Tag Archives: SAUDI ARABIA


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 Oive Stays)

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.


May 13, 2022

One of five prototype residences, Saudi Arabia (rendering by Encore)

Architects like to put their stamp on as much as possible, from the design of a chair to the whole house, from a theater to a museum. How about entire neighborhoods? When designing a community of homes, there are risks and rewards. Sure, the ego is stroked to see design ideas implemented across an urban fabric. But there are also pitfalls. Beware.

130-home community, Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California (photo by Google Earth)

At Poon Design Inc., we have been fortunate to have designed eight communities from scratch, from California to Montana to Saudi Arabia—totaling over 200 built homes and another 100 on the way.

20-condominium, 8-building community, Big Mountain River, Whitefish, Montana (rendering by Mike Amaya)

When designing one residence, there is an overly precious approach, a fetishization of exploring the domesticity of a single client. But when designing a community of over 100 dwellings, the architect now confronts not just the house as a single object, but the relationship between the objects—not just each note of the music, but the connection between the notes.

20-condominium, 8-building community site plan, Big Mountain River, Whitefish, Montana

Here, the composition is no longer a single structure, but a body of dozens upon dozens of residences, as well as the open spaces between and around them. Take for example: roads and sidewalks, gardens and entry gates, motor courts and driveways—yes, even a stormwater water management. Designing a neighborhood is creating a place where diverse families intersect, where lifestyles overlap, where utopian ideas are possible. The scale of our work still includes the design of kitchen cabinets and bathroom tile patterns, but it now explores how a fire truck enters the community, puts out a fire, and turns around. We are shaping the land, like a giant given ablank canvas the size of a city.

Brainstorming session at Poon Design Inc. for mass production housing in Palm Springs, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Some of our projects mentioned above fall into the category of tract housing or mass production housing, meaning that the 40-home community is not a design of 40 unique homes, but rather, a composition of four homes strategically curated to ward off architectural monotony. From a financial standpoint, the four-house-approach allows the developer efficiencies in construction costs and schedule.

130-house site plan, Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California

For aesthetic variety, unimaginative architects only apply superficial ideas. Yes, you can alter paint color, exterior materials, and landscape. But we do not support the typical tract home methods of adding artificial roof forms, like a fake gable on one and a token trellised porch on another, when both happen to be for the exact same floor plan. No, any modifications must have a reason that is supported by the design concept of that particular house.

Though rewarding and artistically challenging, the big risk with designing entire neighborhoods is frightening yet simple. If you make one mistake, 100 homes have this mistake, so now you have made 100 mistakes. For example, if the roof is not designed appropriately and leaks, now 100 homes probably leak. So have your lawyer and liability insurance ready for a class action lawsuit. In contrast, when designing a single custom house, a problem is usually addressed with a question from the client, then a meeting with the contractor. But with designing entire communities, the architect doesn’t likely know the homeowners who bought these mass produced, spec homes.

LEED worksheet for Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California

In everything ones does, there are risks, and there are rewards. We pick our battles, and we gauge the return on investment. What happens if we fail? What happens if we succeed?


July 2, 2021

Whitefish River Run, Montana, by Poon Design (rendering by Mike Amaya)

“Host Jeff Haber shares conversations with interesting people from all walks of life, using a positive, uplifting and funny approach,” from the podcast series, No Bed of Roses, brought to you by Kenxus. Edited excerpts below are from the full podcast, episode #1030.

Podcast: No Bed of Roses, by Jeff Haber

Jeff Haber: Hey there, everyone, from beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado, halfway between Cheyenne in Denver and 5,003 feet above sea level. The dictionary defines architect as a person who designs buildings, and in many cases also supervises their construction. That definition is fine, but barely scratches the surface as you’ll learn from today’s guest.

Anthony Poon is an award-winning American classical pianist, mixed-media artist, published author, interior designer, guest lecturer, and oh, yeah, he’s an architect—a really talented one.

Anthony, let’s talk about the pandemic: You work primarily in California, or do you work in other areas as well?

Anthony Poon: Primarily California, but we get our fingers into other locations. I’m also licensed in Virginia and Montana. We’ve also done a lot of work in the Chicago area, and we’ve designed projects as far as Saudi Arabia.

Buddhist Pavilion, Natural Bridge, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Jeff: How much of an impact has the pandemic had on you currently? And how much of an impact will it have on the way you now go through your design process? How does this make you approach communal spaces?

Anthony: A lot of things that we responded to and changed due to the pandemic—well, a lot of these ideas will stay in place. For example, people have learned that their company teams can work remotely and still be effective. Or, the new views on hygiene and cleanliness should apply into the future, pandemic or not, i.e.: for a school, restaurant, retail, or going into any public space.

Berkeley Hall School Master Plan, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

I think of one of our clients, a development office in Beverly Hills. We’re asked to redesign their office because they now realize they don’t need to have 100% of their staff back in person. We are looking at a “hotel concept” and micro-offices where there are multiple areas that are shared and used at different points of the day. The office can be smaller in square footage, but still support the same size company or even bigger. Remote connections will stay around, but people will certainly come back together in person and collaborate. Human contact is so important. There’s also so many things we’re learning about mechanical systems, ventilation, and air conditioning. It was a crash course for everyone this last year. We’re not going to throw away that knowledge.

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

Jeff: What about the use of outdoor space? Is there anything you’re kind of ruminating on?

Anthony: When we talk about outdoor space, I’m thinking two things. One is the smaller scale spaces like that of a restaurant patio. And the other is the concept of public space. I’m talking streets, parks, communal spaces, and plazas.

Generally in California, you’re only allowed outdoor space that’s about half of your interior dining room. Well, that’s obviously changed because of Covid. New ordinances will be created to allow restaurants to keep doing what they are currently doing: have a permanent large outdoor patio. And it can’t be just temporary chairs and tables thrown up. The patio should include ideas like we did at Chaya Downtown where the outdoor dining is as thoroughly designed and detailed as the interior.

Traffic (photo by Tommy on Unsplash)

Now shifting to the other thing I said, public space. We need to start thinking about cities, say San Francisco or New York. People wonder, are they are coming back at the same density? How do you walk down the street when there’s hundreds of people? Who knows what’s going to happen in terms of distancing? So we need to think about street life and our public spaces, our parks. Certain communities closed down parts of streets for distanced foot traffic. Take Culver City, for example. There’s so much more outdoor dining downtown and public space. They city closed down certain traffic lanes to allow for that to happen. It’s very European, and no one is complaining about traffic and parking. We all still know how to get there, how to get to parking. Point is, we don’t have to design cities, particularly Los Angeles, to be about the car and this automobile street. We should think about the public spaces, pedestrians, where you can enjoy outdoor spaces.

Three-legged stool (photo from etsy.com)

Jeff: Heresy! What this man is saying for the car capital.

Anthony: Blasphemy!

Jeff: It’s not just designing. There’s the business of design. On a weighted basis, is it 50/50 between the creative flow and then client facing and all the ops that you have to deal with? What is that ratio, do you think?

Anthony: First, I would redefine it as a three-legged stool. The ratio is 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.

The first leg is the creative.

Anthony Poon’s mixed-media art in progress (photo by Anthony Poon)

The second is the logistics of science and engineering—and things like gravity. So you’ve created a beautiful project, but you still need to make sure it stands up, you still need to figure out the thickness of those concrete walls, and how much steel is being used. You need to coordinate with your structural engineer to make sure it all works.

Logistics of building (photo by Shivendu Shukla on Unsplash)

Now the last third is that of a business, that of an entrepreneur and a business owner. We have to go out there and we have to get work. We have to sign contracts. There are insurance policies. There are things to review with lawyers. There’s billing and making sure you get paid so that you can pay rent salaries. So it is a

Business: hitting the pavement (photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash)

Jeff: For any young person considering a career in architecture, any pro tips?
Anthony: Realize that you’re going into architecture for tremendous artistic rewards—that it’s an incredible profession because it is a career based around being creative. But I say ‘artistic rewards’ only because the financial rewards are challenging. It’s a roller coaster ride. You don’t often hear of architects being rich and famous, earning salaries of investment bankers and attorneys. And that’s okay. People go into architecture because it is hard and it is creative, not because they’re looking to be rich and famous.


September 16, 2016

First draft of manuscript (photo by Anthony Poon)

Hearing intriguing tales of being an architect, friends conjure up ideas like, “You should have a reality TV series,” “You should go on a talk show,” “You should blog about it,” or “You should write a book.” The first two suggestions are absurd. The third: Done.

Trapped in the Riyadh customs line at the King Khalid International Airport: an eight-hour wait, arms guards, no sitting, no talking, no food, no water, no sleeping, no restroom, no joking (photo by Anthony Poon)
Trapped in the Riyadh customs line at the King Khalid International Airport: an eight-hour wait, armed guards, no sitting, no talking, no food, no water, no sleeping, no restroom, no joking (photo by Anthony Poon)

So I chose the fourth one.

After a construction visit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I was stranded in the Frankfurt airport for an afternoon. It was here that I started writing down some of my tales. By the end of the flight home, I possessed an overwrought flurry of 25,000 words and twenty chapters. A month later, 50,000 words.

Another month later, I had completed an 80,000-word, 450-page manuscript. I also connected with an editor in Chicago and another in New York, Carl Lennertz, also my book’s marketing director. Not long after came my agent, Bond Literary Agency, and my publisher, Unbridled Books.

Initially inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, I thought: Hey, I could do that—write a tell-all sordid saga about the underbelly of architecture. The audience was there. Architecture was already everywhere . The world was brimming with endless television shows on design, a gazillion style magazines, websites and blogs, design brands and celebrity fans, passion plays like going green and prefab homes, design as lifestyle, “design-thinking” in everything from business school to scientific research, and Hollywood’s infatuation with architects .

My sketches and musings
My sketches and musings

But I realized that though a few outbursts and secrets would be entertaining, my book should not be a career-killer. So enough of that. No outrageous Bourdain “pirate” attitude for me. The noble and artistic side of architecture deserved something else.


Entitled Sticks & Stones | Steel & Glass: One Architect’s Journey, my book is part critique, part behind-the-scenes, and part auto-biographical—examining the role of architecture and its creative process in daily life.

The publisher cites, “In this personal and revealing book, we are taken on a creative journey inside a purposive yet open mind always hoping to ‘design it all,’ to weave together light and material, culture and commerce, music and design, a good meal and the joy of gathering to share it.

“In these pages, we engage the artistic processes of a thoughtful and intense architect whose works—public and private—strive to enhance his clients’ stories and identities. In every building designed by Anthony Poon, art is shelter and architecture is a social good.”

Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, awarded the National Grand Prize from Learning By Design, AIA and National School Boards Association, also received awards from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, DesignShare, IASB, IASA, IASBO, School Planning and Management, and American School & University Magazine (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photo by Mark Ballogg)
Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, awarded the National Grand Prize from Learning By Design, AIA and National School Boards Association, also received awards from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, DesignShare, IASB, IASA, IASBO, School Planning and Management, and American School & University Magazine (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photo by Mark Ballogg)

My book is not a memoir (too pretentious), although it is somewhat the trace of chapters of my life. This book is not a catalog of my work, not a marketing puff piece, not a Taschen-style glossy coffee table book. I do examine some projects that have most engaged me across my career—schools, a homeless shelter, and even a chocolate factory, and the artistic processes that delivered them.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat Factory, Chicago, Illinois, by Poon Design, Recipient of the 2013 Award of Excellence for the Industrial Redevelopment of the Year, from the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (w/ Ware Malcomb, photo by Anthony Poon)
Vosges Haut-Chocolat Factory, Chicago, Illinois, by Poon Design, Recipient of the 2013 Award of Excellence for the Industrial Redevelopment of the Year, from the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (w/ Ware Malcomb, photo by Anthony Poon)
Pondering my second book (photo by Mikel Healey)
Pondering my second book (photo by Mikel Healey)

As for the title? “Sticks and stones may break my bones . . .” opens the famous childhood rhyme. And despite what the public, media and colleagues say of my work and me, “Names will never hurt me.”

Additionally, just as sticks and stones are primitive building blocks, steel and glass are today’s elements of expression. In designing architecture, I have endeavored to find balance in the rough and the smooth, the solid and the ephemeral. So too with Sticks & Stones | Steel & Glass.

Reserve your copy now at Amazon.

© Poon Design Inc.