Tag Archives: PRITZKER PRIZE

#127: 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 Today, items such as a T-square, circle template, or X-acto blade have been replaced by tools of our digital age, for example, Revit and 3D printing.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.”

#120: COMING OF AGE IN ARCHITECTURE

July 3, 2020

top: Boa Nova Teahouse, Porto, Portugal, by Alvaro Siza (photo by Joao Morgado), lower left: Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, by Piano & Rogers (photo by Denys Nevozhai, @dnevozhai); lower right: Aarhus, Denmark, by BIG (photo by BIG)

The design industry often states that the career of an architect doesn’t truly begin until age 50. Why are architects only commencing a successful career when colleagues in other industries are planning their retirements?

How is it possible that Mozart wrote his first symphony at eight? Or at a mere 18, Billie Eilish won five Grammy Awards. On the other hand, I.M. Pei was an elder at 66 when he was awarded the Pritzker Prize. He was even older, 71 years, when he designed the world-famous Louvre Pyramid.

left: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1782 painting, Joseph Lange, from smithsonianmag.com); right: Billie Eilish (photo by Sara Jaye Weiss/Rex Shutterstock, from theguardian.com)

Very few architects have completed great buildings at a young age. Such rare individuals, though fully grown adults, are like child prodigies in architecture. Alvaro Siza wasn’t even 30 when he designed the poetic Boa Nova Tea House in Porto, Portugal. Only in their early 30s, Renzo Piano and Richard Rodgers created the groundbreaking Centre Pompidou in Paris. And Bjark Ingels amassed a global portfolio of ambitious projects before even reaching 40—a portfolio of built works equal in depth to colleagues literally twice his age.

But these few examples are extremely exceptional. More typical is a Frank Gehry at nearly 70 finally having the opportunity to bring to the world his iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Some of Zaha Hadid’s most elaborate and bold projects are now being completed, several years after her unfortunate passing at 65. As a typical investment banker relaxes upon his riches at 40 or 50, world-famous I.M. Pei worked into his 90s.

If our architectural career doesn’t truly launch until 50 or even 60, the question screams out: Why? The answer is complex, but mostly two-fold.

upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, by Frank Gehry (photo by Juan Gomez, @nosoylasonia); lower left: Louvre Museum, Paris, France, by I.M. Pei (photo by Irina Ledyaeva, @irinaledyaeva); right: Generali Tower, Milan, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel, @ripato)

The Practical

After completing one’s architecture education and obtaining the state license to practice (yes, the word is “practice”), an individual is legally an architect. But at 20-something, could such a new architect design a performing arts center or a museum, both projects that typically define a milestone in one’s career? Is it practical that a corporate board of directors or a university would hire this young architect to design a project over $100 million?

Such a sophomoric designer might have worked on similar projects in school, but in concept only. In real practice (again, “practice”) the project has a budget, client demands, city codes, engineering, construction trades, etc. It is unlikely that this architect would have the client savvy, technical expertise, office infrastructure, and team of architects, consultants, and legal counsel—as well as personal maturity.

An architect usually launches his career with the renovation of his uncle’s master bathroom, or maybe a mom-and-pop café. Then hopefully, one project leads to another. Eventually after decades, the house design leads to a condo building, then maybe a restaurant or hotel, eventually a classroom building and college library, then a theater or corporate headquarters, finally having a shot at something like a museum or skyscraper. And this can take years, decades, or even an entire career.

left: TWA Flight Center, Queens, New York, by Eero Saarinen (photo by Max Touhey); right: Grundtvig’s Church, Copenhagen, Denmark, by Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint (photo by John Towner, @heytowner)

The Philosophical

The other side of the answer is about artistry. Some creative minds bloom early and some bloom late. Architects don’t usually bloom early because the opportunity to bloom doesn’t present itself until decades of experiences have passed. Sure, we can all design big things as we did in school—in the abstract. But can we really wrap our head around designing a real airport or cathedral?

Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21, by Ludwig van Beethoven (from pinterest.com, Judy Jensen)

With his first symphony, Mozart was considered a genius at 8, but it took until 30 for Beethoven to compose his first symphony. Beethoven was a late bloomer, but he was still ahead of architects by two decades, as we struggle to find our first bonafide opportunity to flex our creative muscles.

Opportunity aside, architects need their talents to season, age and ripen. We need to develop the skills to know a good solution from a bad one, to know that a marvelous roof design won’t collapse—to know great from good. Like the finest of wine, sometimes the cork stays in the bottle until the time is right.

Heritage Fine Wines, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

#85: AWARDS, HONORS AND BRAGGING RIGHTS

June 29, 2018

(from starburstmagazine.com)

We are both blessed and lucky, as accolades shower the work of Poon Design Inc. With several dozen national awards, alongside local and regional ones, I am honored–especially with our recent win of one of the most prestigious awards in the industry: the National AIA Award.

Each and every project requires grueling work and commitment. For some projects, ten years have been exhausted to transform a design sketch into an award-winning reality.

Panorama Residence at Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Lance Gerber). Awarded the 2014 National Silver Award, Best Single Family Home, National Association of Home Builders, the 2013 National Gold Award, Detached Home Built for Sale, Best in American Living, National Association of Home Builders, and the 2013 Finalist, Mid-Century Re-Imagined, Dwell magazine.

From neighboring jurisdictions to countrywide juries, the prizes bestowed on my design team validate our creative pursuits. Sharing the honors with our clients validates their trust in us.

But here is the thing: every architect I know calls himself or herself an “award-winning architect.”

2009 International Design Competition Finalist: Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery and Memorial Park, Alexandria, Virginia, by Poon Design (rendering by Zemplinski)

And every company calls themselves an “award-winning firm” with “award-winning projects.” We all have awards. Some are prestigious, like the national award of excellence from The American Institute of Architects. Some are unimpressive, like a local chapter of an unheard entity. (We have some of those.) And some are ridiculous, like an in-house award from a third-rate corporate firm for an employee identified as “our company’s best improved designer.” With the last dubious honor from a company whose name is withheld, the flattered architect prances around the room as an “award-winning architect.”

One of the highest honor in architecture, the international Pritzker Prize (photo from themartian.eu)

Speaking of prestigious, only a few in our industry have taken home the monster award of them all, the annual Pritzker Prize. Commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture, this lifetime achievement award has been bestowed on only three dozen laureates around the globe—one per year. And only half a dozen are from the United States.

Jennifer Lawrence receives the Academy Award for Best Actress in Silver Linings Playbook, 2013 (photo from cnn.com)
Awarded the 2009 International Design Award for Best Restaurant from The American Institute of Architects, Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

Nobel Prize or a provincial award, my colleagues and I all try to be modest. We try to not let our artistic egos get out of control, and try to not believe our own hype. We feign humility like a Hollywood actor saying in a soft-spoken voice, “I am just honored to be nominated.” As each actor is up for that coveted Oscar statue, we hear that commonplace statement of decorum and a self-defense mechanism, if one ends up losing. I too have said the same cliché, before hearing my name called as a winner, and particularly after I have lost. “I am just honored to be here,” stated in a mock tone of diplomacy, as if losing is okay. It’s not.

Architects love their walls that display plaques, honors, and trophies. In my previous Beverly Hills office, I chose to not be so obvious. All our awards hung in the kitchen. If a client happened to glance a certain direction when seeking coffee, the crowded wall of our glory displayed our documented and supposed greatness.

One of my first awards: McDonald’s Honor Award for the Mayor McCheese Coloring Contest, 1973

Poon Design’s current studio in Culver City takes the predictable position of pandering. Upon walking in our front door, there they are. Hanging on the large brick wall, the shining awards greet you. A grand and insufferable, but necessary PR statement of bragging rights.

At the 2018 National Awards Ceremony in New York City, for The American Institute of Architects (photo by Poon Design)

Architecture is a challenging competitive field. As a daily struggle, it is not for the faint at heart. Whether a peer award or an honor from a distinguished jury of civic leaders, I say thank you to all those for making the field of architecture a lot more exciting.

Our most recent award, one of the highest honors in the country: the National AIA Award, Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by James Butchart)

#56: IS TV FOR REAL? PART 2

February 17, 2017

Potential clients have come to my office asking for three free designs from which to pick—“the way we saw it on HGTV.” My anger aside from how reality TV twists reality, the client’s request compromises the integrity of the architectural process. (This article is a follow up to my past one, Is TV for Real?)

My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)
My client meeting with a Buddhist Foundation, Virginia, for a new dining hall (photo by Bryan Bethem)

When I design for a client, I don’t draw three random schemes in a vacuum. I listen to the client first—their goals and dreams. When I show preliminary concepts, the client provides feedback on what they like and what they don’t. Through this back-and-forth process, a design develops, and is then refined. Not ever in a vacuum, the creative process is an exciting and thoughtful journey.

Okay, time for me to confess. Here and there, I have learned a few things from TV about color coordinating, selecting furniture, and being creative on a budget. I confess!

Also, the reality TV DIY shows have brought design to the forefront, that a well-crafted, nicely-styled life is desirable and achievable. In 15-minute bite size servings, these shows have delivered architecture to the mainstream.

Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949
Architect Howard Roark’s client presentation from The Fountainhead, 1949

In some distant past, clients were under the impression that design was a mysterious, closed-loop process. Now, many are conscious of how accessible good design advice is, whether from an award-winning architect or, yes, a charismatic TV personality.

I enjoy meeting with clients who already understand the concepts of an open floor plan, for example. Good or bad, these clients come prepared with Pinterest pages on style. Thank you reality TV. The clients and I can hit the ground running, proceeding with a shared foundation. Knowledge is power, after all, even in choosing paint colors.

Love-It-Web

Once was a cocktail debate between architects: “Who is the most influential voice in our industry?”

The usual suspects were tossed out as conversational sacrificial lambs. Local big names like Steven Ehrlich and Eric Owen Moss. Pritzker Prize winners like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. A safe go-to is naming the senior leaders like I.M. Pei and Renzo Piano.

National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)
National Centre for The Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Architecture, Rome, Italy, by Zaha Hadid (photo from fundazionemaxxi.it)

Another angle is to suggest famous architects no longer living, but believed to be still influential today, i.e., Frank Lloyd Wright or Le Corbusier. Pretentiously, you can also try the obscure, though no less significant, such as Wang Shu, Sverre Fehn or Paulo Mendes de Rocha.

Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)
Ningbo Museum, China, by Wang Shu (photo by Iwan Baan)

My contribution that night stopped the discussion. I proclaimed, “Martha Stewart!”

At the time, Martha Stewart utilized avenues of outreach in all forms, and was better known than any other designer in the country, maybe even in the world. If she stated with a quiet breath that “pink is to be used at table settings this season,” you could count on millions of dining tables across America set with something pink.

Stewart-2-Web

Let the debates and cynicism rage on. It’s all for the good. Martha, HGTV, Sunset, Houzz, Dwell, Wayfair, the plethora of magazines and blogs, etc.—all of it deserves gratitude from architects everywhere. To the widest audience, these mainstream entities deliver the concept of wanting good design. And for that, I say thank you.

Covers-Web

#51: THE WORLD FAMOUS FRANK GEHRY AND THE BEST JOB I DIDN’T WANT

December 9, 2016

The Model Shop at Gehry Partners, Los Angeles (photo by Thomas Mayer)

I got the job! Unfortunately.

Not too many architecture companies were hiring during the economic recession of the 90’s. Though I held an impressive piece of simulated parchment that stated in fancy calligraphy, “Master of Architecture,” I could only find temp work as a paralegal, basically a data entry person.

After two years, one of my hundreds of resumes reached the right person. I received a call from the offices of Frank O. Gehry and Partners!

Biomuseo, Panama (photo by Victoria Murillo)
Biomuseo, Panama (photo by Victoria Murillo)

Yes. FRANK GEHRY. The formidable architectural genius of his generation. The most important American architect since Frank Lloyd Wright.

Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (photo by Eve Wilson)
Dr. Chau Chak Wing Building, University of Technology Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (photo by Eve Wilson)

The Gehry interviewer welcomed me, shook my hand, and examined my resume. With tie and blazer, I sat there thinking my application was solid: noteworthy degrees, years of experience in San Francisco and New York City, and a handful of letters of rec. I had my portfolio as well, but as you’ll see, we never got to that.

Showing no indication of being impressed, the interviewer asked dryly, “Do you know how to use a table saw? A band saw? A palm sander?”

I smiled confidently, “Yes, of course.” But I was starting to see where this meeting was going.

I realized that I was not being interviewed for an architectural position, not even a drafting role. I was being interviewed for the infamous “Model Shop,” where young professionals set their egos aside and laboriously, meticulously produce physical models of Gehry’s designs. Some were beautiful presentation models with the quality of fine furniture. Some were rough studies of an inkling of an idea that the genius architect dreamt up in his sleep.

Model Shop displaying the new Facebook Campus (photo from Facebook Corporate Communications)
Model Shop displaying the new Facebook Campus (photo by Facebook Corporate Communications)

Nonetheless, I swallowed my pride. I needed a job that was in my field, regardless of whether I was designing one of Gehry’s concert halls or emptying his trash can. Regardless of the backward step for my career arc, I expressed my most convincing enthusiasm about joining this Gehry organization. After all, my updated resume would carry one of the grandest architectural names of all time.

The interviewer congratulated me, “Okay, you got the job!”

Starting pay was a generous $8 an hour. Adding insult to injury, the interviewer then laid out the terms. Every year, each Model Shop employee gets an automatic raise. That sounded promising, until, with a weird congratulatory wink-wink-smile, he added, “Each year, you get 25 cents more on your hourly rate.”

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by David Giral)
Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by David Giral)

(Was this a joke? Did I hear wrong? I calculated that it would take me 16 years to get back to the salary of my first job as an entry-level architect in New York.)

I pushed back all the warnings in my head, and replied, “I would be honored,” again delivered with a convincing tone. I could not return to being a paralegal temp.

The tipping point was not a point, but a blow.

Winton Guest House, original location: Wayzata, Minnesota, current location: University of St. Thomas, Owatonna, Minnesota (photo from artribune.com)
Winton Guest House, original location: Wayzata, Minnesota, current location: University of St. Thomas, Owatonna, Minnesota (photo from artribune.com)

When the interviewer asked me when I could start the job, I responded, “In a week.”

“No, it must be much sooner,” demanded the interviewer.

I squealed, “How about in three days?”

He pressed, exclaiming, “No, even sooner.”

Frank Gehry at work (photo from Sketches of Frank Gehry)
Frank Gehry at work (photo from Sketches of Frank Gehry)

It was past 9 PM. The interviewer announced his command. “We have many deadlines, and I need you to take off that tie.” He pointed to a stack of plywood surrounded by tools, and with no wink-wink this time, he asserted, “Start your job NOW.”

At this point, the magic of the Pritzker-Prize-winning, AIA Gold Medalist Frank Gehry evaporated like a handprint on the surface of water.

I picked up my unseen portfolio, rejected the offer, and left the offices of Gehry. With my tie still on.

Within a year, I officially launched my own firm. Yes, my company also has a model shop. Just this morning, I used the band saw to cut my own pieces of plywood.

For more, read my review on the Gehry retrospective at LACMA.

#44: EIGHT THINGS I DISLIKE ABOUT ARCHITECTURE

September 2, 2016

1893 Chicago's World Fair, Illinois

ONE

Clients who change their minds every other day. I get it; it’s their project and it’s their money. They are the customers, and I would not have a business without them. But I am hired to be the design authority. So why is all my expertise cast aside, only to have me arbitrarily move a wall six inches in one direction, then three inches in another direction, then back to the original position—and then, do this again 20 more times over months?

Figure drawing by Anthony Poon
Figure drawing by Anthony Poon

TWO

The business of architecture. To have work, I have to market the company— promote, promote, promote. I also bill clients, pay insurance and rent, manage finances, execute contracts, and take care of payroll and taxes. Being an entrepreneur and sole proprietor, such are mandatory activities, but they interfere with doing what I love: to draw, design and create.

THREE

Technology that has overtaken artistry and imagination. Computers are powerful and convenient. I can’t imagine my business without them, but they are just one of many tools. Some architects have forgotten how to use their hands, their eyes, and their souls. And some clients believe (incorrectly) that simply with the use of a computer, architects should be able to do more work and do it faster.

Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design
Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

FOUR

The frightening responsibility of what I do. Poorly selected kitchen cabinets might compromise the aesthetics of a house, but an incompetent design of fire exits for 10-story student dormitories is a life and death matter.

Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)
Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)

FIVE

Interior decorators who call themselves interior designers, as if to suggest these decorators shape architectural space, structure and light. Whether decorator or designer, why is it that they (alas, many of my friends are interior decorators/designers) garner higher pay than architects? Is selecting the right hue for a pillow sham as significant as my design for a high school?

Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design
Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design

SIX

Red Tape: working with the bureaucracy of city agencies to obtain approvals, even for the simplest of things. I do appreciate the need for the Department of Building and Safety to protect us against the unscrupulous and derelict, but I am neither unscrupulous nor derelict. I have better things to do than spend hundreds of hours waiting in line to submit a soils report, only to be rejected because today is the staff party for their July birthdays, and the counter has abruptly closed.

SEVEN

Bleeding for the art. Architecture is a struggle, and if it was easy, we probably wouldn’t be interesting in doing it. But most architects work way too hard, struggle too much. Pritzker-awarded Rafael Moneo once told our class not to worry. Without missing a beat and in all seriousness, this head of Harvard’s architecture school declared, “You have more than the five calendar days left to complete the project; you have ten days. Five days and five nights. Do not sleep!”

Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)
Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)

Fountainhead-WebEIGHT

The ego of some architects with their overly curated philosophical platforms laced with intellectual superiority. Architects, charged with solving design challenges with innovation and efficiency, do have a vital role in society. But are we rock stars? Are we “Starchitects?” I often wonder whether Ayn Rand was serious about the greatness of architects, or was she simply elbow jabbing the profession, slyly mocking us.

© Poon Design Inc.