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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mentors and Friends: Two Very Special Men

Mentors and Friends: Two Remembrances
Each of us has many mentors who have guided and influenced us in life by their guidance, kindness, or excellence as people. Those people who shape us are few and far between - and I have been very lucky to have had two mentors and friends who recently passed away. They are sorely missed.

Jerry Allison FAIA - 1932 - 2011
I was working for Architects Hawaii in Honolulu in the mid 1970s when I became involved in photographing and writing for the monthly magazine produced for the Hawaii Chapter of the AIA, and I was introduced to Jerry Allison. I was immediately impressed with his drawing ability and storytelling talent, and how he could generate ideas from a small kernel of information - a quotation, a clipping from a magazine, a shard of pottery - they all fed his creativity and became the basis for his approach to design. He approached life with a playfulness that appeared in the architecture of exotic resorts that became his trademark. We often talked of the need for a strong story line in every endeavor undertaken - in a sense, a screenplay outlining the drama and character of the design. Jerry did lots of research to make sure that the resorts WATG designed were always "of the place" they were located. Whether in South Africa or South Asia and the Pacific, one always knew fabulous resort hotels designed by WATG belonged to the environment where they were sited.
We both moved from Hawaii to California in the late 70s - early 80s, and only got together every year or so - I was in the San Francisco Bay area, and he was in Newport Beach, and our paths didn't cross that often. In later years, we saw each other frequently at gatherings of Hospitality Design Magazine's Platinum Circle, an honor we both treasured and delighted in. When I think of Jerry it will always be how much fun he had telling the story with almost childlike delight, and what he did with it either as a sketch, a birdhouse, or a ceramic bowl. He had a great life, but I miss him.

Naokuni Arita 1941-2011
In 2002 I received a call at my office from Kobe, Japan from a representative of Mr. N. Arita, who had seen EDG's design for Wolfgang Puck's Spago restaurant at the Four Seasons Maui, looked us up on the web, and wanted us to design the concept for a new confectionery concept in Japan. He wanted to know whether I could be in Kobe the following week. I said that I was too busy, and would have to think about it. After doing some research on Mr. Arita and his Henri Charpentier and C3 concepts, and his company, Good Earth, my partner and I decided that we could set up a meeting with him "halfway" in Honolulu. I flew to Honolulu and met Mr. Arita for afternoon tea at the Halekulani Hotel, and through an interpreter began the process of getting to know each other. We then decided I should go to Japan to survey his existing shops, tea rooms, and restaurants and write a report on their competition with the idea of coming up with a new American concept. For the next two years our team led by Jennifer Johanson and Patrick O'Hare crossed the Pacific frequently, and ended up developing a prototype called "SUGAR". Unfortunately, the Japanese economic climate made it impossible to undertake the project, and none were built. However, EDG won a Hospitality Design Magazine Design Award for "Best Unbuilt Project" in 2005 and shared it with Mr. Arita.
Mr. Arita had exquisite taste and amazing design knowledge - his impressive white marble offices filled with mid-century furniture masterpieces and the full set of Vitra miniatures was a treat to behold and be part of. We both had a long standing appreciation for the work of Carlo Scarpa.
He treated us as VIPs, taking us to the best restaurants, letting us explore the unique retail landscape of Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, and was receptive and always respectful of our designs. He loved all things modern, and beamed when he showed us his baby blue 1956 Lincoln Continental that he kept at the main baking facility. If you get to Japan, visit the Henry Charpentier Tea Room and Bar in a restored 1920s bank building in the Ginza. The elegant design of the pstries and cookies in an amazingly elegant modern space are worth a special trip. I learned a lot from Mr. Arita, enjoyed his company immensely, and am depply affected by his recent death.

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