Tag Archives: OMA

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.)

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.

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.

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

MASSACRE AT HARVARD

April 15, 2016

“The Trays,” design studios at the Graduate School of Design, Gund Hall (photo by Kris Snibbe, Harvard University News Office)

I looked up at the packed house, my heart racing.

Students, faculty and interested parties filled the uninspiring concrete theater. Fifty onlookers growing to a hundred. Almost sadistically, the review of our mid-term work at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design is a guaranteed public spectacle. A few stars would be made that day; others might go down in flames.

Down front were my dozen classmates, most of whom hadn’t slept for days, arriving at this event having subsisted for weeks on a diet of cigarettes, coffee, and sugar. The evaluation of our work, an open forum called “crits,” is an event of theatrics, melodrama, and catharsis. There would be no covert submitting of our papers like an English major, at a specified time into some designated box, quietly, secretly.

No, we would each leave this day knowing where we stood, where our future might lie. Everyone else would know too. After each student’s elaborate presentation fueled by months of a creative high, with our drawings pinned to the wall and scale models on a solitary table, with our note cards embellished with the most convincing air of intellectual bullshit, the “jury” begins their critique comprised of praise, appreciation, judgment—and/or ridicule.

Euralille, Lille, France by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from abe-industry.com)
Euralille, Lille, France by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from abe-industry.com)

The audience was larger than usual, as the professor of my class was a rock star of architecture, coined lamely by the media a “Starchitect,” a man of incomparable intellect, intimidating presence, and literal massiveness of forehead, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. (Years later, Koolhaas was awarded the highest honor in the architecture industry, the Pritzker Prize, akin to a Nobel Prize. And yes, his name is Cool House.)

As if that wasn’t enough to ensure a sold-out show, Koolhaas invited his New York colleague, Steven Holl, another impressive force in the field of design. (Holl would go on to be the Gold Medal recipient from The American Institute of Architects.)

Horizontal Skyscraper, Vanke Center, Shenzhen China, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Iwan Baan)
Horizontal Skyscraper, Vanke Center, Shenzhen, China, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Iwan Baan)

The project assigned to my class was the design of a convention center in Lille, France, at a location that would soon be the continental arrival zone of The Chunnel—an engaging and challenging student project—and a real commission on which Koolhaas was working. When completed, his behemoth project totaling eight million square feet would become known as Euralille, one of the most ambitious architectural statements of the time.

Drawings of convention center project by Anthony Poon
Drawings of convention center project by Anthony Poon

It was my turn to present. I did my best to exude not only confidence but heartfelt belief that my design was the right direction for the project. As a student of the creative arts, I felt emboldened to take a righteous or even moral stance with my thesis.

With the size of buildings unlike anything ever conceived, my design would hover over train tracks through some wild fantasy of structural engineering about which I knew nothing. I supplemented my formal presentation of large black-and-white ink drawings with artifacts of my so-called artistic process. As much as professors liked seeing the final product, they also appreciated the evidence of introspective process, such as numerous sketches and crude cardboard models. From drawing to drawing I dashed. Waving my arms, shaking my head in self-affirmation, I spoke about grandeur and ambition.

I concluded. I took a breath. I awaited my public review.

Presentation model of convention center project by Anthony Poon
Presentation model of convention center project by Anthony Poon

Holl spoke first. “I appreciate the work here, and the background story of how you got from the beginning of the semester to this point.”

He continued, his voice lowered—and I could feel everyone in the fishbowl lean in closer.

“I am sorry, Anthony.” He picked up the small, earliest conceptual paper model. “Maybe you had it right here.’’

Oh shit, I thought.

“I am sorry, but you not only had it right here, you wasted the rest of the semester making your first concept worse, exploring bad ideas, wasting the contributions of your fellow students and your professor . . . and . . . you are wasting our time right now.”

The public “crit” at the Graduate School of Design, Gund Hall (photo from serie.cn)
The public “crit” at the Graduate School of Design, Gund Hall (photo from serie.cn)

The gasps from the spectators in the coliseum were not only audible, but physical I swear. I looked up. More people were arriving. The word in the hallway must have been that a classic crit massacre was going on. Whispers in the audience had begun even before Holl completed his diatribe. “Anthony’s a failure.” “I thought he was better.” “Let’s see if he will cry.”

Without even the most banal compliment for my effort, without my even being granted the proper allocated time of twenty minutes, Koolhaas stepped in to end it. Out of mercy, I am sure.

“Let’s move on to the next student’s presentation.”

Koolhaas’ blow was so swift that it was neither here nor there; it was just an end to the whole miserable circus of public humiliation. Koolhaas was bored, as so many smart people are when in the presence of the mediocrity of mere mortals.

Gund Hall, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by John Andrews (photo by Harvard GSD)
Gund Hall, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by John Andrews (photo by Harvard GSD)

I picked up my models, gathered up my drawings and sketchbook, and crawled out of the auditorium. I walked out into the early, crisp cold of Cambridge, and ended up at my dimly lit, ground floor, one-bedroom apartment. I let all my work fall to the floor. I fell into my bed, face first.

This is my future. Whether a city hall or a shopping center, architects design in a public forum. Our work is out there for a generation or more, in the glaring eye of acclaim, criticism, and sometimes, mockery.

“WITH GREAT POWER THERE MUST ALSO COME GREAT RESPONSIBILITY!”

May 30, 2015

Covers of Time: Wright, January 17, 1938, Saarinen, July 2, 1956, and Le Corbusier May 5, 1961

Are architects celebrities? Are they rock stars? Do “Starchitects” exist amongst mere mortals?

Years back at UCLA, I attended a lecture by Pritzker Prize, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas (my Harvard professor). Endless crowds lined up all day in advance for the evening performance. Upon opening the doors, the large auditorium was full in seconds. The organizers opened up two additional auditoriums with the lecture to be broadcast on screens. All this, and masses of people still could not fit in the venues. Front row: Brad Pitt, Martha Stewart, Dianne Keaton, Michael York, Vidal Sassoon, and other design fans and fanatics.

Seattle Public Library, Washington (photo by James Ewing), by Rem Koolhaas of OMA (inset photo by Superslice)
Seattle Public Library, Washington (photo by James Ewing), by Rem Koolhaas of OMA (inset photo by Superslice)

Further years back at UC Berkeley, I attended a lecture by AIA Gold Medalist, New York architect Michael Graves. Similar thing. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people showed up trying to squeeze into a college lecture hall. Hoping to graze his shroud. Hoping to bask in god-like enlightenment.

I am not proposing that an architect could fill a stadium like Taylor Swift, a concert hall like Lang Lang, an arena like Jordan, or a theater like Baryshnikov. Rather, I am impressed with and a little weary of the influence that some architects possess by simply standing at a podium with a PowerPoint of their latest projects, anecdotes and social theories.

Michael Jordan (photo by Getty Images), Taylor Swift (photo by Startraks), Lang Lang (photo by Detlef Schneider), Mikhail Baryshnikov (photo by Thomas Giroir)
Michael Jordan (photo by Getty Images), Taylor Swift (photo by Startraks), Lang Lang (photo by Detlef Schneider), Mikhail Baryshnikov (photo by Thomas Giroir)

With his world travels and outrageous behavior, perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright was the first Starchitect. But Ancient Greece had Mnesikles. The Renaissance had Michelangelo. The British Crown had Wren. Modernism had Le Corbusier. And he, alongside Wright, Eero Saarinen and Mies van der Rohe graced the covers of Time magazine.

Sure, the spotlight is flattering. The ego is stroked, as an architect’s head inflates larger and larger.

But all this said, being an architect comes with responsibilities. Some responsibilities are obvious and some, not so obvious: provide buildings for shelter, provide a roof that won’t collapse on your head, provide beautiful structures that will stir and inspire, provide creative designs that will support the evolution of cities, and provide tremendous visions that will challenge a nation’s cultural complacency. Architects have a voice. By mere role playing, we are provided a soap box to stand on, wave our hands, wail profound statements—and hope to affect education, social policies, and the spirit of our time. Our zeitgeist.

In several venues, we have influence. As comic book writer Stan Lee declared in 1962, “With great power, there must also come great responsibility!”

This responsibility may be, at one end of the spectrum, designing homes for the homeless or hospitals in third world countries. At another end of the spectrum, the responsibility can be in designing with awareness for children, the handicap or the aging. Or working with non-profit organizations. Or being a steward for the environment. Or rebuilding a city after a natural disaster.

Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon with KAA
Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children, Los Angeles, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ KAA)

In 1968, civil rights leader Whitney Young directly insulted and challenged architects at a national convention in Portland, Oregon with this, “You are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights . . . You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.” Fire in the belly of architects, a battle was waged.

We can choose to be a celebrity in the limelight or we can choose to change the world quietly. Either way, we must choose responsibly.

© Poon Design Inc.