Tom Wiscombe of EMERGENT Architecture was the winner of YAP 2003 with his entry, Light-Wing, which was inspired by tension-structures traditionally found at the beach as well as in natural formations. It was defined by two elements: a translucent, permeable roof of interconnected canoe-shapes and a leisure landscape of two large pools.

Q&A with Tom Wiscombe, EMERGENT Architecture

MoMA PS1: What impact did winning have on your career?

Tom Wiscombe: Winning YAP has been huge for two reasons. One is clearly the overwhelming press coverage, which is still going on even six years later, and the other is more subtle. YAP forces you to design, build, lobby, motivate, fundraise, and keep smiling all at once; it’s a serious life lesson in multi-tasking and serendipity. I would also say that MoMA PS1 taught me to always conceptualize projects in terms of construction logic rather than simply formal or organizational logic. On another level, MoMA PS1 is also a right-of-passage project. It has allowed me access to other things that I may not even be aware of: I’m thankful for that.

MoMA PS1: What design aspects of your installation did you keep for your future processes and why?

Tom Wiscombe: I am still interested in flattening structural hierarchies and in performative surface articulation, no question. I’m also interested in the dual ontology of operating conceptually but in terms of affect. People have talked about our structural approach, we even won awards for this, but the affect of a swarm of glowing cells nested inside a crenellated skin is just as important to me.

MoMA PS1: Is there anything you would do differently?

Tom Wiscombe: What many people don’t realize is that, when you win YAP, you really only have two or three months to design and build it. You get into such a frenzy that it becomes very hard to allow any kind of design evolution. For instance, I was concerned about the number of connections of the roof to the outer wall and how the columns began to produce an unseemly structural hierarchy. I should have gone with three connections instead of two! And I should have tried to integrate the columns with the cellular logic of the roof more. That’s hindsight, and the reality is that if I had done either of those things, we might not have made the deadline, which, in my case, was even moved up a week.