Tag Archives: YUBA CITY

GOOD APPLES

November 25, 2016

Career training building in foreground; multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria in background (photo by Gregory Blore)

I have clients that make getting out of bed worth the effort, after I have fallen asleep at 2:30 a.m. working on their project. These are clients that show up early to my office, eager to see the freshest designs for their vacation house or new church. They find joy in my creative process.

For a good client, architecture takes on an extraordinary role. (This is a counterpoint essay to my recent one, Bad Apples.)

Sketch of Feather River Academy (drawing by Anthony Poon, A4E)
Sketch of Feather River Academy (drawing by Anthony Poon, A4E)

With my Pasadena studio named A4E, I served Superintendent Jeff Holland, designing an innovative campus in Yuba City, California. Named Feather River Academy, this “alternative education program” teaches students who have failed in traditional academic venues.

My business partner Gaylaird and I proposed a straightforward but innovative approach: let the students design their school.

Jeff supported this off beat approach, which landed me in a kick-off “client” meeting with disaffected youth, some accompanied by their parole officers, some single mothers at 15. If one were to assume that this group of lost teenagers would not be engaged in a stuffy architectural process, one would assume incorrectly.

Me and my Kit-of-Parts, with students in hands-on design meeting (photo by A4E)
Me and my Kit-of-Parts, with students in hands-on design meeting (photo by A4E)

At this first meeting, I showed up with a tabletop-size physical model of the site. I also arrived with what eventually became a signature of mine over the years, the Kit-of-Parts.

Kit-of-Parts. For each programmatic element of this new school, I brought colored blocks of foamcore: classrooms, gym, cafeteria, offices, art room, etc. Green and tan cardboard represented the outdoor areas: basketball court, social spaces and parking. I made all my pieces to scale. The clients/students literally had the building blocks of their future school.

Classrooms on left; special education building on right (photo by Gregory Blore)
Classrooms on left; special education building on right (photo by Gregory Blore)
Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria on the left; the administration building on the right (photo by Gregory Blore)
Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria on the left; the administration building on the right (photo by Gregory Blore)

I quickly learned from the students: no to big buildings, yes to a village of smaller buildings, nothing institutional or prison-like. They wanted classrooms directly adjacent to the basketball court, sought an open campus feel of one-story structures, and so on. The design results of these sessions became the basis of the entire campus plan.

Furthering the participatory process, our studio hosted one of these students as an architectural intern, so as to be part of developing his own school, while learning at a professional design company.

At the time to present to the Board of Education in a large televised public hearing, this same student, once labeled “at-risk,” was our primary presenter. The Board received his presentation and personal statements with applause. Feather River Academy opened its doors in 2005, and shortly after, was honored with a dozen national design awards.

Design drawing for village of classroom (drawing by Glen Hensley, A4E)
Design drawing for village of classroom (drawing by Glen Hensley, A4E)

Guilty of profiling, I have categorized my best clients. Those of us in the service industry relying on customers, we all know these people.

The Experienced and The Knowledgeable
The Charitable and The Big Hearted
The Personal and The Empathetic
The Once-In-A-Lifetime and The Probably Never Again
The Excited and The Appreciative
The Remarkable and The Ground Breakers

There is no end to clients that are professional, altruistic, generous, sympathetic, cheerful, unwavering, heroic, and inventive. Some are veritable humanitarians, and some are even spiritual deities. Literally. See: To Accommodate and To Defer.

Though there are bad clients, the ones that send me home shrieking with frustration, the ones where money is lost, and the ones that literally frighten me—it is the good clients that get me up every morning.

Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria (photo by Gregory Blore)
Multipurpose building, gym and cafeteria (photo by Gregory Blore)

ARCHITECTURE FOR LEARNING

August 28, 2015

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

Certainly, Poon Design has designed luxury estates for A-listers, Michelin-rated restaurants, and hospitality projects for cities like Beverly Hills.

Moreover, Poon Design thrives for a greater good. We embrace our opportunities for a higher social purpose, where vital agendas advance the lives of individuals and their communities. Of all our project types, we find ourselves grounded when designing educational buildings and campuses.

The school is one of the most influential works of architecture. Whether for a child, teenager, young adult or lifelong learner, architecture for knowledge substantiates one’s existence. Poon Design’s solutions promote curiosity, embrace social interaction, and inspire leadership, whether it is for an elementary school, student union or university library.

I have been fortunate, having designed over 50 educational projects. Focusing on young students, the four schools below tell my story of designing for Pre-K to 12th grade. (Future posts will discuss my work for higher education.)

Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Mike Amaya)
Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

BEL AIR PRESBYTERIAN PRESCHOOL, Los Angeles, California

As the first structured environment a child experiences, a preschool serves as both an introduction to the world and one’s first civic duty. At 23,000 square feet perched high in the Santa Monica Mountains, our “Village of Discovery” is ambitious: 120 students, 11 classrooms, 5 play yards, 3 pavilions for library/music/art, multipurpose hall, and administration building.

Poon Design’s vision delivers a community of small scaled, cedar buildings with large sheltering overhangs. Features include bamboo classroom flooring, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and an amphitheater.

Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Mike Amaya)
Central courtyard, Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool, Los Angeles, California, by Poon Design (rendering by Amaya)

GREENMAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, West Aurora, Illinois

This 63,000-square foot school finds innovative ways for the performing arts to flourish. The extra-wide staircase doubles as audience seating for impromptu performances. Second story balconies overlook double height spaces. Window compositions express rhythm and harmony. The 700 students are arranged in seven Small Learning Communities, alongside facilities for students of Aurora University—for hands-on, in-classroom training of future teachers.

top: Lobby and amphitheater staircase; bottom: Street façade, Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)
top: Lobby and amphitheater staircase; bottom: Street façade, Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)

HERGET MIDDLE SCHOOL, West Aurora, Illinois

With the metaphor of the American heartland, our 113,000-square foot school for 850 students sits as a heroic farmhouse on the 38-acre rural property.

Why do most schools have a monotonous narrow hallway, flanked by metal lockers? For our design, the light filled hallway is no hallway. It is 60 feet wide (not the standard 12 feet) and 30 feet tall (not the standard 9 feet). Rather than merely circulation, our groundbreaking energy-filled hall IS the library, technology center, life skills lab, and wood shop. Field stone, standing seam metal, brick walls, and wood plank details capture the vernacular design metaphor. Roof lines recall the old barns that once stood on the site.

top: Technology center and “Grand Hall”; bottom: Overall view, Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)
top: Technology center and “Grand Hall”; bottom: Overall view, Herget Middle School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E and Cordogan, Clark & Associates, photos by Mark Ballogg)

FEATHER RIVER ACADEMY, Yuba City, California

Rather than design a single building with parking in front and playfields in back, we explore the school’s mission statement of “Learning in Action,” by interweaving the program across the entire property. The 25,000 square foot, 180-student school serves students referred by the probation department, expelled by their local schools, or even homeless.

Our undulating roofs create an ever-changing journey—symbolic of the path of learning. The campus itself is an open textbook, where aspects of the architecture teaches. As one example, the paving has the solar system inscribed in the concrete, where the paths of the planets arc throughout the property. An illustration of Pluto marks the school’s entry, Earth is described in the central courtyard, and the sun is represented by an eight-foot tall sundial.

top: Special education building and classroom buildings; bottom: Multipurpose and administration buildings, Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photos by Gregory Blore)
top: Special education building and classroom buildings; bottom: Multipurpose and administration buildings, Feather River Academy, Yuba City, California, by Anthony Poon (w/ A4E, photos by Gregory Blore)

We are honored to have received dozens of local and national design awards from KnowledgeWorks, DesignShare, Edutopia, Illinois Association of School Boards, and the American School & University Magazine, just to name a few.

Most significantly, our work has been honored twice with the National Grand Prize, given jointly from Learning By Design, The American Institute of Architects, and National School Boards Associations—for the best designed school in the country.

“School District 129 is fortunate to have Anthony Poon learn about us, and capture our spirit and beliefs about education in the buildings we will build for our children. I believe that Anthony’s thinking and his work is extraordinary, and will find its way to many honors. He will create the future dreams of this nation.” – Dr. Sherry Eagle, former Superintendent in West Aurora, Illinois, and Executive Director for the Institute for Collaboration at Aurora University.

© Poon Design Inc.