Tsui Design & Research
Emeryville, California USA
Owner: Eugene Tsui
Location: Emeryville, California USA
Date: 1991 and 1992 (Phase I) 1996 and 1998 (Phase II)
Cost: Initial Building: $285,000.00; Phase I Build-out: $40,000.00;
Phase II Build-out: $80,000.00
Construction Materials: Recycled styrene and concrete blocks,
wood, metal, Polygal plastic, glass, steel cables, recycled newspaper,
formed conduit pipe, formed copper pipe, spray-on cellulose, Structolite
plaster, nontoxic paint, waterproofing made from water-based glue
and paper, recycled tin cans and trucker's rope.
Special Features: Suspension cable suspended floors, 20 foot
high entrance waterfall, self-invented waterproof materials, recycled
granite and broken mirror countertops, recycled water heating system,
plant and water-based water recycling systems, plant-based interior
temperature and humidity control, solar and hydrogen gas power systems.
Owner requirements: Completely self-sufficient office environment
using plant life for interior environmental control. Building countenance
must express and implement the principles of Evolutionary Architecture.
Plan must accommodate an interdisciplinary use of space affording
an adventuresome spirit in the interaction of people, yet convey a
sense of self-reflection and mystery. Spaces must contain the incubus
of the sacred with a vision of the far-reaching.
Ecological Requirements: Every aspect of design, construction
and the finished building utilize the utmost in energy conservation,
materials conservation and nontoxic materials use. Wherever possible
the building itself shall be an educative experience in understanding
the nature-based technology, structure and aesthetic experience.
View of the kitchen area, and the geodesic dome computer
This 700 square meter office currently contains two levels of office
and laboratory facilities. Completed construction will add another
1250 square meters of space with four storeys. When completed the
entranceway features a 7 meter high waterfall through which visitors
enter into the "wave wall" reception area. Floor elevations change
with a series of ramps leading to work stations, a full circular kitchen,
conference area and countertop storage areas. A driveway ramp leads
to a loading area and many tension cable shelves line the space for
library and reference books. A central 200 square meter open space
accommodates exhibitions, structural model experiments, parties and
lecture gatherings. Two specially designed full baths feature recycled
granite and marble countertops, swirling cement bas reliefs, translucent
walls with seashells, circular tile and glass marbles and a waterfall
tub and multi-person shower area. A special stair design of structural
plate steel leads to the second level and a 6 meter diameter geodesic
sphere houses the computer office. All second level structures are
suspended by stainless steel cables for safety in event of an earthquake.
The suspended levels will "float" over earthquake tremors and remain
flexible. A 6 meter by 8 meter reinforced concrete vault is an archival
room and wind tunnel testing facility. Most of the interior walls
are made from "Rastrablock" recycled styrene and cement blocks and
spray-on cellulose to provide acoustic insulation and a kind of soft,
human feel to the walls. The cellulose is sprayed over a galvanized
mesh which acts as a structural frame. The upper third floor level
is more office space and a gallery for small displays. The roof contains
a recreation garden area which culminates in a circular swimming pool.
Photovotaic panels are attached to opening and closing transparent
panels that let in breeze and a "Living Machine" recycled water system
is positioned around the periphery of the roof deck.
General Background: In 1988 having finished his Doctoral studies
at the University of California, Berkeley, Eugene Tsui was looking
for a suitable place to begin his architecture practice, design facility
and educational center. It had to be centrally located in the San
Francisco Bay area yet be able to contain at least 5000 square feet
of enclosed space. Open land was preferable but none was found to
have easy access by automobile and be affordably priced. The alternative
was to find an existing building which could be modified to accommodate
the needs of an office, workshop and school. A strategic area of the
San Francisco Bay is a tiny town called Emeryville. Just one square
mile in area the city is a central hub to major cities in all directions.
A 5500 square foot building was purchased and retrofitting was begun
immediately with the first phase build-out implemented primarily by
voluntary apprentices and intern architects. During this first phase
process many new structural systems and materials were explored and
developed through trial and error. The general design was initiated
in 1990 and modified several times to the present.
The building plan was developed to accommodate a multipurpose use
of space. An exhibition/performance area could seat up to 350 people
for music performances, lectures, poetry readings, seminars and workshops.
To the south are located the main suspended drafting tables and built-in
cabinets. The east-facing entrance is a twenty foot high waterfall
with two crescent-shaped doors as pass-through walkways. This leads
into the reception area which features a large bas-relief monochromatic
mural of turbulent ocean waves and a brilliant sun peering through.
At your feet are desert flagstones forming plateaus and ramps throughout
the principal workspace. The machine shop is located just behind the
front roll-up door and is completely enclosed by recycled styrene
and cement block walls and structural plastic (Polygal) clerestory
Further west into the plan are two unusual bathroom structures made
of bent plywood and stucco cement, moss rock, reinforced concrete
recycled white and brown granite, ceramic tile and glass rocks (solid
glass chunks). The upside-down truncated cone of bathroom I gives
an expansive feeling to an otherwise confined space. The interior
walls are made of hand-sculpted plaster bas-relief design surrounded
on the upper edge by a continuous band of light. Indoor plants hang
from this light well. The truncated cone shape is an excellent form
for earthquake resistance. It is economical in its use of materials,
has a high strength to weight ratio and is simple to erect.
Bathroom II features a solid wall made of moss rock which becomes
a seven foot waterfall that plunges into the granite, rock and ceramic
tile bathtub/pond. A multi-person shower room connects with the main
tub/pond and the whole is covered by a steel reinforced wall with
tranluscent sheets of clear plastic coated with nontoxic sealant to
give a dynamic, aquatic ambiance. The experience is as if you are
in the underside of a giant cresting wave, "shooting the tube" in
surfer terminology, and the wave is suddenly frozen in action. All
materials are waterproof. To enter the shower/bathing area one pivots
a colored glass mural from the toilet and sink area.
Much of the floor, at ground level, is painted a sky blue to express
a sense of expansiveness. In-floor glass blocks are lit by hidden
bulbs. The floor design is formally integrated with the overall scheme.
Just as all of nature's creatures and their habitats are a continuous
whole so the individual elements of human design are essential as
constituent parts of a structural whole. Every structural element
of the Tsui Design and Research building is a continuous extension
of those parts that support or are supported by it. In other words,
the four story building acts as an integrated unit dispersing stress
and strain loads and transferring them uniformly around the entire
structure rather than to static points. Structurally speaking the
building behaves like a living, dynamic organism instead of a static,
Aerial view of the TDR Inc. Headquarters model showing
the roof plan.
All interior walls are made of galvanized, 3.4 rib-lathe sprayed with
a cellulose (recycled newspaper) and water-based glue compound. The
labor savings using this method are tremendous. 5000 square feet of
compound curved surfaces and fluctuating arcs where covered in 2 days.
Such a task would require at least six to eight weeks using common
troweled-and-floated plastering methods. Conservative estimates approximate
the cost savings by up to two-thirds of conventional bids. Added benefits
include the acoustical and insulative value of the cellulose material.
Three inches of cellulose attains an R value of 16+. Three inches
of the same material has a decibel absorption rating of many decibels
higher than plaster. The material does not ignite and retains its
strength after being thoroughly soaked by water. Some areas are again
coated with a durable protectant.
The Tsui Design and Research facility is a self-sufficient prototype
for office/school environments and a forum for experiments in structure,
materials and methods of construction. The overall plan is previously
designed but the specific materials and construction methods are purposefully
left open to the implementation of new ideas and developing materials
that may just have been discovered. This spontaneous decision-making
process allows for the most effective applications of new materials.
It readily accommodates the acquisition of new information without
the customary rigidity and obligations normally involved in construction
documents and the in-field building process.
One of the most dramatic and striking features of the office design
is the south and north-facing opening roof panels and retractable
membrane (tent) structure which encompasses the east and west side
of the building. The desire here was to liberate the inner sanctum
of space and infuse it with a profusion of sunlight--bring the heavens
into the building and let the building reach upward and outward to
the surrounding cosmos. This is created by the use of translucent,
hinged panels made of marine-grade fiberglass treated with a ultraviolet
coating. The hinged panels are manually operated through a mechanism
of gears. The panels act as deflectors of breeze and help dissipate
stagnant heat by offering a way of escape from the interior. Simultaneously
they also function as sun visors to help regulate sun and heat buildup.
Northwest aerial view of the TDR Inc. Headquarters
The retractable roof structure acts in much the same way that a convertible
car roof acts upon the passengers of an automobile. The desired effect
is simply that of opening the interior workings of the building to
expose everything to the great warmth of sunlight. In this way the
internal spaces become expansive like the great outdoors, illuminated
with great draughts of space and brilliance. At times sunglasses become
a standard tool of choice and the office as actively invigorating
as any sun-drenched beach.
The frontal conference cocoon serves as the all-pervasive "eye" of
the street. This aerodynamic structure cantilevers prominently over
the street below. The structure is assembled with a series of curved
trusses which, in unison, form the outward shape of the room. Made
of reinforced, lightweight concrete with an interior spray-on cellulose
material for insulation, the room's upward inclined walls lend a gracious
sense of expansiveness and security. A walkway bridge leads from the
helical stairway of the exhibition area to the entrance landing of
the conference structure. Directly above this form rises the swimming
deck and the retractable membrane roof. During the hot summer months
this tent canopy is raised by a series of pulleys to let sunlight
directly bath the lower workroom area and the upper patio deck.
The exterior walls of the building give the countenance of an exploding
star cluster expanding outward from the central 20 foot waterfall
immersed over a curved sheet of reinforced glass. This waterfall is
recycled throughout the entire building. A series of parabolic reflecting
mirrors at roof level focus intense sunlight on a small diameter clear
tube with water running through it. The heat kills the bacteria in
the water as it passes through the tube. The water then is gravity
fed down the various levels of use; toilet water, running tap water,
plant water, etc. finally reaching the east waterfall to begin the
This integrated water system is an example of seeing the architecture
as a living organism. Knowing that a strong environment of biodiversity
is essential to continued vigor in an ecological system the selection
of water habitats, plants, fish, vegetation and trees linked to the
interior and exterior environment of the office would become, in theory,
a self-governing life replenishing system of its own.