a worldwide design competition for the city of Hermosa Beach, California.

First Place Winner and awarded commission for the Hermosa Beach Water and Pier, California, by Poon Lombardi Architects (watercolor by Al Forster)

THE BAD

Most competitions are open to anyone and everyone. Note: The odds are nearly impossible. For Michael Arad’s win of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, the odds were 1 in 5,201. Additionally, many competitions are looking for free work. Expect to gamble a lot of money and probably lose. I once worked at an architecture firm that spent nearly $500,000 in hopes of winning a contract to design a sports stadium. We lost.

There are invited competitions where the client creates a short list of architects, and each competitor is provided a monetary stipend to compete. As we all learned, this “good faith” payment is short of faith, never covering even a fraction of the time and resources invested in participating in the design competition.

Finalist in the competition for the Contraband and Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, by Poon Design

A business colleague once asked me several questions to determine the value of entering an architectural competition.

– How many competitors?
– How much will you spend?
– What are the chances of winning?
– If you win, what are the chances of getting a fair contract with a good design fee?
– If you get a contract, what are the chances that the project will be built?
– If the project gets built, what are the chances that the project will be built the way you envisioned?

My colleague concluded that an architect’s interest in submitting work to a design competition was the stupidest thing he ever heard of.

Competition entry for the Key West Aids Memorial, Florida, by Poon Lombardi Architects (photo by Anthony Poon)

THE GOOD

As mentioned, a win could jump start a young career or provide a breakthrough in a steady but slow career. No question—winning provides prestige, even if the project never gets built. At our studio, we joked that second place was our target. Then we would have some bragging rights alongside modest prize money, without the headache of trying to get a project built. (Fact: most competition winning entries do not get executed.)

Honorable Mention in the competition for the New England Holocaust Memorial, Massachusetts, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

We like design competitions because they are a time for the team to put their heads together and play. Like a jazz  ensemble, we brainstorm, improvise, test new ideas, research, experiment. We don’t worry about a client’s confusing and ever-changing desires, conflicting city codes, and budgets and schedules. Instead, we just dream up our most ambitious visions.

OMA competed for the Tres Grande Bibliotheque, a new national library in Paris, France. Though only earning an Honorable Mention, the compositional and sectional ideas impacted a generation of young architects.

Design competition don’t just inspire a team of participating architects. The risks and results of competitions from winners to losers display the courage and creativity of the best minds in our industry. Even some of the losing entries or unbuilt works have changed the course of architecture.

OMA competed again for a Parisian library. Though winning the Jussieu competition, the project was never built. Again, the design ideas were seminal, and just as powerful as if the library was completed.

#55: MY FIFTEEN FAVE BUILDINGS

February 3, 2017

Dominus Winery, Yountville, Napa Valley, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

“Hey Anthony, what is your favorite building in the world?” I am often asked.

I might reply obnoxiously but with reason, “What is your favorite painting, favorite book or favorite ice cream?”

Just as there is no one favorite piece of music, there is no one favorite work of architecture. There are hundreds. But here I try. In this list of some of my favorites (in no particular order), I selected different building types and sizes—from a house to a parliament building, from a public plaza to a winery. I have also included a few of The Usual Suspects.

(photo from brownbook.tv)
(photo from brownbook.tv)

1: Can a design be both exquisitely silent and majestically heroic? Such is Louis Kahn’s 1982 National Parliament House in Dhaka.

(photo from urbansplatter.com)
(photo from urbansplatter.com)

2: In 1929, Mies van der Rohe contributed to the pioneering concept known as the Free Plan. Through a few carefully placed walls and columns, the Barcelona Pavilion gently and epically implies space and journey.

(photo from mimoa.eu)
(photo from mimoa.eu)

3: Before Ricard Bofill became fascinated with Postmodernism, he delved deep into his mind for fantastical dreamscapes. This 1975 apartment building known as Walden 7, in Sant Just Desvern, Spain, demonstrates what it means to be imaginative.

(photo from arquiscopio.com)
(photo from arquiscopio.com)

4. Situated over a station rail yard, Pinon and Vilaplana created a public square, transforming a blank space into one of Barcelona’s most powerful works of urban sculpture and place making, the Plaza de los Paises Catalanes.

(photo by Andrea de Poda)
(photo by Andrea de Poda)

5: Even in 1670, there were revolutionaries within a revolution. Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini twisted the classical world of pure geometry, and designed a chapel in the shape of an ellipse. Upon arriving inside Sant’Andrea al Quirinale in Rome, you are confronted by a twisted perspective.

(photo by Marketing Groningen)
(photo by Marketing Groningen)

6: The 2001 Wall House in The Netherlands was constructed three decades after the completed design, and a year after the death of architect John Hejduk. He juxtaposed Corbusian ideas with Cubism and Surrealism, offering one of the most formidable visions of a home.

(photo from archdaily.com)
(photo from archdaily.com)

7: During the design process for Maison Bordeaux in France, the client had a car accident that left him wheelchair bound. OMA quickly changed the 1998 design, transmuting the home office into a room size elevator, open on all four sides—where the three-story shaft is his library, art collection and office supplies.

(photo from nest-hostles.com)
(photo from nest-hostles.com)

8: In 1999, Rafael Moneo made two massive structures into leaning ethereal cubes of otherworldliness. For Spain’s Kursaal Congress Centre and Auditorium, Moneo explored prismatic volumes, glowing translucency, and double walls of rippled glass.

(photo by Sander Lukers)
(photo by Sander Lukers)

9: Some works, such as the Chapel Santa Maria degli Angeli, are pure poetry. Like the hand of God, architect Mario Botta placed this 1996 building gently in the Swiss mountains of Monte Tamaro.

(photo from azahner.com)
(photo from azahner.com)

10. It is not only astounding that Herzog & de Meuron wrapped an entire museum with dimpled, perforated, aging copper panels in 2005, but that these architects were able to convince the city of San Francisco that such a curious design idea would be the perfect addition to the beloved Golden Gate Park.

(photo by Bernard Gagnon)
(photo by Bernard Gagnon)

11: There is no limit to the extraordinary creativity of Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudi. Alongside studying the engineering of this ambitious cathedral by building an upside catenary model of stings and chains, Gaudi combined the Grotesque, Gothic and Art Nouveau, amongst many other influences. Since the start of construction of the Sagrada Familia church in 1882, the unfinished project is still underway in Barcelona.

(photo by IlGiozzi)
(photo by IlGiozzi)

12. Sometimes I think it is just fetishized retail design, but not at Rem Koolhaas’s 2001 Prada store in Manhattan. The street level floor wraps up then sweeps down to the lower level, bringing natural light to an otherwise dark space and creating the grand theater that is fashion.

(photo by Joao Morgado)
(photo by Joao Morgado)

13: At the early age of 26, Alvaro Siza created one of the most graceful compositions. More than a mere restaurant in Portugal, the Boa Nova Tea House of 1963 sits elegantly in its setting, as instinctively as the surrounding rock outcroppings.

(photo by Kevin Cole)
(photo by Kevin Cole)

14: Bernard Maybeck’s “temporary” monumental jewel of the 1915 World’s Fair still stands a century later, a romantic icon of San Francisco. With this Palace of Fine Arts, the “fictional ruin” expresses both an enduring melancholy of lost worlds and the ambition for new worlds to come.

(photo from architectural-review.com)
(photo from architectural-review.com)

15: Exploiting the elemental scenery in Napa Valley, California, Herzog & de Meuron formed the 1998 Dominus Winery with just some rocks placed in steel baskets. And that was the entire idea, the whole building.

#38: LIFE AND DEATH OF ARCHITECTURE

June 10, 2016

2016 demolition of the Netherlands Dance Theater, The Hague, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo by kojiri.jp)

One of my favorite projects was recently demolished. From the team at Poon Design, our Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Beverly Hills is no more.

A month later, another work of ours demolished: Saffron, an Indian restaurant. Years ago, 8 Fish, our design for a sushi joint also met the demise of a bulldozer.

Of two hundred completed projects by Poon Design, only these three have confronted this fate of a demolition crew. That these deaths are retail and restaurants, and knowing how often such businesses fail, I do not fret over the casualties within my portfolio. I am however amazed by my reactions: bereavement, relief and optimism.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat flagship retail, café and “Chocolate Theater,” Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016
Vosges Haut-Chocolat flagship retail, café and “Chocolate Theater,” Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016

At a collection of industrial buildings in the modish Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, our client The Container Yard invites street artists to paint—world celebrated alongside up-and-comers. With hundreds of building walls, inside and out, offering blank canvases 50 feet wide, each painter is granted autonomy to create. At this shared community, no desperate grab for territory or pronouncements of ego exist.

Giant murals at The Container Yard (photo by Anthony Poon)
Giant murals at The Container Yard (photo by Anthony Poon)

Inevitably, a mural by one artist is painted over by another artist, without hesitation or dispute. A magnificent work of brush and spray paint techniques, weeks or months in the making, may present itself for only a few days before a new artist wipes out the preceding work.

8 Fish sushi restaurant, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2011
8 Fish sushi restaurant, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2011

Other than temporary structures like an expo pavilion, a pop-up store, or a stage set, architects don’t typically design with casual ambitions and in a transitory setting like The Container Yard. When architects create, we expect our work to stand tall for decades. My ego hopes that not only will my work be accepted, but fingers crossed, also embraced for a generations.

When a project of mine must be torn down to be superseded by another architect’s vision, rejection and relief arise. In some acclaimed projects such as with Vosges, the demolition delivers disappointment that my work did not endure longer for more visitors to enjoy. But for 8 Fish, a less satisfying work of mine, I was ready to make way for another architect with better ideas.

One of my favorite architects and my professor,  Rem Koolhaas, confronts his own emotions of defeat regarding the recent death of his first major project, the much praised Netherlands Dance Theater completed in 1987. Koolhaas confesses shock that one of his most significant designs was demolished with little fanfare or concern, “That element of surprise has in a way preempted a feeling of tragedy or loss.”

Netherlands Dance Theater, The Hague, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from pritzkerprize.com)
Netherlands Dance Theater, The Hague, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from pritzkerprize.com)

My position on the eradication of my hard work is that the soul of civilization is “progressive.” As the Emerson quote asserts, “. . . it never quite repeats itself, but in every act attempts the production of a new and fairer whole.”

Though I wish that my creative work can remain permanently for people to experience forever, I accept that what I contribute to the built environment, whether a house, school or church, is but one small artifact in the immense arc known as Progress. And such are the Best Demo’d Plans of Mice and Men.

Painstaking hand carved plaster work by artisans in Marrekesh, Morocco, for Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016
Painstaking hand carved plaster work by artisans in Marrekesh, Morocco, for Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016

© Poon Design Inc.