Tag Archives: Palm Springs

#167: MID-CENTURY MODERNISM: POINT OF DEPARTURE

March 24, 2023

Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Hunter Kerhart)

100,000 attendees descended on Palm Springs last month for Modernism Week 2023, the 10-day design festival celebrating Mid-Century Modernism (“MCM”). As a feature lecturer, I presented The Myth of Mid-Century Modernism—positing that we honor the design style of the 1950s and 1960s, but should not embalm it. For the thousands of MCM fans and fanatics, my position was blasphemous of sorts.

Speaking at the Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs (photo by Olive Stays)

There are a dozen ideas from MCM that serve well as design themes—to be adapted not regurgitated. Acknowledge past legacies, but look forward not backward.

Case Study House #9 / Entenza House, 1950, Pacific Palisades, California, by Eames and Saarinen (photo by Julius Shulman)
Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois (w/ A4E and Cordogan Clark, photo by Mark Ballogg)

The MCM concept of the open floor plan countered the traditional compartmentalization of homes. At Poon Design, we applied the open floor plan to the design of a middle school. Rather than the conventional 12-foot wide by 10-foot tall, congested hallway lined with lockers, we created a 60-foot wide by 30-foot tall corridor—more a central atrium. Within sits the community functions open and accessible—library, math amphitheater, woodshop, and social areas.

Mirman Residence, 1959, Arcadia, California, by Buff, Straub and Hensman (photo by Julius Shulman)
Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photos by James Butchart)

In California, we are blessed with moderate climate—not too hot, not too cold—that allows us to bring the outside in, blurring the division between interior and exterior. With today’s advanced engineering, the span of openings are wider. Technology even allows for sliding doors to disappear into walls.

Case Study House #22 / Stahl House, 1960, Los Angeles, California, by Pierre Koenig (photo by Julius Shulman / J. Paul Getty Trust
14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, Natural Bridge, Virginia (photos by Mark Ballogg)

Expansive walls of glass are prevalent in MCM homes. Here, we apply the ideas of lightness and transparency to a Buddhist temple. In the day, the walls of glass mirror the surrounding landscape, and at night, the glass disappears.

top: Alexander Home, Twin Palms, 1955, by William Krisel; bottom: Park Imperial South, 1960, by Barry A. Berkus, Palm Springs, California (photos from palmspringslife.com)
Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California (w/ A4E, photo by Gregory Blore)

Often called the “butterfly” and “accordion” roof, we used such shapes not as an MCM gesture on a house, but as a unifying theme throughout a high school campus. Our roof lines recall the local mountains and serves as a metaphor for the institution’s mission statement, “Learning in Action.”

Frey House II, 1964, Palm Springs, California, by Albert Frey (photo from psmuseum.org)
top and bottom left: Mendocino Farms 3rd and Fairfax; bottom right: Mendocino Farms Fig at 7th, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)

A restaurant can capture the imagination through wit and charm by applying 400 wood clothespins on chicken wire making a chandelier, faux grass expressing a new concept of the American picnic, and a mural-like chalkboard continuous from wall to ceiling.

top: Century Modern Pattern 01 (from happywall.com); bottom: color palette (from kathykuohome.com)
top left: Vosges Haut-Chocolat Factory and Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois (photo by Anthony Poon); top middle: Joss Cuisine, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Poon Design); top right and second row left: S/B Residence, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design); second row middle: Greenman Elementary School, West Aurora, Illinois (w/ A4E and Cordogan Clark, photo by Mark Ballogg); bottom left: Coral Mountain Residence C, La Quinta, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Lance Gerber); Villa Sunset, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Martin/Poon)

We enjoy the application of color and patterns, but not just as decoration—rather, to add personality to a space, to capture the spirit and character of the owner—whether a purple chocolate factory, red powder room, of multi-colored gymnasium.

left: Eichler Home, 1950s, California, by Joseph Eichler (photo from sunset.com); right: Sputnik chandelier, 1939, by Hans Harald Rath of J&L Lobmeyr (photo from etsy.com)
top: Aura Cycle, West Hollywood, California (photo by Aura Cycle); bottom left: Doheny Plaza, West Hollywood, California (photo by Hunter Kerhart); bottom right: S/B House, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design)

Light can be more than simply a source of illumination. Consider light to be similar to stone, wood, or metal. Meaning, light can also be a building material. Light can be an element to be shaped, harnessed, and applied like a painter applies oils to a canvas.

Round House, 1968, Wilton, Connecticut, by Richard Foster (photo by Iwan Baan)
bottom: Heritage Fine Wines, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Poon Design)

Having dominated architectural outcomes for centuries, the classical principles of architecture were open to MCM reinterpretation. At this wine store, the cabinetry possesses a traditional look with its cornice, trim and paneling. Yet, we applied such a traditional look to an elliptically-shaped showroom. Upon entering, the bottles of Bordeaux embrace the visitor.

Eichler Homes, Burlingame, California, by Joseph Eichler (photos by Anthony Poon)
top: Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California (photo from earth.google.com); bottom: Residence I-3, Palm Springs, California (w/ Andrew Adler, photo by Chris Miller)

As the Case Study Housing program attempted, Poon Design also sought to provide attainable, budget-driven, mass produced homes. Building and selling 230 contemporary homes in four new Palm Springs communities has earned us the highest national honor from the American Institute of Architects, the 2018 Best in Housing, alongside dozens of other regional and national awards.

left: MCM Hilltop Community, 1950, Seattle, Washington, by Paul Kirk; right: Roberts House, 1955, West Covina, California, by Richard Neutra (photo by Cameron Carothers)
Din Tai Fung, Costa Mesa, California (photos by Poon Design)??? Glendale, California (photos by Poon Design and Gregg Segal)

New tools and technology allowed us to exploit MCM’s drive for a high sense of craft. Giant lampshades at the famed Din Tai Fung restaurant reinterpret historic Chinese screens. Through computer scripted patterns alongside milling techniques of oak plywood, we created lampshades and skylights that are works of sculpture, expressing a devotion to detail and innovation.

Case Study House #8 / Eames House, 1949, Pacific Palisades, California, by Charles and Ray Eames (photo by Julius Shulman, J. Paul Getty Trust)
top: Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gregg Segal); graphic design for Chaya (by Poon Design)

MCM architects sought to provide design services combining three prominent strains: architecture, interiors and landscape. For our Chaya Downtown restaurant, we went further to deliver a cohesively designed environment. We created the branding, website, and graphics. We also designed furniture and lighting, as well as curated the art. We continued our pursuits to include the employee uniforms and even the selection of music. Music too is an element of architecture. What is heard during the morning hours of coffee is different than the business lunches—different than festive happy hour, different than an elegant dinner, and different than late night cocktails.

Case Study House #22 / Stahl House, 1960, Los Angeles, California, by Pierre Koenig (photo by Julius Shulman / J. Paul Getty Trust)
The Point Lifestyle Center, Irvine, California

We continue the optimism of MCM at larger scales and more ambitious programs than housing. For this lifestyle center serving the Asian community, the first floor comprises an Asian fish market, the second is a Korean spa, the third a Japanese karaoke bar, and the fourth a Chinese rooftop garden restaurant.

Kaufmann House, 1946, Palm Springs, California, by Richard Neutra (photo by Slim Aarons)

The design concepts of Mid-Century Modernism endure, because they are timeless and universal. The challenge is to look to MCM concepts as a platform to launch into the future—as inspiration not as nostalgia, for interpretation not replication.

#97: PODCAST PART 2: MODERN FOR THE MASSES, REVISITED

March 8, 2019

Escena Residence I-3, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Chris Miller)

Continuing with my interview for Josh Cooperman’s podcast, Convo By Design, we discussed how affordable Modern homes were created for the general home buying audience. With 225 built (and sold) homes by Poon Design within only the past few years, I think I know what I am talking about.

Excerpts below. YouTube clip here. Audio podcast here. Also, please read this recent feature by Michael Webb, Anthony Poon Delivers Modernism to Tract Housing.

Residences at Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo from Google Earth)
Linea Residence T, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Josh Cooperman: What is “Modern for the Masses”? Modern is an idea that you have embraced wholeheartedly and the idea of creating it for the masses is simply a . . . How do you jive those two and what’s the idea behind it?

Escena Garden Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Interior Illusions (photo by Lance Gerber)

Anthony Poon: Our thesis, Modern for the Masses came out of a study of a lot of homes in LA—the ones that we see in the magazines, the glossy pictures, the websites, the homes that we love in the Hollywood Hills that sell for 10 million dollars. The challenge was this: How can we create these beautiful modern homes for a fraction of the price? Build them at production level, a mass production level, and sell them.

We teamed with a developer/designer, Andrew Adler, who found distressed properties in Palm Springs. We designed a few prototypes, very Modern, not at all what you see in tract housing. Not the cheap Spanish style homes with the small windows, the fat trim, the fake tile roofs, and the wedding cake décor.

Our Modern homes are very strictly Modern. Lots of glass, open space, very sleek. To date, in the last four years, we’ve completed over 200 homes. And they’ve all been built, they’re all sold, they’ve been published extensively, and we’ve been awarded over two dozen national and regional design awards. It’s a program that has not been accomplished, as far as I know, by any other architecture studio other than Mid-Century Modern, and we’re talking about going back over 60 years.

Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by James Butchart)

 

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by James Butchart)

Josh: Your theory has been tested and it appears to have passed. Why?

Anthony: Because there is a demographic out there that has not been served. These tract housing companies that build communities of 100 homes—they rubber stamp these homes out. They’re not selling. People aren’t interested in these homes.

Our imagined home buyer is someone that wants the modern lifestyle, someone that believes in technology, iPhone, iPad, completely connected all the time. Also, someone who has a concern for sustainability, for being green. Those three things were critical to us and of course, all of these things needed to be done on a budget that was about one-fourth what you would see most homes in California being built for. That was our perfect storm. Our homes have outsold all competing developers in Palm Springs because we have a product that everyone’s been dying for.

Escena Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)
Escena Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)

Josh: There has to be some things that are limited or cut out. There has to be. What is it? What is being removed?

Anthony: There is nothing being removed. In fact, what we’re adding is a certain kind of value that makes a home better and happens to save money in construction dollars. I wouldn’t say we’re cutting or reducing anything. It’s just the way we’re rethinking architecture.

For a typical traditional house in Beverly Hills, there’s the entry, there’s the foyer, the hallway, the powder room, the niches. What do we need all that for? It’s not even what people want, and it’s what’s driving up construction costs, like framing 20 different ceilings heights throughout a house.

Escena Panorama Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Interior Illusions (photo by Lance Gerber)
Linea Residence T, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, Andrew Adler and Interior Illusions (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Josh: In fact, you’re just using what you have for the greatest effect.

Anthony: It’s similar to the approach that Minimal art can have a few brush strokes and still be dramatic and impactful for the composition. In that way, you could say that we’ve cut out pieces of architecture. I’m saying we actually added to the essence of a house.

Coral Mountain Residence Z, La Quinta, California, by Poon Design (photo by George Guttenberg)

Josh: The concept of the traditional tract home—I’m wondering why it doesn’t work. What is it going to take for your idea to expand to a general market?

Anthony: I think tract housing is failing because these companies are large. They’re money-driven. They’re stuck in old ideas. It takes a lot to turn a company around and look towards the future.

I think of the example of Tower Records. If you recall, a decade ago, MP3 players came out, iPods. Tower Records claimed that it was just a fad that they would hold onto their LPs and their albums. And look what happened to them. Tower Records is gone. iTunes has taken over the world.

So, these tract home companies that we compete with and that we beat out month to month, they’re stuck in these old ideas, these weird big Mediterranean homes, these things I call ‘Taco Bell Homes’—no one wants them anymore.

The community of Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

#6: MODERN FOR THE MASSES

April 10, 2015

Z-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by George Guttenberg)

It started with an idea that the essential qualities of luxury modern residences could be delivered to the mainstream marketplace at affordable prices.

Custom modern residences are evident throughout California, but what average American family can afford such homes ranging from a few million dollars to upward of $20 million? On the other hand, affordable tract housing proliferate our suburbs, but do these faux-Mediterranean-Spanish-inspired stucco boxes have architectural integrity, relevance and merit?

Panorama Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)
Panorama Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)

For Poon Design, infusing tract housing, also known as production housing, with modern luxury design was a new kind of challenge, a different kind of business, and an entirely distinctive kind of architecture. As client/developer Andrew Adler, CEO of Alta Verde Group, has put it: “We are democratizing good design.”

While somewhat new for architecture, democratizing good design has been demonstrated by a number of world famous designers, such Michael Graves designing a product for Target. Graves first designed his famous tea kettle 25 years ago for Alessi, an Italian kitchen utensil distributor that represented some of the most well-known architects and designers of the time, such as Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck and Zaha Hadid. Many of Alessi’s products are so celebrated that they are in the permanent museum collections, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The tea kettle Graves designed for Alessi was priced at several hundred dollars to the luxury buyer seeking.

Many years later, Graves designed a very similar tea kettle for Target—and it costs less than $40. The two kettles were near exact in concept and details. Graves’s design went from being offered to the sophisticated, wealthy and elite, to the average person, who although shopping on a budget, still seeks and appreciates good design.

B3-Living-Room-Med

top: B-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (staging by Interior Illusions); bottom: I-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photos by Chris Miller)

Poon Design adopted this for architecture, at the first of four communities designed and constructed with Alta Verde in Palm Springs, at a development called Escena. With Mr. Adler as design partner, Poon Design developed four home prototypes for 130 lots on 21 acres. The 3-bedroom prototypes captured many ideas, both proven and exploratory: extended roof overhangs for passive cooling and protection from the heat; drought tolerant native landscape; regional building materials; reflective energy efficient cool roof; electric car chargers; LED lighting; and rooftop solar panels.

Horizon Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)
Horizon Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)

We promoted a new kind of architecture that we entitled, “This Century Modern,” which was a nod to the popular title, “Mid-Century Modern.” Currently 100 homes have been built and sold, and new phases of construction are ongoing, many homes pre-sold. Our architecture has been bestowed with a dozen national design awards.

Though just homes, the force and impact of great architecture can come at a community scale, acknowledging a framework for how a municipality might evolve. The blank canvas for ground breaking residential design is not only the single lot for one homeowner, but rather, it can be for entire neighborhoods.

Zen Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, interior staging by Interior Illusions (photo by Lance Gerber)
Zen Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, (staging by Interior Illusions, photo by Lance Gerber)
© Poon Design Inc.