Tag Archives: RESILIENCE

SOCIAL IRRESPONSIBILITY: SCALE AND OPTICS

June 3, 2022

“Supertalls” (photo from sinelab.com)

(This essay comprises excerpts from my presentation, The Creative Process and The Ego, on February 18th at Modernism Week 2022, Palm Springs, California. An additional excerpt on ego and arrogance is here.)

The architect’s responsibility to society goes far beyond the state legislature of “protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Certainly, a design must ensure that a movie theater has the right number of emergency exits, for example. But social responsibility extends far beyond compliance with building codes. Just to name a few topics of accountability: carbon footprint reduction, community engagement, equity and equality, industry diversity, ethical labor practices, philanthropy, resilience, and affordability of housing.

At my presentation, The Creative Process and the Ego, Modernism Week 2022, Palm Springs, California (photo by Betsy Staes)

Please heed Stan Lee as he proclaimed, “With great power, there must also come great responsibility!”

When I ponder social responsibility, I also confront social irresponsibility. As I prepared my notes for a presentation for Modernism Week 2022, out of a number of unfortunate examples of imprudence, two come to mind: scale and optics.

left: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France (photo by Anthony Delanoix on Unsplash); right: Empire State Building, New York, New York (photo by Sam Trotman on Unsplash)

First, how tall do we need to build? When the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1887, we reached the limits of our engineering and creative ambitions. At 1,083 feet tall, Eiffel was a marvel and over time, has become one of the most beloved structures in the world. Who knew we would need or want to build taller?

In 1930, the Empire State Building shattered records, completed with a height of 1,454 feet. Over the years since, clients, developers, corporations, engineers, and architects continued an obsession to pierce the sky with vertical and priapic structures. Perhaps, ego and arrogance were the fuel.

From Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat

Currently, the award of conceit goes to the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Exceeding $1 billion in construction cost, when completed, this literal skyscraper of hotel rooms, residences, and offices will be 3,281 feet tall—three times the height of the Eiffel Tower and more than twice the height of the Empire State building.

A previous time in New York City, red line added (photo by George Marks | Getty Images)

The social responsibility of height is not just a numerical indicator. Height is also a concept of scale, meaning responsibility requires architects to understand a building’s height in relationship to its surroundings—whether to be complementary or intentional divisive. The early photo of New York City above displays a red line suggesting a consistent height the buildings, resulting in a cohesive scale and compatibility of neighbors.

“Supertalls,” red line added (photo from sinelab.com)

The above image depicts NYC today with a similar red line. Half a dozen projects, about 120 to 150 floors tall, counter the scale of the area. Called “Supertalls,” these skyscrapers south of Central Park—mostly residential units serving the super-affluent—pose the questions: Just because we can build this tall, should we? What is the responsibility towards the scale of the existing urban fabric?

101 California Street, San Francisco, California (left photo from 101california.com; right photo from socketsite.com)

The irresponsibility with optics is evident with the 48-floor office building at 101 California, San Francisco. For the design at the street level—though it is likely that the architect and structural engineer have completed a safe structure, the optics of the sliced bottom with slender columns leaves one to wonder. Is this the responsible and appropriate look for a city known for earthquakes? Does the design idea not remind one of a tree ready to fall?

left: buckinbillyray.com; middle: familyhandyman.com; right: outgress.com

There are many areas of social responsibility, from low-hanging fruit to visionary ambitions. Architects should not shirk the leverage they hold. With societal precedence having granted architects tremendous influence, let’s not let our creative thinking be impaired by ego and poor decision making.

SHIFTING GROUNDS IN ARCHITECTURE

May 1, 2020

Fires at the 405 freeway, near where I previously resided. (photo from abcnews.go.com)

(Original feature editorial published in California Homes: The Essential Guide, Architects & Builders 2020)

As earthquakes and fires challenge our complacency, as a decade concludes, the design industry confronts transitions and shifting grounds. No, not trends in popular paint colors. And not faux-Cape-Cod homes on the west side. Architecture is one of the few remaining noble fields where those who choose to participate do so because architecture has the capacity to change the world.

Yet another trendy faux-Cape-Cod inspired home—an architectural style that has little relevance to our Southern California context and climate. (photo from Pinterest)
Poon Design is honored to be one of the few green architecture businesses, acknowledged as a Certified Innovator, Sustainable Business Certification Program.

SUSTAINABILITY AND RESILIENCE

Sustainability is not a fad, no longer just a movement. It is mission critical. Being green does not simply comprise solar panels on the roof with recycled materials in the kitchen. Being an advocate for the environment has evolved into a lifelong commitment to our global community.

Last year as Poon Design Inc. received its certification as a sustainable business from the California Green Business Network, our pledge went beyond saving on paper and electricity. Our calling involves educating clients, participating in community service, and thinking beyond the physical environment, to include our economic and social circumstances.

Add the recent interests in biophilia and the instinctive association to nature and all forms of life. More crucial is what is known today as resilient design. How does architecture recover from disaster, whether fire or flood—even terrorism or a school shooting?

EC Kids fitness center and ninja gym, Culver City, by Poon Design (sketch by Anthony Poon)

TECHNOLOGY AND PROCESS

I embrace the old school tools of my trade that include a pencil, triangle and drafting table. A quantum leap for design arrived with digital technology. Computers and algorithms are not just powerful tools for the creative process, but also for construction. But I argue that our clients have been saturated with this promising call of a technological future.

For the design process, hands-on, rolling-up-one’s-sleeves, real-time methods replace clicks of the mouse. Expressive hand drawings far outshine the heavily-Photoshopped computer rendering. A 3D-rendering captures what the house might look like. But a hand-drawn sketch captures the emotion. When in construction, Poon Design challenges the machine-made and the factory-produced output. We embrace the hand-crafted that expresses the human touch.

Buddhist Temple, The 14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, Natural Bridge, Virginia. One of four completed buildings by Poon Design for a 400-acre international Buddhist retreat. Universally sacred, this design expresses a crafted and quiet architecture of both human and spiritual hands. (Photo by Mark Ballogg)

BLURRING THE LINES

Where advantageous, architects became design-builders. Where necessary, lines between architects and interiors designers became fuzzy. Where strategic, architects designed furniture and interior designers designed bedding and kitchenware. Though the business model of single-minded specialization is an expedient method to market one’s brand, such as being the expert of Spanish Colonial estates in Beverly Hills, the current industry reveres the design companies of greater depth and complexity. As Frank Lloyd Wright promoted decades ago, ambitious design studios offer an array of services under one roof, from architecture to interiors, from furniture to graphics, from landscape to product design. With the right client, Poon Design adds branding, fashion, art/music curation, and certified feng shui services.

Living room of an estate in Beverly Hills, California, architecture by Martin/Poon Architects, interiors by Timothy Corrigan. (Photo by Anthony Poon)

For each designer focusing exclusively on luxury single-family residences, there are architects embracing tract homes, prefabricated ADUs, affordable housing, and co-living mixed-use projects. Why can’t the architect of homes design a Buddhist temple?

Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California. This production house design and similar others by designer/developer, Andrew Adler, and Poon Design have been built and sold, totaling 230 completed projects in and around Palm Springs. 2018 Winner of Best in Housing Design for North America, The American Institute of Architects. (Photo by Hunter Kerhart)

CONSTANT CHANGE

Practically a cliché these days, Heraclitus proclaimed, “The only constant in life is change.” The truism still applies.

I don’t have a crystal ball, nor do my fellow classmates. But we are somewhat Futurists and we encounter the patterns. 1) The significance of community outweighs the consequence of self. 2) Face-to-face, hands-on interaction prevails over phone texts and posting on Instagram. 3) There are no limits to what a designer can design, what a creative mind can create.

Conference room wall at Poon Design, Los Angeles, California (photo by Anthony Poon)
© Poon Design Inc.