Tag Archives: TECHNOLOGY

LIMITED BY THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE

July 12, 2019

Old days of architectural drafting (photo from Archinect)

For most architects, the design starts inside the brain. We are then challenged to extract that creative spark out of our head and on to paper, or these days, on to a computer screen. Urgently, we grasps at the tools of our trade to convert the abstract ideas into some visual form of communication, i.e., the sketch on the back of an envelope, the first computer drawing, or the crude paper model.

Often, our ideas are grander, more ambitious, than any tool can capture. Tools have limits, whereas our artistic spirits do not.

T-square and triangle (drawing from etc.usf.edu)

The old days of architecture embraced simple non-mechanical tools, such as the T-square and the triangle. This allowed us to merely draw parallel lines and only four angles—30, 45, 60 and 90 degrees. If our brain generated an architectural idea with a curved shape or at an 18.5 degree angle, our tools were challenged to capture the idea.

A new tool came along: the adjustable triangle. No longer a static piece of wood or plastic—this tool was mechanical, moving upon its little hinge. The adjustable triangle freed the architect to now make any angle of choice. During school, we used to joke by pointing out when students purchased his/her first adjustable triangle, because  their drawings all of a sudden had a new complexity of diagonal lines.

The adjustable triangle (photo by Anthony Poon)
Lost tools of the trade (photo by Anthony Poon)

Alongside other instruments such as the compass, French curves, elliptical templates, etc., new ideas could be expressed. Architecture started to have move diagonals, more curves, more complexity. Again, we poked fun, “With these new house designs and the angles, Frank Lloyd Wright must have purchased fancier drawings tools for his staff!”

Floor plan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona

A quantum leap in communicating design ideas arrived with digital technology. These days, almost anything architects can dream up can be captured using today’s devices. With algorithms, computers are not just communicating ideas that are in our heads, but are generating ideas without our heads.

Using a parametric algorithm with the software, Grasshopper, to design a trellis structure in South Pasadena, California, by Poon Design. The material is polyethylene panels, the same plastic as kitchen cutting boards—used to express the home owner’s passion for cooking (photo by Sharon Yang)

Here is the question: just because we can think it, just because we can draw it, just because we can build it—should we? Just because software can describe a heroic complex form (like CATIA for Frank Gehry), just because a computer can document a complex pattern for water jet cutting a sheet of steel, just because 3ds Max and Maxwell Render can produce a near photographically realistic image, should we have technology replace the use of our brains and our hands?

Taiyan Museum of Art, China (photo from imagenesmy.com)
Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan (photo from igsmag.com)

One example: If you tour an architecture school or many architecture design studios, you will see the excessive use of the 3d printer. With limited time on the computer and a few clicks of the mouse, dozens of physical models of a particular design theme are produced in plastic. I argue that most of these variations-on-a-theme are insignificant. Just because an architect can generate 20 similar ideas, doesn’t mean that all these ideas have merit. Wouldn’t it be better to develop one idea carefully, strategically and thoughtfully?

My personal preference is to design ideas that are more hand crafted, then machine produced—relying more on heart than tools.

Garden lights using handwoven baskets from Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair trade organization sourcing from Africa. The light source is in the ground shining up into the basket, providing a soft downward glow, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

PODCAST PART 2: MODERN FOR THE MASSES, REVISITED

March 8, 2019

Escena Residence I-3, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Chris Miller)

Continuing with my interview for Josh Cooperman’s podcast, Convo By Design, we discussed how affordable Modern homes were created for the general home buying audience. With 225 built (and sold) homes by Poon Design within only the past few years, I think I know what I am talking about.

Excerpts below. YouTube clip here. Audio podcast here. Also, please read this recent feature by Michael Webb, Anthony Poon Delivers Modernism to Tract Housing.

Residences at Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo from Google Earth)
Linea Residence T, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Josh Cooperman: What is “Modern for the Masses”? Modern is an idea that you have embraced wholeheartedly and the idea of creating it for the masses is simply a . . . How do you jive those two and what’s the idea behind it?

Escena Garden Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Interior Illusions (photo by Lance Gerber)

Anthony Poon: Our thesis, Modern for the Masses came out of a study of a lot of homes in LA—the ones that we see in the magazines, the glossy pictures, the websites, the homes that we love in the Hollywood Hills that sell for 10 million dollars. The challenge was this: How can we create these beautiful modern homes for a fraction of the price? Build them at production level, a mass production level, and sell them.

We teamed with a developer/designer, Andrew Adler, who found distressed properties in Palm Springs. We designed a few prototypes, very Modern, not at all what you see in tract housing. Not the cheap Spanish style homes with the small windows, the fat trim, the fake tile roofs, and the wedding cake décor.

Our Modern homes are very strictly Modern. Lots of glass, open space, very sleek. To date, in the last four years, we’ve completed over 200 homes. And they’ve all been built, they’re all sold, they’ve been published extensively, and we’ve been awarded over two dozen national and regional design awards. It’s a program that has not been accomplished, as far as I know, by any other architecture studio other than Mid-Century Modern, and we’re talking about going back over 60 years.

Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by James Butchart)

 

Linea Residence L, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Andrew Adler (photo by James Butchart)

Josh: Your theory has been tested and it appears to have passed. Why?

Anthony: Because there is a demographic out there that has not been served. These tract housing companies that build communities of 100 homes—they rubber stamp these homes out. They’re not selling. People aren’t interested in these homes.

Our imagined home buyer is someone that wants the modern lifestyle, someone that believes in technology, iPhone, iPad, completely connected all the time. Also, someone who has a concern for sustainability, for being green. Those three things were critical to us and of course, all of these things needed to be done on a budget that was about one-fourth what you would see most homes in California being built for. That was our perfect storm. Our homes have outsold all competing developers in Palm Springs because we have a product that everyone’s been dying for.

Escena Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)
Escena Arcadia Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)

Josh: There has to be some things that are limited or cut out. There has to be. What is it? What is being removed?

Anthony: There is nothing being removed. In fact, what we’re adding is a certain kind of value that makes a home better and happens to save money in construction dollars. I wouldn’t say we’re cutting or reducing anything. It’s just the way we’re rethinking architecture.

For a typical traditional house in Beverly Hills, there’s the entry, there’s the foyer, the hallway, the powder room, the niches. What do we need all that for? It’s not even what people want, and it’s what’s driving up construction costs, like framing 20 different ceilings heights throughout a house.

Escena Panorama Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design and Interior Illusions (photo by Lance Gerber)
Linea Residence T, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, Andrew Adler and Interior Illusions (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

Josh: In fact, you’re just using what you have for the greatest effect.

Anthony: It’s similar to the approach that Minimal art can have a few brush strokes and still be dramatic and impactful for the composition. In that way, you could say that we’ve cut out pieces of architecture. I’m saying we actually added to the essence of a house.

Coral Mountain Residence Z, La Quinta, California, by Poon Design (photo by George Guttenberg)

Josh: The concept of the traditional tract home—I’m wondering why it doesn’t work. What is it going to take for your idea to expand to a general market?

Anthony: I think tract housing is failing because these companies are large. They’re money-driven. They’re stuck in old ideas. It takes a lot to turn a company around and look towards the future.

I think of the example of Tower Records. If you recall, a decade ago, MP3 players came out, iPods. Tower Records claimed that it was just a fad that they would hold onto their LPs and their albums. And look what happened to them. Tower Records is gone. iTunes has taken over the world.

So, these tract home companies that we compete with and that we beat out month to month, they’re stuck in these old ideas, these weird big Mediterranean homes, these things I call ‘Taco Bell Homes’—no one wants them anymore.

The community of Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

WINDOWS: “EYES TO THE SOUL”

November 2, 2018

A lot of traditional windows (photo by Andre Goncalves)

“Eyes are the window to the soul,” so said Shakespeare, Da Vinci and many other philosophical minds. Is it just a cliché? How about: Can one witness the soul of a building through its windows?

For light, view and air, windows are basically openings in a building’s exterior wall. Whether circular or rectilinear in shape, whether big or small in size, whether adorned with a classical frame or a minimal contemporary composition, windows are typically a clear and flat sheet of glass.

But today, technology accompanied by an architect’s vision (or ego) have transformed windows far beyond that sheet of glass.

Dutch Embassy, Berlin, Germany (photo by Achim Raschka)

Above and below, both Modern projects (by Rem Koolhaas of OMA) displayed are not shy in exhibiting its internal functions, activities and soul. In Old World architecture, stairs were often expressed primarily by a vertical massive form, such as a stone stair tower. Not so with this modern embassy. Its large abnormal corner window expresses the grand staircase of the upper floors, along with the embassy’s social energy.

Educatorium, Utrecht, Netherlands (photo by Hans Werlemann)

This university center is less about windows in the traditional sense of openings in an exterior wall, but rather, these windows are the exterior wall. As giant, full height, edge-to-edge planes of glass, a viewer is greeted with a building eager to expose the full shape of the auditorium atop a student cafeteria. One could say that we have a “naked soul.”

Elbphilharmoine, Hamburg, Germany (photo by Raimond Spekking)

Historically, glass was transparent and flat, and glass meant nothing more than that. With advances in fabrication and experimentation, the varying degrees of the glass transparency/translucency, as well as three-dimensional sculpting, offer new kinds of expression. The conventional idea of “frosted” glass that one might find in a residential bathroom, is surpassed by glass surfaces and forms of all sorts: fluted, mirrored, reeded, scored, and fritted—as well as concave, convex, and other such artistic explorations.

Therme Baths, Graubunden, Switzerland (photo from theredlist.com)

Another kind of window, though not often thought of as a conventional window, is the skylight. A skylight can be utilitarian, nothing more as it lets in natural light. Or a skylight can be sublime. With our metaphor of eyes to one’s soul, who looks into a skylight? Perhaps, the skylight as a window on the roof, is less about eyes looking in or out, but letting the external world grace the inside. Less about seeing a view from a living room window, as one example, a skylight lets the sky in, which is more about how one’s soul can be touched. As Zumthor acheived.

A museum that tells a story with three skylights as the narrator. Shelter for Roman Ruins, Graubunden, Switzerland (model photos from payload67.cargocollective.com; interior photo from arcdog.com)

Windows are used for scale, to give a building’s facade a human element. Windows connect the inside to its surroundings, and vice versa. For most, windows are thought of as openings. And as “eyes to the soul,” these openings, outside of the world of architecture, can also be the opening weekend for a movie, the job opening, or a “window of opportunity.” As we look into these windows and openings, into these eyes, we observe souls of all sorts. Whether the souls are uplifted and wonderful, or challenged and confronted, it is this depth in life, as well as the architecture around us, that feeds the human spirit.

left: Job posting (by Poon Design); right: Joe Montana and the 49ers (photo from joemontansrightarm.com)
Sudpark, Basel, Switzerland (photo from herzogdemeuron.com)

THE PERFECTION OF IMPERFECTION IN ARCHITECTURE AND MUSIC

August 4, 2017

Patina’d signage of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Wabi-sabi: This Japanese aesthetic concept has been around for centuries. Today, in our worrisome world, Wabi-sabi has returned with a vengeance and popularity. This philosophy describes a type of beauty that is imperfect, ever changing, and even, wonderfully flawed.

Intensely and vividly sculpted, Auguste Rodin’s sculptures displayed a desire to express an incomplete craft. Rather than the predictably perfect, classical marble sculpture, this 19th century French artist’s works are imperfect sculptures from the human hand. And he is eager to display his flawed humanity.

In Rodin’s finished pieces, one can see the imprints of his tools and fingers—and even his fingernails.

left: An example of sculpting clay in preparation for final bronze, though not Rodin (photo from philippefaraut.com); right: Honore de Balzac by Rodin (photo from nevalee.wordpress.com)

At Poon Design Inc., certain projects request that we celebrate what might be wrongly judged as flaws and inconsistencies in our architecture. We prefer hand-crafted architecture, not things machine-made or mass-produced. Like jazz, like weathering, like life with patina, our architecture expresses the perfection of imperfection. Or even the imperfection of perfection.

left: Design inspiration of a bird’s nest (photo from community.qvc.com); right: Meditation retreat house, guardrail made from industrial piping and hemp twine, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

If technology in design and fabrication produces items that are  too perfect, then technology can be a crutch. Although technology has made our production efforts efficient, technology has also made our activities too textbook-finished. Today, we can design any kind of wall pattern on a laptop, and then have water jet or laser cutting machinery create that exact pattern on several large slabs of marble or steel panels. With a push of a button, the quality is flawless, the exercise is easy, and the pattern is perfect. But perhaps too perfect.

left: Design inspiration of motion within silk cloth; right: Parking structure, fabric pattern represented in water-jet cut perforated metal panels, Irvine Spectrum Center, California, by Poon Design

If too perfect, is such a work impressive? Where is the human hand?

left: The graphic density of a classical music score; right: The graphic lightness of a jazz music score
Me performing Khachaturian’s Toccata in E Flat minor, at the 2012 Architects in Concert, “Unfrozen Music”

The graphic weight of a classical music score suggests a complete work, while the jazz score wants more notes. A jazz score is beautifully incomplete and imperfect. No matter how many musicians fill in the missing notes, the music may never be perfect. And folks, this is okay.

When I practice my classical repertory, it is at times painful and laborious—as I try so hard to hit each of the 500,000 notes perfectly. I strive for perfection, truth and the absolute.

In jazz, I am given only a basic outline. A jazz player fixates little on classical perfection. Jazz is intuitive and improvisational. As I stated that life with patina is good, jazz music encourages patina, imperfections and powerful individuality.

Detail of Buenos Aires-inspired ironwork at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

In classical music, when a wrong note is played, it is quickly buried under a flurry of other notes. When a mistake is made in a jazz performance, that ‘mistake’ is exploited as a wonderful and positive thing. The jazz musician will bang on that wrong note a few more times to make sure the audience hears it. The performer makes something new and special out of the wrong note. Wabi-sabi.

left: inspiration of African basket making (photo by Holt Renfrew); right: Exterior light fixtures made from actual handmade baskets shipped from the African commune called Ten Thousand Villages, installed at the outdoor dining of Chaya Downtown, fabricated and designed by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

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.

© Poon Design Inc.