Tag Archives: SPAIN

SIX ICONOCLASTS: MARCHING TO THEIR OWN DRUM

February 28, 2020

The Factory, Catalonia, Spain, by Ricardo Bofill (photo from thisiscolossal.com)

There are the Usual Suspects, and we all know who they are. Featured on our magazine covers, these architects take home the big-name awards, are invited to international competitions, and cash in on their prestigious commissions. Then there are those creative minds that march to their own drum, exploring ideas that resound privately in their head. Rarely in the zeitgeist of the mainstream, these architects flourish in bizarre ways and have tremendous influence.

Pavilion for Japanese Art, LACMA, Los Angeles, California, by Bruce Goff (photo from lacmaonfire.blogspot.com)

From Oklahoma to France, from California to Spain, from Alabama to New Mexico, these six artists did and do not follow the status quo. Instead, they sought solutions of ingenious personal expression— sometimes even unsettling forms and imagery.

left: Gryder House, Ocean Springs, Mississippi; right: Struckus House, Los Angeles, California, both by Bruce Goff (photos by Elena Dorfman)

BRUCE GOFF (1904 to 1983)
As I often enjoy doing with my design work, Goff too finds inspiration in music as well. He leans on Claude Debussy and Balinese music. He also happens to like seashells. Eclectic and unconventional, Goff’s work was sublimely organic—starkly original with never-before-seen forms and unusual materials. Regardless, a world-class institution like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art took a huge risk and scored big with hiring Goff.

Les Arcades et Les Temples du Lac, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Gregori Civera)
Kafka Castle, Sant Pere De Ribes, Spain, by Ricard Bofill (photo by Ricard Bofill)

RICARDO BOFILL (still in practice)
Bofill’s early works represented some of the most interesting explorations in Post-Modernism. With facile classical skills, this artist added fantasy and twisted plays of scale. For Bofill’s dystopia, see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Additional projects are other-worldly explorations into geometry and mind-bending repetition. His reconstruction of an abandoned cement factory transforms dilapidated structures into his personal residence and park, as well as offices for his architecture company (first image).

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Sheats Goldstein House, Los Angeles, California, by John Lautner (photo from archdaily.com)

JOHN LAUTNER (1911 to 1994)
This Southern California architect captured the sunny optimism of the region. A student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner similarly stretched the rules of structural engineering as well as spatial relationships. He pioneered new possibilities with poured-in-place, steel reinforced concrete. Lautner was a Mid-Century visionary of brave new worlds.

Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by hotellacasadelsol.com)
Sagrada Familia Church, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo by Getty Images, Tanatat Ponghibool)

ANTONI GAUDI (1852 to 1926)
When I visited Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, it was only then that I realized that an architect can indeed build his fanciful visions that seem to appear from a hallucinatory fugue. Like a jazz musician, Gaudi improvises, experimenting with Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, taking engineering risks and aesthetic chances. 140 years later, the world is still dedicated to completing Gaudi’s design of the Sagrada Familia Church, an ambitious vision that was conceived before we even had the technology to execute the design.

Lucy Carpet House, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo from livingcircular.veolia.com)
Community Center, Mason’s Bend, Alabama, by Samuel Mockbee (photo by Johann Strey)

SAMUEL MOCKBEE (1944 to 2001)
Look closely at the Lucy Carpet House. By its name, yes: Those are carpet tiles stacked up to make part of the exterior skin. The design used 72,000 worn carpet tiles held in compression by wood beams on top. And the smell, you might ask? The tiles were stored for seven years to prevent off-gassing. The multi-faceted red structure has a bedroom on top of a tornado shelter. Inventive, novel and philanthropic, Mockbee and his Rural Studio often worked with rural, disadvantaged communities.

Pierre Cardin’s Bubble House, Cote d’Azur, France, by Bart Prince (photo from odditycentral.com)

BART PRINCE (still in practice)
Call it weird—rebellious too. Some would argue that Prince’s work was ugly or better yet grotesque. A colleague of Bruce Goff, Prince’s work was unprecedented and imaginative, whether you saw courageous splendor or awkward shapes. His architecture is a collision of myths, dreams and nightmares, laced with raw materials straight from the shelves of your local hardware store.

Fu Residence, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, by Bart Prince (photo from Robert Peck)

Ayn Rand promoted the Roark-ian ideal through her Objectivist view that “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Does this apply to my six iconoclastic architects above? Let’s just say that Individualism has it merits, as these architects value self-reliance in the creative process–as they cherish their artistic freedom

EIGHT THINGS I DISLIKE ABOUT ARCHITECTURE

September 2, 2016

1893 Chicago's World Fair, Illinois

ONE

Clients who change their minds every other day. I get it; it’s their project and it’s their money. They are the customers, and I would not have a business without them. But I am hired to be the design authority. So why is all my expertise cast aside, only to have me arbitrarily move a wall six inches in one direction, then three inches in another direction, then back to the original position—and then, do this again 20 more times over months?

Figure drawing by Anthony Poon
Figure drawing by Anthony Poon

TWO

The business of architecture. To have work, I have to market the company— promote, promote, promote. I also bill clients, pay insurance and rent, manage finances, execute contracts, and take care of payroll and taxes. Being an entrepreneur and sole proprietor, such are mandatory activities, but they interfere with doing what I love: to draw, design and create.

THREE

Technology that has overtaken artistry and imagination. Computers are powerful and convenient. I can’t imagine my business without them, but they are just one of many tools. Some architects have forgotten how to use their hands, their eyes, and their souls. And some clients believe (incorrectly) that simply with the use of a computer, architects should be able to do more work and do it faster.

Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design
Revit file for mixed-use project, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

FOUR

The frightening responsibility of what I do. Poorly selected kitchen cabinets might compromise the aesthetics of a house, but an incompetent design of fire exits for 10-story student dormitories is a life and death matter.

Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)
Northwest Campus Student Housing, University of California, Los Angeles, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Michael Moran)

FIVE

Interior decorators who call themselves interior designers, as if to suggest these decorators shape architectural space, structure and light. Whether decorator or designer, why is it that they (alas, many of my friends are interior decorators/designers) garner higher pay than architects? Is selecting the right hue for a pillow sham as significant as my design for a high school?

Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design
Pacifica Christian High School, Culver City, California, by Poon Design

SIX

Red Tape: working with the bureaucracy of city agencies to obtain approvals, even for the simplest of things. I do appreciate the need for the Department of Building and Safety to protect us against the unscrupulous and derelict, but I am neither unscrupulous nor derelict. I have better things to do than spend hundreds of hours waiting in line to submit a soils report, only to be rejected because today is the staff party for their July birthdays, and the counter has abruptly closed.

SEVEN

Bleeding for the art. Architecture is a struggle, and if it was easy, we probably wouldn’t be interesting in doing it. But most architects work way too hard, struggle too much. Pritzker-awarded Rafael Moneo once told our class not to worry. Without missing a beat and in all seriousness, this head of Harvard’s architecture school declared, “You have more than the five calendar days left to complete the project; you have ten days. Five days and five nights. Do not sleep!”

Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)
Murcia Town Hall, Spain, by Rafael Moneo (photo from metalocus.es)

Fountainhead-WebEIGHT

The ego of some architects with their overly curated philosophical platforms laced with intellectual superiority. Architects, charged with solving design challenges with innovation and efficiency, do have a vital role in society. But are we rock stars? Are we “Starchitects?” I often wonder whether Ayn Rand was serious about the greatness of architects, or was she simply elbow jabbing the profession, slyly mocking us.

MYTH OF THE PREFAB HOUSE

February 4, 2016

Prefab home, Madrid, Spain (photo by Abaton)

I am convinced that prefab homes are a myth. The success stories have been shown to be mostly fictional and braggadocio. More relevant than ever, we need well-designed, good value housing. But relevance doesn’t mean reality. According to all those glossy marketing campaigns, prefab houses were supposed to not only change the housing market, but change the world.

Different than a custom designed residence built at the construction site, a “prefab” (short for prefabricated) house is designed speculatively, built in a factory, and assembled on the property owner’s lot like an enormous toy kit-o-parts.

“Modern Home No. 115,” Sears “Kit” home, circa 1930
“Modern Home No. 115,” Sears “Kit” home, circa 1930

Though apparently popular in past years, the prefab approach is not new. Early 1900’s, retailers like Sears sold prefab homes from a catalog. After World War II, the prefab solution offered an affordable option for returning soldiers.

First problem. Prefab homes are not meant to be customized. To reflect personalities, people love to change things. Even with the prefab companies offering some architectural variations, such as a larger bedroom or different kitchen layouts, such few choices rarely suit homebuyers. And their requested customizations muck up the whole process. With homes already fabricated and pre-approved by building codes, customer changes, even the smallest ones, come at great cost, loss of efficiency, and waste of energy.

Prefab home en route (photo by Joe Sohm)
Prefab home en route (photo by Joe Sohm)

Second problem. When considering the deceptively low price for a prefab home, make sure you pad the wallet for: purchase of your land; delivery costs of bringing said house to your property; and the infrastructure required, i.e. building foundation, sewer line, driveway, landscape and site lighting.

Third problem. How great are these homes architecturally? With the limits of a factory process and dimensions of the truck delivering across interstates, the design result is not much more than a box. And a box, even a nice bunch of boxes, might not make an enjoyable home for you.

Prefab beach house, Hekerua Bay, New Zealand, (Photo by Russell Kleyn)
Prefab beach house, Hekerua Bay, New Zealand, (photo by Russell Kleyn)

Years ago at the national trade shows, I witnessed an impressive number of sales booths promoting prefab companies. I queried the salesperson, “How many prefab houses have been sold?” With all the different salespeople from various booths, the answers were consistently ambiguous. “Well . . . we have designed several, some in production, few are pre-ordered . . .”

When asked again, this time with tenacity, their responses were embarrassing, as no marketing person likes to backpedal. They admit, “Only one, maybe two have been delivered to a home buyer.” Not the 50 or 100 as their pretty pictures represent.

Each passing year, I witnessed fewer booths. The fancy magazines wrote editorials retracting their previous features on the “silver bullet success of prefab homes.”

Prefab home in Desert Hot Springs, California. Originally listed for approximately $2 million. Four years later, sold for only one-third of asking price. (photo by CAD Services and Marmol Radziner)
Prefab home in Desert Hot Springs, California. Originally listed for approximately $2 million. Four years later, sold for only one-third of asking price. (photo by CAD Services and Marmol Radziner)

The once seductive $200,000 price tag for a house has been replaced by the actual total cost of $2 to $3 million. Perhaps the prefab home would sell better to the wealthy. Such structures can have exciting possibilities as second homes, weekend beach structures, or getaway vacation retreats.

42 portable classrooms, Palm Harbor University High, Florida, 2014 (photo by Andy Jones)
42 portable classrooms, Palm Harbor University High, Florida, 2014 (photo by Andy Jones)

Homes aside, prefab buildings have purpose as temporary structures. How about those prefab classrooms in your school’s parking lot? Ironically, though these “temporary” classrooms suggested a permanent solution was on its way, these structures remain in use, 30 years and counting.

The prefab industry is a tiny niche. As a hyped marketing position, it impressively blazed through mainstream media. But as the answer to good housing: sorry.

© Poon Design Inc.