Tag Archives: VOSGES HAUT-CHOCOLAT

LIVE LEARN EAT INTERVIEW PART 2 OF 2: RESTAURANTS BY POON DESIGN INC.

April 30, 2021

A wall of honed sandstone at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

(The complete Zoom interview is here, and part 1 on school design is here. The book, Live Learn Eat, is available at Amazon and your local retailers. Excerpts below.)

Michael Webb: Let’s finally get to restaurants. You’ve designed more than 50 varied examples, working on both generous and frugal budgets. Like schools, restaurants have to accommodate all their uses in the kitchen and dining area, and in between. How do you choreograph those movements?

Anthony Poon: That’s a good word, Michael, choreography.

Architect Anthony Poon and author Michael Webb on Zoom; lower image: pages of Live Learn Eat, displaying Linea Residence G, Palm Springs, California (photo by Mark Ballogg)

All of us who go to restaurants spend time in the dining room, at the bar, or the outdoor patio. Behind the walls is a tremendous amount of activity. Roughly 50% of a floor plan goes to the back of house. It’s like a theater where one sees the play—sees what’s presented to them at the front of the stage—but they are not explicitly aware of all the activity going on behind stage, all the people running around. In the case of restaurants, there’s dozens of people in the kitchen with 30 cooktops, waiters dashing around, dishwashers, circulation moving everywhere—all while trying to present the most elegant dining experience for the user.

We choreograph all this—like a football coach with his green board, drawing X’s and O’s in chalkboard lines—to understand how a waiter needs to move from spot A to spot B, and not conflict with diners coming in for their nice anniversary dinner. There’s quite a lot of planning before we even get to choosing, for example, light fixtures and materials.

Concept diagram for Din Tai Fung, Americana at Brand, Glendale, California

Michael: A lot of this is both physical, but also intangible. Restaurants define themselves by their cuisine, their service, and the atmosphere, the feel of the place, the acoustics, the way that everybody dresses. There are places that are super casual, others that are more formal. How do you bring all those things together in a seamless whole?

Kit-o-parts model for Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Poon Design)

Anthony: We offer to our restaurants what we call comprehensive design. It starts with looking at the type of cuisine and the service model. It might be the handcrafted sandwiches of our client, Mendocino Farms. It could be the world famous dumplings of the Chinese restaurant, Din Tai Fung. We look to how their ideas can be represented in the architecture, but space-making goes far beyond architecture. For a lot of our restaurant clients, we have designed the architecture and the interior design, of course, but also bring in landscape ideas and lighting design. Also, we custom design furniture, and handle graphic design, the branding, website, and for some clients, even evaluate their uniform design.

Graphic design for the Chaya restaurants, by Sue and Danny Yee with Poon Design

And then comes the music. Architecture is more than the experience you feel as you walk into a restaurant. As a musician, I believe that music is part of that architecture. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a restaurant and the general manager has plopped in his iPod, and it’s just playing his playlist, a selection of music irrelevant to the style and flavor of the dining room.

At Poon Design, we feel that music should support the ideas of the chef. It’s the same way that some might say, “Let’s look at the way sunlight moves through the day, through the windows, through the restaurant.” We ask the same thing. What kind of music should be playing at lunchtime when the professionals arrive? At happy hour when everyone’s celebrating the end of an exhausting workday? What’s the appropriate music for fine dining? As a crowd winds down for late night drinks or dessert, what’s the kind of music for that? We think of music the same way we think of lighting design, the same way we pick the fabric for a banquette, or the wood stain for the tabletops. It’s all a comprehensive, integrated experience.

Artisanal plaster arches made by hand in Marrakesh, Morocco, and installed at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California (photos by Poon Design and Marrakesh Designs Ltd.)

Just one last aspect, Michael, you’ve mentioned the acoustics. That plays into the quality of experience as well. I’m sure many of you have been to restaurants where you sit three feet from your friends, and you can barely hear their voices, because there’s such a loud ringing in the restaurant. Finally, you leave the restaurant after 90 minutes realizing your throat is sore from having yelled so much, and your ears are ringing from all the reverberation.

Sushi Noguchi, Yorba Linda, California (photo by Poon Design)

Part of the quality of the restaurant architecture is not just what it looks like but what it feels like—to all the senses. For music, that’s the ears. But we have to also bring our technical experience with acoustic engineering to control the sound, give a wonderful environment that is not just visual, but that is physical, that is aural.

Michael: I’d been told that restaurants actually welcome noise, because people drink more and eat faster, and therefore, the turnover and the profit is greater—that there is actually a kind of country movement against quiet acoustics of the kind that existed when there were carpets, upholstery, curtains, and all the old-fashioned things that we remember from long ago in restaurants. Now it’s all hard reverberant surfaces.

Anthony: All of our restaurants clients want their spaces to have a certain buzz—a kind of energy sounding through the room. No one wants to walk in and feel like it’s the university library where it’s too quiet. People go to restaurants for social contact, to be amongst a community of people, similarly to the difference between watching a movie at home on Netflix vs. going to a theater with a large group. There are people you might not even know, but that’s a certain valuable social experience.

Elliptical wine room with shaped slatted ceiling at Heritage Fine Wines, Beverly Hills, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Most restaurants will want music playing with a certain hum of sound, but it’s about controlling that, like playing the restaurant as if it’s an instrument. Like a musician, you tune it to the right feel. Some restaurants want a certain hyper energy during happy hour, where there’s loud music and a pulse. Other restaurants want that elegant, fine dining experience.

We start by looking to the restaurateur and asking them, what is your experience? Then we tune it to what they want as an identity, an acoustic identity. Just as a quick lesson, we explain to our clients what we call the ABC of acoustic design. A meaning absorb, B meaning block, and C meaning cover.

Chandelier of 1,500 recycled plastic toys and collectibles by a collaboration of Stuart Haygarth and Poon Design, Venetian-influenced mirror décor, and custom furniture, at Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

We choose materials to absorb what we want to absorb. You mentioned carpet. That’s a great material, but of course, very hard to maintain. There are so many other materials that could be used to absorb sound.

Block is about blocking out the sound no one wants to hear. No one wants to hear noises from the kitchen and washing dishes. So we want to block that as well as other back of house sounds—the restrooms, or the cars outside.

Cover is thinking about what sounds you want to cover and what you want to let in. If you’re on an outside patio on a busy street, you may want to cover the sound of cars honking, but you might want to pick up some of the energy of the city. You can cover unwanted noise with music. You can cover that with a fountain.

Michael: One of your star clients in Southern California was Din Tai Fung, who you mentioned earlier. The global chain that moved from its original place in Taiwan. Why do people line up for hours to get in? And what do they expect when they get in?

Entry with a restoration of a mid-century structure at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

Anthony: People have waited several hours, even as much as five hours in the San Francisco location to get in. Visitors are expecting a lot, not just from the quality of the food, but also the experience, the service, and of course, the interior design and architecture. We’re proud to be the architect for the restaurant institution that the New York Times have named “one of the top 10 restaurants in the world.”

Design-wise, there were two main themes. The first: Din Tai Fung is famous for their dumplings, of which every day, they hand-make roughly between 50,000 to 100,000 dumplings per location. Folded carefully by hand, each fold represents a different artistic style and what the content is within the dumpling, releasing flavors and aromas as it goes into your mouth. We featured the dumpling-making as a theatrical element. As you enter, there is a large glass exhibition kitchen that presents all the dumpling makers as they’re making dumpling one by one, by hand. And the entire restaurant centers around this one activity, this one architectural feature. People come, even people not dining, just to sit there and watch this artistry in real time.

Dumpling exhibition kitchen at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa (photo by Gregg Segal)

The second design aspect was this: Din Tai Fung is a traditional Chinese restaurant with cuisine and ideas from quite a legacy of family recipes. But this restaurant did not, in our minds, want to be a Chinese theme park, not a Chinese Disneyland. The clients were not interested in golden dragons, red silk cloths, phoenixes, and Chinese calligraphy. So we reinterpreted the legacy, both in aesthetics and in technique.

For example, we studied the traditional Asian, wood, privacy screens. Then we re-envisioned the traditional patterns, modernized them, and gave it a contemporary graphic feel. We took sheets of walnut plywood and water-jet cut our patterns, a new technique, or laser cut metal plates, then powder coated a finish. It’s a way of blending new construction techniques with traditional ideas, respecting Asian heritage and history, but also looking to the future.

Din Tai Fung, Americana at Brand, Glendale, California (photo by Gregg Segal)

Michael: Din Tai Fung can afford to do it in a very sophisticated way, but a lot of restaurateurs are working on a shoestring, and don’t want to burden themselves with a huge overhead before they proved themselves. Even some of the most important restaurants in L.A. has started in a very modest way. And when your clients have a tight budget, how do you make the best use of that?

Internally LED-lit walls of 3-form acrylic panels at Memphis, Manhattan Beach, California (photo by Sean Rosenthal)

Anthony: Most of our restaurant clients aren’t the big famous Michelin-rated ones. A a number of our clients have been small businesses—even a first restaurant cobbling together through family and friends, their first budget to launch a restaurant. We have to respect that, to know there are limits, and pick our design battles. We decide where best to spend money, being thoughtful and efficient in using dollars.

Custom furniture: outdoor benches wrapped in artificial grass and dining tables with adjustable legs made from plumbing parts, at Mendocino Farms, Marina del Rey, California (photos by Poon Design)
Chalk art at Mendocino Farms, FIGat7th, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)

It also has to do with the conceptual approach. Mendocino Farms was one of our clients of which we’ve done one then several of their restaurants. We achieved a wonderful aesthetic through their interests in hand-crafted sandwiches within a kind of gastropub feel.

That gave us the opportunity to explore materials in a new way, to use industrial components, or maybe building materials right off the shelf. For example, plumbing parts were used to make the legs of a tabletop that looks cool and also adjustable in height. Or chalkboard paint on the walls with large chalk murals.

For the location near the Grove, each chandelier was made of chicken wire with 400 wooden clothes pins attached. It created a beautiful lighting effect, affordable too, and captures the aesthetic of that restaurant.

Chandelier at Mendocino Farms, 3rd and Fairfax, Los Angeles, California (photos by Poon Design)
Gold Rush, 18″ x 24″, November 2018

Michael: We’ve discussed the three themes of the monograph—homes, schools, and restaurants—but you have many other talents. You’re a classically trained pianist, an accomplished artist, published author, and your eight-person firm has tackled many other commissions from sacred spaces, to graphics, furniture and lighting design. How have you been able to achieve so much with such modest resources?

Anthony: I like to think of the metaphor of the jazz ensemble or maybe the small orchestra. We’re all highly trained and intelligent designers. We bring different unique talents, whether it’s interior design, lighting design, or construction expertise, maybe a graphics person. Everyone at Poon Design has multiple interests outside of the architecture field too, from photography to writing to studying history. We even had a literal rocket scientist on our staff for five years, who studied architecture at UCLA.

Cover and pages of Life Learn Eat, displaying WV Mixed-Use Project, Manhattan Beach, California (photo by Gregg Segal) Book published by ORO Editions.

We assemble together all these talents and work organically. Our studio is a collaboration of everyone putting ideas together, bouncing off each other—similar to some of the ideas that jazz music represents, such as improvisation and spontaneity. I think it’s that kind of freedom and thinking that allows a smaller team to set forth some pretty big ideas.

Michael: What are your ambitions for the next decade, once we’re through the pandemic?

Anthony: We’re hoping to continue our design ambitions on a larger scale. We already work on projects from schools to restaurants, sacred structures, churches, mixed-use, and cultural projects. And it’s all for a sense of community, neighborhood, equality, and equity. We will continue what we do, but for a broader civic audience, and touch as many people as we can, as many participants of the public that want to engage good architecture and design.

Doheny Plaza, West Hollywood, California, by Poon Design (photo by Hunter Kerhart)

A JOURNEY THROUGH THE FIVE SENSES

March 20, 2020

The five senses represented in cast plaster (photo from npr.org and Shutterstock)

Whether a house, school or church, the most successful works of architecture go beyond merely what it looks like. With a restaurant for example, the design must surpass the exercise of picking things, such as the stone for the bar counter, tile pattern on the floor, or fabric of the banquette. As a comprehensive cohesive experience, architectural design is more than the materials you see and touch. Architecture is a journey through all the five senses.

Chaya Downtown, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (photo by Gregg Segal)

SIGHT
Selecting colors and textures, finishes and furniture consumes most of a designer’s effort. What a visitor sees comprises the initial architectural character and yes, even the style of the project. Avocado green paint signals a Mid-Century Modern approach, whereas red clay roof tiles echo a Spanish Colonial Revival project.

But keep in mind other aspects that an occupant sees, such as the lighting for a retail store. No, not just the stylish light fixtures, but what about Kelvins to lumens, fluorescent vs. LED vs. tungsten, or the magical way the spotlight delivers a halo effect to the retail objects?

What one sees goes even further, such as environmental graphics and signage, or maybe uniform design for the staff at a museum. Point is: We see a lot.

Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon w/ A4E (photo by Gregory Blore)

TOUCH
After the eye sees, the hand will take in more information. The visitor will touch the brick, for example. The texture might be smooth or rough. Even the grout has a sandy surface that provides a physical sensation.

When sitting in a lounge chair, arms smooth over the walnut trim, the body relaxes against leather cushions, and fingertips notice zigzag stitching.

The body also feels temperature, such as the warmth of a carpeted living room contrasted to the cool tile of the kitchen. For a pop-up nightclub, Poon Design worked with the theme of Heaven-and-Hell. One club room was aggressively air conditioned at a brisk, cool and alert temperature—Heaven. The other room was intentionally made warm and humid, even hot and bothered—Hell.

Chapel of St. Ignatius, Seattle, Washington (photo by Paul Warchol)

SMELL
At the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle, beeswax coats the interior walls. Not only providing a lustrous plaster surface for the eye to see and the hand to touch, the walls provided a sweet and relaxing scent to smell.

I recall another Seattle project—a bagel shop that purposefully exhausted the oven’s appetizing aroma into the street. The enticing smell of freshly baked goods attracted customers. Architecture confronted one’s nose.

Think also of landscape design and its diversity of scents, such as the sweetness of a lemon tree alongside the vanilla honey smell of Heliotrope. Don’t forget to smell the roses.

The 14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, Natural Bridge, by Poon Design (photo by Mark Ballogg)

SOUND
Approaching our scared 14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, we transition the visitor from the dirt path to an intimate gravel walk. The sound of feet shuffling on loose gravel slows the visitor to a meditative pace.

Just as one would kick the tires of a car (for whatever reason?), owners are known to knock on the walls of their corporate headquarters or performing arts center. There is a big difference between knocking on a stucco building that has applied the plaster over wood framing (which is commonplace in California) vs. applying plaster over solid stone walls (more likely in Europe). The latter sounds like it should—walls that will hold up your roof.

For some of our restaurants, we select the music that accompanies the design, complementing the spirit and energy of the space as it evolves through the day. Brisk music welcomes the early birds, even keel classical selections buzz for the professional lunchtime crowd, eclectic techno lounge greets the sophisticated diners, and jazz ballads wind down the afterhours crowd.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

TASTE
Most people are not going to be tasting a work of architecture. I don’t imagine someone visiting an office and licking the conference room walls. But in addition to the design of a kitchen, there are opportunities for an architect to create a tasty design to address this fifth sense.

For our design of the 44,000-square-foot chocolate factory for Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Chicago, we didn’t just design an ambitious corporate headquarters, we incorporated tasting stations that present the company’s recipes/ingredients.

Din Tai Fung, The Americana at Brand, Glendale, California, by Poon Design (photo by Poon Design)

Through provoking all five senses, the sensual experience of architecture promotes emotional content that enliven the human experience. How our senses engage the built environment suggests the architectural philosophy of Phenomenology, which studies what the body confronts, and what the body interprets.

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)

STICKS & STONES | STEEL & GLASS : ONE ARCHITECT’S JOURNEY

September 16, 2016

First draft of manuscript (photo by Anthony Poon)

Hearing intriguing tales of being an architect, friends conjure up ideas like, “You should have a reality TV series,” “You should go on a talk show,” “You should blog about it,” or “You should write a book.” The first two suggestions are absurd. The third: Done.

Trapped in the Riyadh customs line at the King Khalid International Airport: an eight-hour wait, arms guards, no sitting, no talking, no food, no water, no sleeping, no restroom, no joking (photo by Anthony Poon)
Trapped in the Riyadh customs line at the King Khalid International Airport: an eight-hour wait, armed guards, no sitting, no talking, no food, no water, no sleeping, no restroom, no joking (photo by Anthony Poon)

So I chose the fourth one.

After a construction visit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I was stranded in the Frankfurt airport for an afternoon. It was here that I started writing down some of my tales. By the end of the flight home, I possessed an overwrought flurry of 25,000 words and twenty chapters. A month later, 50,000 words.

Another month later, I had completed an 80,000-word, 450-page manuscript. I also connected with an editor in Chicago and another in New York, Carl Lennertz, also my book’s marketing director. Not long after came my agent, Bond Literary Agency, and my publisher, Unbridled Books.

Initially inspired by Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, I thought: Hey, I could do that—write a tell-all sordid saga about the underbelly of architecture. The audience was there. Architecture was already everywhere . The world was brimming with endless television shows on design, a gazillion style magazines, websites and blogs, design brands and celebrity fans, passion plays like going green and prefab homes, design as lifestyle, “design-thinking” in everything from business school to scientific research, and Hollywood’s infatuation with architects .

My sketches and musings
My sketches and musings

But I realized that though a few outbursts and secrets would be entertaining, my book should not be a career-killer. So enough of that. No outrageous Bourdain “pirate” attitude for me. The noble and artistic side of architecture deserved something else.

Cover-Web

Entitled Sticks & Stones | Steel & Glass: One Architect’s Journey, my book is part critique, part behind-the-scenes, and part auto-biographical—examining the role of architecture and its creative process in daily life.

The publisher cites, “In this personal and revealing book, we are taken on a creative journey inside a purposive yet open mind always hoping to ‘design it all,’ to weave together light and material, culture and commerce, music and design, a good meal and the joy of gathering to share it.

“In these pages, we engage the artistic processes of a thoughtful and intense architect whose works—public and private—strive to enhance his clients’ stories and identities. In every building designed by Anthony Poon, art is shelter and architecture is a social good.”

Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, awarded the National Grand Prize from Learning By Design, AIA and National School Boards Association, also received awards from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, DesignShare, IASB, IASA, IASBO, School Planning and Management, and American School & University Magazine (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photo by Mark Ballogg)
Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, awarded the National Grand Prize from Learning By Design, AIA and National School Boards Association, also received awards from KnowledgeWorks Foundation, DesignShare, IASB, IASA, IASBO, School Planning and Management, and American School & University Magazine (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photo by Mark Ballogg)

My book is not a memoir (too pretentious), although it is somewhat the trace of chapters of my life. This book is not a catalog of my work, not a marketing puff piece, not a Taschen-style glossy coffee table book. I do examine some projects that have most engaged me across my career—schools, a homeless shelter, and even a chocolate factory, and the artistic processes that delivered them.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat Factory, Chicago, Illinois, by Poon Design, Recipient of the 2013 Award of Excellence for the Industrial Redevelopment of the Year, from the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (w/ Ware Malcomb, photo by Anthony Poon)
Vosges Haut-Chocolat Factory, Chicago, Illinois, by Poon Design, Recipient of the 2013 Award of Excellence for the Industrial Redevelopment of the Year, from the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (w/ Ware Malcomb, photo by Anthony Poon)
Pondering my second book (photo by Mikel Healey)
Pondering my second book (photo by Mikel Healey)

As for the title? “Sticks and stones may break my bones . . .” opens the famous childhood rhyme. And despite what the public, media and colleagues say of my work and me, “Names will never hurt me.”

Additionally, just as sticks and stones are primitive building blocks, steel and glass are today’s elements of expression. In designing architecture, I have endeavored to find balance in the rough and the smooth, the solid and the ephemeral. So too with Sticks & Stones | Steel & Glass.

Reserve your copy now at Amazon.

LIFE AND DEATH OF ARCHITECTURE

June 10, 2016

2016 demolition of the Netherlands Dance Theater, The Hague, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo by kojiri.jp)

One of my favorite projects was recently demolished. From the team at Poon Design, our Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Beverly Hills is no more.

A month later, another work of ours demolished: Saffron, an Indian restaurant. Years ago, 8 Fish, our design for a sushi joint also met the demise of a bulldozer.

Of two hundred completed projects by Poon Design, only these three have confronted this fate of a demolition crew. That these deaths are retail and restaurants, and knowing how often such businesses fail, I do not fret over the casualties within my portfolio. I am however amazed by my reactions: bereavement, relief and optimism.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat flagship retail, café and “Chocolate Theater,” Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016
Vosges Haut-Chocolat flagship retail, café and “Chocolate Theater,” Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016

At a collection of industrial buildings in the modish Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, our client The Container Yard invites street artists to paint—world celebrated alongside up-and-comers. With hundreds of building walls, inside and out, offering blank canvases 50 feet wide, each painter is granted autonomy to create. At this shared community, no desperate grab for territory or pronouncements of ego exist.

Giant murals at The Container Yard (photo by Anthony Poon)
Giant murals at The Container Yard (photo by Anthony Poon)

Inevitably, a mural by one artist is painted over by another artist, without hesitation or dispute. A magnificent work of brush and spray paint techniques, weeks or months in the making, may present itself for only a few days before a new artist wipes out the preceding work.

8 Fish sushi restaurant, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2011
8 Fish sushi restaurant, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2011

Other than temporary structures like an expo pavilion, a pop-up store, or a stage set, architects don’t typically design with casual ambitions and in a transitory setting like The Container Yard. When architects create, we expect our work to stand tall for decades. My ego hopes that not only will my work be accepted, but fingers crossed, also embraced for a generations.

When a project of mine must be torn down to be superseded by another architect’s vision, rejection and relief arise. In some acclaimed projects such as with Vosges, the demolition delivers disappointment that my work did not endure longer for more visitors to enjoy. But for 8 Fish, a less satisfying work of mine, I was ready to make way for another architect with better ideas.

One of my favorite architects and my professor,  Rem Koolhaas, confronts his own emotions of defeat regarding the recent death of his first major project, the much praised Netherlands Dance Theater completed in 1987. Koolhaas confesses shock that one of his most significant designs was demolished with little fanfare or concern, “That element of surprise has in a way preempted a feeling of tragedy or loss.”

Netherlands Dance Theater, The Hague, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from pritzkerprize.com)
Netherlands Dance Theater, The Hague, by Rem Koolhaas, OMA (photo from pritzkerprize.com)

My position on the eradication of my hard work is that the soul of civilization is “progressive.” As the Emerson quote asserts, “. . . it never quite repeats itself, but in every act attempts the production of a new and fairer whole.”

Though I wish that my creative work can remain permanently for people to experience forever, I accept that what I contribute to the built environment, whether a house, school or church, is but one small artifact in the immense arc known as Progress. And such are the Best Demo’d Plans of Mice and Men.

Painstaking hand carved plaster work by artisans in Marrekesh, Morocco, for Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016
Painstaking hand carved plaster work by artisans in Marrekesh, Morocco, for Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Beverly Hills, California, by Poon Design, demolished 2016
© Poon Design Inc.