Tag Archives: tract housing

#152: DESIGNING COMMUNITIES: RISKS AND REWARDS

May 13, 2022

One of five prototype residences, Saudi Arabia (rendering by Encore)

Architects like to put their stamp on as much as possible, from the design of a chair to the whole house, from a theater to a museum. How about entire neighborhoods? When designing a community of homes, there are risks and rewards. Sure, the ego is stroked to see design ideas implemented across an urban fabric. But there are also pitfalls. Beware.

130-home community, Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California (photo by Google Earth)

At Poon Design Inc., we have been fortunate to have designed eight communities from scratch, from California to Montana to Saudi Arabia—totaling over 200 built homes and another 100 on the way.

20-condominium, 8-building community, Big Mountain River, Whitefish, Montana (rendering by Mike Amaya)

When designing one residence, there is an overly precious approach, a fetishization of exploring the domesticity of a single client. But when designing a community of over 100 dwellings, the architect now confronts not just the house as a single object, but the relationship between the objects—not just each note of the music, but the connection between the notes.

20-condominium, 8-building community site plan, Big Mountain River, Whitefish, Montana

Here, the composition is no longer a single structure, but a body of dozens upon dozens of residences, as well as the open spaces between and around them. Take for example: roads and sidewalks, gardens and entry gates, motor courts and driveways—yes, even a stormwater water management. Designing a neighborhood is creating a place where diverse families intersect, where lifestyles overlap, where utopian ideas are possible. The scale of our work still includes the design of kitchen cabinets and bathroom tile patterns, but it now explores how a fire truck enters the community, puts out a fire, and turns around. We are shaping the land, like a giant given ablank canvas the size of a city.

Brainstorming session at Poon Design Inc. for mass production housing in Palm Springs, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Some of our projects mentioned above fall into the category of tract housing or mass production housing, meaning that the 40-home community is not a design of 40 unique homes, but rather, a composition of four homes strategically curated to ward off architectural monotony. From a financial standpoint, the four-house-approach allows the developer efficiencies in construction costs and schedule.

130-house site plan, Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California

For aesthetic variety, unimaginative architects only apply superficial ideas. Yes, you can alter paint color, exterior materials, and landscape. But we do not support the typical tract home methods of adding artificial roof forms, like a fake gable on one and a token trellised porch on another, when both happen to be for the exact same floor plan. No, any modifications must have a reason that is supported by the design concept of that particular house.

Though rewarding and artistically challenging, the big risk with designing entire neighborhoods is frightening yet simple. If you make one mistake, 100 homes have this mistake, so now you have made 100 mistakes. For example, if the roof is not designed appropriately and leaks, now 100 homes probably leak. So have your lawyer and liability insurance ready for a class action lawsuit. In contrast, when designing a single custom house, a problem is usually addressed with a question from the client, then a meeting with the contractor. But with designing entire communities, the architect doesn’t likely know the homeowners who bought these mass produced, spec homes.

LEED worksheet for Alta Verde Escena, Palm Springs, California

In everything ones does, there are risks, and there are rewards. We pick our battles, and we gauge the return on investment. What happens if we fail? What happens if we succeed?

#97: 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)

#6: MODERN FOR THE MASSES

April 10, 2015

Z-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by George Guttenberg)

It started with an idea that the essential qualities of luxury modern residences could be delivered to the mainstream marketplace at affordable prices.

Custom modern residences are evident throughout California, but what average American family can afford such homes ranging from a few million dollars to upward of $20 million? On the other hand, affordable tract housing proliferate our suburbs, but do these faux-Mediterranean-Spanish-inspired stucco boxes have architectural integrity, relevance and merit?

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

For Poon Design, infusing tract housing, also known as production housing, with modern luxury design was a new kind of challenge, a different kind of business, and an entirely distinctive kind of architecture. As client/developer Andrew Adler, CEO of Alta Verde Group, has put it: “We are democratizing good design.”

While somewhat new for architecture, democratizing good design has been demonstrated by a number of world famous designers, such Michael Graves designing a product for Target. Graves first designed his famous tea kettle 25 years ago for Alessi, an Italian kitchen utensil distributor that represented some of the most well-known architects and designers of the time, such as Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck and Zaha Hadid. Many of Alessi’s products are so celebrated that they are in the permanent museum collections, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The tea kettle Graves designed for Alessi was priced at several hundred dollars to the luxury buyer seeking.

Many years later, Graves designed a very similar tea kettle for Target—and it costs less than $40. The two kettles were near exact in concept and details. Graves’s design went from being offered to the sophisticated, wealthy and elite, to the average person, who although shopping on a budget, still seeks and appreciates good design.

B3-Living-Room-Med

top: B-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (staging by Interior Illusions); bottom: I-3 Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photos by Chris Miller)

Poon Design adopted this for architecture, at the first of four communities designed and constructed with Alta Verde in Palm Springs, at a development called Escena. With Mr. Adler as design partner, Poon Design developed four home prototypes for 130 lots on 21 acres. The 3-bedroom prototypes captured many ideas, both proven and exploratory: extended roof overhangs for passive cooling and protection from the heat; drought tolerant native landscape; regional building materials; reflective energy efficient cool roof; electric car chargers; LED lighting; and rooftop solar panels.

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

We promoted a new kind of architecture that we entitled, “This Century Modern,” which was a nod to the popular title, “Mid-Century Modern.” Currently 100 homes have been built and sold, and new phases of construction are ongoing, many homes pre-sold. Our architecture has been bestowed with a dozen national design awards.

Though just homes, the force and impact of great architecture can come at a community scale, acknowledging a framework for how a municipality might evolve. The blank canvas for ground breaking residential design is not only the single lot for one homeowner, but rather, it can be for entire neighborhoods.

Zen Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, interior staging by Interior Illusions (photo by Lance Gerber)
Zen Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design, (staging by Interior Illusions, photo by Lance Gerber)
© Poon Design Inc.