Tag Archives: PORTFOLIO

#185: WHAT IS ARCHITECTURAL SUCCESS?

April 5, 2024

Lincoln Studios, Santa Monica, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

As an architect, are you successful? How should we measure success?

(photo by S K from Pixabay)

Making money is an obvious gauge, but there’s more to life than a paycheck.

Good design should count for something, but design is subjective. So success might look towards an architect’s accolades, like design awards and national honors. But there must be more than bragging rights and industry fanfare.

FAIA Investiture Ceremony, 2022 AIA National Conference, Chicago, Illinois (photos by Olive Stays and Poon Design)

We architects enjoy seeing our name in the headlines, as well as photographs of our work gracing magazine covers and online features. But is this the result of being a successful architect or having a good PR agent?

A portfolio with depth—with projects big and small, local and national—is surely a critical marker of success. Victory might also be evaluated on one’s international projects, evidence of a world traveling architect who jets off to yet another country in demand.

(photo by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay)

Often, the success of an architect is simply having a happy client. And the more clients, the more successful this architect must be. How many new clients did you close this year? But keep in mind that quantity isn’t quality

Design Roundtable, founded by Anthony Poon, at EYRC, Los Angeles, California (photo by Design Roundtable)

Success should come from both collaboration and being part of a team, as well as leadership and managing a team. One’s contributions to the industry should count for something, whether a thought-leader, teacher, community service advocate, or respected professional.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Perhaps, success is identified with the entrepreneurial path, being one’s own boss, having one’s name on the door, and having 10 employees or maybe 100. Or success can be within a corporation with an architect reaching the top of the company ladder, being named partner. Or perhaps doing either quietly under the radar without the need for the spotlight of conceit is worthwhile.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

As a struggling (starving) artist, can an architect be successful? Being part of a creative journey, searching one’s soul for answers, or mining the world for abstract ideas—such ambitious endeavors might be a measure of success regardless of the outcome.

For many, success in architecture comprises the simple things: being challenged and learning new skills.

Poon Design Inc., Los Angeles, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

Happiness is often one of the more authentic measures of success. I believe most architects are happiest when getting to design, to be creative, to think back to how as a child, they could build things with Lego. It is about being part of open-ended travel through an existence of glorious ideas and imaginative designs, and then seeing such a vision come to fruition.

(photo by StockSnap from Pixabay)

#64: WANNA HIRE AN ARCHITECT?

June 9, 2017

Los Angeles Mixed-Use Building, by Poon Design

After interviewing your architectural candidates, hire one based on character. Know that the connection between client and architect could be a relationship of many years. I am blessed with repeat clients that appear to like me, as well as find me qualified as their design expert. Such relationships last more than just a few years; they can last a lifetime.

You will want to hire an architect that you actually enjoy being in his/her company, that you will be excited to come to their office each week to see the latest ideas—and to converse not just about your project, but perhaps, a recent weekend of skiing.

Client meetings, upper left: Alta Verde Group (photo by Poon Design); upper right: Buddhist Retreat Center (photo by Bryan Bethem); lower left: PayPal / eBay (photo by Faran Najafi); Ginza Onodera (photo by Anthony Poon)
Client meetings, upper left: Alta Verde Group (photo by Poon Design); upper right: Buddhist Retreat Center (photo by Bryan Bethem); lower left: PayPal / eBay (photo by Faran Najafi); Ginza Onodera (photo by Anthony Poon)

I am not brushing aside credentials, experience or expertise. I assume that your top three candidates all went to a good school, been published extensively, hold many awards, have a license and insurance, and references check out. But have all three displayed enthusiasm for your project?

Los Angeles Mixed-Use Building, by Poon Design (rendering by Niloo Hosseini)
Los Angeles Mixed-Use Building, by Poon Design (rendering by Niloo Hosseini)

The portfolio: Pretty pictures can say a lot. You will probably not see the perfect solution for your project in the architect’s portfolio, since each assignment is different. But make sure that you see themes that peak your interests and stretch your imagination.

Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

How can you decide between three beautiful portfolios? How can you decide between the degree from Harvard, SCI-Arc or Berkeley? What is more relevant: a dozen AIA awards or a dozen magazine interviews? Does it matter whether the office is staffed with five architects or fifty? Five might be too mom-pop, but you will get full Principal attention. Fifty might have horsepower, but it could mean you are getting a team B or C, and paying for a lot of overhead.

Select the person that compliments your style of working and communication. A sense of humor too. In simple terms, find someone that you like. Then apply the criteria to the architect’s team: project manager, project architects, job captains, perhaps even the office assistant that greets your weekly call with enthusiasm.

Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

I have heard of many clients who hate their architect, but they feel they have hired a “genius,” and so, will put up with the unreturned calls, project delays and arrogance. In only a few situations would I find the requirement for tolerance and patience worth the reward? Perhaps, the client has truly hired the greatest genius in the world since Michelangelo. And here, even I might accept personal discontent, so as to touch the shroud of someone so famous.

But, really? I would argue that there are other architects that have equal talent and a national reputation,

Residential estate, Northern California, by David E. Martin
Residential estate, Northern California, by David E. Martin

For one of our gazillion dollar estates that we designed, our client hired a celebrated interior decorator. By contract, this diva prohibited the client from ever calling the decorator directly. And that only the decorator can call the client. Though the client gave this situation a try for a year, so as to hopefully have greatness for the project, this fancy decorator was fired from the job—for unprofessionalism, egotism and ridiculousness.

#36: THE WORLD FAMOUS I.M. PEI AND THE BEST JOB I NEVER HAD

May 13, 2016

Louvre Pyramid, Paris, France, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by Benh Lieu Song)

Though the job interview at I.M. Pei’s company started normal enough, it was over before it began.

Arriving in Manhattan, I only had a couple hundred bucks, my cousin’s sofa to crash on for two weeks, and my architecture portfolio. I needed a job. Badly.

Having just graduated college, my resume pathetically displayed only three months of professional experience, which consisted mostly of practicing how to write nice letters. I don’t mean correspondences and memos. I mean literally writing letters. I practiced my A’s, B’s and C’s.

My architectural portfolio from UC Berkeley
My architectural portfolio from UC Berkeley

To get an architecture job, it comes down to your portfolio, a black binder that holds your design work. I had received good advice ahead of time. A portfolio was not, as many young architects wrongly believe, a comprehensive chronological tome of all of one’s school work—from the first year of learning how to draw an apple, to the middle years of designing a house, to the final studio of something complex such as a civic center.

Imagine the bored interviewer listening to you drone on, “And in this third semester class, we designed a blah, blah, blah . . . for my fourth semester . . . now, let’s turn to page 108 of my portfolio . . .” No, a portfolio should be a vigilantly curated story of one’s creativity.

For my New York interviews, my portfolio was sound: A few school projects, a sample of drafting from an internship, and some personal pieces of photography and figure drawing. I was, I felt, a well-rounded candidate for an entry position.

East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by National Gallery of Art)
East Building, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo by National Gallery of Art)

I mailed dozens of resumes to architecture firms in NYC, from the highest profile corporations to the small studios. (No email back then.) One day after several rejections, I returned to a voicemail on my cousin’s answering machine. (No cell phones back then.) It was from the offices of I.M. Pei.

I..M. PEI!

Mr. Pei’s HR person left me a voicemail, asking if I was available for an interview. This was it: A dream come true for any young architect, a possible job at one of the most prestigious companies on the globe!

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo by Timothy Hursley)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, Cleveland, Ohio, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo by Timothy Hursley)

Wearing my only suit and tie, I went through the usual motions with Pei’s interviewer. He asked a few questions about how I liked Berkeley, about my piano playing, etc. He then got to the meat of the interview: My portfolio. While flipping through my colorful pages, he explained the office building that I would design, if I got the job.

I’d already be assigned an office building to design!

John Hancock Tower, Boston, Massachusetts, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo from architectmagazine.com)
John Hancock Tower, Boston, Massachusetts, by I.M. Pei & Partners (photo from architectmagazine.com)

But he was perplexed. He looked at my trivial portfolio. He studied my skimpy resume. Then looked at me. Then at the resume. Then me. Then resume.

Finally, he inquired in a puzzled state, “I don’t get it. How old are you?”

Before I answered, he repeated a little more aggressively, “How old are you?!”

Squeaking out, “I am 22 years old.”

Dumbfounded and perturbed, he demanded, “Where are the 17 years of experience?”

I was equally dumbfounded. “What 17 years are you talking about?”—trying not to be disrespectful of the eminent offices of I.M. Pei.

He asserted that this was an interview for a senior architect to design an 85-story office tower.

I explained, retreating for no real reason, “Sorry, but I have less than one year of experience.”

Choate Rosemary Hall Science Center, Wallingford, Connecticut, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo from pcf-p.com)
Choate Rosemary Hall Science Center, Wallingford, Connecticut, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (photo from pcf-p.com)

Long story short: A harried HR person made a mistake transcribing numbers between my resume and the office form my interviewer was looking at now. The embarrassed—though more frustrated than embarrassed—interviewer showed me, turning the office form around for me to witness. There indeed did my 22 year-old eyes see in one-inch tall letters: “17 years of experience. Good candidate!”

The interviewer expressed annoyance, angered by the sloppiness from his world-class company that prides itself on designs of perfect proportions, exquisitely executed finishes, and highly detailed precision.

My first job in New York City at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners, late 80’s
My first job in New York City at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners, late 80’s

Like a little boy whose ice cream scoop had fallen off his cone into the dirt, I picked up my portfolio and left the best job opportunity I never had.

© Poon Design Inc.