Our work has been recognized for its ability to cross over between issues of form, technology, and ornament, producing nuanced and complex architectural wholes. We are invested in undermining conventional concepts of ‘subdivision’ in architecture, whether in terms of assumed categories, hierarchies, or building components. This constitutes a theory of objects, and is a shift from the discourse of fields and networks of the past 20 years. It is the specificity and irreducibility of the architectural object that most intrigues us.
Moving back and forth from line to surface to volume allows us to create formations that break through dimensional and categorical limits in search of distinct formal languages. A line is not a stroke, but rather a potential pleat or seam on a surface, pulling up like a wire through a rubber sheet. Surfaces are never flat or singular; they can be stuffed with objects or delaminated to create volumetric cavities or thick poché zones. Volumes can swell massively at one moment only to become razor-thin and surface-like elsewhere. Skipping from surface to volume creates formations which can oscillate between graphic flatness and extreme physical depth. This approach is referred to in the office as the ‘surface-to-line’ or ‘surface-to-volume’ project.
Objects inside Objects
If architecture is thought of in terms of objects rather than subdivisions, it follows that building massing, interior spaces, surface articulation, and ground can all be dealt with as things-in-themselves rather than as contingencies of one another. The idea of a ‘figure-in-a-sack’ is one part of this concept, where a building is not an envelope subdivided by floors and walls, but rather an organization of nested objects. By placing distinct objects into an elastic sack, mysterious formal inflections and complex interior spaces are produced. This problem forces the consideration of silhouette and shape at the scale of the interior objects as well as at the scale of building, similar to the relation of fish and aquarium. Recent explorations have added focus to the ground; this development is currently referred to as objects in objects, on objects.
Tattoos and the Status of Subdivisions
Tattoos on the skin are not parts, but rather things-in-themselves. Architectural tattoos, as those on skin, are not attached to skin but rather embedded within it. Architectural tattoos are pressed or embedded into building objects, communicating with and almost anticipating them, sometimes tracking with underlying forms or structures, other times deviating from them towards independent figuration. A tattoo is happily not a subdivision system. It is not a mesh or derived from a mesh, and it usually has clear figural boundaries, such as in the colorful, patchy skin of the poison dart frog. A tattoo begins as a drawing, but can appear as a meta-seams or super-joints, patchworks of materials, or systems of relief and color which add distinction to architectural objects. The tattoo is therefore an object-oriented version of façade articulation, a clear distinction from the hierarchical system-to-subsystem model of the 20th century. Tattoos also anticipate the alien tectonic language of composite materiality.
Alien Tectonics: Squishing and Embedding
Our work deals with the contemporary transference of techniques of composite construction from aerospace and naval industries into architecture. Composites require a radical re-thinking of what we mean by ‘tectonics’ in the discipline, redefining what we understand as connections, joints, and components, and the construction process in general. Composite materiality, which is based on polymers over mineral materials, also creates exciting opportunities for cross-over between conventionally exclusive realms of form, rigidity, transparency, color, illumination, and ornament. Multi-materiality, or the idea that materials can be digitally graded and blended in ways which don’t resemble any known form of tectonics, is of particular interest to us. It opens up entirely new conceptual and aesthetic territory, and is as relevant for architecture of this century as reinforced concrete was for the last.
Recent research has focused on the idea that material sedimenting things might replace assembling things. Composite skins and low-profile technologies are squished together into something closer to a Korean seafood pancake than a conventional building envelope. By laminating and delaminating layers of skin, and embedding objects and systems inside, squished assemblies create complex depth, sectional, and compositional effects, constituting a contemporary form of poché.
Messy computation assumes that attempts to formulate theories and techniques around clean workflows that go from form to mesh to panel or from context to infrastructural parameters to cities are problematic. Messiness implies techniques that embrace feedback loops between multiple software platforms and disciplines as opposed to such linear stepping and anemic outcomes. Roving back and forth between modeling, painting, and engineering on a horizontal plane, for example, can produce results which are unexpected and complex, reminiscent of the jump in complexity outlined in Poincare’s three-body problem. Implicit in this kind of workflow is a loosening up of hardline positions concerning the computer, where things need to be either in control or out of control, both of which seem unnecessarily limiting. Finally, the visual indexing of any specific technique in this third generation of computation in architecture is simply distracting. Better to focus on removing referents and known tropes towards authentic objects.
Born in La Jolla, California in 1970, Tom Wiscombe is a licensed architect living in the United States. He is founder and principal of Tom Wiscombe Design, an internationally recognized office operating at the forefront of contemporary design. His work stands out in terms of its synthesis of form, pattern, color, and technology into singular, irreducible constructions.
Wiscombe has developed an international reputation through winning competition entries, exhibitions of work at major cultural institutions, and publications worldwide. In 2012, Wiscombe, was part of the joint design team organized by Morphosis to compete for the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, which received second prize. In 2011, Wiscombe won first place in two competitions for the 2013 Chinese National Games, including a 123,000 square meter Civic Sports Center and a 5,000 seat Judo Arena in Shenyang. In 2011, Wiscombe was also hired to design the Beijing National Hotel by the Interior Ministry of China, which features 1,500 rooms and a 10,000 square meter internal rainforest.
His work is part of the permanent collection of the FRAC Centre Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA San Francisco, and MoMA New York. ICON Magazine, in its May 2009 issue, named Wiscombe one of the “top 20 architects in the world who are making the future and transforming the way we work”.
Wiscombe is a senior faculty member at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. He teaches design in the M.Arch. II and ESTm programs and is Applied Studies Coordinator, in charge of curriculum building and faculty recruitment. In the Fall of 2012, Wiscombe held the Louis I. Kahn Visiting Assistant Professorship at Yale University.
Previously, Wiscombe worked for Coop Himmelb(l)au, where he was the right hand of Principal Wolf Prix for over 10 years. He was responsible for multiple international projects and large project teams from competition through realization. Notably, he was Chief Designer for the UFA Cinema Center, Dresden and BMW Welt, Munich, known as two of the most important works of contemporary architecture.
Tom began his career as an intern at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center, where his father is Chief Scientist.