Tom Wiscombe – Integrated Futures of the Built Environment

Above is an excellent lecture, but prepare some pop-corn, it is a long one…

It is incredibly inspiring, and intimidating when you come across someone who is exploring similar train of thought you may have been dabbling in for years. Inspiring as you get validation and stimulation from their work, and intimidating when they are executing it at a quantity and quality of output that is staggering. Tom Wiscombe, who I am embarrassed to have only recently discovered is exactly one of those amazing applied thinkers.

I also need to admit I have not spent nearly enough time processing all of the content, so apologies in advance if the following is a little fragmented – there are a lot of rabbit holes to explore.

Deconstructing the Built Environment

Image source Tom Wiscombe: The Radiant Hydronic House integrates internal thermal flow within the structure.

In class we deconstruct design territories into broad concepts in order to approach them through a variety of lenses.  As discussed previously, we challenge the concept of a wall by questioning it as a membrane or a shell, using language to unlock low-associative thoughts. Tom Wiscombe, it turns out has been doing this to great depth with some excellent insights into deconstructing labels in order to disrupt preconceived concepts. I hope you enjoy the quote below as much as I did when I first read it:

“It’s time to replace outmoded terms like “building services” and “mechanical systems“ once and for all… The notion of the “mechanical” brings us back to the industrial paradigm, rooted in a pre‐networked world. And lighting design has become little more than a fixture‐shopping experience. For now, maybe we can refer to these marginalized techno‐systems in a more refreshing way as airflow, fluid flow, and glow.”

Tom Wiscombe, Extreme Integration, Published in AD: Exuberance (ed. by Marjan Coletti), March, 2010

Airflow, fluid flow and glow, are just the tip of the technological, structural and formal concepts that Tom is extracting in order to functionally integrate technological mash-ups.

Let me share a couple of his projects that give context to what might be sounding a bit abstract right now:

The Radiant Hydronic House (shown above) integrates a liquid hydronic thermoregulation system into the structure. The elements are flexible and appear to morph according to functional requirements, generating form, experience and comfort all at once. It’s gorgeous and alien, which appears to be a general theme emerging from the studio.

Image source Tom Wiscombe: The Grey Water Panel prototype.

Above is a prototype for a grey water panel designed as interlocking jigsaw components with an internal membrane of algae for water capture and cleaning. The form emerges from structures encouraging water collection and flow and is inspired by the Australian Agamid Lizard. It is a prototype exploring functional gradients within forms, where the additional structure increases functionality, in this case water storage and processing, as well rigidity.


While first glance at Tom Wiscombe’s project list may be intimidatingly science-fiction, deep thought goes into the core concepts that drive the overall thinking. While I am a geek for sci-fi, I am generally fatigued by the forms sketched by Hollywood. Tom Wiscombe’s aesthetic, however, is deeply emergent, arising from research and process. Read this gorgeous quote below and then browse some of the projects his studio has developed and you will see what I mean.

Beam‐branes were invented in 2006 following our investigation into the structural morphology of dragonfly wings. Dragonfly wings are characterized by two distinct but interwoven pattern logics that perform different kinds of work. Ladder‐type patterns with quad cells behave like beams and resist bending, while honeycomb patterns with five‐, six, or seven‐sided cells behave like membranes and are flexible.

Tom Wiscombe, Beam‐branes, Surface‐to‐strand Hybrids, and  Hydronic Armatures, Published in the AADCU Monograph: Structural Ecologies, 2008

Image source Tom Wiscombe: Garak Fish Market Competition Entry, with organic structure integrated within the roof.

The Semi Rigid Car

Finally, for pure fun, Tom Wiscombe’s studio has an excellent exploration of the future of cars due to potential multi-materiality which may become possible in future fabrication. In essence, what will happen when digital fabrication becomes increasingly capable of printing materials with different properties, such as flexibility and rigidity? The answer according to Tom Wiscombe is a car with different layers and flows of functionality.

Image source Tom Wiscombe: Semi Rigid Car Concept

For More Reading

Visit the core studio website here.
Read more about emergence in nature and design here.
If you can get access through a university – read this superb paper.
And finally, make some pop-corn and enjoy this hour plus lecture from the man himself.

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