Architect Eugene Tsuis visionary design for the worlds tallest structure would put Oakland on the mapif it is ever built.
By Eve Kushner
To show out-of-towners a good time, you can drive them up to Grizzly Peak for sweeping vistas of San Francisco, Oakland, and the Bay. Unfortunately, the perspective is limited. For one thing, theres no view to the east at all.
Eugene Tsui would like to change that. If this innovative 50-year-old Oakland architect has his way, tourists and locals alike will enjoy a panoramic Bay Area view in the near futurebut not from the top of a natural ridge or hilltop. Tsui (pronounced "Tsway") has designed the worlds tallest structurea 2,340-foot (600-meter) lookout towerand wants to build it in downtown Oakland.
As tall as two stacked Eiffel Towers or three Seattle Space Needles, Tsuis "Eye-in-the-Sky Lookout Tower" would afford views a hundred miles in all directions on a clear day. Using an Internet geospatial imaging tool called keyhole, Tsui calculates that from nearly eight football fields up (as high as the viewing area at the towers top), you could see south to the Santa Cruz mountains, west past the Farallones, north to Calistoga, and east to the Sierra Nevada.
the towers observation deck would indicate natural features and
historic locations, including the onetime homes of Mark Twain, William
Saroyan, Ansel Adams (all in San Francisco), Jack London (Glen Ellen),
John Steinbeck (Salinas), and Eugene ONeill (Danville).
motivation goes way past economics. "Oakland is presently a background
city to San Francisco, Berkeley, and the Bay Area," he says. But
Oakland has great potential, "because of its location and its diversity."
Tsui wants to give Oakland a "global personality." His far-out design will certainly turn heads. Sketches show a twisting, inclined lattice (a DNA helix comes to mind) culminating in a spaceship-shaped tip housing a five-story observation deck. The towers sloping incline, made possible by a tension cable ring one-third of the way up, increases the drama and lends a sense of wonder, Tsui says. The incline isnt steep; think of a quill pen rising from an inkwell and tipping back ever so gently.
At the base,
two structures flank the tower (as if the bending structure doesnt
look phallic enough). One of them, the Crystal Exhibition Hall, looks
like an explosion of translucent shards. The other, called "the Globe,"
is a sphere nearly as long as a football field. Suspended from the tower
by a triangular arm, the Globe hovers 40 feet above the ground, with waterfalls
pouring off its roof to plazas below.
But more money
for Oakland, a far-out design, and a world-class landmark arent
the half of it.
the ideal. Then theres realitylots of it. The proposal poses
enough problems that one can easily hear it mocked as the Pie-in-the-Sky
Tower for all the likelihood that itll be built at all, much less
exactly as designed.
While the project has been introduced to the citys Director of Economic Development, it wont be submitted to the planning department until the financial plan is solidified. The other practical hurdle is this: The tower can only be downtown because of height restrictions elsewhere in Oakland-. But Tsui needs two square blocks, and he wont find them there.
construction downtown (in response to Mayor Jerry Browns push to
attract 10,000 new downtown residents) has eaten up most lots. Even demolishing
nondescript structures like warehouses, storage facilities, and parking
lots would garner little more than a square block, Tsui acknowledges.
But even if
space and money werent obstacles, is Tsuis tower buildable?
No one has
ever built anything as tall as Tsuis tower, Wilson says. Only an
extensive engineering review can determine whether the tower could handle
punishing winds and meet considerable seismic requirements.
In the mid-1990s,
Tsui built the humpbacked "Fish House" on Mathews Street at
Ward in West Berkeley. Modeling the structure after the nearly indestructible
sea creature known as the tardigrade, he generated hostility from neighbors
on that street of bungalows. Other completed projects include an addition
to the Reyes House, near Seminary Avenue in Oakland (which features translucent,
hinged dragonfly-inspired wings on the roof that open and close with a
crank); the Watsu Center (a school of massage performed in water) in Middletown,
California; and his former office in Emeryville.
A tower like
Eye-in-the-Sky would cast one heck of a shadow, ever-shifting though it
would be. Appeals by unhappy neighbors could tie up the five- to ten-year
construction project indefinitely.
While studying architecture at UC Berkeley (where he acquired two masters degrees and a doctorate), he exhibited designs that appalled professors and sparked riots. Before that, Columbia University Graduate School of Design expelled him. The University of Oregon expelled him three more times but eventually granted him a bachelors degree.
He shares his
Oakland workshop with interns, providing an "international training
ground for future architects, city planners, product designers, ecologists,
landscape architects, educators, scientists, and inventors."
Brechin, an authority on California history, geography, and architecture, says that comparisons to landmarks in Seattle, Paris, and Sydney hold no water because people go to those places to see other things as well. A city, says Brechin, must first be a viable tourist and business destination. Tsui counters that the crowds are already herejust inSan Franciscoand that his tower would lure them east to Oakland.
Brechin, Wilson, and Oakland Redevelopment Manager Anthony Lane praise aspects of Tsuis idea, particularly the windmills and photovoltaics, which would fit with Oaklands recent policies of going ever-greener. But Lane cites traffic issues. Tsui wants to run an unconventional shuttle bus (powered by photovoltaics and veggie oil or methane gas) between all major airports and the tower, which he wants to locate close to BART. Nevertheless, the intended underground parking lot would certainly invite more cars downtown, worries Lane.
if a lookout tower is the next best thing for the East Bays biggest
somewhat of like mind. "You dont just put up a skyscraper as
an ego statement," he says.