TELOS: The Fantastic World of Eugene Tssui is a slice of the architect's uphill battle against the built environment’s status quo, documenting his crusade for what he calls “Evolutionary Architecture”. Maligned for his off-beat sustainable design principles as a student and struggling to build as a professional, Tssui persists as a Renaissance Man -- an artist, athlete, teacher and designer, who just doesn’t seem made for these times.
Tssui’s architectural credo is on full display in his Ojo del Sol project, a purportedly indestructible house in Berkeley, California designed for Tssui’s parents. The house is perhaps better known as the Tardigrade House, a nickname borrowed from an eight-legged micro-organism capable of surviving in environments too harsh for most any other life form. Resembling an armored snail and built from recycled, sustainable materials, the house can allegedly stand up to any natural disaster imaginable. Plans for the house went through a gauntlet of NIMBY complaints and zoning hurdles before finally getting approved, but the house is still considered a local oddity, and its building strategy hasn’t found traction on larger scale developments.
Mainstream skepticism and aesthetic dismissal have long plagued Tssui’s practice, despite its explicit focus on laudable (and marketable) principles such as sustainability and environmental sensitivity. In her directorial debut, Kyung Lee’s documentary tries to understand what Tssui’s outsider status means in the shifting waters of architectural discourse, as the architect seeks approval for his TELOS project -- an education center in the small mountain town of Shasta, California.
My Cutting Room interview with both Tssui and Lee touches upon Tssui’s unlikely inspirations from teaching architecture in China, and the trials of being a dissenting voice within architecture’s dominant discourse.
TELOS will screen next as part of the San Francisco Green Film Festival on May 31st, its Bay Area premiere. The filmmakers are currently seeking opportunities for broadcast on educational television networks.
View the official trailer for TELOS below:
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