Articles

A Cape-Wearing Futuristic Architect Gets a Documentary

by Allison Meier on March 21, 2014

TELOS production still, Mount Shasta, California, (photograph by Kyung Lee)

TELOS production still, Mount Shasta, California, (photograph by Kyung Lee) (all images courtesy the filmmakers)

Sporting purple sequins and proposing buildings with moveable dragon fly wings, Eugene Tssui wants to redefine the way we live through an “evolutionary architecture.” The public hasn’t been very receptive, with most of his projects unbuilt and the ones constructed swarmed with controversy. A new documentary is profiling the visionary architect and his ideas of the future, showing both his eccentricities and plausible aspirations for a better sustainable living.

Eugene Tssui speaking in 2010 (via Wikimedia)

Eugene Tssui speaking in 2010 (via Wikimedia)

TELOS: The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui had its world premiere earlier this month at the Architecture & Design Film Festival in Los Angeles. This April it will journey with the festival to Chicago and then in October to New York, spreading the Cleveland-born architect’s futuristic world as it goes. The film was directed by Kyung Lee, who explains in her statement that she first encountered his work at an environmental conference where he was wearing a cape and explaining the lack of earthquake resistance in most architecture. Lee notes that Tssui “has yet to capture the public’s imagination,” but this “may be due to the fact that people simply do not agree with his philosophy or possibly because there is reluctance to embrace a self-professed, environmental savior who is literally dressed as a fantasy comic book character.”

Tssui, who has apparently added a second “s” since his Wikipedia page was last updated, apprenticed with architect Bruce Goff, himself an alternative thinker in embracing an organic architecture both in its materials and forms. Being inspired by nature is hardly new for architecture — even severe creators like Corbusier took ideas from shells and trees. But Tssui uses the actual functions of nature, not just its visuals.

Ojo Del Sol interior, designed by Eugene Tssui, Berkeley, California, (photograph by Eugene Tssui)

Ojo Del Sol interior, designed by Eugene Tssui, Berkeley, California, (photograph by Eugene Tssui)

Ojo Del Sol designed by Eugene Tssui, Berkeley, California (photograph by Eugene Tssui)

Ojo Del Sol designed by Eugene Tssui, Berkeley, California (photograph by Eugene Tssui)

For his parents in Berkeley, California, he designed a house from concrete and styrofoam that is purportedly fire proof, earthquake proof, basically indestructible. It also looks like some sort of mollusk inverted itself in a heap. It’s designed after the tardigrade, an eight-legged microscopic creature that is practically impossible to kill.

As he states in the trailer for The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui: “What I’m doing architecturally is to change the world.” In this way he’s not dissimilar from Buckminster Fuller, with his designs for everyone to live in geodesic domes, except Fuller sported thick-framed pensive glasses instead of garb that would have fit in perfectly with the 1970s run of Battlestar Galactica. (Tssui’s clothing designs, by the way, are for sale on his site.) As Carren Jao wrote at the Architectural Record, “the documentary is either a word of caution or a much-needed encouragement for young architects to be bold.” (Jao is also a contributor to Hyperallergic.) But like Tssui himself, it definitely looks anything but moderated and mundane, which is too often the modus operandi of architecture today.

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