Tag Archives: WASHINGTON D.C.

#157: “BE WATER, MY FRIEND”

August 26, 2022

The Building on the Water, Huai’An City, Jiangsu Province, China, by Alvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira (photo WZWX)

Throughout architecture, the element of water has played an impactful role—whether as a lead actor or the backdrop. Of the many ways water has been employed in design, five come to mind.

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, by Jørn Utzon, (photo by Scott Chin, Pixabay)

1. AS SETTING
With some projects, water is the venue, the scenery. Such watery backgrounds are so significant, that one can’t imagine these projects without their liquid surroundings—as if a fish out of its water. Picture if you will the Sydney Opera House set within a desert or perhaps, the streets of New York City (here and here).

Casa Malaparte, Capri, Italy, by Adalberto Libera (photo from issimoissimo.com)

2. AS SOUND
Water is most often thought of as physical, as moisture we touch. But upon my pilgrimage to the famed Fallingwater, a home built over a waterfall, I learned of water not as wetness, but rather as sound. All the famous photographs of this structure did not prepare me for how loud, even deafening, the rush of aquatic was. Other such varied places, such as the tranquil fountains at Alhambra or the aggressive splashing at Embarcadero Plaza, the resonance of water in motion becomes the aural aspect of architecture.

Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania, by Frank Lloyd Wright (photo by Venti Views, Unsplash)
Alhambra, Granada, Andalusia, Spain, by Pavel Notbeck and José Contreras (photo by Tomasz Hanarz, Pixabay)
Vaillancourt Fountain, Embarcadero Plaza, San Francisco, California, by Armand Vaillancourt (photo by Peter Hartlaub)
Venice, Italy (photo by Ekaterina Zagorska, Unsplash)

3. AS BUILDING MATERIAL
Akin to wood, stone, steel, or glass, water can also be employed as part of the physical palette of materials. The Blur Building uses water to be an “architecture of atmosphere,” stated the designers. Or what would Venice be if all the waterways were generically concrete and asphalt? At the Therme Baths, the water may be necessary for the functioning of this spa, but this element offers equal strength and boldness to the stone walls of local Valser Quartzite.

Blur Building, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (photo by Beat Widmer)
Therme Baths, Vals, Switzerland, by Peter Zumthor (photo from premiumswitzerland.com)

4. AS REFLECTION
Water can provide a mirror-like surface, one of introspection, intrigue, and/or investigation. Architects have taken advantage of this quality to provide dramatic effects, whether furthering civic identify in Washington D.C., offering the perfect postcard of the Taj Mahal, or creating bizarre appeal in Spain. But the reflecting surface of water is not only fragile but sometimes temporary—shattered by a mere gust of wind or a ripple-causing pebble.

Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., by Robert Mills (photo by David Mark, Pixabay)
Taj Mahal, Agra, India, by Ustad Ahmad Lahori (photo by Olena Tur / Shutterstock)
City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain, by Santiago Calatrava (photo from designsdelis.blogspot.com)

5. AS POETRY
Lastly, the mere use of water can transport a project to otherworldliness, transcending the design beyond that of a mere building. Water can offer a spirituality that approaches the sublime. Akin to poetry, the impact of water here is immeasurable and intangible, but long lasting.

Garden Hotspot Restaurant, Sansheng Township, Chengdu, China, by MUDA-Architects (photo by Arch-Exist)
San Cristóbal stables, Mexico City, Mexico, by Luis Barragán (photo from guilfoilandwulfson.com)
The Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, by Jean Nouvel (photo by Juliana Malta, Unsplash)

I conclude with one of Bruce Lee’s most profound quote, “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless—like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

#18: EMBRACING THE HUMAN SPIRIT

September 24, 2015

National September 11 Memorial, New York, New York, by Michael Arad with PWP Landscape Architecture (photo by PWP Landscape Architecture)

Upon returning from the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, a colleague stated that she found the design dismal. I responded, “Maybe that is the point.”

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is not exultant. It does not elate. As commemoration, the architecture honors the lives lost through acknowledging grief and pain. Through such, comes healing and the succinct message, “Never forget.”

In the mainstream of TV shows and magazines, architecture is merely thought of as designing homes. And indeed, architecture is a house.

But what can it house?

Besides housing families, architecture can collect memories, it can store beliefs, and it can sustain faith.

Chapel for the Air Force Village, San Antonio, Texas, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)
Chapel for the Air Force Village, San Antonio, Texas, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

Whether the design of memorials or sacred structures such as shrines and temples, the architecture of spirituality informs. It influences and guides. Such architecture can be a celebration enlivening the human spirit, or it can be solemn, confronting the human spirit.

Here, when I speak of religion, I am referring to a belief system that might be a private personal agenda or a structured practice of an organization’s ethics. The architecture of religion then, offers spaces that contain an individual’s creed or a community’s doctrines. The resulting forms and materials from such architecture express conviction and devotion.

top: Holocaust and Human Rights Center, University of Maine at Augusta; bottom: River of Life Christian Church, Santa Clara, California, by Poon Design (renderings by Amaya)
top: Holocaust and Human Rights Center, University of Maine at Augusta; bottom: River of Life Christian Church, Santa Clara, California, by Poon Design (renderings by Amaya)

The design of a church for example can be flooded with natural light to express the revelry of faith. On the other hand, a church can be intentionally dark and somber, so as to make any form of light, say a single small sun beam, apparent and dramatic—representing the presence of a holy deity.

I previously wrote about my many years serving Buddhists as their select architect. For their national foundation, I designed places to worship and study, to retreat and meditate, and to gather and connect.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery and Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, by Poon Design (rendering by Zemplinski)
Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery and Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, by Poon Design (rendering by Zemplinski)

Poon Design has created spiritual spaces of all kinds. Just to name a few: a 140,000-square-foot manufacturing plant transformed into a church in California, a Holocaust and Human Rights library in Maine, and a cemetery and memorial park for the freed slaves in Virginia. Our other projects of remembrance include 9/11 in California, AIDS victims in Florida, and the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.

Whether a chapel designed for a retirement community of the Air Force in Texas, or a Massachusetts memorial designed for the victims of the Holocaust, my architecture can be engaged individually and intimately, or publicly and as a society.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C., by Poon Design
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C., by Poon Design
© Poon Design Inc.