Tag Archives: SNOHETTA


March 3, 2023

right: Colline Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier; left: chapel in Zhengzhou, China (photo rom pinterest.ph, RMJM)

Often, two separate architectural projects by two separate architects appear similar. Sometimes too similar. Hmmm . . . it is simply a coincidence, did one design inspire the other, or has an idea been “appropriated”? In other words, stolen.

left: Lady Gaga (photo from soundcloud); right: Madonna (photo from news.madonnatribe.com)

In 2011, Lady Gaga released Born This Way, and comparisons to Madonna’s 1989 Express Yourself were swift, exacting, and accusatory. The two songs sounded more than just similar, and Lady Gaga was considered a plagiarist, a common thief. Gaga tried flattery stating that her song was not a copy, but rather, that she was inspired by Madonna—that the work was a tribute to the Queen of Pop.

In architecture, there are many creative overlaps between separate projects which can lead to the legal phrase, “likelihood of confusion.” But often the overlaps are innocent. The zeitgeist of ideas invades the media, websites, and magazine covers. Subconsciously, we design buildings that accidentally conform to pervasive aesthetic themes. But sometimes, there is thievery.

top: Saracen Casino Resort, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, by Marlon Blackwell; bottom: same project by HBG Design (photos by MBA)

In 2017, Marlon Blackwell Architects (“MBA”), designed the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, Arkansas (top image in the above collage). In 2018, HBG Design supposedly “collaborated” with MBA to develop the project. When the client dismissed MBA for unclear reasons, they filed the now infamous 2019 lawsuit. According to Architectural Record’s January 2020 reporting, the suit “claims that HBG has continued to use MBA’s intellectual property without credit or payment, and asks for a judgment of no less than $4.45 million . . . and a declaration indicating MBA’s original authorship of the design.”

MBA won, and HBG’s design (bottom image in the above collage) must now be credited as “an original design by Marlon Blackwell Architects.” Though the financial settlement remains confidential, this victory for the original creator contributes to the ongoing discussion of intellectual property and authorship.

New York–New York Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by Frauke Feind, Pixabay)

What about Las Vegas producing themed-casinos based on great cities, e.g., Paris, New York (here and here), Venice, and Egypt? What about when an architect in China brazenly reproduces one of the greatest works of the International Style? (See opening image at top.)

For my personal exploration below, admittedly tongue-in-cheek, I mined some of my past designs and found many similar projects by other architects, some explicitly similar. Are they copies or merely independent invention?

right: Harvard student project by Anthony Poon (photo by Anthony Poon); left: 8 Octavia, San Francisco, California (photo from saitowitz.com)

As a Harvard graduate student in 1990, I designed this seven-story, vertically-slatted building in downtown Boston (right). In 2015, Stanley Saitowitz (one of my undergraduate professors at UC Berkeley  designed this eight-story, vertically-slatted building in downtown San Francisco (left).

top: Olympic Stadium 2000, Sydney, Australia, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi with NBBJ (rendering by NBBJ); bottom: SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California (photo from hksinc.com)

While employed at NBBJ, my design partner, Greg Lombardi, and I designed this sports building for the 2000 Sydney Olympics (top). Our design never got built, but SoFi Stadium opened in 2020 to much fanfare (bottom). Both projects feature an iconic roof curving up from the ground and soaring towards the other side.

right: Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon with A4E (photo by Gregory Blore), left: Fontana School, Fontana, California (photo from architecture4e.com)

As Co-Founder and Design Principal of A4E, I led the team to create this school in Yuba City, California (left)—a design expressing structure, horizontal textures, and a folding roof. Years later after I left the company, A4E designed this Fontana school (right)—a design of similar sentiments.

right: Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal); left: Love Culture, Santa Monica, California (photo from shopa.off-77.tk)

My studio, Poon Design, designed this 2008 restaurant bar framed by an innovative, back-lit, decoratively-etched mirror composition (left). We won the 2009 International AIA Award, and our design was published extensively. Years later, this store installed a back-lit, decoratively-etched mirror composition (right).

right: Lifeguard Tower and Pier, Hermosa Beach, California, by Anthony Poon and Greg Lombardi (rendering by Al Forster); left: Oslo Opera House, Oslo, Norway (photo by Beata May, galleo.co)

In 1993, Lombardi and I designed this glassy building situated on a plaza that slopes upwards to the sea (left). We won the 1995 AIA Merit Award, and our design was published extensively. In 2008, Norwegian firm, Snohetta, designed this glassy building situated on a plaza that slopes upwards to the sea (right).

Yes, the above commentary possesses some glibness. I understand that we architects sometimes design what is exclusively in our heads and sometimes what is non-exclusively part of a larger dialogue. I accuse no one of plagiarism, but often the resemblances are too striking to ignore.


August 19, 2016

SFMOMA, San Francisco, California (photo by Quinten Dol)

As a kid running around Chinatown, the alleys of San Francisco fascinated me. This childhood curiosity preceded my academic studies two decades later into urban density and the small streets that patiently waited to be discovered.

In 2009, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (“SFMOMA”) announced a massive $300 million, 235,000 square foot addition to the iconic 1995 museum by Swiss architect Mario Botta. In the dense South of Market area expecting this museum’s expansion, there is barely any land left. Only slivers of in-between spaces. How would this big project squeeze into the city?

View of SFMOMA from the northeast alley (photo from snohetta.com)
View of SFMOMA from the northeast alley (photo from snohetta.com)

Recently completed, Norwegian architect Snohetta with local architect EHDD, unveiled the new SFMOMA—a skinny, ten-story building addition, woven and tucked neatly into the urban fabric.

By allowing visitors to enter SFMOMA from various directions, Snohetta re-envisioned how the public graciously arrives, with the first and second floors engaging the street. This architectural porosity, as I call it, is notable as museum goers conveniently and casually approach the world of art. Such an accessible lobby experience provides a democratic outreach, as compared to the controlling arrival at The Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Here, one cannot walk easily to this museum. As it is in most of Los Angeles, one has to drive. Approaching the Getty, one first plunges deep into the earth, parking six or seven levels below the surface—a time-consuming downward spiraling journey. After fighting the slow and crowded elevators back up to fresh air, one finally arrives at the welcome mat to the museum.

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)
The Getty Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

But you are not at the Getty yet. Rather, you are only on a platform waiting 40 minutes for a small tram that takes you to the museum that sits atop a hill, like a private Acropolis. Appearing unsure of its direction, the tram jostles absurdly and moves slowly as if a movie prop, and not the cutting edge transportation bragged about for this billion dollar museum.

(photo by Snohetta, courtesy of SFMOMA)
(photo by Snohetta, courtesy of SFMOMA)

Back to SFMOMA. What is the purpose of wrapping the building in 700 unique panels of white fiberglass-reinforced polymer? The building’s skin ripples and stretches provocatively, while silicon crystals in the surface create subtle changing light effects. Though sculpturally fascinating, do the fetishized facades really remind us, as the architect claims, of the waters of the San Francisco Bay? Unfortunately, the evocative building skin appears to have no impact on the interior experience.

Architectural study models from Snohetta (upper left: photo from wfmoma.org; upper right: photo by Katherina Du Tile; lower left: photo from twitter.com/fmearchdesign; lower right: photo by Henrik Kam)
Architectural study models from Snohetta (upper left: photo from wfmoma.org; upper right: photo by Katherina Du Tile; lower left: photo from twitter.com/fmearchdesign; lower right: photo by Henrik Kam)

One exhibit that displays several dozen tiny architectural models by Snohetta highlight the manically-obsessive design process. With each study model, this architect appears to randomly go from one exterior idea of form, color and texture to another—from glass to stone, from plastic to wood, to wavy surfaces, to stretched fabrics, and so on.

I know that the design process is not linear, but it shouldn’t be arbitrary either.

SFMOMA lobby (photo by Henrik Kam)
SFMOMA lobby (photo by Henrik Kam)
Intensely red restroom (photo by Lee Rosenbaum)
Intensely red restroom (photo by Lee Rosenbaum)

The distribution of natural light through a museum is both a science and an art form. Museum designers explore all kinds of architectural moves: skylights, patterned glass, operable louvers, diffused washes of sunlight, contrast-y dramatic accents, etc. At SFMOMA, not much new ground was broken in terms of light technology. But the galleries are made pleasant through what the architect calls “Vertical Gardens,” outdoor landscaped plazas inhabited by wonderful installations from sculptors such as Calder and Newman.

The interiors are mostly white with light woods. But the restrooms are intensely colored throughout, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling. And different colors per floor. The vivid red used on the second floor left me viscerally disoriented.

As far as the relationship between the original Botta museum and the new Snohetta addition two decades later, let’s just say the juxtaposition of old and new has the feel of a forced marriage.

Original brick SFMOMA in foreground, white taller addition in background (photo by Snohetta, courtesy of SFMOMA)
Original brick SFMOMA in foreground, white taller addition in background (photo by Snohetta, courtesy of SFMOMA)
© Poon Design Inc.