Tag Archives: WHITE

#110: THE ARCH PODCAST, FORM MAGAZINE, 2 OF 3: SACRED WORKS AND COLOR

December 6, 2019

My sketches for the chapel of the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas

Please enjoy more excerpts from the podcast The Arch with Form magazine, and the acclaimed author and artist, Carol Bishop. Previous excerpt is here.

Carol Bishop: Many of your projects touch communities. You do churches for various different kinds of religious groups. You do educational structures. You do libraries. Can you elaborate on these?

Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by Anthony Poon (w/ HHPA, photo by Foaad Farah)

Anthony Poon: The community aspect is very important to us. As much as we enjoy doing projects like designing homes or the one-off projects, we feel that our skills and talents should serve a much broader community. One of the things we enjoy doing most are our schools, serving teachers, administrators, and children. We enjoy doing projects that bring communities together. We enjoy building out communities, which is one of the aspects of our residential work, not just doing one house at a time, but doing a hundred homes at one time and envisioning what an entire neighborhood could be.

Alta Verde Escena, a 130-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Carol: Are there any particular challenges, whether with the codes or concepts or clients when you are designing these types of buildings? For example, when you were asked to do the Air Force Chapel, how did you marry the military and the spiritual layers?

Chapel for the Air Force Village, a retirement community, San Antonio, Texas (rendering by Mike Amaya)
The triangular floor plan for the chapel

Anthony: That’s a complicated question, so I’ll answer in two parts. The first: You bring up what is one of the most challenging parts of architecture and maybe the most tedious. We’re talking about things like city codes, the permit process, and the science and engineering of making sure a building doesn’t fall down. We’re talking about client wishes, building program, square footage, and of course on top of all of this is the budget and the schedule. There are all sorts of these kind of technical aspects that we have to problem solve. Once we get those taken care of, we then, on top of all of that, have to add the artistry. We have to then add our creativity.

It’s kind of like learning a piece of music. Say you’re learning a Mozart sonata and there are literally 10,000 notes to learn to play correctly—to get each note perfect as it was written by the composer. But once you do that, it’s not considered music yet. That’s just painting by numbers. That’s just getting each note correct. After you’ve done that, and that can take years, you then have to add your interpretation. You have to add your story, your style, your idea of what that Mozart sonata really is about.

Chapel exterior (rendering by Mike Amaya)

To jump to your second part of the question, we did a proposal for a chapel at a retirement village for the Air Force in San Antonio, Texas. You talked about marrying the practical and the spiritual, and that’s exactly how we viewed it. We studied sanctuary spaces and gathering spaces, assembly halls, and considered what would be the most effective kind of floor plan. We came up with a triangular floor plan that allows all of the attention to focus to the front of the chapel. But it was more than just a geometric exercise. We added to our composition metaphors of the Air Force, of heroicism, of strength, a majestic character. And we took that triangular form and gave it a presence on the outside where the building reaches for the sky. In that sense, it became a metaphor for the Air Force and how strength and heroic actions can lead to good things.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial

Carol: Well, I have to ask you about this project because of the name, the Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial.  Could you tell us something about that?

Anthony: That’s a proposal for a project in Virginia. And it’s haunting and extraordinary. There was a development in Alexandria where developers started to excavate the land to build commercial buildings. They came upon graves, coffins and bodies of the freed slaves. Obviously, construction stopped. The city asked for proposals of what to do, how to develop this. If it should be developed, what would be the right thing to do?

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

We designed a memorial park where half of area left all the burials as they were found. They were all given grave markers of stone. We created a path of wood that floated over the graves so that you can look upon and honor those who have been lost. We envision that the brass handrail of this wooden path would have names etched on the metal. The path lands in the other portion of the city block, where we designed a park as a gift back to the community.

Contraband & Freedmen’s Cemetery Memorial (rendering by Olek Zemplinski)

Carol: More and more, we see that there are two camps. One is no color, just white, white, white.  The other camp is: Let’s just pour on the most hideous colors so that my building shines. What is your take on color for your projects?

Anthony: Color is a whole philosophy. You’ll have architects like Richard Meier who primarily uses white. He’ll explain that through the color white, we see all the colors of the rainbow. You’ll have all of the Post-Modernists from the ’70s and ’80s using a lot of colors as a reaction to modernism and abstract art. Post-Modernists used pastels and bright colors. Michael Graves used burgundy and peach and orange and ochre.

Linea, a 14-production-home community by Poon Design, Palm Springs, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

Our view is that color is a specific analysis and study for every project. There are projects where we believe the project should have a neutral palette. There are projects that we believe color should be used. For example, we’ve done a community in Palm Springs called Linea . It’s 14 homes. All the homes are white, intentionally so. They’re white inside. They’re white outside. The cabinets are white. The flooring is white. The countertops are white. Some might argue that this is very clinical or very sterile. We see it as being tranquil and peaceful. We see it as reflecting the maximum amount of sunlight coming in through the windows.
We also see it, importantly so, as a blank canvas for the owner of this house to add their own personality, to bring in their own colors of their life, whether it’s in the furniture, the art on the wall, a throw, the window treatment, or the colors they wear as clothing, as they move through this very calming environment.

Greenman Elementary School, School District 129, Aurora, Illinois (by Anthony Poon w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates)

On the other hand, we’ve done projects for schools where we think for an elementary school, there should be some vibrant colors to energize the space. In one elementary school that we did in Chicago, in the hallway for the windows we used red, green and yellow glass set in as accent pieces within the regular clear glass window system. In this way, kids can look back out at the world and see it through the lens of red, see it through the lens of yellow, to see what the world looks like. Colors becomes an educational device, something to alter your perception, to have their mind wonder.

Colorful glass tile shower, Encino, California (photo by Poon Design)

#27: A MIGHTY CITY FREEZES OVER, PART 2 OF 4

January 23, 2016

Central Park (photo by Denis Balin)

Not long after Manhattan’s ochre and sepia autumn, gentle blowing breezes become fiercely gusting winds. Winter’s gale wants so perversely to whip the flesh off our bones. It seems as if the city might blow away. Merciless, it was my first New York December. Circa 1986, a-city-freezing-over.

Snow appears shortly, a freeze paralyzing a monumental city. Sharp icy spirits bite my body. My skin, a brittle armor, feels weak and fragile—like the first thin layer of ice over a vast lake. As wind chills my stone dry face, snow starts to gather along my eyelids. The gust of a snowstorm. This frigid onslaught.

Midtown, New York, New York (photo by Crazy Frankenstein)
Midtown, New York, New York (photo by Crazy Frankenstein)

Days pass and snow continues to fall. Falling from nowhere in particular, trying so damn hard to cover the Earth, the snow stays afloat in circles of windy nonsense.

All is white. A severe week of this albinism weakens the city, strips the land not just of pigmentation, but of courage as well. Everyone hides inside. Different than a yellow and orange fall, a new color scheme is upon me. This palette is of white nothingness, aggressive in its modesty.

Around the city, I see colorless loosely-formed shapes, rounded soft configurations, like a world made child-safe. Everything is homogenous: an opaque white Jell-O poured into a city-scale mold.

At night, snow reflects the downward light from street lamps back upward. Peculiar because light is rarely thought of as illuminating up from the ground. Imagine walking on light. Imagine no shadows. Every piece of this mighty city has been ungrounded.

Grand Central, New York, New York (photo by White Spaces)
Grand Central, New York, New York (photo by White Spaces)

Any evidence that might suggest a breathing city, vanishes under a deep blanket of white silence. The town freezes to a death-like passivity. The great city lays low in forced hibernation. The quiet death I witness is poignant. The white repose is gentle as it is also frightening. A metropolis brought to its begging knees, is immobilized into delicate foreboding beauty. When a community sleeps a sleep as deep as this, the apparent finality is conclusive enough to rival mortality itself.

As the snow finally stops falling, as ice softens, the inhabitants come slowly out of their hiding places to once again stomp as they will, eager to take back their environment. The city turns an ugly scene of brown mud and slush. The colorless beauty I saw only moments ago is now trampled on by belligerent life. This vigor of street activity pecks away at winter’s lush blanket, leaving it a dirty muddy mess. I prefer the elegance of a resting death to this combative unattractive life.

© Poon Design Inc.