Tag Archives: SCALE

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.

TEN THOUGHTS, TEN MINUTES

April 13, 2018

Beams of desert sun breaking between the mountains, entering the master bedroom suite. Modern Villa, Monte Sereno, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)

Take ten minutes and get ten thoughts for your design project.

Besides architecture, these ten thoughts can apply to many other pursuits, from graphic design to gardening, from composing music to creating life itself. (All designs by Anthony Poon and/or Poon Design Inc.)

 

1. LIGHT

An entry hall welcomes the morning light. Residence G, Linea, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by The Agency)

Luminosity, natural or artificial, places a static environment into motion.

 

2. PATTERN

Color bands of brick and concrete on the walls, with color bands of slate on the roof. DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

Give your surroundings pace and tempo. Rhythm isn’t just for music.

 

3. COLOR

Shower tile: four shades of green glass tiles by Ann Sacks. S/B House, Encino, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Colors make surfaces recede or stand out. At turns, colors soothe and enliven.

 

4. CRAFT

Vaudeville signage and reclaimed wood planks, with blackened custom steel details. Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

A thoughtful, well-constructed project will last a lifetime, and even change in meaning over time.

 

5. TEXTURE

Textures of ground face and split face concrete block, vertical redwood siding and corrugated galvanized metal siding. Special Education classroom, Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Gregory Blore)

Texture gives the body something to touch and the eye something to eat.

 

6. SURPRISE

A cow makes a surprising appearance, as well as vibrant wallcovering within. Arcadia Residence, Escena, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)

Unexpected moments deliver flair and amazement. Predictable architecture is boring.

 

7. SCALE

A mix of scales: small classrooms within a big atrium. Herget Middle School, West Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Mark Ballogg)

Grand scale is heroic. Small scale is intimate. Choose the appropriate scale for the activity in mind.

 

8. HUMOR

Two unlikely bright colors make up a stimulating composition. Roberto Lane, Bel Air, California, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

Why can’t architecture have wit, irony and charm? It should.

 

9. COURAGE

Gateway to the city. Proposed new Reds Baseball Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by John Lodge)

Chase your dreams. Don’t be timid. And it might take some guts and perseverance to get results.

 

10. PLEASURE

Private dining areas as glowing lanterns. Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Biolinia)

Good design should challenge you and please you. Architecture might test you, but know that delight and satisfaction are close.

© Poon Design Inc.