May 16, 2012

Eugene Tsui: Biomorphic Future Vision

Riding my bike home from work a few weeks ago, I came to the abrupt realization that I happen to live approx. 0.9 miles from one of the most alarmingly NON-STANDARD structures in existence. At first glance, the irregularity of the nautically themed “Tsui House” (2747 Matthews St, pictured), might be written off as the work of your typical Bay Area burnt eccentric, but it’s so much more than that. Every single element of this sea-punk mansion was built from scratch in sculpted concrete, with no orthogonal frame to speak of, and nearly every surface is swathed in enough art-neuveaux intricacies to make Antonio Gaudi break out in a flop sweat. This building is so next-level in its obsessive, non-linear appraoch, it became immediately obvious to me that the mind behind it must be treading the genius/madness line pretty daringly.

And thus started my investigation into the self-contained future-obsessed world of Eugene Tsui. Architect. Artist. Sculptor. Designer. Theorist. Environmentalist. Professional gymnast. All apply to the Ohio-born Chinese-American, whose personal eco-futurist vision has been rendered in every imaginable arena for the better part of 5 decades.

Eugene’s now-outdated personal site ( is a veritable goldmine of his hard sci-fi creations, from fully realized architectural projects in both California and China, to designs and prototypes for furniture and housewares. Here’s a few of my favorites, culled from the site: (all images image rights reserved, naturally)

“The Domes” at Harbin Hot Springs, Middletown, CA

Probably the most accessible of the architectural projects listed, “the domes” at the Harbin retreat in the mountains north of Santa Rosa serve as overnight lodging for guests. Massive, veiny bio-globules of beige concrete, some monolithic, some ganged together with stretches of drooping sinew. Twisting spiral stairs give a “melted Bauhaus” vibe, while asymmetrical triangular apertures and hardened ridges do their best to abolish regularity completely. Ominous tumors of pure alien style, and right in my own back yard.

Tsui Design Research Headquarters, Emeryville, CA

Once again, I was thrilled to learn that another of Tsui’s iconoclastic buildings was within walking distance of my house. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find any trace of it. I can’t imagine what would possess someone to destroy or remodel something this amazing, but the mind-blowing headquarters of Tsui Design Research, Eugene Tsui’s professional architecture and planning apparatus, simply does not exist anymore. Seems as though Silicon Valley cannibalism has trumped collective memory once again.

The interiors of the building are lightyears beyond even the most far-out “Fun Tech” office spaces(see Antitrust, Zenga, et al), approaching utopian Global Village status. Somewhere between a Rainforest Cafe and a Tatooine bunker, this infinitely diverse set of organic spaces is the perfect embodiment of Eugene Tsui’s vibe. Except for splashes of plant life and rocky outcroppings, the spaces are Kundalini white. Infinite ideas, somehow co-existing with ecstatic calm. A geodesic dome sits on an artificial rocky bluff, its function unclear. A strange tube bisects a large space, glowing orange through slits from within. Everything is either suspended from or grown out of the myriad organic surfaces, which rise up into banks, ledges, and papillae to serve their human masters.

Clothing: Sketches and Prototypes

Far and away the most intriguing thing about Eugene Tsui’s web presence, and about the man himself, is his commitment to the TOTAL DESIGN of all aspects of life. There is nothing in the manufactured or experienced world that he hasn’t attempted to re-create in his own image. Of course, like all my favorite designers, Eugene Tsui has fully embraced the world of fashion, twisted through his own “logical” design matrices.

With a hard-fantasy graphic style reminiscent of Mat Brinkmann and Moebius, Tsui has cranked out hundreds of styles and templates, for bio-memetic garments in all sorts of futuristic colorways. His architectural design vocabulary bleeds over, embellishing each piece with splines, sinews, wings, and ridges.

Obviously, the finished results of these experiments are completely amazing, like early Pierre Cardin if he’d smoked opium with Jodorowsky. Future-cult sportswear for alien utopias.

I can’t say enough about how totally impressive and truly OUT Tsui’s design concepts are and continue to be. Delve deep into his world here and here, and check out this mini-documentary, where Eugene (decked out in an incredible outfit of his own devising, natch) lets us inside his mind: