Tag Archives: SNOHETTA

A DAY AND A HALF IN NEW YORK CITY

July 7, 2023

Lobby of 130 William Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

Having wrapped up client meetings in New York City, I had some time to myself. With nothing on the agenda, no one to meet, not much in particular to do, I put on walking shoes to wander this island of Manhattan (here and here). In a day and a half, I visited 20 new architectural works, walking 44,631 steps. Doing the math, that is nearly 20 miles.

THURSDAY

Midtown 

Royalton Hotel lobby, 44 West 44th Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

11:30 a.m.: I launched from my Times Square hotel, Philippe Starck’s acclaimed Royalton hotel. In the 1980s, Starck renovated this 1898 hotel, his first hotel re-envisioning. This stylish, irreverent renovation propelled Starck onto the global stage of design. Today, some of the ideas have become questionable, e.g., no mirror directly over the bathroom sink?

Left: Steinway Tower, 111 West 57th Street; right: Central Park Tower, 225 West 57th Street (photos by Anthony Poon)

11:52 a.m..: The Steinway Tower displayed optimism and technological/construction advancement, earning the title, the “World’s Skinniest Skyscraper,” designed by SHoP Architects.

12:12 p.m.: Within the famed “Billionaire’s Row” and its collection of “Supertalls,” the Central Park Tower cantilevered (somewhat awkwardly) building masses to grab views of Central Park. Architect AS+GG offered the tallest residential tower in the world, also the 15th tallest building in the world.

American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, 101 Park Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

12:25 p.m.: How could I not stop into this random find, the Museum of the Dog? I toured an extensive collection of dog-related art, from paintings of presidents’ dogs to porcelain dog statuettes, from an exhibit on the history of the leash to the comprehensive library of books on dogs.

550 Madison Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:02 p.m.: Formerly the AT&T Building completed in 1984, Philip Johnson’s design with its infamous Chippendale crown received both Post-Modernist acclaim and the worst of ridicule. Last year, Norwegian Snohetta offered this new public garden, a wonderful oasis tucked into dense urbanity.

KAWS, 280 Park Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:29 p.m.: Artist Brian Donnelly, also known as the popular KAWS, blurs fine art and corporate art. Inside this generic corporate lobby, Donnelly installed a work of surrealism and wackiness.

MoMA, 11 West 53rd Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

4:31 p.m.: Yoshio Taniguchi’s 2004 redesign of MoMA mined the complexity of many levels, galleries, security points, and city facades to provide a coherently, exquisitely tailored museum.

Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street (photos by Anthony Poon)

7:09 p.m.: “When in Rome…” as the saying goes. I visited Times Square’s Hudson Theatre to watch the Tony-nominated performance of Jessica Chastain in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Was the outrage back in 1879 really about a wife merely forging a husband’s signature? Seriously?

FRIDAY

Midtown 

Hearst Tower, West 57th Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

9:14 a.m.: I have always enjoyed a modern addition colliding into a traditional building. At the Hearst Tower, Norman Foster added a 40-story steel and glass structure on top of a 1928 Art Deco, limestone, six-story landmark. “Juxtaposition” is an overused word in architecture, but here it is appropriate.

Upper West Side

Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, 415 Columbus Avenue (photo by Anthony Poon)

9:53 a.m.: Certainly to be the next New York architectural icon and tourist mecca, I arrived at the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation just days before its grand opening. Jeanne Gang authored an oddly beautiful and Grotesque structure inspired by the geologic flow of wind and water—expressed by spray-on structural concrete, akin to that of a swimming pool.

Chelsea

Old Tree, Highline (photo by Anthony Poon)

12:02 p.m.: Plenty has been written about the successes (and some failures) of the Highline. But artist Pamela Rosenkranz’s Old Tree caught my eye, a fuchsia-red sculpture standing within the grays and grit of its city backdrop. She questioned what is artificial vs. natural.

The Vessel, 20 Hudson Yards (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:14 p.m.: Created by Heatherwick Studio, the Vessel heroically rose 16 stories with 150 interconnecting staircases and 80 landings. But after three suicides from the top in one year, the Vessel closed. Today, only the ground level was available to visitors—ending the once-promised Eiffel Tower of Manhattan.

The Shed, 545 West 30th Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

2:36 p.m.: Mere steps from the Vessel sits the kinetic Shed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It is rare for architecture to move, yet the retractable shell of steel and fluorine-based plastic opens and closes on eight massive wheels 6 feet in diameter, transforming an outdoor space into a theatrical performance space, event hall, or exhibition space.

Little Island, Pier 55 (photo by Anthony Poon)

3:09 p.m.: A quirky visionary project, entitled Little Island, sits on 132 concrete structures called “tulip pots.” Heatherwick Studio, the same architect for The Vessel, created a 2.5-acre artificial island of rich topography and luxurious greenery, accented by a 687-seat amphitheater.

Lower Manhattan

left: “Jenga Tower”; right: “Bean,” 56 Leonard Street (photos by Anthony Poon)

3:31 p.m.: At the street level of the aptly titled “Jenga Tower,” sculptor Anish Kapoor brought an iteration of his famous “bean” from Chicago. Whereas that city was often called “The Second City” to Manhattan, it is here that Manhattan is second place getting a self-derivative art piece.

Perelman Performing Arts Center, 251 Fulton Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

4:35 p.m.: Architect REX’s Perelman Performing Arts Center will, when completed, serve as a hopeful beacon, transforming day to night, from a mute white cube to a glowing marble lantern. The design will complement the World Trade Center, its 9/11 Memorial, and the infamous Oculus, the most excessive subway station.

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church & National Shrine, 130 Liberty Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

5:38 p.m.: Speaking of Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus, this architect/engineer brought a second landmark to the area, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church & National Shrine. Replacing the original 19th century church destroyed on 9/11, the new Byzantine-inspired building glowed, like the Perelman Center, as a lantern of renewal—through the use of thin slabs of translucent Pentelic marble—the same kind of stone used at the Parthenon in Athens.

Courtyard of 130 William Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

6:32 p.m.: Sir David Adjaye’s work is reductive, raw, deceptively simple. This 66-floor luxury condo tower explored arches and arches . . . and even more arches. The darkly-tinted, heavily-textured, hand-cast concrete panels expressed both an enigmatic mystery and somber toughness.

Temple Court, Beekman Hotel, 5 Beekman Street (photo by Anthony Poon)

7:00 p.m.: I concluded my NYC tour with a sumptuous meal at Tom Coliccho’s Temple Court restaurant set within the historic 1883 Beekman Hotel. The 2016 renovation of the Romanesque Revival structure, one of the city’s first skyscrapers, restored the splendor of its nine-story atrium.

A view out of my hotel window, the richness of the rarely seen back-of-house, city fabric (photo by Anthony Poon)

(I thank John Fontillas, Principal of H3, for his insights into generating this list to play architectural tourist.)

FLATTERY OR THEFT

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.

SQUEEZING IN THE NEW SFMOMA

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.