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owner architect relationship and the design process

Eugene Tsui designs every aspect of the project, from residential remodels through large-scale civic buildings and regional plans. Unlike other design offices, projects are not delegated to junior architects in the design phases. Landscape design, light fixtures, rugs, furnishings, murals, etc. are designed personally by Eugene Tsui. All presentation renderings are also done by Dr. Tsui.

Some building owners have come to us after having disappointing, sometimes shocking, experiences with other architects relating that other architects had delegated their design to junior architects in their office producing less than satisfactory design results as well as poor communicative treatment, or that they, as owners, received designs from the principal architect that had nothing whatsoever to do with their stated needs and aspirations. Previous architects completely neglected the design contributions of the owner leaving the owner trying to decipher what it was their architect had given them; certainly not what they asked for!

At Tsui Design and Research, Inc. Eugene Tsui and his team listen very carefully to what the owner wants and what the owner aspires to have. The requirements of the owner, the limitations imposed by the owner and the locale, zoning and building department restrictions, the climatic conditions, availability of materials, etc., are all very seriously taken into account as design challenges that act as a catalyst to creative originality. The more we listen to the owner and acknowledge the constraints of the design the more we are excited by its possibilities and imaginative results. Owner and architect (and engineer and contractor) form a team by which the design is developed that is absolutely satisfactory to the owner. It is a lively and exciting collaboration; a dialogue that is both gratifying and fulfilling to the owner.

Working within the budget constraints is an essential aspect of any successful project. We take many steps to insure that budgets and time schedules are met. Many of our previous projects were constructed for the same square foot costs as typical construction for their area. For instance, the Tsui Residence in Berkeley, California cost $275,000 for 2000 square feet of habitable space. Typical cost for conventional homes of the same locale were $300,000 and up. Unusual, unique designs need not be expensive. The circular plan, 110 story office building for Tuntex Corporation in Taipei, Taiwan was designed at $120 per square foot. Extraordinary, one-of-a-kind buildings can be produced at the same costs as conventional structures, depending upon the nature of the design, and we have proven this.

Regardless of the project’s cost and scale Tsui Design and Research, Inc., is proud of making every effort to give the owner the greatest result for their budget—creating the maximum benefit per square foot. Making possible the seemingly impossible. Whether the square foot cost is $100 or $1000 the owners agree that they received much more for their money than they expected. Eugene Tsui and his team engages in researching materials and methods of construction which make the construction more efficient and less time consuming than conventional building. Research is central to the entire design process and provides marvelous solutions to the complexities of design.

the design process

1) The design process begins with the owner. The owner is asked to write out a list of requirements and provide photos or articles, if possible, of architectural likes and dislikes, shapes, forms, colors, textures, concepts, stylistic preferences if any, a description of how they see the building working within its purpose, its relationship to the site and to the people who will live, work and be around it.

2) Biographical and historical information about the owners is requested in order to understand the owner(s) better and to better relate the building to the owner’s sense of values and aspirations.

3) The owner may provide written documents and information given by the City or County which delineates all of the legal zoning, planning and building department constraints that must be obeyed to successfully complete the project. In some cases, with the permission of the owner, the architect may directly seek out this information from the jurisdiction of the project site.

4) A soils report and topographical survey is needed to determine the characteristics of the site that are crucial for designing the safest, most efficient and economical structure that is appropriate for the site. In most cases the soils report and topographical survey is also legally required for eventual submittal of permit drawings to the planning and building department before beginning construction.

5) When all previous information is gathered and studied by the architect the owner and architect arrange to meet face-to-face to discuss and clarify design possibilities. The architect (Eugene Tsui), with pencils and paper roll, will together with the owner, sketch out ideas that address the specific constraints and requirements of the owner. From this design session many possibilities will reveal themselves and the owner and architect will develop a sensible design concept.

Certain useful information is produced by this session:

a) The relationships of spaces to one another
b) The general size of each designated space in the building
c) The function of the spaces within
d) The relationship of the building to its site
e) Special features of the building
f) The conceptual look of the building

From this initial concept development will come a preliminary set of drawings which clarify the design concept in detail. These drawings will be scaled and include a site plan with topographical contours, all floor plans, longitudinal and latitudinal sections, north, south, east and west elevation views.

The owner will be presented these drawings for review and modification. A question and answer period will ensue so that the owner is clear about the details of the design.

The owner will then make adjustments, additions and/or deletions to the preliminary drawings.

The architect then reviews these modifications with the owner and proceeds to draw a new set of final drawings that include and solidify all of the owner’s changes and modifications.

The owner then reviews the final drawings for a last perusal of every detail including color, materials, spatial sizes, special technologies, site orientation, budget estimates, etc. Upon approval these drawings will go to the engineer for structural engineering drawings and calculations. A copy will also be received by selected contractors for construction cost estimates. When architect, engineer and contractor have verified cost and structural details, and all approved by the owner, working drawings will be completed and submitted for construction permits. Any adjustments to the permit drawings required by the County will be made by the architect and his staff for subsequent approval.

During construction the architect and/or designated members of his staff, will be present during certain crucial phases and these vary from project to project. Suffice it to say that Eugene Tsui is on the construction site frequently and the duration and frequency of construction participation increases as the project progresses.

It should be emphasized again that the owner, architect, engineer and contractor form a harmonious team whose mutual motivation and goal is the completion of an original work of art, a work of innovative science and technology, a work of applied ecological understanding and, above all, a living and working environment that illuminates the heart and stirs the soul – a place that speaks to the highest and deepest aspirations of human life.


Tsui Design & Research Inc. is constantly conducting scientific research in design methodology, ecological and innovative building materials, innovative structural systems, the building methods of natural organisms, cell structures, and much more. Through experimentation and innovation, we have already invented many alternative building methods that have come from directly applying the knowledge gained from our research. We also test how different building structures and materials are effected by wind, fire, and other natural phenomena. We will present our findings through our practice, in publications, and through this web site.

Research is the most important endeavor in the development and evolution of any substantive design principle(s). It is the proven basis of all of humankinds ingenuity and inventive undertakings and is the process by which we can gain a profound understanding of the universe we live in--nature's universe; of which we are an indivisible part. To ask fundamental questions and to indefaticably persist in finding the answers is the necessity of true human evolution. To implement these answers in ways that are beneficial to all human beings, even in the face of ridicule, vicious criticism or even possible death, is natural to the inquisitive and creative human being. Each discovery of the thoughts of nature contributes to raising and deepening the collective consciousness of humanity. History has clearly shown us that every invention, every philosophical underpining, every illumination of human intelligence is rooted in some "discovery" of the miraculous workings of nature.

Of all of nature's creatures, human beings seem least gifted with an inborn sense of efficient, intelligent design. All creatures who build do so instictively, precisely and with a marvelous understanding of their domain. In many instances animals seem to have an understanding of the earth that goes far beyond their immediate surroundings. Certain species of birds, for example, fly a route that is guided by a strong magnetic meridian spanning from South America through North America. These birds obviously are not relying on cues from their native locale. It seems that living creatures are aware of the invisible forces of our planet. We human beings, however, seem to lack this marvelous instinctual intelligence inherent to other creatures; we must learn it--and the greatest resource we have is the open book of nature.

lessons from nature : exerpts and drawings from the forthcoming book

resources and links

principles of evolutionary architecture




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