Tag Archives: PETER ZUMTHOR

NO BED OF ROSES, PART 4 OF 4: CHALLENGES OF THE HUMAN CONDITION

March 11, 2022

Luma Arles Tower, Arles, France, by Frank Gehry (photo by Baptiste Buisson on Unsplash)

“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, part 2, and part 3.

Jeff Haber: Who’s out there that is inspiring you with what they’re doing? Is there anybody that catches your eye?

Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, Mechernich, Germany, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Lisa Therese on Unsplash)

Anthony Poon: There are a lot of influential people. I mean, Frank Gehry—I don’t know who doesn’t admire his work as an architect, artist, sculptor. Peter Zumthor, who is the architect of the new LACMA, the county museum under construction–he’s a Swiss architect, and everything he does is so poetic, so simple and elemental. One of my professors from Harvard is Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect who does amazing things, so creative, how he rethinks what the client wants, whether it’s a corporate headquarters or a house. He delivers a unique solution every time.

But I also look for inspiration in people that aren’t architects, to inspire my architecture. As an example, I love the music of Thelonious Monk. His music is offbeat; it’s sometimes discordant, sometimes rhythmically off. But at the same time, it’s beautiful, improvisational. I listen and ask, “How can that inspire what I’m writing, what I’m painting, or what building I’m designing?”

Album cover for Monk’s Dream

Jeff: Is there a project that you have where you would walk us through and say, “See this section here, I was listening to this for Monk, or this was inspired by something.” Are there pieces of projects that you could directly relate to a piece of music?

Courtyard of Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photo by George Lambros)

Anthony: A lot of times the relationship to music is abstract. It’s more of a conceptual influence. But there is a school that we designed just outside of Chicago in the city of Aurora. It’s an elementary school with a focus on the performing arts. I took a piece of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of his piano Partitas, and studied the score and notations. That helped me lay out the window patterns, inspired me to create a play of window shapes and bays projecting off the brick. The building looks very musical as it rolls down the street. Someone who doesn’t see this metaphor, it’s okay. All they might see is a very interesting building. Or someone might say, “I like how the scale has been broken down—less institutional looking and suits the size of the one- and two-story homes across the street.” The result is there, and people can read into what they will. I know from my standpoint, it started with Bach.

Greenman Elementary School and music of J.S. Bach (drawing by Anthony Poon w/ A4E)

Jeff: Is there a space that you have experienced, that has evoked very strong emotion for you? I’ve been into spaces that have moved me to tears.

Barcelona Pavilion, Spain, by Mies van der Rohe (photo by Tomas Val on Unsplash)

Anthony: Yes, I would say, “yes!”—plenty of times through travels and backpacking through Europe, visiting some of the historic churches, museums, and sculpture gardens—just walking into the Pantheon, or some of the chapels in Rome. A specific example, which may not be an obvious one is in Barcelona. There’s a pavilion, often called the Barcelona Pavilion or the German Pavilion, designed by Mies van der Rohe. It’s just this elegant marble, steel and glass composition, not much bigger than a small house, but it’s so perfectly put together. It was groundbreaking in the way it defined space and didn’t define space, the way you didn’t know whether you’re inside or outside. It’s such a pure piece of architecture.

Jeff: This is part of the human condition. We can be reduced to very base human instincts, and design can make us soar. When I worked as an actor, I had a teacher tell me, “You’re a conduit for something much bigger than you.” I don’t know if you feel that there’s a force bigger greater than you that is just channeling through you or not, as the artist that you are. Man, we have that ability to channel that energy. Design can help elevate all of us. Do you feel like you’ve connected with something bigger? Is there something to it? I might just puffing this up, or…?

(photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash)

Anthony: We definitely acknowledge something bigger. Our thinking is that our skills and talents are used to challenge the human spirit. And if it’s a temple, we’re there to enliven the human spirit. If it’s a school, we’re there the counter the children and say, “Is this the best way to socialize and learn?” We’re constantly asking these bigger picture questions because I think whatever skills or talents that I have, they’re to be used, tested, to take risks, and see if they can be offered to challenge the status quo.

NEW MASTERS OF THE TRADE

December 4, 2020

Ashen Cabin, Ithaca, New York, by HANNAH (photos by Andy Chen, HANNAH)

Before the advent of technology, architects used tools that supported their Old School activities, like sketching and making physical models—all done by hand. Today, items such as a T-square, circle template, or X-acto blade have been replaced by tools of our digital age, for example, Revit and 3D printing. Yet, most of our leading designers—consider the practicing Pritzker Prize laureates—are only familiar with their old tools of the trade. Limited even.

Galleria Department Store, Gwanggyo, South Korea, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo by Hong Jung Sun and OMA)

Though such famous individuals have a staff engaging current technology on a daily basis, I suspect these big name architects do not personally design with apps like 3ds Max and Maxwell. I doubt Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, and Peter Zumthor are writing parametric algorithms on their laptops, or creating virtual structures through Building Information Modeling. These architects probably still use pencil on paper.

Dr Chau Chak Wing facility for UTS Business School, Sydney, Australia, by Frank Gehry (photo by Chris Charles)

Meaning, if one person starts the process and others continue it, there is a disconnect between the original concept and its development. The principal architect maybe the creator at the start, but for the remainder of the process, he is but a critic, watching others create in his place, fleshing out ideas with the highest technology available.

Eventually, this disconnect will be gone, and the new processes will generate different results. The 30-something architect, who uses Grasshopper and Viz Render, will soon become the industry veteran. Then, the same mind and hands will work on the project from inception to completion. No disconnect. These future thought leaders will find no need to have others continue in lieu of an old-guy-boss lacking certain industry standard skills.

Villa in Devon, England, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Jack Hobhouse/Living Architecture)

What will the industry and the resulting architect look like when these younger architects, who are facile in all the current tools of today, become the world famous designers? When the disconnect is gone, structures will be designed differently, constructed differently, and look different in the end. There will be notions, materials, and methods not even thought of yet.

Ashen Cabin, Ithaca, New York, by HANNAH (photos by Andy Chen, HANNAH)

This recently completed house in Ithaca, New York, is a stellar work of sustainable thinking, digital design, and fabrication technologies. Using 3D scanning and robotics, the architects transformed a material typically wasted—infested Ash wood—into an exciting building material. Readily available, affordable, and green. Other innovations include the 3D-printed, concrete, feet-like base of the cabin.

Cork House, Berkshire, England, by Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne, and Oliver Wilton (photos by Matthew Barnett Howland, Dido Milne, and Oliver Wilton)

Another example of new minds and methods is the Cork House in Berkshire, England. The architectural pioneers offered a design of 1,268 cork blocks sustainably harvested from the bark of a cork oak tree. The blocks are intended to be efficiently dismantled and reused—or recycled. Both walls and roof comprise this single bio-renewable material. With a structure of engineered timber, the cork modules require no glue or mortar, while providing insulation to the house.

Merriam-Webster defines “brave new world” as “a future world, situation, or development.”

THE GIFTERS PODCAST, PART 1 OF 2: ARTS, ARCHITECTURE, AND AUDIENCE

May 22, 2020

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

I am pleased to be a guest on Christopher Kai’s podcast, The Gifters: Your Story is a Gift to the World (episode 209). As a global speaker, author, and executive coach, Mr. Kai speaks to Fortune 100 companies, from Google to New York Life, from American Express to Merrill Lynch. His podcast “shares inspiring stories from captivating entrepreneurs and extraordinary individuals who are changing the world.” Excerpts below.

Christopher Kai (photo from bookingworldspeakers.com)

Christopher Kai: Our guest today is Anthony Poon. He’s an architect and musician and author and an artist. Anthony, thanks so much for being here, where your story is a gift to the world. I’ve met a lot of people in my life, but I’ve never met a guy who’s a musician, author, artist, and architect. How do you have all these really cool interests? What started it all? How old were you when you had an inkling of some of your talents?

Anthony Poon: It started with music. In my mind, all of these four things are connected. My goal at an early age was to be a concert pianist. I trained and I practiced. As I got older, I started to think more practically about a career, and I’ve always enjoyed design and architecture.

There was a point of my life where I had to pick one path or the other. I was looking at two grad school applications, Juilliard for music vs. Harvard for architecture. I think the practicality of my Asian parents had me think, well, I better be an architect, because the odds are better for me to support myself, than being a classical pianist.

Me at St. Paul’s, Rancho Palos Verdes, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

I chose architecture. The great thing is that running a design company and being an entrepreneur still gives me the freedom to play piano, to write music, to teach, and even perform a little. I don’t think it would have worked the other way around where I am a concert pianist and trying to operate an architecture office.

The overlap in all of it is that my work requires an audience, whether I’m playing music for myself, for a small group, or for a large venue. Architecture too requires an audience. It requires visitors and users. When I author a book, I’m counting on there being a reader. When I do my mixed-media art, it also requires an audience. They are all forms of communication for me to share stories with others.

Alleyway, 30” x 42”, March 10, 2019, by Anthony Poon

Christopher: That’s inspiring. My business is based in L.A., but right now I’m currently in Miami, and one of the most inspiring architects here is a woman named Zaha Hadid. For you, who inspires you as an architect, and what can we learn as entrepreneurs? Primarily our audience are entrepreneurs, but I’m all about how we can learn from different people and different professions. Who’s one architect that you admire, and what’s one thing that you feel that you’ve learned as an architect that you can perhaps share with our listeners?

Anthony: The architect that comes to mind is Peter Zumthor. He is a Swiss architect. He’s currently designing the new controversial Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I admire him because he has crafted his role as an artist within the profession of architecture. He stays focused on what his philosophy is, and chooses only a few special projects every couple of years to work on—and therefore giving the projects his most inspired ideas. So Peter Zumthor, for those who don’t know—his work is beautiful. It’s elemental, timeless, and shows a lot of ideas around minimalism, abstraction, and materiality.

Proposed Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, by Peter Zumthor (rendering from LA Times)
Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine Concept, University of California San Diego, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, rendering by Douglas Jamieson)

Christopher: Do you feel some of your work is similar to that in terms of minimalistic and quality? What are some things that you’ve gleaned from him in your own practice as an architect?

Anthony: Our practice is a different. I think Zumthor can do what he does because he works in a small village in Switzerland. We work in the very vibrant communities of Southern California. Every project we take on is unique, and our project types are diverse. We do residential, commercial, retail, and restaurants. We also do schools and religious projects. Quite a broad mix. We think of all of our projects as telling a story, the story of the client, the client’s successes, maybe battle scars even, their vision for the company, or for an educational institution. This way our projects are full of content, material, and texture. Some make reference to history, some reference maybe a client’s most favorite piece of music or favorite poem. Our portfolio and the output is quite diverse, but intentionally so. (Stay tuned for part 2.)

GLENSTONE: A CONVERSATION BETWEEN ART, LANDSCAPE AND ARCHITECTURE

September 13, 2019

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland (photo from thomasphifer.com)

To call Glenstone a mere museum is to misrepresent the power of how a visitor can experience art. The museum’s website posits, “Glenstone is a place that seamlessly integrates art, architecture, and landscape into a serene and contemplative environment.” And boy, it’s successful.

Glenstone blurs the lines between the three mediums. Know this: “Art” is not just a simple framed painting hanging on a gallery wall. At Glenstone, art is a relationship between several forces experienced as an enchanted journey through time and space.

The “Pavilions” forming the “Water Court” (photo by Anthony Poon)

For my soon to be published second book, I scribed, “Do I like playing a Beethoven piano sonata more than writing a position article on the design industry? Do I enjoy working on a large mixed-media art piece more than designing a Buddhist temple? I don’t see any such exercises as separate, or in any way, independent from each other. Artistic endeavors are not discrete. All my investigations, experiments, tests and failures fall under the shelter of a single umbrella, a simultaneous effort—that of a creative voyage with no starting point and excitingly, no end in sight . . . Music, painting, writing, architecture, and so on. For me, it is all one artistic gesture—interconnected, intertwined, inseparable.”

Compression Line, by Michael Heizer,1968/2016 (photo by Anthony Poon)

Over the years, Glenstone’s founders, Emily and Mitchell Rales, billionaire business leader and philanthropist, amassed an incredible private art collection of approximately 1,300 works from the 20th and 21st century: Twombly, Kelly, Heizer, Basquiat, Rothko, Koons, Serra, just to name a few—the Usual (but incredible) Suspects. In Potomac, Maryland, Glenstone opened in 2006 with safe and somewhat predictable Modern buildings by New York architect, Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. The museum’s name is a mash-up of the nearby Glen Road and the indigenous Cardderock stone.

Design drawing by Thomas Phifer and Partners

In late 2018, the museum entered the transcendental world stage with architect Thomas Phifer and Partners’ powerful composition of the “Pavilions” and “Water Court,” with landscape collaboratively designed by Peter Walker of Berkeley, California. Glenstone’s 230 acres transformed into a state of mind that balances art, sculpture, installations, design, nature, water, light and all good things. Glenstone challenges one of my favorite places on Earth, the 500-acre Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York.

The Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor, Braubunden, Switzerland Zumthor (photo from vals.ch)

Akin to the Minimalism of architect Peter Zumthor’s  Therme Vals Spa in Switzerland, Glenstone is dramatic and theatrical, despite its mute Pavilions. A dozen of them, each a single art experience, center around a sunken water garden. Who knew that saying nothing and being silent can say so much?  Here, an engaging and direct conversation occurs when a massive vertical wall of Cardderock stone meets the peaceful horizontal surface of reflecting water, while above is the infinity of a blue sky. Nothing more, nothing less, and yet, so much more.

Massive and poetic vertical surfaces of Carderrock stone-clad “Pavilions” (photo by Anthony Poon)

Even the museum staff are Minimalistic. Accompanying their drab grey cotton garb with pants cropped at the ankles, they each have a small name tag of slim horizontal chrome stainless steel. But the name tags remain blank!

The approach through broad landscape, the “Pavilions” in the distance like an enigmatic modern day Stonehenge (photo from glenstone.org)
Buried in nature, one comes upon the mystery Clay Houses (Boulder-Room-Holes), by Andy Goldsworthy 2007 (photo by Anthony Poon)

The overall result of Glenstone is a must-see, near-religious experience of Modern art, elemental architecture and the pastoral outdoors. Make a reservation; the museum only lets in a limited number of people per day.  And sorry, no photography allowed within the galleries.

THE ADVERTISING OF ARCHITECTURE: THE ARCHITECTURE OF ADVERTISING

May 4, 2018

(image from knowyourmeme.com)

Lawyers advertise. So too do dentists. They run commercials; they have ads online and in print.

Architects don’t typically advertise. Are we more principled and virtuous, then to succumb to the pandering of advertising?

Better Call Saul advertisement from the television series, Breaking Bad (image from amazon.com)

PART ONE

Some celebrated architects avoid the illicit exploits of marketing altogether. Frank Gehry’s company barely has a website. In a world where online presence is the most prevalent form of branding and outreach, Gehry offers a mere single page website, not the predictable encyclopedic collection of project images, the self-indulgent bragging rights of awards, and the prestigious list of clients.

Peter Zumthor on the other hand, is even more severe and reductionist. No website. Online, Zumthor is only mentioned in Wikipedia—and probably not of his doing or by his choice.

Poon Design business cards, unique design per staff member, (photo by Anthony Poon)

Architects commence their advertising through an old school tool, the business card. But why is that? Prior to a face to face meeting, architects spend months communicating with a client via email and text. The clients already have our information in their computers. Yet, when we finally meet in person, we exchange this absurdly ancient form of introduction, the small piece of cardstock that contains all the contact information that our client has already has.

My library of architecture books (photo by Anthony Poon)
left: Lecture at Yale University (photo from architecture.yale.edu); right: Louis Kahn, 1972 (photo by Robert C. Lautman)

Architects also advertise by having books written on their work, or less common, writing a book themselves and have it published—as I did. Alongside books, architects also focus on inclusion in the latest and trendiest of magazines and blogs. Though a sales-y endeavor, an architect can man a booth at a trade show, such as an industry convention. Having done this, my role was akin to desperately selling hot dogs at a baseball game. We can also teach, hopefully at a high profile university, generating community contacts and national exposure. Though social media is rampant and popular, I have yet to reap any substantive rewards. Meaning, besides likes, winks and shares, I have yet to reap actual clients and contracts from social media.

(photo by ShutterStock)
Networking and being out there (photo from healthliteracycentre.eu)

I believe the best form of advertising is simple: be out there. “Hitting the pavement” is an outdated slogan, but the theme is relevant to advertising: make relationships, establish rapport, meet and greet, shake some hands, and as declared with conviction in the 1992 film, Glengarry Glen Ross, “A.B.C.! Always Be Closing!”

PART TWO

upper left: really, ping pong in the office? (photo from salesforce.com); upper right: Amsterdam advertising agency themed as an indoor picnic (photo from fashionarchitecturetaste.com); lower left: really, a slide in the office? Ogilvy & Mather Jakarta (photo from officesnapshots.com); lower right: another staircase as an amphitheater and social area, Wieden+Kennedy (photo from retaildesignblog.com)

Much of the architecture created for advertising agencies makes me nauseous. I am tired of seeing those cliché images, i.e., during some random client meeting, an impromptu ping pong game breaks out, or someone skateboards through the office to hip hop music. The architectural forms comprise silly colors and patterns, funny shapes and angles, and the overused idea where a staircase is an amphitheater and social space. These are theme park ideas.

From our clients, it is fact that no one uses the air hockey table in the board room, and no one takes the fireman’s pole from a cubicle down to the yoga room.

Countering this, if I were to identify a cool design for an ad agency, I would direct attention to Mad Men.

Mad Men stage set (photo from Interior Design)

DESIGN AND DISCOMFORT: SIT AND BE CURIOUS

December 15, 2017

Digital intervention by MMTRA into the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, by Peter Zumthor (photo from behance.com)

I have written about a number of things that are in essence, big pains in the butt (pains, city process and bad clients, just to name a few). Recently, I asked two colleagues, Christine Fang  and Ji Ahn, who practice mindfulness and meditation: What do you do with the discomforts of life? I requested of them to provide me a peek into their training.

They tossed back some words: adventure, commit and experience—and sit and be curious. But somewhere along this pattern of words, Chris and Ji are aware that discomfort will inevitably rear its ugly head.

Spirituality and contemplation at Knight Rise, Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden, Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, Arizona, by James Turrell (photo by Sean Deckert)

Chris suggests, “I think I might be a masochist on some level. I love carving out new paths, going where no one else has gone before. But new paths mean discomfort. It’s all new terrain, whether something you’re confronting in the physical world, or in your mind. And you’re fighting the self-created inertia that makes you want to turn the other direction. New terrain means learning new things, and most certainly, making mistakes! As you keep at the new terrain, new becomes routine. Then when bored, the mind goes searching again for new terrain.”

Architecture framing nature, at a Buddhist Temple, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Similarly, Ji responds, “Growing up, I was attracted to unknown paths and adventure. Not knowing the end result gave me the space to be creative and an opportunity to imagine new possibilities. Being in this space of solitude, the exploration opens me up to be curious and to sit with discomfort that visits me in the process. Changing the relationship to our discomfort allows us to explore and grow. Within discomfort, we might be able to find joy and serenity.”

The elegant dialogue between building and landscape, at the Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, by Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz (photo by Landezine)

As the architect, my simple understanding: Through mindfulness and meditation, one creates space and stillness. Design-wise, what is this architecture that can support the simple tenet, “sit and be curious”? Chris and Ji suggest any of these possibilities as starting points.

  • A space of stillness found when experiencing nature, or
  • An area in one’s home to be safe and quiet, to reflect, or
  • A place dedicated to meditation.
Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia (photos by Anthony Poon)

Though not my thesis for projects (and though I only know of mindfulness as a visitor), my work finds a common ground with some of my two colleagues’ thinking.

twoPart café, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photos by Anthony Poon)

At twoPart café, my first public design from 1992, the simplicity of the architecture delivered a space of adaptability. More so, it was intentionally incomplete. Like a blank canvas with only a few brush strokes to motivate a visitor, twoPart enabled human development. Customers sought to advance their current affairs—whether reconciling with a loved one, pursuing that long sought after graduate degree, or finally finishing the Hollywood script.

Simplicity in elemental forms and materials, at the Thermal Vals, Braubunden, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor (photo by Fernando Guerra)

Though Mozart claimed that music should always be beautiful, I concur with Beethoven that music can do a lot more than simply be pretty. I believe music can be heroic or moody, ominous or bold, shocking or even off beat.

For architecture, spaces don’t have to always be pleasing, comfortable, serene or joyful, but whatever form architecture takes, the design supports people on their journeys.

© Poon Design Inc.