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Why the Words “As If” Work like Magic: Thomas Wiscombe

Get lessons about hard work from the founder of EMERGENT, Thomas Wiscombe. Wiscombe and his team focuses on architectural experimentation which is dedicated to transferring logics, science, technology, and computation into architecture.

“I have always been hyper-sensitive to atmosphere and spaces. I’m always surprised when people aren’t aware of the spaces they are in and the emotional impact space has on them. It’s huge. It changes the way we think and what we can’t think of. Architecture makes worlds, and more interesting to me, future worlds.”

Sundvall Performing Arts Center-2008 and Novosibirsk Pavilion-2007

My work is like sugar.

The interest in Synergetic Effects… “This comes from both an intuitive and an intellectual place. I have always been interested in natural systems: plants and animals and ecologies. When I look at the diversity of species in the rainforest, I always think, why doesn’t architecture have this kind of diversity? Of course I know why, but the question just doesn’t seem to go away for me. The diversity is in terms of visible features and embedded behaviors, not just one or the other. For a while now I have been trying to bring the idea of features and behaviors together in a profession which seems to cycle between promoting one or the other. Sustainability is one example of how behavior is being promoted at the expense of architectural features, and the digital Neo-baroque is an example of how form is being promoted at the expense of behavioral robustness.

Novosibirsk Pavilion-2007

As in biological systems, I think architectural systems should never operate alone in an optimal state, rather in a messily interwoven, excessive, redundant, and non-optimal way. This opens up a whole new territory where divisions between surface and infrastructure, structure and ornament, color and pattern, luminosity and thermodynamics are no longer relevant. Think of sugar. Sweetness is an unpredictable, irreducible feature of the combination of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms (C6H12O6). The whole exceeds the sum of the parts. My work is like sugar. Simple recombination or chimerical hybridization is not the point; the point is to get to a higher level order where systems fuse into something new.”

Batwing Prototype and Batwing Microcapillaries

The Birth of EMERGENT

“Before I started EMERGENT I was Senior Designer for Coop Himmelblau, I had a whole career there and designed and built three projects there including BMW World in Munich. So EMERGENT is my second life I guess. Part of that life is defining which things from my previous life will carry over and which things must be new. It’s like when Tom Ford left Gucci- he had to redefine himself. So I would say that a lot of what we have been doing in the office the last few years has been taking risks, trying things out, defining a space to work. I give us a few more years of that before we hit full stride creatively. We need to make more mistakes first.

Emergence is not a theory or a style; it is the natural phenomena where parts become wholes, where synaptic connections become consciousness, where cells become bodies. The name immediately associates the office with materialism rather than representation, critical studies, narratives, meaning, and so on. I used to be more hard core into science-- you know my father is a physicist at NASA—but the older I get the more I realize I am just surfing on science among other intelligences in the world. Science alone for instance wouldn’t necessarily account for the emotional responses I’m trying to elicit in my work by the use of variable patterns, colors, luminescences, and fluids.“

Dragonfly-2007 and Guiyang Tower-2008

It is Important to always Behave “As If”,
“I am struggling myself! I find it charming that my office doesn’t appear to be struggling actually. That’s probably a good sign, maybe that our design sensibility resonates in the world. Who knows?

Actually, I do think it is important to always behave “as if”, by which I mean, behave as if everything I design will be built, as if my little office was a big office, as if I can compete with the gorillas in my field, as if it were just a matter of time before I get a significant commission. Otherwise you become a victim of self-fulfilling prophecy. Especially if you spend time in academia, which many young architects do. That can be a trap.


Shenzhen MoCA-2007 and Taipei Performing Arts Center-2008

I think my impatience has not always served me well. I want to get better at letting things simmer. Life goes by and you feel like you have to hurry, but authentic work never gets done that way.

Develop an eye and a craft. There are so many architects out there promoting architecture as problem-solving, as engineering, as data-collection, as social science, as concept, as narrative, as meaning, and so on. But I am convinced they are wrong. I think that architecture, when it’s good, is always the result of a sophisticated design sensibility at work.”

Brain-coral Algae Facade-2009 and Thermostrut Prototype-2009


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    1. [...] was established, in 1999 by Tom Wiscombe. It's a a platform for architectural experimentation, dedicated to the transfer of techniques, [...]

    2. [...] always important to challenge your perception of reality and re-ask yourself questions. Architect, Thomas Wiscombe, explains how he constantly asks "as if" while [...]

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