Tag Archives: SANAA

#72: CROSSOVER: FROM ONE TO THE OTHER

October 13, 2017

Album cover of 1984’s West Side Story, featuring opera giants, Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras, instead of Broadway stars Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant

In 1984, opera legend Kiri Te Kanawa sought success in an unexpected arena. Courageously stepping into the world of Broadway, she recorded her jazzy version of the 1957 Bernstein and Sondheim musical, West Side Story.

Album cover of 1982’s Mozart and Haydn Trumpet Concertos, performed by Winton Marsalis

One year prior, jazz great Wynton Marsalis waltzed onto the classical stage with trumpet concertos by Mozart and Haydn—setting aside Marsalis’s New Orleans Dixieland roots.

Whether these two artistic efforts were successful or not, the term “crossover” entered the mainstream lexicon. Te Kanawa and Marsalis crossed over to uncharted universes, creating new sounds and challenges.

Fascinating crossovers continued when Cole Haan combined their leather dress shoes with a Nike athletic sole. With the shout out to the two worlds that have collided, Cole Haan expressed both types of shoes in one intentionally un-unified design.

Zerogrand shoe by Cole-Haan, a classic dress shoe with a startling running sole (photo from eBay.com)

Crossovers challenge complacency. Critics panned BMW’s 2009 X6 for being a confused crossover. Was it an SUV, a luxury sedan or a wagon? The car performed poorly at all three, thereby not succeeding as a crossover.

2009 BMW X6 Xdrive50i (photo from motertrend.com)

In architecture, one version of a crossover is the building type known as mixed-use. As the name implies, this kind of architecture contains a mix of uses—a single project that mixes various functions. What does such a building look like? For a mixed-use design that, for example, houses apartments, corporate spaces, an Apple store, and an art gallery—what should be the building expression and personality? A big house? An office building? A shopping center? A museum?

University Center, University of California, Riverside, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, rendering by Doug Jamison)

For one of our mixed-use projects, we designed our building to display each of its components individually, much like the Cole Haan / Nike shoe. Calling our approach the Layered Cake, our University Center comprised four levels—each level expressing a different style of architecture.

On the ground floor, curved limestone volumes with playful windows contain the student retail stores. Consistent with campus standards, red brick wrap the second floor, the cafeteria. The third floor, all contained in sleek corporate-y glass, holds the administrative offices. The student activities and organizations perch themselves on the fourth floor. Clad in zinc shingles, each student club projects out to the campus, cantilevering to get attention.

Los Angeles Mixed-Use Building, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

We continue the exploration of our Layered Cake concept with a project soon to start construction. Our design ideas crosses over between retail, offices, apartments and parking.

WV Mixed-Use Building, Manhattan Beach, California, by Poon Design and Lazar Design+Build (photo by Gregg Segal)

Exploring a visually cohesive approach, our mixed-use building in Manhattan Beach weaves together various programs through lines and shapes, such as the folding roof and the folding glass storefront of the ground level commercial spaces. The folding forms capture the recreational culture of a beach town and the graphic quality of ocean waves. In a subtle and playful manner, the folding roof also displays the name of the project “WV,” coined after the name of the client developer.

VitraHaus, Weil am Rhein, Germany, by Herzog & deMeuron (photo from archdaily.com)

At the VitraHaus, the various mix of uses are contained in the most common form known in architecture, a gable roof house. Except here, the volumes are not only stretched to strange proportions, but stacked haphazardly one on top of another, offering an unlikely personality. These house-like forms are more than a collision of homes. The various buildings contain retail galleries, arrival spaces, conference center, and restaurant—literally crossing over each other.

Grace Farms, New Canaan, Connecticut, by SANAA (photo from archdaily.com)

A crossover project could also be expressed by expressing nothing in particular, implying no specific functions and thereby is multipurpose. The spaces are flexible and poetic, and unlike the BMW X6 which fails at doing nothing well by trying to do many things, this visitor center in Connecticut succeeds by not trying to do anything at all.

#39: SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE ARCHITECTS

June 24, 2016

1940’s architects (public domain, photo from wikipedia.com)

Why do some people like having architects around as conversation pieces, while simultaneously accuse us of unbearable pretentiousness?

Arguably impressive and both cultured and irksome, architects have the ability to speak about almost anything, to pontificate, to provide diatribes on nearly any topic—from why Apple will fail or succeed, to the specs of a car vs. the specs of an espresso machine, to the latest documentary on documentaries.

Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue
Rem Koolhaas looking fashionable on the cover of Vogue

Though most architects can provide “constructive criticism” on many topics, ask an architect about the last three Super Bowl championships. Or ask for a review of a Tom Cruise blockbuster. Rather than being a casual conversationalist, the architect might deliver a righteous discourse on the downfall of Western Civilization.

At times, there is the better-than kind of reaction to a situation that would typically draw an authentic human response, such as laughter to a good joke, or complacency at a family gathering. Many architects are skilled at displaying boredom as they try to appear as though their creative minds are preoccupied with the next big idea that will deliver world peace.

Architects try to be cool, want to be cool—and yes, some are. But many are just trying too hard. They are no better or worse than anyone else. The problem is that only architects seem unaware of this fact.

We possess our own absurd lexicon. (See, I just used the word “lexicon.”) A sentence almost makes sense as the architect speaks it, particularly when the client witnesses the conviction in an architect’s voice along with the poetic glaze in the eyes.

The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)
The sometimes impenetrable text of the Harvard Design Magazine (photo from vazio.com)

In a review of a new building, the Harvard Design Magazine actually spewed, “Unlike architecture that seeks to articulate understandings about the nature of things through expressive or metaphoric mimings, this remarkable building yields us actionable space.” Or, “Digital design finds its certainty in a parametric computation of infinite, noncritical formal variability, with its simultaneous assurance of all possibility and no particularity.”

Huh?

Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)
Architect Barbie (photo from bldgdreams.tumblr.com)

Maybe this convoluted speaking is pseudo-intellectualism, but in truth, it is ridiculous when you hear an architect (me included) present in full egomaniacal glory. Do we really need to use words like tectonic, datum, aperture, and gestalt all in one sentence? Do architects need to use the common tags “-ality,” “-ology,” and “-ity” to make words sound fancy? Words that gush out of the architect’s mouth too easily: actuality, phenomenology, specificity, and homogeneity.

How about the name of an architect’s company? There are the invented names that might sound like words you know, Morphosis and Architectonica, for example. There are abbreviations that are sort of the founder’s name, SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates), or MAD architects (Ma and Dang). And there is the use of the generic—such as OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), or FOA (Foreign Office Architects).

Also, my favorites are company names with unique spellings, punctuations, capitalizations, such as Office dA, SHoP, SPF:a, wHY, No.mad, or Coop Himmelb(l)au. How does the receptionist answer the phone? How does she spell the name when asked? “Capital this then that, no, lower case, now get rid of the space, yes, add an open parenthesis, no, it is actually spelled wrong, I mean, that is correct . . .”

Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)
Starchitects, generally in black, all with stylish flair: upper left: Jean Nouvel (photo by Tom Dyckhoff); upper right: Jeanne Gang (photo from architecturaldigest.com); lower left: Frank Gehry (photo by Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images); lower right: Daniel Libeskind (photo by Matt Thomas)

Then there’s our appearance. Most architects are well-groomed, decently dressed (predictably black), and generally put together in some conscious way. When I say, ‘decently dressed,’ I don’t mean an overdressed fashionista. We do have a very conscious sense of our day-to-day uniform. The way we wrap an old scarf to appear blasé—this apparent indifference is rehearsed. When I say “well groomed,” architects may not broadcast their attention to personal hygiene, but you will not find too many architect’s looking like the absent minded professor/engineer with three-day unwashed hair and an overlooked belt loop.

Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life
Zaha Hadid looking stylish on the cover of DAC & Life

For female architects, traditional conceptions of pretty femininity are ignored. I believe most female architects prefer to leave the cute outfits, glittery clanging jewelry, obvious make up, and high heels to fellow interior decorators. For male architects, impressions of metrosexuality are common: the neatness, a decent haircut, and clothes that just seem to work together, even if it is a simple crisp shirt and artfully distressed jeans.

Accessories are rare for any architect, but the carefully considered accent item might be present, such as the locally created wristband, a French fountain pen, or a custom designed wedding band. This approach to the personalized feature item might come from some famous predecessors. Le Corbusier (1887-1965) had his famous black shell, round rimmed glasses, of which Philip Johnson had Cartier make a replica in 1934—a trend which I.M. Pei continues today. Fortunately, Frank Lloyd Wright’s cape never caught on.

left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)
left to right : Le Corbusier (photo by Girard-Perregaud Vintage) ; Philip Johnson (photo by Getty Images) ; I.M. Pei (photo from architizer.com)

EPILOGUE: I confess that these characterizations are not all architects. But where is the fun if I can’t generalize, if we take ourselves too seriously?

Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother
Popular TV actor Josh Radnor playing ten seasons of the beloved architect Ted Mosby, from How I Met Your Mother
© Poon Design Inc.