Tag Archives: THE ARCH PODCAST

THE ARCH PODCAST, FORM MAGAZINE, 3 OF 3: JAZZ, MISTAKES AND BEAUTY

April 10, 2020

120 years in the making: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (photo from aroundtheglobe.com)

(Note on COVID-19: As I compile thoughts for a timely essay on the pandemic, not much of my writing was adding to the sentiments already out there, i.e., what can architects do, what is the future of cities, how to design public spaces, what will healthcare architecture be, etc.? Rather than be repetitive with many current writers, I am publishing this interview which was previously prepared but not yet released. Stay safe everyone.)

I invite you to listen to The Arch, a podcast of Form magazine. Previous excerpts are here and here.

Carol Bishop: Can you name any of the projects from the past or any projects that are around that you just said, “Wow, I think this is a great one and I think I’ll try something to meet that same criteria”?

Anthony Poon: There are a number of architects that inspire us, but for me, my architecture is not inspired by necessarily other buildings or architects’ work. I find my inspiration in my other interests, music for example or writing.

Playing Bach and Schumann at St. Paul’s, Rancho Palos Verdes, California (photo by Grant Bozigian)

A building design can be inspired by a poem. It can be inspired by beautiful footage from a movie. I’m fascinated by, for example, the music of Thelonious Monk, a jazz pianist whose work is extremely individual and unique. He plays chords and harmonies that are, in the classical sense, considered discordant and off-beat. Some would even say it is kind of grotesque. But at the same time, the music is considered beautiful. What is it that he does that seems to be incorrect but somehow still so beautiful? It’s that kind of thinking that inspires what we do in architecture.

I think of jazz specifically because, architecture has to involve a budget and schedule. It has to involve gravity, keeping the weather out, waterproofing, gutter details, and city codes. It’s a slow process. It can take years to get a project done. It can take a decade to get a large project done.

The tedious and rigorous process of architecture (photo by Anthony Poon)

In that sense, architecture is for those who are patient and possess perseverance. But to bring it back to jazz, my fascination is this. Jazz ,as you know, is something that is spontaneous. It’s fast. It’s improvised. It’s played impromptu. Three or four jazz musicians can gather in a studio and sit at their instruments, and just start playing. They can choose a key, they can choose a theme, just something they can think about collaboratively. They wink and they just hit a beat. And all of a sudden, there’s music. That kind of spontaneous artistic process inspires me. And it makes me think: What can we do in architecture, in that creative process, to make it a little more organic, a little more fluid and loose?

Carol: Have you ever had a situation where even you went in and said, “Oh my goodness, it should have been green”? Or, “Oh no, it should have been cement”?

Anthony: Yes, of course, that can happen. I think one of the curses of being an architect— and most of my architect colleagues would probably agree and maybe artists, writers and musicians as well—is that the work is never done. The work is always in progress. We always think that we can do better. When a building is designed and finally constructed, we may have rave reviews, many thanks, and letters of recommendation and handshakes, but we might be walking into that finished space thinking: Oh, I wish we had raised that ceiling six more inches; it would have done so much more for the volume of the space and the indoor/outdoor connection.

My book, Sticks and Stones, Steel and Glass: One Architect’s Journey, at Barnes & Noble, Los Angeles (photo by Lily Poon)

I know of colleagues who have published books and they’ve done well. They’ve won awards, they’ve won critical acclaim, and they’re thinking: Oh, that just wasn’t right. I really should have written a more elaborate ending. I should have added that extra character.

Maybe it’s a curse. Maybe it’s just the burden of the creative spirit—that even though a building is done, even though a book gets published, or a piece of music is performed—that the creative process is a continuing journey. In our minds, just because that building has finally cut the red ribbon for opening day, that design is not done.

Carol: You brought up the concept of beauty and, of course, there are so many definitions of what beauty is, so many ideas of what beauty can be. You can say to somebody, “Oh, this is beautiful”, and they’re just looking at eye candy, or you could say, “Well, the Greeks used mathematical intervals.” What is your idea of beauty?

Molto Allegro from the Concerto in G, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1764 (Photo by Philharmonia Baroque)

Anthony: There are several definitions of beauty. There are, as you mentioned, the kind of mathematical ideas of beauty that play out both in music and in architecture. There are scientific relationships between notes of music that have been determined to sound harmonious. There are scientific studies on the rhythm of music, meters, the key of music, and the colors that have been proven to be beautiful. There are some musicians who say beauty isn’t necessarily a goal in music. Mozart had always claimed that music should be beautiful, but there are other composers, say Beethoven, that say: Yes, it could be beautiful, but it doesn’t have to be. It can also be aggressive. It can also be heroic or bombastic or ceremonial. It doesn’t always have to be of all the ideas one thinks of being pretty and lyrical.

The Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo da Vinci, and the Classical Orders (photo by Smarthistory)

Take architecture. There are also scientific ideas of what feels right using studies of proportions. The Greeks and Romans studied those and decided there are certain dimensions and proportioning systems that feel right. There are arguments of buildings or even aspects of the building, like a column, that if it represents man or the human figure, that it will relate more to a person and therefore feel more beautiful. Take a column. A classical column has three parts: the base, the shaft, and the capital. That is supposed to relate to the human figure, the feet, the body, and the head. In that way, there’s the belief that that will give you beauty in the end.

Setting aside the scientific approach, I do believe there are things that are inherently beautiful. I think people would agree that a sunset is beautiful. Or, I’ve never heard anyone go to the Grand Canyon and say: Yeah, this is not beautiful. This is ugly.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (photo by Anthony Poon)

I think there are true aspects of beauty. I think the challenge is, how do we make beauty? How do we craft beauty? In our work, we believe that beauty comes from seeing the craft of the hand. There are many ways to put a building together, that can be machine made, can be digitally fabricated. But where we can add components that display the hand, where you can see the craft of the maker—I think that inherently makes it more beautiful.

The heavy timbers aging gracefully at our Buddhist Temple, Natural Bridge, Virginia (photo by Anthony Poon)

Another aspect that’s important to our work is patina,  the idea of weathering and aging. We believe that that patina also adds beauty. For example, everyone has their favorite pair of jeans or maybe leather jacket, and those items have been worn over time. As they look more distressed, they look more beautiful. But this idea of patina doesn’t apply to a car. No one wants to drive around in a beat-up car.

With architecture I think there is an in between. We’ve designed a project, a Buddhist temple in Natural Bridge, Virginia, in which it was designed to age, in which the wood timbers are meant to weather over time and show the wear. The copper roof, as most people know, will be a metal that ages, that starts bright copper, orange color, goes to a dark penny patina, and eventually goes a beautiful green. This idea of patina expresses the weathering of a building, that a building ages gracefully, as we do, and thereby becomes more beautiful.

We don’t want someone to say: Oh, these timbers of this Buddhist temple are now unattractive. Let’s sand them again, let’s stain them again. Let’s paint them. We don’t want someone to say: How come that copper roof isn’t shiny orange anymore? We want to design it in such a way that people will look at our work each day, see it change over time, compare that to their own life as they evolve, and say: This is what we see as beauty.

Buddhist Temple (photo by Mark Ballogg)

THE ARCH PODCAST, FORM MAGAZINE, 1 OF 3: STORYTELLING THROUGH ART

October 4, 2019

Skull Painting, 44” x 52”, by Anthony Poon (2018)

Carol Bishop: Hi, this is Carol Bishop with Form: Pioneering Design. Thank you for joining The Arch, connecting and supporting the arts and design community. Today, we are fortunate to have Anthony Poon of Poon Design Inc. Poon Design is a multi-disciplinary studio in architecture, interiors, and place making. In addition, Anthony is a noted artist, musician, and author. To begin, I’d like to welcome you, Anthony, and ask you to give us an introduction.

Recording session for The Arch Podcast with Carol Bishop (photo by The Arch)

Anthony Poon: Thank you and good morning, Carol. I’m excited to be here. My professional focus is Poon Design Inc. We are an architecture company in Los Angeles, and we focus on a diversity of projects from residential to commercial, from mixed-use to sacred projects, educational projects as well as hospitality, restaurants and retail. I would say that’s my job. It’s what I do when I go to work. But my passion is actually any form of creative expression, whether it is architecture, music, writing, or painting.

The annual tuning of my 1957 Lindeman spinet piano (photo by Anthony Poon)

Carol: Well, let’s take that a little bit further because I’d like to know what led you to become an architect, musician, artist, writer, and how you balance these and what the connections are between them.

Anthony: It’s all about creative expression. It’s about communication. It’s about having ideas about the world, about culture, about society, and finding ways in which I can express that, that I can communicate that to an audience. It could be through the design of a library, it could be through the design of a park, it could be through performing music or composing. It could be through writing an essay, or painting a painting, or making a sculpture. In all forms of these artistic expressions, they’re all communicating something that I want to say.

Carol: Let’s take that as a starting point. Often, when you’re doing music or art, it’s a solitary experience. You’re honing your skills, you’re problem-solving what media to use. How do you marry idea and communication with that part of the structures of working in the arts?

Anthony: I would disagree that it is a solitary exercise. In every form of artistic experimentation, there is an audience. If I’m designing a building, if it’s a house, the audience or the client, is a family. If I’m designing a performing arts center, theater, or a concert hall, the audience would be the people that come to visit—to hear an event. If I am playing a piece of music, it could be for an audience of one, it could be for some friends or family, or it could be for hundreds of people at a recital. When I paint, when I do some mixed-media explorations, I’m thinking that this is not a piece just for me, that this is a piece to share with the world that could end up in someone’s living room. Even though I may be at my piano by myself, or at my studio with a canvas by myself, or with my sketchbook sitting at the gas station, the circumstances may be that I am in a solo mode, but the goal is to share something with a larger audience.

The audience (photo from business2community.com)

Carol: When you say that your designs have ideas, are you talking about stories or narratives? How do you integrate that into your work?

Anthony: Design is storytelling. What we do when we start a project is to learn as much as we can about the client, whether the client is a family or a corporation. It could be a restaurant or a hotel. We want to hear their stories. We want to hear their ambitions, their agendas, their success stories as well as maybe some battle scars. We want to know what they dream of and what they envision for their future.

If it’s a house, someone might tell us about some Thanksgiving dinner they envision throwing in a wonderful dining room—or a child sitting at a bay window reading a book and the way the sun comes through the leaves on the nearby tree. If it’s a restaurant, the client might tell us a story about the cuisine, how they approach getting their ingredients and how they prepare their meals. If it’s a school, there’s definitely an educational manifesto, what the curriculum is and what the methodology is for teaching.

We listen to all of this, and it becomes the story. It becomes what we call content. It is such pieces of information, facts, and stories that become the basis for how we design a building.

Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, a soon-to-be-published book by ORO Publishers, edited by Michael Webb, available early 2020

Carol: I know your second book (first one here ) is coming out called, Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, and so I’m very interested in it. Can you tell me something about it?

Anthony: This book is coming out hopefully the end of the year. It’s being published by ORO Publishers, a very prestigious international publishing group. This book is spearheaded by Michael Webb, the well-known architectural writer and critic. We’re honored that he has decided to lead this project. Michael came up with this incredible theme for us, Live, Learn, Eat—to suggest that this book covers three different categories of our work. “Live” obviously means our residential work, and that’s both custom design as well as tract housing. “Learn” is our educational work, our schools. “Eat” would be our bars and restaurants. As far as we know, we don’t think a book like this exists. There are plenty of books on architects designing homes. That’s the majority of books you’ll find at Barnes & Noble. There are many architects who specialize in restaurants, and there are the K-12 / higher education big firms that specialize in such.

Our monograph is a unique triple-threat book that shows how we operate at all scales and for many different kinds of clients. It makes me think with our increasing body of work and interest in many different project types, this theme can become an ongoing series of books about us over the years. We can do a book called something like, Play Work Pray, for example. “Play” could be our recreational projects. “Work” is our office buildings, and “Pray” would be our religious projects. And so on.

Linea Residence V, by Poon Design, Palm Springs (photo by David Blank)

Carol: In the end, do you have a manifesto?

Anthony: I don’t have a manifesto. I think there are daily goals and there are things that I want to achieve. But I think back to one of my employers, the late Hugh Hardy. He had always said that mission statements and manifestos are dangerous things, because once you put it out there, people will accuse you of not supporting your own mission statement or accuse you of being in contradiction to what you’ve set out to do.

A manifesto is quite ambitious. I could also be accused of being naïve to think that I could write a manifesto, whether it’s a paragraph or 100 pages. I think I prefer the jazz-like approach in which I get up each morning and wonder what the day will bring, and approach it more organically—and see how I can just come up with ideas for whatever I’m to confront each and every day of my life.

(The full podcast is here.)

 

© Poon Design Inc.