Tag Archives: THOM MAYNE

#173: MODELS AND SUPERMODELS

July 28, 2023

Staples Center and downtown Los Angeles, California – materials: acrylic, lacquer paint, LED lighting, incandescent lighting, fluorescent lighting, and mini-television, by Anthony Poon (w/ NBBJ, photo by John Lodge)

It makes me uneasy when architects replace physical models with computer renderings, replacing a centuries-old craft with software-driven images that pander more to marketing and promotion than exploration and abstract thinking.

Fröbel blocks (photo from frobelgifts.com)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother gave her young son the Fröbel blocks, to encourage the inquisitive boy to think three-dimensionally, to create structures like an architect. German educator, Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852), conceived of a set of wooden cubes, spheres, and cylinders for children to capture their curious need to organize, create, and build. Fröbel proclaimed, “The active and creative, living and life-producing being of each person, reveals itself in the creative instinct of the child. All human education is bound up in the quiet and conscientious nurture of this instinct of activity; and in the ability of the child, true to this instinct, to be active.”

Chaya Downtown restaurant, Los Angeles, California – materials: foamcore, various woods, museum board, chip board, acrylic, and craft paper, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

For generations, architects, young and old, engaged in a process of building miniature physical representations of design ideas. Whether Lego or Lincoln Logs as a kid or laser cutting and a 3D printer as a professional, the making of a physical model in scale was inherent in the process of all architects.

Enzoani bridal store, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – materials: foamcore, laser prints, basswood, spray paint, and museum board, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)
University Center, University of the Pacific, Stockton, California — materials: foamcore, chip board, museum board , craft people, metallic paper, aluminum cars and people, and wire trees, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

I separate “physical model” from today’s “digital model,” the latter meaning a computer file, a virtual three-dimensional object. Digital modeling has reaped tremendous advancements in photorealistic renderings and “fly-throughs.” The sexy presentation drawings provide a client with an image as if standing there looking at the real building.

At times, computer renderers can’t seem to control their self-indulgence as the renderings are over-the-top with multiple light sources, mirror-like reflections on glistening surfaces, over saturation of colors and patterns, perfect skies and sunsets, and supermodels populating the buildings—all resulting in a surrealism that overtakes any substance of the rendering. These exciting images try to show the real thing, but often fail. Renderings should capture the personality and emotion of the space, the story of the design, not a photorealistic replication of materials and surfaces.

Sports City Stadium, Doha, Qatar, by Meis

There is limited tactile connection in computer processing, other than the clicking of one’s mouse. And architecture, both its process and final product, is tactile and physical. I like feeling how a graphite lead gently wears into the toothy surface of a sheet of vellum. I like scoring a piece of chipboard with an X-Acto No. 11 blade, then carefully bending the chipboard with both hands.

Toppings Yogurt, Pacific Palisades, California – materials: museum board, foamcore, acrylic, stainless steel, cork, copper, stone, honeycomb plastic panel, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)
San Diego Civic Theatre, California – materials: foamcore, basswood, museum board, laser prints, and craft paper, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by HHPA)

As a physical object, a model is the closest thing to the physical building. But of course, it is a smaller version. But it is through such abstraction that one can comprehend the concepts driving the design. The client can hold a model and study it from infinite angles, or place her eyes, head even, into a large model to experience the space.

Herget Middle School, West Aurora, Illinois – materials: foamcore, laser prints, basswood, spray paint, and museum board, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photo by Anthony Poon)

Whether a detailed representational model with little people, cars, and trees, with colors and textures suggesting the actual materials of construction, or a concept model made fast and crude, torn apart and glued back together experimenting ideas that flash into the imagination of the designer—models are an investigative design tool.

Model making at Gehry Partners, Los Angeles, California (photo by R+D Studio)

Frank Gehry’s process centers around making models with his famed model shop, as does Morphosis with its obsessive use of a large format 3D printer, evidenced by the new book, M3: Modeled Works. This 1,008-page tome focuses exclusively on photos of physical models that span founder Thom Mayne’s career, displayed in reverse chronology, from high tech to low tech model making tools.

Educational Center and Library Addition, Holocaust Human Rights Center, University of Maine, Augusta – materials: museum board, acrylic, modeling paste, gesso, and acrylic paints, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

Whether architectural models are created with recycled corrugated cardboard and discarded scraps or exotic woods and archival museum-quality materials, the design themes told are can be powerful, poetic even. The thing to keep in mind is that model making is but one tool in the process, as is rendering software, as is A.I. or color pencils.

Korean Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California – materials: museum board, acrylic, modeling paste, gesso, and acrylic paints, by Poon Design (photo by Anthony Poon)

#162: OCMA REVIEW: THE BEAUTY OF EXCESS

December 9, 2022

Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Upon visiting the recently completed Orange County Museum of Art, I thought of Christina Aguilera or Patti LaBelle. Maybe Whitney Houston too. All three singers engage in vocal acrobatics, excessive riffs of attention-grabbing notes in virtuoso succession. So too with the new museum designed by Culver City-based Morphosis.

View from the civic plaza, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne, founding architect of Morphosis, designed the $93 million, 53,000-square-foot museum, also known as OCMA—in the long line of museums of four letters, e.g. MOCA, MOMA, NMNS, CMOA, and so on. At OCMA, 25,000 square feet is dedicated to displaying the museum’s 4,500 works from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Mayne states that he created “a gradient of architectural intensity, from complex forms at the museum’s entry to rectilinear and flexible forms within the galleries.”

Approaching from the street, the low profile rectilinear building presents an understated curbside appeal. But entering the plaza and greeted by Richard Serra’s 65-foot-tall sculpture of his signature weathered steel, the architect’s ambition for “architectural intensity” rings true.

Atrium, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Sweeping, tilting, and undulating forms, wrapped in individually-custom white terra cotta panels, rise up to the sky—not unlike a composition from Frank Gehry’s repertory. OCMA’s sinuous and muscular character on the outside continues within. A central space twists and warps three-stories high, punctuated by glass and steel bridges crossing each other haphazardly. The building represents fantastical gestures afforded by digital technology. Such advance software results in the Construction Documents (once called blueprints) that instruct the construction team how to turn such heroic shapes from curved lines on paper to reality.

Doors out to roof terrace, Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

This contemporary building shines brightly as both an icon and a rebel within the unabashedly conservative region of Orange County. Of such exciting building forms and interior spaces that counter the idiom, “less is more,” one has to ponder if such shapes and surfaces are warranted in the first place. Besides the thrill I felt touring and confronting such a sculpturally innovative building, are all these design moves necessary? Was the money well spent? How many brain cells were damaged in figuring out how to defy gravity?

left: Cooper Union, New York, New York (photo from morphosis.com); top middle: Viper Room Development, West Hollywood, California (rendering from archdaily.com); top right: Kolon One & Only Tower, Seoul, South Korea (photo by Jasmine Park); bottom middle: Bill and Melinda Gates Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (photo by Roland Halbe); bottom right: Yangtze River International Conference Center, Nanjing, China (photo by Fangfang Tian)

I enjoy the projects of Morphosis, these designs of virtuosity and flair. Save a few restrained structures like the Taubman Complex at Lawrence Technological University, Morphosis’ body of work challenges architecture as art, graphic representation, and construction methods—the artistic soul as well—and employs the keenest minds and highest tools of technology. The results are no doubt incredible and stunning.

Orange County Museum of Art, Costa Mesa, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

But one has to question, isn’t architecture more than making sexy forms? In a recent symposium at Los Angeles’ Colburn School, Mayne attempted to (unsuccessfully) deflect questions about his work being mostly about composition and aesthetics. Today, architecture is more than the shape and form of a building, more than how it looks. At its best, architecture involves sustainability/carbon neutrality, community engagement, social equity/diversity, resilience, biophilia, affordability and access, adaptive reuse, philanthropy, and ethical labor practices.

Regardless, I am a fan of the work at Morphosis, and this brings me back to the aforementioned singers. Sure, they sing unnecessary notes. Sure, it sounds gratuitous and self-serving. Much of the vocal lines, often called “runs,” are excessive, merely indulgent passages that show off one’s fancy skills. But admittedly, I like it. I find it exhilarating even intoxicating to be transported beyond what a standard performer’s voice can do. So too with the architecture of Morphosis.

#48: HALLOWEEN AND ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

October 28, 2016

Kids in costume, (photo from whitewaydelivers.socialtuna.com)

Halloween costumes are typically representational, not abstract. Costumes are always something—like a princess, pirate or witch. On Halloween, Harry Potters, President Obamas and Katniss Everdeens roam the streets.

But. What about costumes based on abstract concepts? Can one dress up as wonder, rigor or overtime?

As with the Post World War II art movement known as Abstract Expressionism, can Halloween costumes be non-representational? Can costumes be non-thematic, non-literal and non-figurative?

Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949
Untitled, by Mark Rothko, 1949

Whereas traditional artists painted water lilies, ballerinas and the crucifixion, Abstract artists painted subjects like color and emotional output or the action of paint drippings. Abstract artists rejected portraying objectified and recognizable classical content.

Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874
Ballet Rehearsal on the Set, by Edgar Degas, 1874

So I ask: Can trick-n-treaters attempt a similar philosophical position? This could offer entertaining debate when responding to the prerequisite question at a costume party, “Who are you supposed to be?”

Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952
Convergence, by Jackson Pollock, 1952

Rather than answering Darth Vader, the sexy nurse or Donald Trump, the answer would be complex, because the question is actually “What are you supposed to be?”

Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563
Illustration from The First & Chief Groundes of Architecture, by Marco Vitruvius, 1563

Or maybe, “How are you supposed to be?”

The Halloween tradition known as “guising” or going out in public with a disguise, started as early as the 16th century in Scotland, and was first documented in America as 1911. Guising is a design topic as well.

Classical architecture used figurative themes so as to establish rapport with the visitor. For example, the Greek column comprises three components: 1) base, 2) shaft and 3) capital. This composition was intended to reference the human form: 1) feet, 2) body and 3) head.

Modernist architects, many stemming from the seminal Bauhaus period of 1919 to 1932, discarded this idea of representation. Akin to Abstract painters, these architects designed buildings of abstraction and lack of traditional adornment.

The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
The Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany (photo from aoaonline.ir)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)
Cedars Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, California (photo by Charles Daniels)

As a contemporary example, Pritzker-winner Thom Mayne turned away from Old School theories, such as the 1st century BC Vitruvian rule that architecture must be “firmatas” (strong), “utilitas” (functional) and “venustas” (beautiful).

For Mayne’s 1987 design of the Cedars Cancer Center, he offered a complex vision that was intentionally unsettling. The design is a “tough” building, so as “to instill confidence in patients’ ability to fight the disease,” according to Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times.

Besides being a ninja, the Batman, or a zombie from The Walking Dead, I suggest exploring new ideas during the Halloween frenzy. How about going as: the sky or appetite, or maybe frequency or generosity? Hmmm, food for thought.

Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950
Sunrise Death Valley, by Ansel Adams, circa 1950
© Poon Design Inc.