The following writings are selections authored by Eugene Tsui from various publications, essays, lectures and speeches within the last three years
(excerpt from the book, Evolutionary Architecture: Nature As A Basis For Design, by Eugene Tsui)
It is the birthright of every human being to live in a world of beauty; a world that is concordant with the needs and aspirations of the innermost and highest elemental powers in humankind and is expressive of the supreme intelligence and spiritual powers manifest in nature.
Those who would be true to their inner, higher selves must, necessarily, possess a countenance of dignity and love in daily living and through their work. Work, thus imbued, is but a glimmer of our latent spiritual powers and is truly a reflection of the invisible workings of God made visible. It is the nature and substance of all that is and all that is becoming. It is our responsibility to illuminate the darkness of ignorance that permeates our world and aspire to greater insights and discoveries, thus deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, of which we are an integral part.
We need not more security-minded persons, not more image seekers, not more obedience to the established pattern of living, but men and women of vision, who see the urgency of a new way of living: a life in communion with the benison of beauty in nature and the intrinsic dignity and interconnectedness of human life.
We are an alembic and are powerfully creative individuals. This is our divine gift. Yet, we have lost our direction and have become obdurate and fearful. We wish to reach out from our loneliness but we are afraid. In our fear, we take great pains to conform unquestioningly to the dictates of society. Here is where our natural powers become subservient to the opinions of the hour. We lose ourselves to the imitative process that abounds everywhere, and the world loses the potential for profound change.
An architect is much more than a designer of buildings, an organizer of space or an interpreter of utilitarian functions. An architect is a poet of the human heart. From a responsive and poetic heart proceeds works of beauty that are naturally vigorous and original, for such work shines forth from an inner vitality and vision.
It has become a pervasive misconception that the dreamer is one who does not act. To dream is the greatest and most noble act of humanity; the world would be a desolate and joyless place were it not for its dreamers. The dreamer sees into the heart of humankind and listens to the voice of nature.
To dream, to think and to act is the sacred calling of humanity. To attain the heights of power and possibility in the mind, one must dream. To dream is to create life; the greatest creator is he or she who is a lifelong dreamer. The dreamer shall always be in possession of a far-reaching eye, a questioning, vital mind, a formidable will and clarity of vision.
The world has far too few dreamers and far too many ambitious conformists. If we are to fulfill our destiny and become all that we can become as individuals in the family of humanity, then we must listen to our inner voices and consider the source of our life on earth. We must never forget that as we heighten and deepen our understanding of ourselves and of nature, so shall we raise and strengthen the consciousness of the whole of humanity.
Speech at north carolina State University
BY EUGENE TSUI GIVEN FEBRUARY 3, 2003 WITHERSPOON CINEMA THEATER NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, USA
Please allow me to begin by thanking David Schroeder, a recent graduate of your Landscape Architecture department, for having the enthusiasm to find a way to bring me here today. David could you please stand and show yourself? I wish also to thank the Harrelson lecture committee, Prof. Dennis Werner and University Chancellor Mary Ann Fox for organizing this lecture. Could Chancellor Fox and the Committee please stand? Thank you.
If we look around our world today, at the general state of humanity, at the built world we have fashioned, we can see that the attitudes and events of our times are shaped by violent chaos, confusion, and disregard. The arrogance of Man against Man, belief against belief and Man against nature is a tragic story, which continues to this day. The trouble with our world today is that we have allowed the physical means by which we live to outdistance the inquisitive and spiritual ends for which we live. We find ourselves caught in a desperate and turbulent world of our own making. Through our technological genius we have made the world a neighborhood but by succumbing to our fears we have failed to make it a brother and sisterhood. The real danger facing civilization today is within the heart and soul of each of us and our architecture is a clear reflection of this.
Through the veil of time conformity and ignorance controls our lives. A deep chasm forever divides image and truth. We often find ourselves trying to be somebody else. Our human made environments conspire to alienate and extinguish our sense of dignity and artistic power shutting ourselves off from one another behind soulless walls of brick and steel. And what about the living things around us who have no voice? What voice do the fearful and oppressed have among us? What voice do the birds and trees, the rivers, the sky and stars have? When the oceans are turned black and the sun is but a distant lantern hanging in a bleak landscape how shall we survive?
Yes my friends, now is the time in history where we must take a risk for humanity. A risk for all living things. A risk to work with nature not against it. This is what we need today. Not men and women concerned with the image of themselves. But men and women willing to ask what will happen to the world if I do not help. What will happen to the world if we let it erode away by the misuse of human ingenuity and freedom?
Some how we must break this chain of hate, arrogance and conformity in this world.
It is my hope, that in the not too distant future people will look back at these times and say, there lived a people that were not afraid to turn their backs on the edicts of society, who were not afraid to turn away from the violent consequences of symbolism, nationalism and profiteering. A people who tried to bring beauty and sanity to the world; who tried to live by truth, who tried to express their own imaginative uniqueness and vitality in daily life!
Where does one learn this sense of beauty, this intelligence that brings order and responsibility? It is found in the mind of god itself. And nature is the only true body of god that we shall ever know. Nature is the open book of knowledge lifted to cosmic proportions. It is a force of intelligence that dwarfs human comprehension. A force that can reveal the solutions to problems that have plagued mankind since the beginning of time. A force that can inject new life and meaning into the veins of humanity.
And so my friends, I conclude by saying, that the world needs changing! Not in a little while. Not in some distant future, but here and now!
Every day the body and soul of another human being is demeaned. Every day the profound secrets of nature are blighted by the grotesque greed of consumerism. Every day another child is further calloused by the shallow emptiness of our built world. Every day our inquisitive, artistic and spiritual powers are severed by habitual routine.
To put it broadly, our passion for life is checked. We thus live far below our unique capabilities.
We must rise up from this! We must show the world the value and power of human dignity. Ours is the chance to change the world! To create a heaven on earth the way that nature has intended us to create it! Knowing is not enough! We must go out and do it!!
Speech at Chicago humanities Festival
BY EUGENE TSUI GIVEN NOVEMBER 8, 2002 HAROLD WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY AUDITORIUM
My friends I am happy to see all of you here today I look over this audience and I am so happy to see the spark of life in the eyes of so many I am truly honored to have the opportunity to speak before you this day.
It has been said that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The idea I speak about is the idea of humanity and nature as design partners in the creation of a new dimension of human understanding.
This understanding is based upon the fact that nature is the supreme architect and designer of all living things. And it has had 5 billion years time to practice- to evolve and perfect its designs. It is nature that can create structures that can resist forces thousands of times its own weight. Can our buildings do this? Our buildings cannot even resist ONE times their own weight. It is nature that can create self-regulating energy systems that need no mechanical power for cooling and heating. Do we have such buildings? It is nature that can create structures that adapt and change according to changing conditions. Do we have such buildings? If we look at a simple Daisy flower we can see how it opens and closes and how every part of the flower is unified with every other part.
But not only that. If we look back thousands of years to the past, we might see the ruthless and calculated geometries of Egyptian cities supporting an aristocracy of social caste. We can look back to the the fortresses of ancient Europe and Asia whose policed walls separate peasant and royal court. If we examine the cathedrals, temples and mosques that pit belief against belief, man against man in a bloody history of religious persecution and war. Maybe we can come to see that our past assumptions of architecture must be questioned! What do these examples represent? They represent humanity against humanity and humanity against nature with disastrous results!
We have created this built environment almost as if human beings did not matter. In these times we have let industry, consumerism and profiteering define our very culture and architectural landscape. Row upon row of monotonous sameness that blights almost every nation of the world like a poisonous disease. The glass and steel monuments to man, which alienate and demean human dignity by their sterile and mechanistic spaces. Why do we look backwards to the dated styles of the past for our homes? We are capable of so much more now. We are different people in a different new world.
I know you are thinking, “What’s wrong with the way things are now?” “What’s wrong with the conventional–with being normal?” I have a message that I would like to leave with you this day. That is exactly why there is a problem. For we know that it is normalcy that under natural conditions our buildings are easily burned by fires, swept away by floods, blown asunder by hurricanes and tornadoes, collapsed by earthquakes and that thousands of human beings every year are killed by these events.
It is normalcy that we seal ourselves off from fresh air only to breath the contaminated machine air of our buildings only to succumb to the “sick building syndrome” of our own making.
It is normalcy that we open our doors and windows only to look out onto the banal and brummagem (tawdry) city and suburban landscape which numbs and alienates our soul leading to the angry, despairing and estranged attitudes of people and to the loneliness of a meaningless and removed landscape.
It is normalcy that our architecture demeans us by its very repetition and uniformity leaving us perishing on a lonely island of obscurity amidst the striking beauty and diversity of nature’s beauty.
It is normalcy that takes the ardor and imaginative dreams of youth and reduces them to the somber and predictable consumerism of well-adjusted automatons.
Yes, it is normalcy that propagates a society which conditions its citizens to buy what they don’t genuinely need, to be who they are not and fashion a world without meaningful self-reflection, imagination and vision.
My friends, if you will allow me to conclude; now is the time to look deeply in nature’s processes for solutions to our moral, architectural and spiritual evolution. Now is the time to learn from our mistakes and create a heaven on earth for ourselves, for our children and for those yet unborn. Now is the time to create works of originality that will release humanity from the manacles of dependency, fear and conformity to the buoyant freedom of enlightened imagination!
Architecture is that living, ceaseless and invisible force which seeks visible expression in the sentient world. It is nature’s thoughts come alive in all living things. It is the power of life itself differentiating and seething with diversity and interconnected order.
Humanity has no future unless we first affirm that we are, above all, emotional beings with an emotional life that must be addressed. Architecture that does not address our emotional needs is not architecture; it is utilitarian shelter contrived by the ignorant or by pompous fools of mediocre ability.
It is the outward appearance of a building that first interests us but it is the inner substance of a building that keeps our interest. The soul of a building lies at the void between space and structure revealed by the continual movement of light and time. We must move now from the static, grid-like sense of rigid boxes to a moving, heaving, ever-changing space that is alive with spontaneity and mystery.
It is not too late to seek a new world–to sail beyond the sunset–to move both earth and heaven and to affirm our heroic heart, untouched by time and fate, ever strong in will to strive, to seek and to find–and not to yield.
Remind yourself that you must constantly look at things in another way. You must strive to find your own voice. No matter what anybody tells you–words, ideas and designs can change the world!
We do not seek the poetic because it is cute. We seek the poetic because we are members of the human race and the human race is filled with passion. The pursuit of a profession is noble and necessary to sustain life, but poetry, beauty, creativity and love; these are what we are alive for.
That we are here and life exists; and refuse to be another endless number of the faithless or to join the multitudes of the foolish, to find our own singular and unique originality and shout it to the world — that we might contribute a verse to the powerful, eternal poem of life.
While you live, know this; that there will never be another you ever again, and in 100 years everyone you have seen today will be gone. Therefore, risk all, be not another security-ridden follower of the commonplace. Be, instead, a leader of the audacious, a robust paragon of the bold!
Time does not exist if you work with nature, for your work will bear the countenance of immortality as all of nature is immutable and timeless; a tree, a flower, a majestic mountain–all are expressions of an eternal mind and intelligence from which we can learn and discover our true capacity.
For the first time in history architecture has a moral imperative to protect the earth and it’s people–to imbue every human being with a higher sense of responsibility and creative power. Now is the time for humanity and nature to work together as one interconnected intelligence to bring life where there was destruction. Now is the time to replace the dark despair of ignorance with the buoyant insight of originality and discovery and to destroy forever the constrictive edicts of unquestioned tradition and conformity. (Inside book cover under E.T.Is photograph) A building should have the ability to respond to changing climate and needs. The introduction of moving parts that adapt to varying conditions and are prominent structural and aesthetic features is something entirely new.
By working with nature, not against it, one can make ingenious designs that cannot be damaged by trying to resist the extremes of nature. Such designs work with the destructive force of nature, yielding to it, giving it no place to take hold.
No lie can live forever. A building must be a true expression of its materials and purpose. It must not be defined by human expectation and familiarity–like any free human being. A building that is true to itself shall look like nothing that has existed before it and nothing after it. It shall wear a countenance that is true to its time, its place and to the motivating forces that brought it into existence.
Using native materials of the site is the underlying requisite of natural building. Not only is economy of materials guaranteed, unity of building and site is assured. But these components, in themselves, do not necessarily make architecture as art. The art in architecture unfolds when materials and site are composed to reveal the highest revelations of human feeling and understanding–the insights of humanity’s immortal soul.
There are many geometries in this vast universe. That we choose one over another is a personal preference that often cannot be explained. Once chosen, the shape has a geometric integrity that is inherent to itself. This integrity is like the integrity of a human individual. If it is true then it cannot be corrupted , producing a power and beauty of its own–just like a person and just as seldom.
Color is a component of architecture that is often sadly lacking. Color is essential to the recognition and human ambiance of a building yet, commonly, it is the most neglected, diluted or altogether avoided aspect of architecture. Color expresses the spirit–the sense of life–the passionate demeanor of a building and its site. Color exudes emotion and architecture must have emotion. Architecture without emotion is a travesty which reduces our buildings to sterile shelters of the meaningless.
It is our own self-imposed limits, our unquestioned conditioning, that makes us judge wrongly. If architecture is to be truly meaningful it shall cause us to destroy the constraints of familiarity and the commonplace and to vigorously seek the unknown and untried. It is the ardor of human dignity facing the winds of the future.
By introducing the beauty and functional benefit of buildings with moving parts architecture is forever liberated from the heavy-handed and monolithic constraints that have characterized it from the beginning of time.
To thwart the odious lateral expansion and decimation of nature, by greed-driven and careless human beings, the body of humanity must inevitably grow upwards, into the sky, in order to preserve what natural surroundings still exist. With this is the necessity for a rebirth of education that informs us to practice a nurturing restoration and protection of nature for our mutual benefit and survival.
That we are instruments of a great idea is a privilege that happens only occasionally in human history. Nature and humanity are woven into a single garment of destiny, to the mutual goodness and survival of both, giving us an opportunity we must all grasp or parish as fools.
Humanity must rise above its commonplace built environment and live out its rightful capacity as creators of beauty and dignity. We must break the shameful chains of conformity and sameness. Now is the time to make a world where beauty of the human environment and the study of nature go hand-in-hand down the inevitable path of creative freedom.
We do not realize how practical and how necessary a beautiful environment is. Our cities are reprobate junk heaps of appalling ugliness closing in and sucking away our deep creative impulses. It is the development of our abiding need for beauty that sustains our true sense of well-being and genuine concern for the welfare of all living things.
An independent and mobile community, by its very nature, creates communal unity and mutual responsibility. Each individual feels him or herself to be an integral part of the functioning whole–an organic system. No where else is city as living organism more critical than in such a defined and interdependent environment.
To dream, and to make what was invisible in thought, a visible reality, is the great attribute that reveals the uniqueness of humankind. Thus can humanity know the thoughts of nature for nature is the eternal invisible living force that finds expression in the creation of living things.
Architecture possesses the power to transform an uninhabitable site to one of comfort and beauty. By using the naturally available resources of the site a parallel environment is created that both honors and utilizes the natural setting. The result is a building of striking appearance whose own design and sustenance is cultivated by and reliant upon nature.
Freedom from the known
FREEDOM FROM THE KNOWN It is a mark of creative will not to succumb to the indolence of familiar images and tradition; in a word–to be free from the known. There is an immeasurable difference between a mind that finds solace only in what exists and the mind that is not satisfied with what exists but wishes to seek the furthest reaches of the unknown; testing the unfeasible and prodding the audacious; rejoicing in this dialogue of impudence yet reaching for something not yet seen.
The skilled artist is not satisfied with merely testing the unknown; he or she is forever questioning and re-questioning and still questioning again, the aspects of possibility–bringing these possibilities into physical form; ever beckoning the potential of failure. But failure is a prerequisite to achievement and there is no such thing as a mistake”. Mistakes can initiate a wholly new direction and dimension of understanding. Mistakes and accidents” bring fresh possibility into view. They are fertile events that reveal vital new discoveries and directions.
At the highest level the artist is a scientist, an inventor, a probing individual who never ceases to question even though the answers may be completely contrary to everything we have come to know. But this is not enough. These discoveries must be revealed and infused with life. This requires great courage. The greatest artist is he or she that encompasses the greatest dimensions of thought and observation which transform the experiences of everyday life.
To defy the edicts of convention, even for its own sake, is a telling and necessary feature of life truly lived–the art of living–the passion for life countenanced in everything one creates. Art is not the application of technique. It is not merely the result of skilled action. Art is there when one becomes the kind of person who is compelled to create. To such a person creation is all that matters. The passion to produce–to make visible what was once invisible. To question, explore and see results, to be compelled by this incessant and unrelenting force, this great motivating vitality, is the beginning of art. Art is there when desire is there. The desire to see what has not been seen before. Art defies because the artist defies. One becomes the kind of personality who can and does question and create.
Creation is a kind of madness. It is an imbalance in the same way that our bodies, to move forward, must be off-balance. To move forward, to venture forth and delve into the unknown, requires an impetuous and tenacious vision. For such vision to sustain a continued life it must have universal meaning. Such vision is a hunger for freedom, freedom from that which has been. The results of such desire is a return to the origins–the seed-germ of originality. True originality has a profound relatedness with the origins of things; and the origins of all things are found in nature. Understanding the origins of things requires tremendous inquisitiveness, energy and intelligence.
It is a misconception that intelligence is seated in the mind–in the brain. Intelligence is present in every cell of our body and is interconnected with all aspects of our being; our emotional, psychological, spiritual, intellectual and physical life. We are a unified whole. What effects one aspect of our living being effects all aspects of it. An individual whose emotional life has been tortured and torn asunder is going to have a recognizably injured and debilitating psychological, spiritual and social life. This is a historical fact. Such individuals expend a great deal of energy compensating for their inner turmoil. They may appear erudite and accomplished but inside they are profoundly wounded; and unless one faces ones wounds one will always be seeking to escape the truth.
The artist dares to look himself or herself squarely in the eyes and see the truth in all its terrifying reality. Truth is always more terrifying than imagination. Imagination has no substantive value unless it reveals the truth. Only when one affirms the truth of one’s inner and outward life can one begin to create meaningful works of enduring value. To see innocently, truthfully and with fresh eyes one must have inquisitiveness that is free; that is not identified with any particular thing but simply looking into everything everywhere. Such freedom implies putting aside all of the assumptions and expectations that we have identified with and accumulated over the past.
Why discuss art, creation, passion, discovery, freedom and life? Because this are the things that give meaning to life. These are the things that give beauty to our lives. These are the things that everyone craves yet few commit their lives to them. I say to you that these things are at the avowed core of life itself. Unless you dare to see the truth that is within you and in the world and take pains to correct that which is not correct, right that which is wrong, make beautiful that which is ugly, attend to that which is neglected and look at that which is hidden, you may one day realize, too late, that you had not lived.
Most of us have done what we have been told to do and quietly sail through the river of life on the waves of conditioning and conformity accomplishing that which will be tomorrow forgotten. We may one day realize that we lived a life conscribed by habitual routine and fleeting accomplishments. Momentary acknowledgments are as Daffodils on our grave. Time passes and we have not seized life. We have merely played our calm part on a temporal stage; and that is the problem–we have been calm all our lives. Rise up I say and defy the crushing weight of obscurity. Dare to seek out your god-given powers and reveal them for all to behold! Free yourself from the known! Sing of life’s joy, sorrow and passion–of beauty and death and rebirth and create that which has eternal value. THAT is art! THAT is life!
Selected new york times newspaper article
EUGENE TSUI: HERO AND VISIONARY OF OUR TIMES, By Mr. Kevin Fahey, AIA, October 25, 2003
The fictional hero, Howard Roarke, was author and philosopher Ayn Rand’s great hero and architect, the “ideal man” as she saw it—a hero to the 40 million or more Americans who bought and read the book since it’s publication in 1943. It was made into a movie starring Gary Cooper in 1949 and translated into 27 languages to date. Life inevitably imitates art. But to this day in the profession of architecture, and the world at large, there has not emerged an individual whom we can undisputedly call a “hero”. We have designers and scientific innovators, creative artists, social and environmental activists, philosophers and captains of industry. We have creative egotists, athletes, movie actors and politicians everywhere, self-serving and famous. But they are not the kind of people that we want our children to emulate. They are not “heros” in the highest sense. Just successful faces in an image-permeated society. In these crazy and fear-ridden times an emerging hero would be a welcome comfort, a breath of fresh air in the socially toxic affairs of the world .
The word, Hero, comes from the Latin, Servare; to protect, and generally describes a person that performs exceptional service to humankind; an admirable individual of high honor and creative vision whose life and work is devoted to the betterment of humanity. Perhaps such a person just does not exist anymore; or we just don’t know of such people in our midst—until now.
Eugene Tsui is an architect, a hero figure to many, and much more. He is a casting director’s dream of the hero/architect; wearing flowing capes and clothes of his own design, a stirring and eloquent public speaker, a photogenic and engaging leader, a man dedicated to changing the injustices of the world we live in and to the destruction of unquestioned convention and the apathy of the status quo, a powerful educator whose office is a school for creativity and social consciousness. He is a multi-dimensional personality accomplished in many fields simultaneously; champion athlete awarded by two U.S. Presidents, performing musician, martial arts expert, inventor, scientist and fine artist. He is a hero to a growing international population of persons, young and old, educated and uneducated, artistic and non artistic, urban and rural, academic and professional, from all walks of life and backgrounds.
Fantastic as it seems, Eugene Tsui’s life actually parallels the Howard Roarke figure created by Ayn Rand; he was expelled four times from prominent architecture schools on the east and west coasts (but earned four professional degrees in record time), his early exhibitions caused upsetting controversy and near riots, he was ridiculed by academics and professionals alike, he was apprenticed to the maverick architect, Bruce Goff, the “wild man of architecture”, as quoted in the Encyclopedia Of Architecture, his designs continue to cause shock to Planning Commissions and be banned in residential neighborhoods, he created a wholly new paradigm in architecture 25 years ago and wrote a pioneering book, Evolutionary Architecture: Nature As A Basis For Design, 1999 (one of four books he’s written since then), and, like the heroic figure, Howard Roarke, he has designed, by far, the tallest, largest and longest buildable structures ever conceived by a human being, the two mile high one mile wide, Ultima Tower, the Nexus Mobile Floating Sea City (7 miles long, 3 miles wide) and a floating and submerged bridge over the Strait Of Gibraltar (10 miles long) connecting the continents of Europe and Africa.
The structural concepts he has devised, the use of materials, and methods of construction for these projects, are revolutionary, lightweight, economical and strongly ecological. He was a pioneer, 25 years ago, of the attitude that the preservation of nature and nature as a universal source of applicable design ideas, is the foundation of meaningful human made design. As he puts it, “I work with nature as a design partner and teacher and create as nature creates delving into the secrets of nature for solutions to problems that have plagued humanity for centuries”. Many prominent individuals support his outlook. Mr. Louis Marines, former National President of the American Institute of Architects describes Tsui, “His work is a striking combination of nature’s design thinking and unbridled artistic expression; a wonderful and much needed blend of the natural and the distinctively individual. He brings a compelling vision about a possible future in which our lives are enriched, our economic and natural sources are better used and our environment is healed and sustained”.
For instance, Tsui’s two mile high Ultima Tower uses a structural system of tensegrity columns—hollow, frameless masts that look like a string of kites linked together, that allow for support two miles high. The walls are also the same 40 cm thickness at the bottom and the top—an impossibility by today’s conventional steel frame and concrete design. From these tensegrity columns are hung a spectacular series of stainless steel cables that wrap and intersect each other, like a gigantic maypole or Sunflower pattern, reaching the entire two mile distance to earth. The “skin” of the building is made from reinforced glass, a layer of photovoltaic solar sheath panels, small, continuous windmills and a wind gate valve system that controls the flow of wind into the building. The composite skin of the structure breathes and is not sealed allowing natural air thinning to occur in the structure and up moving heat to transpire through the buildings walls.
So living at the bottom of Ultima Tower would be like living in California or Florida and living at the top would be like living in the highest mountains of Colorado. It produces no pollution and creates enough electrical power from its windmills and solar panels, to power itself and the area around itself for 100 miles! It’s an incredible design of daring ingenuity and flies directly in the face of conventional assumptions. It dwarfs and swallows up every structure ever devised by other architects including Frank Lloyd Wright’s mile high tower proposal.
Such spectacular and bold qualities are natural to his designs. Eugene Tsui’s built work, smaller in scale, are non-the-less revolutionary yet practical , comfortable and uplifting. His residential, educational and commercial designs are striking and have the added ability to resist disasters. For instance, the famous residence for his parents, William and Florence Tsui, written about and televised all over the world even to this day, is extremely unique and all custom designed and constructed. Tsui gives owners a lot for their money. He designs all the landscaping, the ecological technology, the furniture, the light fixtures and murals. And his buildings seem to grow out of their setting. He designs the site to work with the building so that the natural setting and the building seem to mutually exalt one another.
Descriptions of the features and structural daring of his designs, small and large, would take volumes. What can one say when everything Tsui designs is beyond the scope of conventional acceptance? His floating, mobile sea city design occupied an entire book as did his design for an educational and recreation theme park from which he wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley in 1988. In 2001 he designed an ecological theme park in southern China featuring buildings that move, expand and contract, open and close, portions of which were built. Earlier he designed a museum in Tossa De Mar, Spain, on the Spanish Riviera, that was unanimously cheered by the Mayor and townspeople and then went to Barcelona for federal approval. It was voted down by the Barcelona government on the grounds that they did not want Tsui’s design to compete with the work of Antonio Gaudi, their main tourist source of income. Such shortsightedness is criminal yet is part-and-parcel to Eugene Tsui, whose vision is sometimes feared rather than positively exploited.
Eugene Tsui’s publications form a list ten pages long and he has been on just about every major documentary television program in the world; National Geographic, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, The History Channel, The McNeil/Lehrer Report, CNN, PBS, Fox Television, The BBC, NBC, ABC, China Television, India Television, to name a few and not to mention the public radio programs, magazines and newspapers including the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The South China Daily News, China Daily and so many others.
However, you will not see his work published in some architecture publications because the editors feel it is, “too extreme”, says one editor of a prominent Japan-based architecture magazine. It seems he still upsets some people’s notions of architecture and yet, if you study his work, you’ll soon realize that he may just be the only architect alive whose work utilizes the sciences, education, ecology, social activism and artistic daring and visibly cares about the common person.
Oh sure, there are many of those prominent architects who design signature flashy buildings like giant, shiny stage sets or great white winged birds, and that’s good. It’s interesting. We need diversity. But they seem to design as if people don’t matter, and, judging by how they describe their design process, indeed, people really don’t matter. It’s the building that matters and nothing else. When you walk into them they are stark and sterile—form with no spirit! These architects are playing at the expense of their image-enamored clients. More power to them. But if buildings are designed without people in mind then what’s it good for?
And this is where Eugene Tsui is the hero. He designs for human beings, for human experience; for a tactile and emotional epiphany. When people walk into his buildings they go, “Wow!”, and want to touch the walls, sit in the seats and look at the details. They are comforted by the sense of repose and imaginative form, the iridescent colors and fascinating natural light . The interiors move and change with every step. He uses color, sculptural relief, fine detail and considers every aspect of the building—unlike others who seem only concerned with a big, white concept and shape. Tsui sees the building as a, “living organism”, that responds constantly to the changing exterior and interior environment including how a person’s use may change over time. His attitude of, “living lightly on the planet”, is one that few architects are willing to take up. But this is only the architectural dimension of Tsui’s committed life.
After spending several months with this man, in his office, hearing him speak in public, getting to know him personally, I must agree with Eugene Tsui’s adage that, “If you would judge an individual then see how they live, see if they live the change they wish to see in the world”. I must say, so many people talk a good talk but they don’t walk the walk. They produce interesting work but they are condescending tyrants speaking down to their office minions and wallowing in their own egotism. They publicly dedicate their lives to ecological design and then they get into their SUV’s spewing poison gas all the way down the road to their English Tudor mansions. Ecological designers beware!
Eugene Tsui is a man of a different breed. He is designing his own home, design research laboratory , educational campus, gymnasium, library and archives on 200 acres of land in the sacred shadow of Mount Shasta in northern California. The master plan features windmills and photovoltaic panels for electricity and constructed wetlands for sewage recycling. Water is sourced from underground aquifers. Horses, electric vehicles, bicycles and walking are the main methods of transportation—no internal combustion engines allowed beyond the parking area. This community, called Telos (a Latin word for purposefulness, or, the final purpose), is a group of dedicated, diverse individuals, is being planned and will begin construction in 2004. Tsui will be designing and building his own car with a revolutionary new kind of body surface—more aerodynamic than any car in history, an electric motor, a centralized shock absorber system and a body frame that eliminates the chassis completely.
In the office he is completely accessible—just another worker or researcher—with his desk next to everyone else’s. There is no dress code so everyone is extremely casual in their shorts, T-shirts and sandals. They are ready to get dirty constructing walls, stringing models together, rendering a drawing with dusty chalk—yes, they use their own hands to render drawings—no AutoCad illustrations, and tending to the various vegetables and flowers in their indoor garden/ conference area and designing a natural air conditioning system using two giant plexiglass domes for water cooling. They grow their own food there!
Eugene participates in everything and encourages everyone, everyday, to be themselves, to write and recite poetry at lunch hour, to write essays, to write and sing their own songs or play music, write in their journals or blindfold themselves while carrying on a discussion. Experimentation is present everywhere. Dr. Tsui is a dedicated teacher and loves it. If some persons are afraid to reveal their feelings he encourages them to go beyond their self-imposed fears. At the end of every season they have a party bash, perhaps to go surfing at the beach in Santa Cruz, California or snow skiing on Mount Shasta. Birthdays, project completions, the passing of the seasons, all are occasions for celebration and a quick party at lunch time.
But what about the man himself? Family life? Children? Wife? Eugene Tsui has three children and a wife who is a documentary filmmaker and sociologist. His older son, Paolo, is in music production, his younger son, Sorell, just started a clothing design company, and his daughter, Chase, is in grade school and trains in the circus. Eugene Tsui prompts all of his children and wife to play a musical instrument so between them they play the flute, harmonica, trumpet, piano, violin and drums. Tsui himself plays Flamenco guitar, drums and concert piano and composes music. Recently, inspired by a person in the office, he wrote and recorded a hip-hop song which caught the ear of a local recording producer and is being refined. The music was composed by his older son.
Stories abound from the children about their father being too bold at times and dressing too audaciously in public. However, recently, both sons paid their father the highest tribute by saying they are proud of him for never compromising his dreams and vision especially when the fathers of their friends have been sold on tradition and conformity. Nothing about their father is conformist and especially not his thinking; and he encourages his children not to be so concerned about what other people think.
He is also a father that has been very physically active with his children going to the gymnastics gym and training along side them or to the swimming pool to go springboard diving. Eugene Tsui exudes this quality of youthful energy and he looks more like his children’s brother than their father. I am reminded of a picture I saw at their home, of Eugene Tsui, shirt off with rippling muscles, striking a Herculean pose standing on a boulder. Taken a year ago it’s hard to believe that a 47 year old man could look like that. It’s a true testament that this man really does live the life of a competitive athlete among so many other things. He’s a four time Masters Olympics All Around Champion in gymnastics and eight time winner of the Presidential Sports Award from U.S. Presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and six year President of the World Masters Gymnastics Federation.
This multifaceted life is what makes Eugene Tsui so appealing to filmmakers trying to capture such a enigmatic personality. Documentary filmmakers from Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA have done short films. A graduate student from Stanford University is doing a short film as well. Currently, a filmmaker from Brittany, France, is spending at least a year to fully capture all dimensions of Tsui’s life. Not an easy task when you consider that Eugene Tsui has to travel to places like England, The Netherlands, Portugal, France and China for lecturing and where some of his projects are.
Eugene Tsui has four professional degrees in architecture and city and regional planning with an interdisciplinary doctorate in architecture and education. He began at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, attended the University of Oregon and completed his studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His academic life was controversial from the start. After one semester at Columbia University professors there said, “There was nothing we could really teach him. What he wanted and needed was beyond our knowledge”. Others were more succinct saying, “He was too hot to handle”. Later, at the University of Oregon he was expelled three times for, “conceptual differences” and for his beliefs that an architect was, “a creative artist seeking an expression of individuality”. They were greatly opposed to this view. A potential lawsuit was in the works when, at the last minute, Tsui was saved by a professor who helped him get through the final thesis course and graduate peacefully.
At the University of California, Berkeley Tsui’s first exhibition at the school of architecture caused some professors to band together and censor his work saying, “We don’t want our students viewing this kind of work!” The Dean of the school was under pressure and removed the work. The students rebelled and twenty four hours later Tsui’s work was re-installed. Even with such a tumultuous history Tsui still managed to receive a five year professional degree in three-and-a-half years and two master’s and a Ph.D. in five years.
When asked what his influences are Tsui immediately mentions Mohatmas Gandhi and Martin Luther King because of their fight for freedom of the oppressed. When queried about his answer Tsui replies, “What is the purpose of architecture if it is merely a fanciful expression of the status quo designed as if people didn’t matter—just another glorified sculpture in a confused landscape of meaningless symbols? Architecture must help us to reach up, way up, for something noble in the human soul that affirms our human dignity and creative powers for all people in all circumstances!” Obviously Tsui is not just another celebrity architect but a man with deep thoughts and convictions.
Eugene Tsui’s buildings are so often misinterpreted as copying nature’s forms as an aesthetic style. Frankly, that’s what I thought he was doing until I began to understand how he worked. He calls his view, “evolutionary”, in that he is learning the lessons of design that nature has practiced for over 4 billion years and then applies these time tested lessons to designs for human beings. With 4 billion years of practical knowledge to back him it’s safe to say that Eugene Tsui must be the most powerful architect on the planet. “All of the computer capacity in the world cannot produce the know-how and functional beauty of a single Dandelion”, quips Tsui.
He began this way of thinking 25 years ago and is now acknowledged as the pioneer of nature-based design now known as Green architecture, Ecological Design, Bio-Design or Biomimicry. Most architects deal with the use of non toxic materials, energy costs and environmental applications daring not to deviate from rectilinear geometry. Tsui takes the building and the environment to the ultimate conclusion producing building of fantastic appearance that work like “living organisms” nurtured by their natural setting, their purpose and function and self-sustaining even in urban neighborhoods.
His benchmark book, Evolutionary Architecture: Nature As A Basis For Design, published by Wiley and Sons, 1999, was reviewed and designated “recommended reading” by both The Royal Institute Of British Architects and the American Institute of Building Design and he has written three more books since then. His most recent book, The Urgency Of Change, published by China Architecture and Building Press, explodes with colorful pictures of extraordinary diversity; from 18 Karat wedding rings, clothing, furniture, homes, schools and theme parks, to the two mile high city structures and seven mile long floating cities. The scope of work is mind-boggling. The book even contains endearing letters from former apprentices and gives us a glimpse into the work-a-day world in the office.
What would you expect if you wanted a building designed by Eugene Tsui? Expect to be greeted personally by Eugene at his design laboratory/showroom in Oakland, California, a gigantic white building on the outside but sheer surprise on the inside. You’ll be guided up the stairs past walls mounted with posters, newspaper and magazine feature articles. At the top of the stair is a blank white textured wall—no door. Where’s the door? Before the puzzlement wears off suddenly the blank wall magically opens to reveal the treasures beyond.
You enter another world of azure blue ceilings, swirling gold bas relief’s, textured white undulating walls with iridescent opal chips that disappear into the ceilings, floor-to-ceiling lights of rice paper embedded with real tree leaves growing out of circular polished wood rings reminiscent of some ecological space travelers ship, a translucent screened mural of ocean-like wave motifs opens to reveal the circular conference room beyond with its thin blue steel ceiling cables that seem to explode out of this doughnut-shaped table hovering in mid air. Off to the side is a wonderland of plants, flowers and vegetables trickling past a small waterfall and two huge transparent hemispheres suspended from a giant skylight. A wavy countertop holds a computer and two research microscopes and a series of large bookshelves above are angled this-way-and-that-way looking like they just came through a bomb blast.
The chairs are tension cable structures—all thin cables and small wooden poles that expand and twist– allowing your body to sink down into the structure yet be securely supported—a spin off of Tsui’s studies in tensegrity columns. It’s all delightfully fascinating.
After discussing your project you get the feeling that Dr. Tsui is really listening intensely to what you are saying as if he’s memorizing your words. He is constantly questioning and taking in information. Then he may roll out some paper and, together, you start drawing out some ideas. It’s a surprisingly collaborative discussion that really pulls you into the whole process. After a while a central concept starts to materialize as if by magic and you feel like you both did it together. It’s a very satisfying feeling.
Afterwards, Dr. Tsui will take you into the production studio area down one flight of stairs into a 12,000 square foot space with 20 foot high ceilings. It’s full of 20 foot long tables with scale models and drawings everywhere. A giant chalkboard with chalk sketches on it fills one whole area of the space. Laser cutting machines and large saws, drills, all kinds of shop tools create islands all around. This is a place where real things are made. About a dozen people are at work all around. They are from all over the globe, Africa, Scotland, Taiwan, Korea, Canada, China, Japan and the USA and they have come here to work with Eugene Tsui; to learn about this extraordinary approach to design, to learn from nature; and to be in a creative setting unlike any other office.
I am oddly impressed by the straightforward messiness of the place and the casual attire of everyone. No pretentiousness here. No well kept, pristine ostentation. It’s all about the task at hand. Getting the job done well. I’ve been invited to have lunch with everyone. They all lunch together and often recite poetry or other original writings of their own. Being caught off guard I’ve declined this time around. It really makes you reflect on your own creativity—or fear of it. Walking back outside to the stark and noisy reality of the urban landscape I cannot help but agree with Dr. Tsui that the world must be changed and we all have to find ways to do it.
At present, Eugene Tsui shares an exhibit of his work entitled, ZOOMORPHIC, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England with other international architects such as Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster. A book of the same title, authored by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, is also available wherever architecture books are sold.
The Urgency of Change : China Architecture and Building Press, 2002, bilingual in English and Chinese, 550 color photos, 210 pages.
World Architecture Review magazine, June/July 2000 : 82 pages, all color photos, in English and Chinese.
Shenzhen City Seaside Ecological Park Concept Book, Shenzhen University Press, 1999 : 62 pages, oversized book, color and black and white, English and Chinese.
Evolutionary Architecture: Nature As A Basis For Design book, Wiley and Sons, New York, 1999
342 pages, 550 photos, black and white, English.