Architect Crush: Anthony Poon
1. How did you get your start in design and architecture?
 
It all started with Lego, and some crayons and paper. I was four or five. I liked to make things, to create things, to dream things. I envisioned worlds for my toy dinosaurs, a fantasy land for my bug collection, and a place where my stuffed animals could have in depth conversations. I made endless plastic models of cars, planes and spaceships. Whether scissors and cardboard, or a butter knife and clay, I got my hands on any tool and material that could be part of the obsessive process. This led me to think up civilizations where everyone would be able to be who they are destined to be. As I grew up, I realized that there was a design job out there for me to chase such dreams. And being an architect was this job.
 
2. Tell us about your book, Sticks and Stones / Steel and Glass: One Architect’s Journey.
 
Three forces resulted in me publishing my first book. First, the roller coaster stories of being an architect seemed to entertain my friends. Second, having finished reading Anthony Bourdain’s, Kitchen Confidential, why shouldn’t there be a similar book about the behind-the-scenes of the design world? And third, the world was becoming more passionate about design each day, from HGTV to Dwell, from Restoration Hardware to CB2, from Martha Stewart to Brad Pitt getting a job at Frank Gehry’s office, from going green to prefab homes. These three forces created a perfect storm. Part auto-biographical, part behind-the-scenes, part rants and raves, and part critical essays, my book tells a personal story for general audiences (and architects too) that want to sneak a peek into the artistic journey.
 
3. Describe one of your most memorable projects.
 
Over five years ago, Poon Design embarked on a groundbreaking agenda for designing housing in California. We wanted to re-invent the tract housing industry, also known as production housing: Design residences that are Modern, green and affordable. Most production homes were traditional in style with small windows and wedding-cake-like décor, which I called “Taco Bell design.” In collaboration with developer/designer Andrew Adler, Poon Design created uber-contemporary homes that looked like multi-million dollar estates, but were constructed for a fraction of the price. We called our thesis, “Modern for the Masses.” Within a few years, we designed, completed and sold over 200(!) homes in the Palm Springs region. Recently, our work was honored with the 2018 highest national award from The American Institute of Architects.
 
4. You’re also a musician—what’s your musical background and what role does music play in your work? Does it inspire you?
 
I was classically-trained starting around six years old. I performed in regional concerts in the San Francisco area, ultimately studying music alongside architecture at UC Berkeley. For my graduate thesis at Harvard, I investigated how the improvisational process of making jazz might influence the way we make architecture. Today, music inspires all I do, whether it is a continuous soundtrack of tunes shuffling at my desk, or having the Poon Design team work spontaneously like a jazz ensemble—where there are no wrong notes, and every impromptu idea has merit. I still play every morning and night, as I think about how structure, harmony, rhythm, melody, and counterpoint are not just ideas in music, but also in design.
 
5. What do you think sets California design and architecture apart?
 
We are blessed by the climate, the sun, the ocean, and the endless horizon. In California, some of the most desirable aspects of architecture have a reason: the open floor plan, indoor/outdoor connections, abundance of natural light, and so on. Also, California is a venue for a youthful and free approach to design. Decades ago, I worked in New York City and Boston. Both towns are wonderful, but how could a young architect make a name for himself within the centuries-old framework of architectural history and design expectations? California allows us all to be whoever we want to be, and our designs follow this streak of spirited exploration.
 
6. Which musical album or artist has been most influential in your life and why?
 
There are two: Thelonious Monk and Ludwig van Beethoven. Monk had a way of making the most odd sounds and rhythms, even discordant harmonies, sound beautiful and lyrical. Single handedly, Beethoven changed the course of musical evolution. His later works are still intensely studied today, as I do, as we try to figure out why/how his Late Great Piano Sonatas are more modern than musical works of today. Both artists inspire my way of thinking: juxtaposing things, improvising, and trying hard to make a difference.
 
7. What’s your ideal vacation destination and why?
 
My ideal vacation will always be where I have yet to travel, and this changes daily. So I guess for this week that means Vienna for the reasons above, Tokyo for the sushi, and Bali to finally take a nap.
 
Lightning round!
 
8. Early bird or night owl?   
                 
Night owl, sometimes into the wee hours. But able to get up early if I have to.            
 
9. Salty or sweet?
 
Ideally, a plate of salted fries and a slice of chocolate cake.
 
10. Coffee or tea?
 
Decaf tea. Anything caffeinated can keep me up for days.
 
11. Netflix or night out?
 
How about going for a wonderful night on the town, followed by snuggling in with Netflix afterwards?