Tag Archives: PERFECTION


December 22, 2023

Study models, Golf Performance Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

We architects call our industry the “practice of architecture.” This is so, because we are still practicing. It is not called the accomplishments of architecture or the perfection of architecture. It is rare that architects consider themselves accomplished. Even after several decades of professional practice, I am still just practicing.

Poon Design Inc. (photo by Anthony Poon)

The practice of architecture embraces the unreachable goal of perfection. As a classical pianist, I relate. To perform a work of Bach or Chopin, for example, you have to practice…and practice…and practice. The goal is perfection, but in classical music, is perfection attainable? Consider the odds: Can even the most accomplished concert pianist play a piano sonata consisting of one-million notes and not make a single mistake? And make it beautiful?

In architecture, no matter how great a completed building is, we always think it could be better—should be better. Even when a glorious beam of sunlight gracefully illuminates an art gallery the we successfully designed, we will still judge our work. “Oh, the stone trim should have had a sandblasted finish instead of honed, then the reflection would be a few degrees softer. And the window should be moved over two inches for optimal, blah, blah.” No one cares, but we try and try again to get it right.

Construction mock up for the acoustic wall treatment of a music room, Pacific Palisades, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

A moving target, we must try to learn all the code requirements, whether structural engineering, fire exits, energy compliance, water percolation, or ADA compliance. Such items and hundreds more change constantly as a city plan checker issues yet another addendum. The process has become so convoluted that even the plan checkers themselves do not know the requirements they have drafted.

Sketches, Golf Performance Center, Los Angeles, California (by Anthony Poon)

At times, technology moves at a pace faster than the practice of architecture. With AI, 3D printing, modular, BIM, AR/VR, computational design, robotic fabrication, building performance analysis, etc., we are always learning, or falling short of learning, the latest and greatest in software and equipment.

3D printed models for an office-to-housing conversion, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

If each new client, good or bad, was the exact same as the previous, then we could practice our client service skills to perfection. The meetings, presentations, and decision-making processes would become routine, hence being well-practiced and eventually needing no more practicing. But of course every client is different in personality, expectations, experience, and thinking.

Studies for Enzoani Bridal Salon, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Poon Design is a boutique design studio. Each project is custom designed, never a cookie cutter solution. If our work was like Richard Meier’s elegant white structures, then when it comes time to pick a paint color, the choices are white 1 vs. white 2. That’s it. But for our projects, each being unique, the choices are endless, not just the 98 shades of white, but maybe vivid colors, pastels, or earth tones.

Material research for The Improv, Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Beyond the creative world of design, the practice of architecture also involves the logistics of running an office, e.g., marketing and business development, hiring and staffing, payroll and accounting, insurance and rent, state employer laws, and so on.

So in the end, with each project, with each client, with another year under our belt, with another national design award, we get closer to being accomplished as a professional. But even then, we will all say this is still the “practice of architecture.”

Sketch for mixed-use project, Redlands, California (by Anthony Poon)

Bruce Lee once said, “Practice makes perfect. After a long time of practicing, our work will become natural, skillful, swift, and steady.” But for architects, such perfection may take a lifetime or longer.


August 4, 2017

Patina’d signage of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Wabi-sabi: This Japanese aesthetic concept has been around for centuries. Today, in our worrisome world, Wabi-sabi has returned with a vengeance and popularity. This philosophy describes a type of beauty that is imperfect, ever changing, and even, wonderfully flawed.

Intensely and vividly sculpted, Auguste Rodin’s sculptures displayed a desire to express an incomplete craft. Rather than the predictably perfect, classical marble sculpture, this 19th century French artist’s works are imperfect sculptures from the human hand. And he is eager to display his flawed humanity.

In Rodin’s finished pieces, one can see the imprints of his tools and fingers—and even his fingernails.

left: An example of sculpting clay in preparation for final bronze, though not Rodin (photo from philippefaraut.com); right: Honore de Balzac by Rodin (photo from nevalee.wordpress.com)

At Poon Design Inc., certain projects request that we celebrate what might be wrongly judged as flaws and inconsistencies in our architecture. We prefer hand-crafted architecture, not things machine-made or mass-produced. Like jazz, like weathering, like life with patina, our architecture expresses the perfection of imperfection. Or even the imperfection of perfection.

left: Design inspiration of a bird’s nest (photo from community.qvc.com); right: Meditation retreat house, guardrail made from industrial piping and hemp twine, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

If technology in design and fabrication produces items that are  too perfect, then technology can be a crutch. Although technology has made our production efforts efficient, technology has also made our activities too textbook-finished. Today, we can design any kind of wall pattern on a laptop, and then have water jet or laser cutting machinery create that exact pattern on several large slabs of marble or steel panels. With a push of a button, the quality is flawless, the exercise is easy, and the pattern is perfect. But perhaps too perfect.

left: Design inspiration of motion within silk cloth; right: Parking structure, fabric pattern represented in water-jet cut perforated metal panels, Irvine Spectrum Center, California, by Poon Design

If too perfect, is such a work impressive? Where is the human hand?

left: The graphic density of a classical music score; right: The graphic lightness of a jazz music score
Me performing Khachaturian’s Toccata in E Flat minor, at the 2012 Architects in Concert, “Unfrozen Music”

The graphic weight of a classical music score suggests a complete work, while the jazz score wants more notes. A jazz score is beautifully incomplete and imperfect. No matter how many musicians fill in the missing notes, the music may never be perfect. And folks, this is okay.

When I practice my classical repertory, it is at times painful and laborious—as I try so hard to hit each of the 500,000 notes perfectly. I strive for perfection, truth and the absolute.

In jazz, I am given only a basic outline. A jazz player fixates little on classical perfection. Jazz is intuitive and improvisational. As I stated that life with patina is good, jazz music encourages patina, imperfections and powerful individuality.

Detail of Buenos Aires-inspired ironwork at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

In classical music, when a wrong note is played, it is quickly buried under a flurry of other notes. When a mistake is made in a jazz performance, that ‘mistake’ is exploited as a wonderful and positive thing. The jazz musician will bang on that wrong note a few more times to make sure the audience hears it. The performer makes something new and special out of the wrong note. Wabi-sabi.

left: inspiration of African basket making (photo by Holt Renfrew); right: Exterior light fixtures made from actual handmade baskets shipped from the African commune called Ten Thousand Villages, installed at the outdoor dining of Chaya Downtown, fabricated and designed by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
© Poon Design Inc.