Tag Archives: TADAO ANDO

#189: MY TOP TEN FAVE ARCHITECTS

December 1, 2023

The Nancy and Rick Kinder Building at the Musuem of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, by Steven Holl. The architect’s inspiration came from the changing shapes of clouds and the trapezoidal shape of the property. (photo by Richard Barnes)

“Hey Anthony, who is your favorite architect?,” I am often asked.

I might reply, “Can there only be one fave? What is your favorite book or your favorite song?”

upper left: Casa Batllo, Barcelona, Spain, by Antoni Gaudi (photo from stirworld.com); upper right: Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Marne-la-Vallee, France, by Ricardo Bofill (photo by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura); lower left: Assembly Building, Chandigarh, India, by Le Corbusier (photo by Narinder Nanu); lower right: National Assembly Building, Dhaka, Bangladesh, by Louis Kahn (photo from metalocus.es)

For nearly all, there is no one favorite piece of music. For me, there is no one favorite architect. There are several dozen. But here I try, gathering a mere list of ten, in no particular order. Just a note: My list comprises living architects, so excludes favorites like Antoni Gaudi, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, and Ricardo Bofill.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, by Steven Holl. Adjacent to the renovated museum, five enigmatic glass structures deliver various qualities of natural light into the interconnected subterranean galleries. (photo by Andy Ryan)

Steven Holl
Holl possesses an individualistic vision of architecture, where his signature watercolors establishes the conceptual agenda for each project. This New York–based architect blends complex building programs—both new structures as well as additions—with seemingly random sculptural shapes, while applying his mastery of shaping natural lightTime magazine called him “America’s Best Architect” for “buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye.”

Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor. Impeccably crafted, the leaf-shaped, one-room structure explores a lemniscate, an algebraic, hyperbolic, inverse curve. (photo by Federico Covre)

Peter Zumthor
Often called the “architect’s architect,” there is no one else practicing today so often referred to as a “master” of his craft. Each project from the Swiss architect, the son of a cabinet maker—whether a home, chapel, or museum—is precisely uncompromising, often austere, and elemental, embracing the basics of architecture, e.g., shelter, light, materials. Zumthor suggests, “Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence.”

Educatorium, Utrecht, Netherlands, by Rem Koolhaas. Two planar surfaces fold and interlock to create lecture halls, classroom, cafeteria, and plaza. (photo from architecture-history.org)

Rem Koolhaas
Dutch architect, provocative theorist, prolific author, professor at Harvard, and one-time filmmaker—Koolhaas brings gravitas and intellectualism to his practice. His work is known for its clarity in conceptual thinking, where a simple idea or diagram drives the development of an entire project, whether a house, library, or entire town. Time magazine put him in their top 100 of “The World’s Most Influential People.”

Iberê Camargo Foundation, Porto Alegre, Brazil, by Alvaro Siza. Soaring ramps give an iconic personality to this cultural institution and museum dedicated to the works of Brazilian Expressionist painter, Iberê Camargo. (photo from archdaily.com)

Alvaro Siza
Some buildings from this Portugues architect are quiet and minimal, like his Leca Swimming Pools—so integrated into the waterfront that one doesn’t even know where the buildings end and the land begins. Other projects combine invention, and poetry. “Every design,” Siza states, “is a rigorous attempt to capture a concrete moment of a transitory image in all its nuances . . . the more precise they are, the more vulnerable.”

Chichu Art Museum, Naoshima, Japan, by Tadao Ando. To avoid compromising nature, this museum burrows underground. Abstract openings of square, rectangles, and triangles march across the scenery and open to the sky. (photo from avauntmagazine.com)

Tadao Ando
Self-taught Japanese architect started out as a truck driver and professional boxer. Contrasting the delirium of such a past, Ando’s portfolio is the epitome of minimalism, exploring a profound nothingness. Nearly all his projects are composed of primarily two materials. 1) poured-in-place concrete—concrete walls, concrete floors, concrete roofs, and 2) natural light (yes, I view light as a construction material). Though many of his buildings appear to be the similar, celebrities flock to own an Ando design: Beyonce and Jay-Z, Kanye West, Tom Ford, Kim Kardashian, amongst others.

Douglas House, Emmet County, Michigan, by Richard Meier. Restored twice since its 1973 completion, this 3,000-square-foot, waterfront residence is one of the most iconic Modernist homes of recent generations—and added to the National Register of Historic Places. (photo by Scott Frances)

Richard Meier
New York architect Meier (now retired with controversy) claims, “White conventionally has always been seen as a symbol of perfection, of purity and clarity.” He established his design language, for better or for worse, as the one of the most recognizable styles in history—a singular vision and personal brand of Modernism, stark white surfaces, and strict geometries. The formality and strictness in Meier’s work, though rigid and severe for some, provide an oasis of calm for others.

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Germany, Herzog and de Meuron. A new glassy, 2,100-seat concert hall sits upon an 1875-constructed warehouse, rebuilt in 1963. The sweeping roof provides a plaza with views of the docks and city. (photo by Iwan Baan)

Herzog & de Meuron
Based in Basel, Switzerland, the partnership of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron approaches architecture as a deep dive into design philosophy, experimental methods, and technology. They believe their work “can meet the needs of our rapidly and radically changing world.” Each project is a reinvention of their creative process, with a fetishization of form making, textures, patterns, and materials—both traditional and radical.

Musée Atelier Audemars Piguet, Le Brassus, Switzerland, by Bjarke Ingels. This spiraling museum displaying watchmaking history contrasts the company’s traditional 1875 workshop building. (photo by Bjarke Ingels Group)

Bjarke Ingels
Many of Ingels’ projects—bold, exaggerated, and cartoonish—appear to have leapt off the pages of a comic book. In fact, he published a 2009 graphic novel entitled, Yes Is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. His firm of 700 architects, simply known as BIG, is one of the fastest rising companies in the global marketplace. The Wall Street Journal called this Copenhagen-based architect, “Innovator of the Year” for architecture and “one of the design world’s rising stars.”

Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, by Thomas Phifer. Mute boxy structures clad in Carderock stone form an introspective campus the combines art, architecture, and landscape. (photo from thomasphifer.com)

Thomas Phifer
One of the lesser known names on my list, and not yet a Pritzker Laureate like more than half of my list, Phifer established his Manhattan studio after working for Richard Meier. Whether Phifer’s work comprises the self-proclaimed “light buildings that landed lightly on the land” or Thomas De Monchaux’s description of “a river stone, embedded in the flow of its place,” I would suggest that Mies’ “less is more” is the rule. If ever in the D.C. area, do not miss a visit to the Glenstone Museum.

Marques de Riscal Hotel, Elciego, Spain, by Frank Gehry. Part of the winery complex, the 43-suite, steel and titanium hotel expresses a typical Gehry sculptural presence, adding some new colors inspired by wine. (photo from shrifreevs.live)

Frank Gehry
The stunning collisions of steel, glass, and stone from this Canadian-born American has made him the most famous living architect on the planet. Though often accused of aesthetic sameness—a kind of architectural one-liner—the mastery of his design vocabulary never ceases to impress. With the 1997 completion of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Gehry’s single building attracted so many visitors to the area that the entire economy of the Basque region improved dramatically.

Along the lines of favorites, here are my favorite buildings in Los Angeles, favorite buildings of all time, and most breathtaking buildings of last year.

#170: STROKES OF GENIUS?

May 26, 2023

Dancing House, also called “Ginger and Fred (after the dancers Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire), Prague, Czechia, by Frank Gehry (sketch from ted.com, photo from prague.eu)

There is a fascination with how an architect, in a single first sketch, can capture the entire concept of a proposed project. Is such a sketch evidence of inspired genius blasted onto paper within seconds vs. a mere doodle of no concern vs. smoke-n-mirrors and good salesmanship?

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, by Tadao Ando (sketch from archdaily.com)
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (photo from archdaily.com)

A romantic belief exists that the brilliance of the creator and the entire DNA of a new building can be displayed in a few strokes of artistry. Such a poetic sketch, a simple scribble even, on the back of a cocktail napkin supposedly represents the entire design philosophy of a design to come—a guidebook for the design team and a request for client affirmation.

Collage of sketches by Anthony Poon

This obsession and even prominence of sketching a concept on a napkin has reached such fanatical heights that ArchDaily features, “Napkin Sketches by Famous Architects,” Architectural Record has their annual, “Cocktail Napkin Sketch Contest,” Architizer invites architects to the “One Drawing Challenge,” and the American Institute of Architects conducts the “AIA Napkin Sketch Auction.”

Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, by Steven Holl (sketch from cladglobal.com, photo from stevenholl.com)

But is it realistic to think that the author’s elemental drawing, as profound and seductive as it might be, can fuel the entire design journey from pen and paper to brick and mortar? Frank Lloyd Wright was rumored to have preconceived in his head the entire design of one of his famed houses. Within a brief moment of time, he could draft the whole thing in front of his attentive audience of apprentices. Architects like Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, and Steven Holl draw, doodle and sketch (watercolor In Holl’s case) using the scribbling process to find an idea.

In the end, an inspiring concept is indeed captured, and such a sketch becomes the apparent roadmap for the architectural team to develop, and in some cases, to struggle with and reproduce in three-dimensions. In this latter case, is the sketch less a source of inspiration and more a pair of handcuffs? What pains the employees must confront as they try to second guess the boss’ design intentions, as they try to decipher what may be nothing more than a whimsical drawing, as they try to extract answers from an enigmatic gesture.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Kansas, by Steven Holl (sketch from cladglobal.com)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (photo by Roland Halbe)

Returning to salesmanship, one architect (not to be named) knew of his prowess with drawing brilliant sketches—sepia fountain pen on yellow translucent paper. He was also aware of how his clients would value such sketches of their projects as art, as fine originals from the artist/architect. But here are the smoke-n-mirrors.

  1. This architect does not actually create that first sketch in the beginning. Instead, he waits until after the building is completed years later.
  2. He then takes a photo of the finished project and traces over said photo imitating (cheating actually) the look and feel of an inspirational conceptual sketch.
  3. Then he predates the sketch back by many years to suggest (deceive actually) that this drawing was the first sketch of his genius process ar the beginning.
  4. The salesmanship continues with the sketch being framed accompnaied by a blatant lie by the architect, “I never give away any of my original sketches, but this time, I will—just for you.” Of course, these fake sketches are given away all the time.

Hence the hocus pocus.

Escena Residence I-3, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (w/ Andrew Adler, sketch by Anthony Poon)
Escena Residence I-3 (photo by Chris Miller)

#119: IS THE CUSTOMER ALWAYS RIGHT?

June 12, 2020

Reception for the Culver City Chamber of Commerce held at the studio of Poon Design (photo by Culver City Chamber)

In my high school days, I worked at the Gap. The sales training stated this golden rule, “The customer is always right.” But in the business of architecture, is the customer always right?

Architects are hired to deliver a design that will suit the client’s needs. But an architect is also retained for a creative vision, and such a vision, often a personal one to the architect, could be at odds with the client’s wishes.

My first employer, the Gap (photo from adweek.com)

Years ago, for a husband-wife couple in Brentwood, I designed (what I thought was) a perfectly proportioned window for the dining room. During the window installation, the clients stated that they wanted a bigger window.

I recommended, “No! Reasons why: 1) A bigger window be out of proportion with the room. 2) The glare would be too much. 3) The view is only towards an unattractive concrete wall a few feet away. 4) You would lose privacy.”

The client disagreed and paid for the construction to be torn apart and a new window ordered. When  installed and completed, the clients were befuddled, “1) Why is this window so ridiculously large? 2) Why is there so much glare? 3) Why am I looking towards a side alley? 4) Why can my neighbors view into my formal dinners?”

The client was wrong, and I was right.

Not the actual Brentwood project of mine, but you get the idea. (photo from cantanwindows.com)

During the fireworks of this one customer debate or which there are many, I wondered how hard I should apply my Gap training. Is the client always right, even when I know they are wrong? What about my years of architecture education, professional apprenticeship, job training, etc.—not to mention my awards, client references, and articles? The Golden Rule from my youthful days of sales training may be tarnished.

We architects are in a client service industry, but we are also experts. Some might say that architectural design is subjective as in art. So why wouldn’t a client be allowed to chime in with their ideas? But the client did not attend architecture school and is not licensed by the state. Architects work not only with aesthetics and abstract thinking, but life safety, engineering and building codes.

Hill of the Buddha, Sapporo, Japan, by Tadao Ando Architect & Associates (photo from Hokkaido Fan Magazine)

Additionally, architects have a personal vision for the world. Sometimes the vision is explicit as in Tadao Ando’s poetic concrete structures or Richard Meier’s modern white buildings. In these cases, you hire the architect for their creations. You probably don’t argue that you, as the customer, know what is better for the architectural composition, or that you think the columns holding up the roof should be thinner.

Jubilee Church, Rome, Italy, by Richard Meier & Partners Architects (photo by Scott Frances)

Sometimes I want to exclaim to a frustrating client, “Hey, if you think you know what is best, if you want to design this yourself, just go ahead. I quit!” But I never have been so exasperated and discouraged as to forget that business is business. There are clients that listen to the expert that they hired, and there are clients that despite their lack of experience, think they know best and end up being their own worst enemy. And our client business is made up of the entire spectrum.

#71: THE NOISE OF ARCHITECTURE

September 22, 2017

(photo from jimjenningsarchitecture.com)

I am not referring to the acoustic engineering of a concert hall or the aural quality of a restaurant. Rather, all works of architecture have a certain artistic volume level, from blank mute to in-your-face loud. The visual and experiential clamor of a building can reverberate with a subtle hum, or brash feedback and distortion.

Here I list fifteen projects that represent the dynamic range of architecture’s capacity to blare, starting with silence and increasing to an uproar.

1. If you are wondering where the architecture is, that is exactly the point. The Tidal Pools de Leca da Palmeira intentionally blur the lines between nature and manmade. In so doing, Alvaro Siza (here and here) created a quiet structure for Porto, Portugal.

(photo from mimoa.eu)
(photo from uncubemagazine.com)

2. Present though voiceless, Jim Jennings’ Art Pool + Pavilion in Calistoga, California, provides the visitor nothing to relate to. The project is powerfully hush and abstract. (Black and white image above.)

3. Looking like not much more than a barn, rock star architect, Peter Zumthor, delivers a house/office, offering only a single window for scale. Here in Hadlerstein, Switzerland, Zumthor barely speaks and shows off his capacity for restraint.

4. The Benesse House in the Kagawa District of Japan does not need to yell to get your attention. Practicing a meditative Zen-like harmony, Tadao Ando’s (here and here) building is at noiseless peace.

(photo by Tadao Ando)

5. What appears to be a typical sacred building starts at first through its name, the “Cardboard Cathedral.” Then it hits you: Shigeru Ban literally used cardboard tubes for this New Zealand project.

(photo by Stephen Goodenough)

6. Like a child’s toy, a cylinder on top of a box comprises the Stockholm Public Library in Sweden. But for Gunnar Asplund, this is no simple toy. The sheer scale and volume makes the building’s presence loud and clear.

(photo from architectsjournal.co.uk)

7. Wang Shu’s China Academy of Art seems to be contextual with the vernacular of Hangzhou, China. But it is the architect’s details and use of materials in innovative ways that provide this project a slight degree of commotion.

(photo from npr.org)

8. For his Experimental House in Muuratsalo, Finland, Alvar Aalto generated an outcry with his brick patterns.

(photo from Architizer.com)

9. Rafael Moneo (here and here) used a cylinder, as did Asplund above. But for Moneo’s Atocha Train Station in Madrid, the crisp brick pillars form a cylinder in an untraditional way. And they resound with a majestic boom.

(photo from europaenfotos.com)

10. For a housing project cutely entitled “Xanadu,” Taller de Arquitectura (here and here) created something that demands more attention that your generic hillside apartment. In La Manzanera Alicante, Spain, Xanadu may have some items that appear to be normal, like clay tile, gable roofs, painted stucco and residential scale windows—but upon a second look, the overall composition is a hullabaloo.

(photo by Ricardo Bofill)

11. The green, glazed terra cotta, exterior tiles on this addition possesses a visual bark, especially in counterpoint to the traditional original building. In Sarasota, Florida, Macado Silvetti clearly wanted the Center for Asian Art to create a racket when having the new holler to the old.

(photo from machado-silvetti.com)

12. I typical attribute the work of Antonio Gaudi to jazz. His fantastical improvised vision of the world, seen here at Casa Batlo in Barcelona, breaks the rules of composition and color, resulting in an intuitive, lyrical work.

(photo from apetcher.wordpress.com)

13. The historic collaboration between Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, and Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron (here and here) offered up the 2008 Olympics’ Chinese National Stadium, also known as the famous “Bird’s Nest”. This artistic structure in Beijing blasted onto the world stage with its surreal knitting of massive steel members, alongside the building’s enormous presence.

(photo from hoesthetics.net)

14. This image of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas has not been distorted. Frank Gehry (here, here, herehere and here) designed an interior that has quite an uproar—one that questions if such noise is good for the purpose of this facility, the healthiness of one’s brain.

(photo from newsroom.clevelandclinic.org)

15. Similar to the Center for Asian Art, above, this Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto represents a dialogue between old and new. But here, Studio Libeskind’s (LINK best friends) new addition screams and cries for attention. The juxtaposition fascinates, but does architecture need to bellow like this?

#57: “IT ALL SOUNDS THE SAME TO ME”

March 3, 2017

Beatles statute, Liverpool, England (pPhoto by Amanda Malec on Pexels)

I often hear, “Yeah, that song is okay I guess. I think all the songs of [insert band name] sound the same to me.” In architecture, similar criticism is imposed on our most famous creators.

Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)
Ludwig van Beethoven (from ralphmag.org)

Is sameness a bad thing? Most of The Beatles songs sound similar, with those peppy lyrics and obvious chord progressions, as do much of Beethoven’s music, with his mishmash of beauty and rage.

All of Mamet’s work reads the same with that staccato rhythm, as does Poe’s chilling tone. Warhol, Picasso and Rembrandt—each pursued his lifelong personal expression, resulting in what one might wrongly dismiss as being all the same.

Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966
Cows, by Andy Warhol, 1966

If the work is genius, as generally agreed upon for the names above, is it so bad that it is all the same? Should we complain about Apple products being all the same? Oh, that predictable minimal simplicity, the beautiful Zen-like posture.

Apple products (photo by LUM3N from Pixabay)

I do think many of Franks’ architecture looks like variations-on-a-theme, but I like all the projects. Here, I speak of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry (here and here).

I see no problem. But I do find it hilarious when critics look at similar appearing projects and assign reasons for how each one is different. Different metaphors for the same building—for example, Gehry was exploring how a fallen city rises from the ashes. Or, Gehry was expressing the blossoming of a flower. Or, Gehry was fascinated with sun rays beaming outward. And so on.

Projects by Gehry Partners
upper left: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (photo by SaraJanssen from Pixabay); upper right: DZ Bank, Berlin, Germany (photo from cnn.com); lower left: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California (photo by Reza Rostampisheh on Unsplash); lower right: Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle, Washington (photo from pinterest.com)

When interviewing an architect, you will often hear him profess, “I do not have a singular style.” The word “style” (here and here) is considered a dirty word, as if architecture is a superficial thing and not the evolving amalgamation of intensive client research, the balance of program, building codes and science, and the careful consideration of budget and schedule.

Many architect’s say that they don’t have a singular style because they don’t want to be typecast, like Jim Carrey doing slapstick. Architects also fear the word “style,” particularly when used in trite reference to something like Picasso’s “Blue Period.” In this phase between 1901 and 1904, Picasso mainly painted monochromatically in either shades of blue or blue-green. And it was all spectacular.

Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)
Projects by Richard Meier and Partners Architects
upper left: Douglas House, Harbor Springs, Michigan (photo by Mark Jongman-Sereno); upper right: Smith House, Darien, Connecticut (photo from richardmeier.com); lower left: Luxembourg Residence, Luxembourg (photo from richardmeier.com); lower right: Giovannitti House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (photo from richardmeier.com)

But here’s the thing. All architects, world famous or quietly practicing in her neighborhood, have a certain look to their work, specific aspects of exploration that are individual to each and every architect. In fact, most good architects have that singular style, and I argue that there is nothing wrong with it.

Obvious celebrated examples are Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Morphosis, and Tadao Ando. For each of these designers, one can suggest that all their work is uninteresting because it all looks the same—that they only subscribe to a certain style. Is this so wrong? No.

Projects by Morphosis upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)
Projects by Morphosis
upper left: Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, Los Angeles, California (photo by Liao Yusheng); upper right: San Francisco Federal Building, San Francisco, California (photo from sf.curbed.com); lower left: Student Recreation Center, University of Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Mark Tepe); lower right: Hypo Alpe-Adria Center, Klagenfurt, Austria (photo by Christian Richters)

Even for the lesser known local architects working under the radar, he too has a style where their designs look the same, possibly because this architect loves designing homes with wood siding and metal roofs, or offices that are modern with stainless steel trim. It’s not a compromising position for an architect to have areas of interest, be responsive to local materials and construction methods, and to possess a personal vision of the world. In fact, you want an architect to have a strong viewpoint on the environment around him. If not, what are you hiring, just a drafting service?

Projects by Tadao Ando upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)
Projects by Tadao Ando
upper left: Church of Light, Osaka, Japan (photo from tadaoando.wikia.com); upper right: Setouchi Aonagi, Shikoku, Japan (photo from minimalissima.com); lower left: Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Tucker Bair); lower right: Pringers House, Mirissa, Sri Lanka (photo by Edmund Sumner)

#25: 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 Anthony Poon); lower right: The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington D.C., by Steven Holl Architects (photo by Lewis J Goetz on Unsplash)

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.)

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.

Louis Armstrong (by WikiImages from Pixabay)

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.