Tag Archives: RICHARD MEIER

#180: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

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.

#189: MY TOP TEN FAVE ARCHITECTS

December 1, 2023

The Nancy and Rick Kinder Building at the Musuem of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, by Steven Holl. The architect’s inspiration came from the changing shapes of clouds and the trapezoidal shape of the property. (photo by Richard Barnes)

“Hey Anthony, who is your favorite architect?,” I am often asked.

I might reply, “Can there only be one fave? What is your favorite book or your favorite song?”

upper left: Casa Batllo, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo from stirworld.com); upper right: Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Marne-la-Vallee, France, by Ricardo Bofill (photo by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura); lower left: Assembly Building, Chandigarh, India, by Le Corbusier (photo by Narinder Nanu); lower right: National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Louis Kahn (photo from metalocus.es)

For nearly all, there is no one favorite piece of music. For me, there is no one favorite architect. There are several dozen. But here I try, gathering a mere list of ten, in no particular order. Just a note: My list comprises living architects, so excludes favorites like Antoni Gaudi, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, and Ricardo Bofill.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl. Adjacent to the renovated museum, five enigmatic glass structures deliver various qualities of natural light into the interconnected subterranean galleries. (photo by Andy Ryan)

Steven Holl
Holl possesses an individualistic vision of architecture, where his signature watercolors establishes the conceptual agenda for each project. This New York–based architect blends complex building programs—both new structures as well as additions—with seemingly random sculptural shapes, while applying his mastery of shaping natural lightTime magazine called him “America’s Best Architect” for “buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye.”

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor. Impeccably crafted, the leaf-shaped, one-room structure explores a lemniscate, an algebraic, hyperbolic, inverse curve. (photo by Federico Covre)

Peter Zumthor
Often called the “architect’s architect,” there is no one else practicing today so often referred to as a “master” of his craft. Each project from the Swiss architect, the son of a cabinet maker—whether a home, chapel, or museum—is precisely uncompromising, often austere, and elemental, embracing the basics of architecture, e.g., shelter, light, materials. Zumthor suggests, “Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence.”

Educatorium, Utrecht, Netherlands, by Rem Koolhaas. Two planar surfaces fold and interlock to create lecture halls, classroom, cafeteria, and plaza. (photo from architecture-history.org)

Rem Koolhaas
Dutch architect, provocative theorist, prolific author, professor at Harvard, and one-time filmmaker—Koolhaas brings gravitas and intellectualism to his practice. His work is known for its clarity in conceptual thinking, where a simple idea or diagram drives the development of an entire project, whether a house, library, or entire town. Time magazine put him in their top 100 of “The World’s Most Influential People.”

Iberê Camargo Foundation, Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Alvaro Siza. Soaring ramps give an iconic personality to this cultural institution and museum dedicated to the works of Brazilian Expressionist painter, Iberê Camargo. (photo from archdaily.com)

Alvaro Siza
Some buildings from this Portugues architect are quiet and minimal, like his Leca Swimming Pools—so integrated into the waterfront that one doesn’t even know where the buildings end and the land begins. Other projects combine invention, and poetry. “Every design,” Siza states, “is a rigorous attempt to capture a concrete moment of a transitory image in all its nuances . . . the more precise they are, the more vulnerable.”

Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, Japan, by Tadao Ando. To avoid compromising nature, this museum burrows underground. Abstract openings of square, rectangles, and triangles march across the scenery and open to the sky. (photo from avauntmagazine.com)

Tadao Ando
Self-taught Japanese architect started out as a truck driver and professional boxer. Contrasting the delirium of such a past, Ando’s portfolio is the epitome of minimalism, exploring a profound nothingness. Nearly all his projects are composed of primarily two materials. 1) poured-in-place concrete—concrete walls, concrete floors, concrete roofs, and 2) natural light (yes, I view light as a construction material). Though many of his buildings appear to be the similar, celebrities flock to own an Ando design: Beyonce and Jay-Z, Kanye West, Tom Ford, Kim Kardashian, amongst others.

Douglas House, Emmet County, Michigan, by Richard Meier. Restored twice since its 1973 completion, this 3,000-square-foot, waterfront residence is one of the most iconic Modernist homes of recent generations—and added to the National Register of Historic Places. (photo by Scott Frances)

Richard Meier
New York architect Meier (now retired with controversy) claims, “White conventionally has always been seen as a symbol of perfection, of purity and clarity.” He established his design language, for better or for worse, as the one of the most recognizable styles in history—a singular vision and personal brand of Modernism, stark white surfaces, and strict geometries. The formality and strictness in Meier’s work, though rigid and severe for some, provide an oasis of calm for others.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany, Herzog and de Meuron. A new glassy, 2,100-seat concert hall sits upon an 1875-constructed warehouse, rebuilt in 1963. The sweeping roof provides a plaza with views of the docks and city. (photo by Iwan Baan)

Herzog & de Meuron
Based in Basel, Switzerland, the partnership of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron approaches architecture as a deep dive into design philosophy, experimental methods, and technology. They believe their work “can meet the needs of our rapidly and radically changing world.” Each project is a reinvention of their creative process, with a fetishization of form making, textures, patterns, and materials—both traditional and radical.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, by Bjarke Ingels. This spiraling museum displaying watchmaking history contrasts the company’s traditional 1875 workshop building. (photo by Bjarke Ingels Group)

Bjarke Ingels
Many of Ingels’ projects—bold, exaggerated, and cartoonish—appear to have leapt off the pages of a comic book. In fact, he published a 2009 graphic novel entitled, Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. His firm of 700 architects, simply known as BIG, is one of the fastest rising companies in the global marketplace. The Wall Street Journal called this Copenhagen-based architect, “Innovator of the Year” for architecture and “one of the design world’s rising stars.”

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, by Thomas Phifer. Mute boxy structures clad in Carderock stone form an introspective campus the combines art, architecture, and landscape. (photo from thomasphifer.com)

Thomas Phifer
One of the lesser known names on my list, and not yet a Pritzker Laureate like more than half of my list, Phifer established his Manhattan studio after working for Richard Meier. Whether Phifer’s work comprises the self-proclaimed “light buildings that landed lightly on the land” or Thomas De Monchaux’s description of “a river stone, embedded in the flow of its place,” I would suggest that Mies’ “less is more” is the rule. If ever in the D.C. area, do not miss a visit to the Glenstone Museum.

Marques de Riscal Hotel, Elciego, Spain, by Frank Gehry. Part of the winery complex, the 43-suite, steel and titanium hotel expresses a typical Gehry sculptural presence, adding some new colors inspired by wine. (photo from shrifreevs.live)

Frank Gehry
The stunning collisions of steel, glass, and stone from this Canadian-born American has made him the most famous living architect on the planet. Though often accused of aesthetic sameness—a kind of architectural one-liner—the mastery of his design vocabulary never ceases to impress. With the 1997 completion of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Gehry’s single building attracted so many visitors to the area that the entire economy of the Basque region improved dramatically.

Along the lines of favorites, here are my favorite buildings in Los Angeles, favorite buildings of all time, and most breathtaking buildings of last year.

#154: WHAT IS YOUR BRAND?

June 24, 2022

Architecture by Zaha Hadid – upper left: Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany; upper right: Library and Learning Centre University of Economics, Vienna, Austria; lower right: MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome, Italy; lower right: Evelyn Grace Academy, London, England (photos from www.re-thinkingthefuture.com)

Whether a company, institution, or even an individual, it is imperative to establish a brand—a distinct identity, a unique look and feel that distinguishes from others. But whereas branding can help to establish a foothold in the marketplace, does it limit evolution of self?

Our retail and hospitality clients call their brand, “trade dress.” A corporation might brand their company identity through the enactment of a mission statement. However one’s brand is created and implemented, it can offer a road map, and others can join this journey knowing where they are going. Speak the company names of Apple, BMW, Disney, or McDonald’s, and everyone has a sense of that company’s brand, what they pitch, what is sold, and who we as customers consume.

2014 Porsche Panamera S (photo from motorauthority.com)

On the other hand, an established brand can be like a straitjacket, restraining deviation and exploration that might lead to new opportunities. When Porsche, an automaker known for German efficiency and lean design, presented the Panamera, customers were baffled. This hulking sedan—more akin to an over-stuffed luxury vehicle than the agile Carrera—startled some, wondering what happen to the brand of Porsche. Was it risk-taking evolution or misguided brand confusion? The term “off-brand” reverberated in the halls of criticism.

Art by Patrick Nagel – left to right: Untitled (photo from artsandcollections.com); Untitled (photo from dreamboatsandhose.wordpress.com); Commemorative #10 (photo from 1stdibs.com); Jennifer Dumas (photo from fineart.ha.com)

In art, consider the commercially successful works like Patrick Nagel’s soft-porn, male-fantasy caricatures (above) or Robert Longo’s thrashing individuals in business attire (below). Such art have reaped great exposure over the decades, from leading the pop culture zeitgeist to expanding in niche communities, to relishing a Renaissance of mainstream market presence. Some argue that the work, and that of many artists, look the same. But in the context of branding, repetition is not necessarily a bad thing, as it results in recognizability.

Art by Robert Longo – Blonde one: Barbara (photo from fineartmultiple.com)
Man leaning back: Untitled (photo from pacegallery.com)
Women with hands over face: Cindy (photo from whitney.org)
Untitled (photo from redbubble.com)

In architecture, companies big and small are branded as well. Some architects have developed a brand as a formulaic visual style. Others have branded their design process or a model of customer service. In the sphere of artistry, being predictable could be a death blow. But at times, cookie cutter processes can make for good business.

Architecture by Richard Meier – top left: Barcelona Musuem of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, Spain (photo by Alexie Bague, Plane-Site); top right: The Atheneum, New Harmony, Indiana (photo from archdaily.com); bottom left: Swissair North American Headquarters, Melville, New York (photo from rmparchives.xyz); bottom right: Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany (photo from facebook.com/friederburda)

When an architect like Frank Gehry or Richard Meier (above), or actually any number of well-known designers, approach a project with the same road map resulting in what the building will look like, such formulas are profitable through their efficiency. For example, Meier doesn’t need to explore all the paint colors offered to him. He already knows that his building will be some shade of white. In business, this kind of brand saves times and makes the production swift. Clients don’t question the results much because they know the brand, and even expect it. The pitch is simple and evident from the start.

Architecture by Michael Graves – top left: Engineering Research Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo from reddit.com): top right: Disney Headquarters, Burbank, California (photo from friendsofarch.photoshelter.com); lower left: Denver Central Library, Colorado (photo from pinterest.com/jann5068/christopher-wren); lower right: Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine, La Jolla, San Diego (photo from travel.usnews.com)

Same can be said with Michael Graves and his Post-Modern creations (above), Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary sweeping forms (at top), or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style (at bottom) .

Architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright – upper left: Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York (photo from susancohangardens.com); upper right: Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, Illinois (photo from architectmagazine.com); lower left: Allen House in Wichita, Kansas (photo from visitwichita.com); lower right: Schwartz House, Two Rivers, Wisconsin (photo from wrightinwisconsin.org)

But what about risks and experimentation? Evolution, artistic progress, improvisation —such things fuel the design journey, challenges the industry’s status quo, as well as internal agendas. Finding the right balance within the spectrum is the challenge—to create a brand that provides recognition and stability, while paving paths to an unknown future.

#119: IS THE CUSTOMER ALWAYS RIGHT?

June 12, 2020

Reception for the Culver City Chamber of Commerce held at the studio of Poon Design (photo by Culver City Chamber)

In my high school days, I worked at the Gap. The sales training stated this golden rule, “The customer is always right.” But in the business of architecture, is the customer always right?

Architects are hired to deliver a design that will suit the client’s needs. But an architect is also retained for a creative vision, and such a vision, often a personal one to the architect, could be at odds with the client’s wishes.

My first employer, the Gap (photo from adweek.com)

Years ago, for a husband-wife couple in Brentwood, I designed (what I thought was) a perfectly proportioned window for the dining room. During the window installation, the clients stated that they wanted a bigger window.

I recommended, “No! Reasons why: 1) A bigger window be out of proportion with the room. 2) The glare would be too much. 3) The view is only towards an unattractive concrete wall a few feet away. 4) You would lose privacy.”

The client disagreed and paid for the construction to be torn apart and a new window ordered. When  installed and completed, the clients were befuddled, “1) Why is this window so ridiculously large? 2) Why is there so much glare? 3) Why am I looking towards a side alley? 4) Why can my neighbors view into my formal dinners?”

The client was wrong, and I was right.

Not the actual Brentwood project of mine, but you get the idea. (photo from cantanwindows.com)

During the fireworks of this one customer debate or which there are many, I wondered how hard I should apply my Gap training. Is the client always right, even when I know they are wrong? What about my years of architecture education, professional apprenticeship, job training, etc.—not to mention my awards, client references, and articles? The Golden Rule from my youthful days of sales training may be tarnished.

We architects are in a client service industry, but we are also experts. Some might say that architectural design is subjective as in art. So why wouldn’t a client be allowed to chime in with their ideas? But the client did not attend architecture school and is not licensed by the state. Architects work not only with aesthetics and abstract thinking, but life safety, engineering and building codes.

Hill of the Buddha, Sapporo, Japan, by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates (photo from Hokkaido Fan Magazine)

Additionally, architects have a personal vision for the world. Sometimes the vision is explicit as in Tadao Ando’s poetic concrete structures or Richard Meier’s modern white buildings. In these cases, you hire the architect for their creations. You probably don’t argue that you, as the customer, know what is better for the architectural composition, or that you think the columns holding up the roof should be thinner.

Jubilee Church, Rome, Italy, by Richard Meier & Partners Architects (photo by Scott Frances)

Sometimes I want to exclaim to a frustrating client, “Hey, if you think you know what is best, if you want to design this yourself, just go ahead. I quit!” But I never have been so exasperated and discouraged as to forget that business is business. There are clients that listen to the expert that they hired, and there are clients that despite their lack of experience, think they know best and end up being their own worst enemy. And our client business is made up of the entire spectrum.

#110: THE ARCH PODCAST, FORM MAGAZINE, 2 OF 3: SACRED WORKS AND COLOR

December 6, 2019

My sketches for the chapel of the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas

Please enjoy more excerpts from the podcast The Arch with Form magazine, and the acclaimed author and artist, Carol Bishop. Previous excerpt is here.

Carol Bishop: Many of your projects touch communities. You do churches for various different kinds of religious groups. You do educational structures. You do libraries. Can you elaborate on these?

Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Foaad Farah)

Anthony Poon: The community aspect is very important to us. As much as we enjoy doing projects like designing homes or the one-off projects, we feel that our skills and talents should serve a much broader community. One of the things we enjoy doing most are our schools, serving teachers, administrators, and children. We enjoy doing projects that bring communities together. We enjoy building out communities, which is one of the aspects of our residential work, not just doing one house at a time, but doing a hundred homes at one time and envisioning what an entire neighborhood could be.

Alta Verde Escena, a 130-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Carol: Are there any particular challenges, whether with the codes or concepts or clients when you are designing these types of buildings? For example, when you were asked to do the Air Force Chapel, how did you marry the military and the spiritual layers?

Chapel for the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas (rendering by Mike Amaya)
The triangular floor plan for the chapel

Anthony: That’s a complicated question, so I’ll answer in two parts. The first: You bring up what is one of the most challenging parts of architecture and maybe the most tedious. We’re talking about things like city codes, the permit process, and the science and engineering of making sure a building doesn’t fall down. We’re talking about client wishes, building program, square footage, and of course on top of all of this is the budget and the schedule. There are all sorts of these kind of technical aspects that we have to problem solve. Once we get those taken care of, we then, on top of all of that, have to add the artistry. We have to then add our creativity.

It’s kind of like learning a piece of music. Say you’re learning a Mozart sonata and there are literally 10,000 notes to learn to play correctly—to get each note perfect as it was written by the composer. But once you do that, it’s not considered music yet. That’s just painting by numbers. That’s just getting each note correct. After you’ve done that, and that can take years, you then have to add your interpretation. You have to add your story, your style, your idea of what that Mozart sonata really is about.

Chapel exterior (rendering by Mike Amaya)

To jump to your second part of the question, we did a proposal for a chapel at a retirement village for the Air Force in San Antonio, Texas. You talked about marrying the practical and the spiritual, and that’s exactly how we viewed it. We studied sanctuary spaces and gathering spaces, assembly halls, and considered what would be the most effective kind of floor plan. We came up with a triangular floor plan that allows all of the attention to focus to the front of the chapel. But it was more than just a geometric exercise. We added to our composition metaphors of the Air Force, of heroicism, of strength, a majestic character. And we took that triangular form and gave it a presence on the outside where the building reaches for the sky. In that sense, it became a metaphor for the Air Force and how strength and heroic actions can lead to good things.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial

Carol: Well, I have to ask you about this project because of the name, the Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial.  Could you tell us something about that?

Anthony: That’s a proposal for a project in Virginia. And it’s haunting and extraordinary. There was a development in Alexandria where developers started to excavate the land to build commercial buildings. They came upon graves, coffins and bodies of the freed slaves. Obviously, construction stopped. The city asked for proposals of what to do, how to develop this. If it should be developed, what would be the right thing to do?

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

We designed a memorial park where half of area left all the burials as they were found. They were all given grave markers of stone. We created a path of wood that floated over the graves so that you can look upon and honor those who have been lost. We envision that the brass handrail of this wooden path would have names etched on the metal. The path lands in the other portion of the city block, where we designed a park as a gift back to the community.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

Carol: More and more, we see that there are two camps. One is no color, just white, white, white.  The other camp is: Let’s just pour on the most hideous colors so that my building shines. What is your take on color for your projects?

Anthony: Color is a whole philosophy. You’ll have architects like Richard Meier who primarily uses white. He’ll explain that through the color white, we see all the colors of the rainbow. You’ll have all of the Post-Modernists from the ’70s and ’80s using a lot of colors as a reaction to modernism and abstract art. Post-Modernists used pastels and bright colors. Michael Graves used burgundy and peach and orange and ochre.

Linea, a 14-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Our view is that color is a specific analysis and study for every project. There are projects where we believe the project should have a neutral palette. There are projects that we believe color should be used. For example, we’ve done a community in Palm Springs called Linea . It’s 14 homes. All the homes are white, intentionally so. They’re white inside. They’re white outside. The cabinets are white. The flooring is white. The countertops are white. Some might argue that this is very clinical or very sterile. We see it as being tranquil and peaceful. We see it as reflecting the maximum amount of sunlight coming in through the windows.
We also see it, importantly so, as a blank canvas for the owner of this house to add their own personality, to bring in their own colors of their life, whether it’s in the furniture, the art on the wall, a throw, the window treatment, or the colors they wear as clothing, as they move through this very calming environment.

Greenman Elementary School, School District 129, Aurora, Illinois (by Anthony Poon w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates)

On the other hand, we’ve done projects for schools where we think for an elementary school, there should be some vibrant colors to energize the space. In one elementary school that we did in Chicago, in the hallway for the windows we used red, green and yellow glass set in as accent pieces within the regular clear glass window system. In this way, kids can look back out at the world and see it through the lens of red, see it through the lens of yellow, to see what the world looks like. Colors becomes an educational device, something to alter your perception, to have their mind wonder.

Colorful glass tile shower, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design)

#57: “IT ALL SOUNDS THE SAME TO ME”

March 3, 2017

Beatles statute, Liverpool, England (pPhoto by Amanda Malec on Pexels)

I often hear, “Yeah, that song is okay I guess. I think all the songs of [insert band name] sound the same to me.” In architecture, similar criticism is imposed on our most famous creators.

Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)
Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)

Is sameness a bad thing? Most of The Beatles songs sound similar, with those peppy lyrics and obvious chord progressions, as do much of Beethoven’s music, with his mishmash of beauty and rage.

All of Mamet’s work reads the same with that staccato rhythm, as does Poe’s chilling tone. Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt—each pursued his lifelong personal expression, resulting in what one might wrongly dismiss as being all the same.

Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966
Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966

If the work is genius, as generally agreed upon for the names above, is it so bad that it is all the same? Should we complain about Apple products being all the same? Oh, that predictable minimal simplicity, the beautiful Zen-like posture.

Apple products (photo by LUM3N from Pixabay)

I do think many of Franks’ architecture looks like variations-on-a-theme, but I like all the projects. Here, I speak of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry (here and here).

I see no problem. But I do find it hilarious when critics look at similar appearing projects and assign reasons for how each one is different. Different metaphors for the same building—for example, Gehry was exploring how a fallen city rises from the ashes. Or, Gehry was expressing the blossoming of a flower. Or, Gehry was fascinated with sun rays beaming outward. And so on.

Projects by Gehry Partners
upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by SaraJanssen from Pixabay); upper right: DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany (photo from cnn.com); lower left: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo by Reza Rostampisheh on Unsplash); lower right: Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle, Washington (photo from pinterest.com)

When interviewing an architect, you will often hear him profess, “I do not have a singular style.” The word “style” (here and here) is considered a dirty word, as if architecture is a superficial thing and not the evolving amalgamation of intensive client research, the balance of program, building codes and science, and the careful consideration of budget and schedule.

Many architect’s say that they don’t have a singular style because they don’t want to be typecast, like Jim Carrey doing slapstick. Architects also fear the word “style,” particularly when used in trite reference to something like Picasso’s “Blue Period.” In this phase between 1901 and 1904, Picasso mainly painted monochromatically in either shades of blue or blue-green. And it was all spectacular.

Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)
Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects
upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)

But here’s the thing. All architects, world famous or quietly practicing in her neighborhood, have a certain look to their work, specific aspects of exploration that are individual to each and every architect. In fact, most good architects have that singular style, and I argue that there is nothing wrong with it.

Obvious celebrated examples are Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Morphosis, and Tadao Ando. For each of these designers, one can suggest that all their work is uninteresting because it all looks the same—that they only subscribe to a certain style. Is this so wrong? No.

Projects by Morphosis upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)
Projects by Morphosis
upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)

Even for the lesser known local architects working under the radar, he too has a style where their designs look the same, possibly because this architect loves designing homes with wood siding and metal roofs, or offices that are modern with stainless steel trim. It’s not a compromising position for an architect to have areas of interest, be responsive to local materials and construction methods, and to possess a personal vision of the world. In fact, you want an architect to have a strong viewpoint on the environment around him. If not, what are you hiring, just a drafting service?

Projects by Tadao Ando upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)
Projects by Tadao Ando
upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)

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