Tag Archives: STEVEN HOLL

THE MOST INTRIGUING BUILDINGS OF 2020

January 15, 2021

Phoenix Central Park, Chippendale, Australia (Right photo by Martin Mischkulnig; left photo by Julia Charles)

As I stated at the close of 2019, I avoid “The Best of” list, because I don’t know how to define “the best.” For the end of 2019, I instead listed ten worthy projects that fit my list of The Most Seductive Buildings. For the end of 2020, the operative adjective is intriguing.

To intrigue is an act of arousing one’s curiosity or interest—to fascinate. Being intriguing can be illicit or titillating. In no particular order, I list below ten projects from last year that intrigue, enthrall, and captivate.

(photo by Hong Sung Jun)

1: For this shopping center in Korea’s Gwangyo, OMA explores the Grotesque. Like Beethoven countering Mozart’s premise that music is supposed to be pretty and lyrical, architect Rem Koolhaas has created something ugly and even frightening, yet extraordinary—beautiful in its own unabashed way.

(photo by Cristobal Palma)

2: A single poetic gesture from architect Ryue Nishizawa graces this promontory in Los Vilos, Chile. The shaped concrete roof of a weekend house is as graceful as the Pacific Ocean waves. The glass walls embrace the limitless surroundings and deliver a small structure as a gift to Mother Nature.

(photo by Chong‐Art Photography)

3: 14,600 triangular panels, each 3 feet by 7 feet, recall flowing silk, as well as nod towards Guangzhou’s tattoo culture. The design of the Sunac Guangzhou Grand Theatre honors the district’s history as a trading port, the Silk Road on the Sea, through the wavy skin of tessellated red aluminum panels, by Steven Chilton Architects.

(photo by Richard Barnes)

4: At the D.C. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, with this project known simply as the Reach, Steven Holl Architects created building additions that blur the lines between architecture, art, sculpture, and landscape. As oddly shaped toy-like pieces, the new performance, rehearsal, and education components sprinkle themselves across a sculpted green lawn on the Potomac.

(photo by Dan Glasser)

5: Dedicated to the French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, the 40,000-square-foot museum presents over 20,000 items of couture clothing and accessories, including drawings and sketches. Elegant throughout, as are Laurent’s clothing designs, the building by Studio KO explores the patterning and texture of brick as if a woven fabric. Sophisticatedly and with understatement, architecture and fashion collide in Marrakesh, Morocco.

(photo by Nic Lehoux)

6: An unexpected addition to the housing market of Beverly Hills, MAD’s residential building speaks to us like a layered cake. With retail and commercial components on the bottom wrapped by a living wall in the middle, the structure is topped off with a rooftop village of eighteen houses, each expressing its own gable form. Conceptual strong, the resulting mixed-use project succeeds through the committed execution of a simple diagram.

(photo by Edmund Summer)

7: The Naila House in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, explores the iconic phrase, “less is more.” Architect BAAQ’ composed this house in a cross-shaped courtyard arrangement of four volumes, with airy facades facing the Pacific Ocean. Contrasting the weight of the concrete plinth, vernacular wood screens and walls allow the home to breathe and connect to the rocky landscape and nearby beach. Ignoring the typical comforts of home, the simplicity of the design challenges our architectural complacency.

(photo by Shengliang Su)

8: A captivating creation of wings and courtyards with more wings and courtyards within, the Shou County Culture and Art Center expresses the old square-ish town surrounded by city walls. Drastically different from the above courtyard project in Mexico, this project by Studio Zhu-Pei, handsomely composed and forcefully intimidating, contains within each courtyard the energy and diversity of the historic Ahui Province and Huai River,.

(Top photo by Qingshan Wu; bottom photo by Archstudio)

9: By ARCHSTUDIO, my third courtyard project on this list is a renovation of a Beijing residence with seven pitched-roof buildings. Old meets new not seamlessly in aesthetic and structure, but seamlessly in experience, thoughtfulness, and Feng Shui. Modern materials and fabrication methods, such as curved glass and cantilevers, confront dilapidated wooden beams and arched doors.

(photo by Martin Mischkulnig

10: (See first image and above.) The unconventional sensuality of conventional materials define the Phoenix Central Park, by Durbach Block Jaggers Architects and John Wardle Architects. A 13,000-square-foot visual and performing arts center supports the ongoing transformation of an ignored inner-city suburb in the Chippendale neighborhood of Sydney. Billionaire client and art collector, Judith Neilson, demanded “a total work of art” from the two collaborating design studios.

(For the list of my all-time 15 favorite buildings, visit here.)

MASSACRE AT HARVARD

April 15, 2016

“The Trays,” design studios at the Graduate School of Design, Gund Hall (photo by Kris Snibbe, Harvard University News Office)

I looked up at the packed house, my heart racing.

Students, faculty and interested parties filled the uninspiring concrete theater. Fifty onlookers growing to a hundred. Almost sadistically, the review of our mid-term work at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design is a guaranteed public spectacle. A few stars would be made that day; others might go down in flames.

Down front were my dozen classmates, most of whom hadn’t slept for days, arriving at this event having subsisted for weeks on a diet of cigarettes, coffee, and sugar. The evaluation of our work, an open forum called “crits,” is an event of theatrics, melodrama, and catharsis. There would be no covert submitting of our papers like an English major, at a specified time into some designated box, quietly, secretly.

No, we would each leave this day knowing where we stood, where our future might lie. Everyone else would know too. After each student’s elaborate presentation fueled by months of a creative high, with our drawings pinned to the wall and scale models on a solitary table, with our note cards embellished with the most convincing air of intellectual bullshit, the “jury” begins their critique comprised of praise, appreciation, judgment—and/or ridicule.

Euralille, Lille, France by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from abe-industry.com)
Euralille, Lille, France by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from abe-industry.com)

The audience was larger than usual, as the professor of my class was a rock star of architecture, coined lamely by the media a “Starchitect,” a man of incomparable intellect, intimidating presence, and literal massiveness of forehead, Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. (Years later, Koolhaas was awarded the highest honor in the architecture industry, the Pritzker Prize, akin to a Nobel Prize. And yes, his name is Cool House.)

As if that wasn’t enough to ensure a sold-out show, Koolhaas invited his New York colleague, Steven Holl, another impressive force in the field of design. (Holl would go on to be the Gold Medal recipient from The American Institute of Architects.)

Horizontal Skyscraper, Vanke Center, Shenzhen China, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Iwan Baan)
Horizontal Skyscraper, Vanke Center, Shenzhen, China, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Iwan Baan)

The project assigned to my class was the design of a convention center in Lille, France, at a location that would soon be the continental arrival zone of The Chunnel—an engaging and challenging student project—and a real commission on which Koolhaas was working. When completed, his behemoth project totaling eight million square feet would become known as Euralille, one of the most ambitious architectural statements of the time.

Drawings of convention center project by Anthony Poon
Drawings of convention center project by Anthony Poon

It was my turn to present. I did my best to exude not only confidence but heartfelt belief that my design was the right direction for the project. As a student of the creative arts, I felt emboldened to take a righteous or even moral stance with my thesis.

With the size of buildings unlike anything ever conceived, my design would hover over train tracks through some wild fantasy of structural engineering about which I knew nothing. I supplemented my formal presentation of large black-and-white ink drawings with artifacts of my so-called artistic process. As much as professors liked seeing the final product, they also appreciated the evidence of introspective process, such as numerous sketches and crude cardboard models. From drawing to drawing I dashed. Waving my arms, shaking my head in self-affirmation, I spoke about grandeur and ambition.

I concluded. I took a breath. I awaited my public review.

Presentation model of convention center project by Anthony Poon
Presentation model of convention center project by Anthony Poon

Holl spoke first. “I appreciate the work here, and the background story of how you got from the beginning of the semester to this point.”

He continued, his voice lowered—and I could feel everyone in the fishbowl lean in closer.

“I am sorry, Anthony.” He picked up the small, earliest conceptual paper model. “Maybe you had it right here.’’

Oh shit, I thought.

“I am sorry, but you not only had it right here, you wasted the rest of the semester making your first concept worse, exploring bad ideas, wasting the contributions of your fellow students and your professor . . . and . . . you are wasting our time right now.”

The public “crit” at the Graduate School of Design, Gund Hall (photo from serie.cn)
The public “crit” at the Graduate School of Design, Gund Hall (photo from serie.cn)

The gasps from the spectators in the coliseum were not only audible, but physical I swear. I looked up. More people were arriving. The word in the hallway must have been that a classic crit massacre was going on. Whispers in the audience had begun even before Holl completed his diatribe. “Anthony’s a failure.” “I thought he was better.” “Let’s see if he will cry.”

Without even the most banal compliment for my effort, without my even being granted the proper allocated time of twenty minutes, Koolhaas stepped in to end it. Out of mercy, I am sure.

“Let’s move on to the next student’s presentation.”

Koolhaas’ blow was so swift that it was neither here nor there; it was just an end to the whole miserable circus of public humiliation. Koolhaas was bored, as so many smart people are when in the presence of the mediocrity of mere mortals.

Gund Hall, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by John Andrews (photo by Harvard GSD)
Gund Hall, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by John Andrews (photo by Harvard GSD)

I picked up my models, gathered up my drawings and sketchbook, and crawled out of the auditorium. I walked out into the early, crisp cold of Cambridge, and ended up at my dimly lit, ground floor, one-bedroom apartment. I let all my work fall to the floor. I fell into my bed, face first.

This is my future. Whether a city hall or a shopping center, architects design in a public forum. Our work is out there for a generation or more, in the glaring eye of acclaim, criticism, and sometimes, mockery.

THE CURIOUS THING ABOUT STYLE, PART 1 OF 2

December 31, 2015

For this food blogger’s residence in Pasadena, we juxtaposed the technology of parametric algorithms on to polyethylene, the material used to make household cutting boards.

Recently, I was asked by an interviewer, “What is your style?”

This question is often asked, and not just of architects, but creatives of all sorts: fashion, graphics, advertising, cuisine, etc. The media typically aims to capture one’s design philosophy in a sound bite digestible by mainstream readers.

Many interior decorators have a packaged response. I hear words like “eclectic,” “warm and welcoming,” “contemporary yet timeless.” I am not sure what kind of design results from this mash up of clichés.

Architects have a hard time speaking of their style. Hugh Hardy, one of my past employers, argued that once you answer the dreaded question, your critics will constantly be assessing your work to see if you have lived up to your declarations.

What is style after all?

With extensive education, a higher degree and a 250-page graduate school thesis, many architects simply can’t and won’t summarize their creative philosophy in 20 words or less. For some, “style” is a bad word, and it shouldn’t be an elevator pitch.

upper left: Federal National Council’s Parliament Building, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emiretes by Ehrlich Architects; upper right: McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, by Antoine Predock Architect Studio (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri); lower left: Dominus Estate, Yountville, California, by Herzog & de Meuron (photo by dominusestate.com); lower right: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Andy Ryan)
upper left: Federal National Council’s Parliament Building, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emiretes by Ehrlich Architects; upper right: McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, by Antoine Predock Architect Studio (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri); lower left: Dominus Estate, Yountville, California, by Herzog & de Meuron (photo by dominusestate.com); lower right: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Andy Ryan)

Some colleagues who talk about their architectural style do so with clever labels. Steven Ehrlich, based in Los Angeles, calls his work “Regional Modernism.” New Mexico architect Antoine Predock is a self-described “Cosmic Modernist.” Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland has been coined, “Elemental Reductivists.” From New York, Steven Holl’s work involves “typology, phenomenology and existentialism.”

For architects such as Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando or Richard Meier, their style has been accused of being formulaic. Many would argue that all their buildings look the same. Is this so bad? Don’t all the Beatles’ songs and Beethoven Sonatas sound similar? (This topic of formula will be discussed in an upcoming blog.)

Oscar Peterson Trio (photo by Paul Hoeffler)
Oscar Peterson Trio (photo by Paul Hoeffler)

So now it is my turn to answer the universal question of style. My response should not be trite, but rather complex—but not pretentious.

I answered in two parts: Process and Product. My Process is inspired by jazz—the spontaneity and the improvisational spirit. (More another day.)

My Product, meaning the final structure, say a house or school, is driven by juxtaposition. I enjoy combining things together, either comfortably or awkwardly, to see what might arise: the modern and the traditional, the hand crafted and the machine made, the broad strokes and the finicky details, just to name a few.

Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design
Meditation Retreat House, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design

For a Buddhist meditation retreat in Virginia, Poon Design created a guardrail that juxtaposed a galvanized off-the-shelf steel frame with natural twine made from hemp. Yes, you can smoke it.

Student Center, University of California, Riverside, by Anthony Poon while w/ HHPA (rendering by Gilbert Gorski)
Student Center, University of California, Riverside, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, watercolor by Gilbert Gorski)

For the University of California, our student center combined traditional campus brick and limestone, with sleek glass curtain wall and over-scaled weathering zinc shingles.

At Mendocino Farms, we blended a funky old school vibe, such as chalk board walls, vaudeville signage, clothespins, and industrial piping, with high-end luxury, such as Carrara marble, walnut planks, stainless steel trim, and custom furniture.

Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design
Mendocino Farms, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design

Juxtaposition is not just my artistic approach, but the interests in my life as well. I like Brahms and I also like American Idol. I like Rembrandt and Pop Art. I like omakase sushi with a Coke, as well as McDonald’s with sake. I wear Gucci with the Gap. Love Nan Goldin and commercial photography. I read biographies, but also comic books. I like watching ping pong and the Superbowl. Reality shows that follow CNN.

I like the diversity and the messiness. I like unexpected results.

© Poon Design Inc.