Tag Archives: PANDEMIC


March 15, 2024

Apartment Complex, Redlands, California, by Poon Design

If you ask an architect, “How are things in architecture?”—you will typically hear about the ups and downs. Few architects will boast about how things are super great. The industry is often a roller coaster of highs and lows, climbs and falls, and exhilaration and fear.

Roller coaster (photo by Matt Bowden on Unsplash)

Once a dentist has a client, he will return for a check-up regularly. Once an accountant has a client, she will return annually to have her taxes filed. But in architecture, once the project is completed, the client has no more need for design services. Unlike dentistry, an architectural client doesn’t usually return with new buildings to design every six months.

Colby Residence, Los Angeles, by Poon Design (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

If an architect doesn’t have a new project to start on the tails of a completed project, this architect experiences the lows of the profession, e.g., loss of income, underutilized staff, lays off, etc. When the architect gets a new project, you have the highs, e.g., a new endeavor, signed contract and retainer, excited client, etc.

And if the architect gets a new project while working on current projects, she experiences both a high and a low, sometimes referred to as “a good problem.” This circumstance of winning too much work might be exhilarating, but also challenging, as in not enough architects in the firm to do the work. The quality of work might go down, overtime is required, management is stressed thin.

Traffic light (photo by almani on Unsplash)

During the life of a roller coaster project, the pace starts and stops. A client might decide quickly on the proposed design, such as instantly in a meeting, or take months to think things over with colleagues, friends, and family. If the client moves quickly, we have work to do, but if not, we wait twiddling our thumbs. Architecture is a customer-service industry, and every customer, good or bad, is a unique twist or turn of the adventure.

When the project is submitted to the city agencies (here and here) for approvals, the Plan Check process can take a few months for a small project and a few years for a large one. Within this Kafka-esque process and red tape, city codes have become frustrating moving targets, with updates every year, even every month—where the city staff themselves don’t know what they are enforcing.

Jurupa K-8 School, Jurupa Unified School District, Riverside, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E)

Architecture relies on the economy and the world. Confidence in the market sparks architectural activity which in turns keeps the construction industry active. If interest rates are too high for example, clients are hesitant to move a project forward, whether borrowing money to add onto one’s house or leveraging capital to build a performing arts center. Consider the national and global challenges of the recent years that have impacted the business of architecture: pandemic, labor shortage, shipping crisis, fuel costs, market instability, elections—even two wars.

Wall Street (photo by Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández on Unsplash)

The project budget is no doubt part of the roller coaster. Why might a project go over budget? Lots of reasons.

Add to all this the ongoing changes in technology, construction, and methodology, from AI to modular to 3D printing. Don’t forget recent movements such as biophiliaresilience, and sustainability, as well as best practices, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Escena Horizon Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Lance Gerber)

Most design businesses—small and entrepreneurial or large and corporate—want a well-oiled machine, but the reality may be closer to juggling a season of smooth sailing vs. being on the brink of financial disaster. Alongside this balancing act comes the joys of a ribbon cutting, happy client, industry honor, or public endorsement and applause.

The nature of our industry comprises the delight and elation of an amusement park ride. Creativity drives architecture, and the process, more often circular than linear, defines architecture.


September 3, 2021

Concept sketch for Escena Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Anthony Poon, Poon Design

“Host Jeff Haber shares conversations with interesting people from all walks of life, using a positive, uplifting and funny approach,” from the podcast series, No Bed of Roses, brought to you by Kenxus. Edited excerpts below are from the full podcast of episode #1030. Take a look at Part 1.

Jeff Haber: Can you share maybe some moments where, “Wow, we didn’t really plan that, but that works beautifully.” And maybe a, “Uuh, that worked a lot better on the computer than it’s doing right now.”

Anthony Poon: You’ve touched on a sore spot. Maybe it’s just the curse of being an architect/artist, in that nothing is ever done. Nothing is ever complete. Everything always seems like it could be better.

Valley Academy of the Arts & Sciences, Los Angeles Unified School District, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, Design Architect, and GKK, Architect-of-Record, photo by GKK)

Even though we’ve completed buildings of all sizes, scales, and complexities, there’s always that moment when the building’s done, everyone’s patting each other’s back, ribbon’s been cut, etc. And there’s always going to be some architect thinking, “I wish that window was moved over six inches. It would have aligned so much better with that stone joint.” Or, “The way the sunlight could have come in and just hit that reception desk—if we just used a different kind of window treatment.”

Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE, Los Angeles, California (photo by Nabih Youssef Associates)

Maybe it’s the way we’re taught in school, always thinking it should be better. But you’re right; there are also surprises. We worked with the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE for their mixed-use complex, that 54-story hotel condo tower. We were asked to create a security screen at the street level, separating the street from the porte cochere, where all the high-end luxury guests arrive, the athletes, the celebrities, the affluent.

We created this kind of artistic sculpture. It’s about 90 feet long with 260 steel fins 10 feet high. These fins are slightly contoured. The result creates this amazing unintended illusion of movement. As you’re walking by, the images on the other side appear to be constantly moving and changing, even though they are actually stationary.

Crystal ball (photo by Jake Willett on Unsplash)

Jeff: I would imagine there’s part of your calculations where you go, “Well, average lifespan for a client’s project  looks like it’s three decades. So what will this space look like in decade one, two, and three?” Do you guys think about that? Work your crystal ball and say, “Where do we see design going over these next few decades? And how do we make this timeless?” Or do you just say, “Let’s do this now, what we’re inspired by now. And that’s it.”

Anthony: A colleague of mine had recently called architects, called me a futurist, in that we do have to project into the future and think about how a design will be used and how it will evolve. Now no one has a crystal ball. No one knows for example, that a pandemic is on the way and restaurants might change entirely or how schools are used. But we’re here to do our best to think ahead.

Villa Sunset, Los Angeles, California, by Martin/Poon Architects (photo by Anthony Poon)

I can think of one project and its big turning point. It was a large residential estate, designed before the days of iPads. This client wanted to create a specific room off of the entrance that he called the “document signing room.” He was a businessman, an executive. We designed this beautiful walnut-clad library where he would welcome his business associates, and he would sign and store documents there.

The amazing thing is, during the course of designing this project, the iPad was created as well as technology following that, apps like DocuSign. And all of a sudden, this client realized all those files he talked about getting signed and stored could all fit on his iPad. He could have them at his fingertips, and everyone can sign things electronically. So that room that we created, that we fetishized over, that he was so excited about, no longer needed to be there. It’s amazing how within 18 months, the entire way this one client did work within his house changed.

We try our best to predict these trends. But we don’t have crystal balls. We can’t say, “What is Apple going to produce next?” All we can do is design adaptability and flexibility into our designs so that when things change, we’re able to help our clients rework and adapt to a new and evolved lifestyle.

iPad (photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash)

Jeff: Is design informed by society, or does society inform design?

Anthony: It’s both. There is a reactive aspect to design in which we’re looking at society and culture, and we’re also looking at neighborhoods and how people use their specific individual spaces. We then respond to that.

But I think it’s the other way around too. Maybe it’s the ego of the artists. There are thinkers, whether they’re poets, architects, or writers, that create ideas that are definitely informing society—suggesting ways in which society could operate and function better. I mean, what would the world be without thinkers like Steve Jobs? What would the world be without beauty, the people who imagine how things could be better, or the inventors creating things? So I think it works both ways, that architects are responsive, reflexive, and respective of what society is telling us. But we’re also looking ahead and saying, “There might be a different way.”


July 2, 2021

Whitefish River Run, Montana, by Poon Design (rendering by Mike Amaya)

“Host Jeff Haber shares conversations with interesting people from all walks of life, using a positive, uplifting and funny approach,” from the podcast series, No Bed of Roses, brought to you by Kenxus. Edited excerpts below are from the full podcast, episode #1030.

Podcast: No Bed of Roses, by Jeff Haber

Jeff Haber: Hey there, everyone, from beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado, halfway between Cheyenne in Denver and 5,003 feet above sea level. The dictionary defines architect as a person who designs buildings, and in many cases also supervises their construction. That definition is fine, but barely scratches the surface as you’ll learn from today’s guest.

Anthony Poon is an award-winning American classical pianist, mixed-media artist, published author, interior designer, guest lecturer, and oh, yeah, he’s an architect—a really talented one.

Anthony, let’s talk about the pandemic: You work primarily in California, or do you work in other areas as well?

Anthony Poon: Primarily California, but we get our fingers into other locations. I’m also licensed in Virginia and Montana. We’ve also done a lot of work in the Chicago area, and we’ve designed projects as far as Saudi Arabia.

Buddhist Pavilion, Natural Bridge, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Jeff: How much of an impact has the pandemic had on you currently? And how much of an impact will it have on the way you now go through your design process? How does this make you approach communal spaces?

Anthony: A lot of things that we responded to and changed due to the pandemic—well, a lot of these ideas will stay in place. For example, people have learned that their company teams can work remotely and still be effective. Or, the new views on hygiene and cleanliness should apply into the future, pandemic or not, i.e.: for a school, restaurant, retail, or going into any public space.

Berkeley Hall School Master Plan, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

I think of one of our clients, a development office in Beverly Hills. We’re asked to redesign their office because they now realize they don’t need to have 100% of their staff back in person. We are looking at a “hotel concept” and micro-offices where there are multiple areas that are shared and used at different points of the day. The office can be smaller in square footage, but still support the same size company or even bigger. Remote connections will stay around, but people will certainly come back together in person and collaborate. Human contact is so important. There’s also so many things we’re learning about mechanical systems, ventilation, and air conditioning. It was a crash course for everyone this last year. We’re not going to throw away that knowledge.

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

Jeff: What about the use of outdoor space? Is there anything you’re kind of ruminating on?

Anthony: When we talk about outdoor space, I’m thinking two things. One is the smaller scale spaces like that of a restaurant patio. And the other is the concept of public space. I’m talking streets, parks, communal spaces, and plazas.

Generally in California, you’re only allowed outdoor space that’s about half of your interior dining room. Well, that’s obviously changed because of Covid. New ordinances will be created to allow restaurants to keep doing what they are currently doing: have a permanent large outdoor patio. And it can’t be just temporary chairs and tables thrown up. The patio should include ideas like we did at Chaya Downtown where the outdoor dining is as thoroughly designed and detailed as the interior.

Traffic (photo by Tommy on Unsplash)

Now shifting to the other thing I said, public space. We need to start thinking about cities, say San Francisco or New York. People wonder, are they are coming back at the same density? How do you walk down the street when there’s hundreds of people? Who knows what’s going to happen in terms of distancing? So we need to think about street life and our public spaces, our parks. Certain communities closed down parts of streets for distanced foot traffic. Take Culver City, for example. There’s so much more outdoor dining downtown and public space. They city closed down certain traffic lanes to allow for that to happen. It’s very European, and no one is complaining about traffic and parking. We all still know how to get there, how to get to parking. Point is, we don’t have to design cities, particularly Los Angeles, to be about the car and this automobile street. We should think about the public spaces, pedestrians, where you can enjoy outdoor spaces.

Three-legged stool (photo from etsy.com)

Jeff: Heresy! What this man is saying for the car capital.

Anthony: Blasphemy!

Jeff: It’s not just designing. There’s the business of design. On a weighted basis, is it 50/50 between the creative flow and then client facing and all the ops that you have to deal with? What is that ratio, do you think?

Anthony: First, I would redefine it as a three-legged stool. The ratio is 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.

The first leg is the creative.

Anthony Poon’s mixed-media art in progress (photo by Anthony Poon)

The second is the logistics of science and engineering—and things like gravity. So you’ve created a beautiful project, but you still need to make sure it stands up, you still need to figure out the thickness of those concrete walls, and how much steel is being used. You need to coordinate with your structural engineer to make sure it all works.

Logistics of building (photo by Shivendu Shukla on Unsplash)

Now the last third is that of a business, that of an entrepreneur and a business owner. We have to go out there and we have to get work. We have to sign contracts. There are insurance policies. There are things to review with lawyers. There’s billing and making sure you get paid so that you can pay rent salaries. So it is a

Business: hitting the pavement (photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash)

Jeff: For any young person considering a career in architecture, any pro tips?
Anthony: Realize that you’re going into architecture for tremendous artistic rewards—that it’s an incredible profession because it is a career based around being creative. But I say ‘artistic rewards’ only because the financial rewards are challenging. It’s a roller coaster ride. You don’t often hear of architects being rich and famous, earning salaries of investment bankers and attorneys. And that’s okay. People go into architecture because it is hard and it is creative, not because they’re looking to be rich and famous.

© Poon Design Inc.