How Quirky is Berkeley? Eugene Tssui’s Fish House, Part 2

Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey

This is the second part of our story on Eugene Tssui’s “Fish House.” Read Part One, which was published Monday.

After Eugene Tssui’s father died, his mother moved out of the Fish House into an apartment in Emeryville. What to do with the Fish House?

A student from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, who had interned for Tssui’s architectural practic,e knew a group of Cal Poly grads who were relocating to the Bay Area to develop their startup smart phone tour guide app. Tssui is all about creativity, and they are a creative bunch, so a quick deal was made. The Fish House has become the working hub for Guidekick.co and its bright, young, principles.

Josh Holland, tour guide, Aaron River, and Mark Praddon at Machu Picchu (October 2012) . Photo courtesy of Josh Holland
Josh Holland, college friend Hector Zhu, Aaron Rivera and Mark Paddon at Machu Picchu (Oct. 2012) . Photo: courtesy Josh Holland

On a post-graduation trip to Machu Picchu, the three originales had an epiphanous — or is it epiphanic? — moment. They had studied up on Machu Picchu, but weren’t sure what they were seeing. Why not a mobile phone app that serves as a guide for visitors at historic sites, museums, college campuses, or whatever?


From this epiphany (or should it be gestalt? or A-ha Moment?) came Guidekick.co. Their first app was for Hearst Castle. They have recently released an app for the de Young Museum. As you approach a piece of art, iBeacon technology using Bluetooth low energy proximity sensing transmits a universally unique identifier to the user’s smart phone, triggering an explanation of the piece, sometimes with oral histories or sound or extraneous material about the piece. It is really something. Most people carry a smartphone that is capable of ever-so-much more than current audio guide technology. The app of course appeals to the millennial generation, engaging a younger audience.

Mark Paddon at Fish House. Photo: John Storey
Mark Paddon at Fish House. Photo: John Storey
Alexa Beaman at Fish House. Photo: John Storey
Alexa Beaman at Fish House. Photo: John Storey
Josh Holland at Fish House. Photo: John Storey
Josh Holland at Fish House. Photo: John Storey
Aaron Rivera. Photo courtesy of Guidekick
Aaron Rivera. Photo: courtesy Guidekick

Beaman is a recent addition to the team, new and smart talent joining the mission in the summer of 2015.

Josh Holland, Mark Paddon, Chad Williams (software development), Aaron Rivera, Elxa Beam at Fish House. Photo courtesy of Guidekick
Josh Holland, Mark Paddon, Chad Williams (software development), Aaron Rivera, Alexa Beaman at Fish House. Photo: courtesy Guidekick

What happens when you take creative, energetic young people and put them inside the Fish House? To answer that question, let’s take a look at the inside of the Fish House. The core of the house, visually and structurally, is a spiral ramp that leads from a recessed circular seating area to the second floor.

Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey

Several of these photos show the oculus (Latin for “eye”), a circular opening in the center of a wall or dome. In French it is known as an œil de boeuf (eye of a bull). Here it is south-facing, providing natural light and heat.

The Guidekick crew use the seating area for meetings and viewing.


Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey

Colanders are recessed in the wall are not purely decorative.  They act as heat ventilation to let out the heat created by the spiral ramp lights on the opposite ramp-side of the wall.   Everything in the house is functional.   Nothing is merely decorative. but these are certainly low-budget decoration.

Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey

The house is devoid of rectilinear design. Devoid as in — almost not present. The front and rear doors are rectangular, and that’s about it. Other interior features:

Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey

A Tssui tensile membrane model on a ledge in the rear room of the house, which is the main working area.

Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey

A small first-floor bedroom is a private wiring space. Note the absence of right angles. The painted north-facing windows in the photo below are the work of Tssui’s mother.

Interior, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey
Quirky Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif. on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015.
Interior, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey

Circular window shades!


Kitchen, 2727 Mathews Street. Photo: John Storey
Kitchen, 2747 Mathews St. Photo: John Storey

The tardigrade motif is played out in the largely-non-rectilinear kitchen. It is hard to find appliances without right angles.

So what is it like for these bright, creative, energetic, hard-working young people (bringing to mind the Jefferson Starship’s lyric from “We Can Be Together” — “We are obscene lawless hideous dangerous dirty violent and young,” with an emphasis on young) to be working in the quirkiest, weirdest, farthest out house in Berkeley, the absolute envy of Quirky Berkeley?

It is all that you would think that it is. They uniformly speak of the freedom and energy that the house exudes. Everything you see in the house challenges your assumptions about what you see and experience — a tremendous platform from which to be creative.

The young newcomers to Berkeley who are working in the Fish House are themselves an inspiration. Berkeley has reinvented itself time after time, and we are in the process of doing so again now. We of the old guard are cautious and skeptical about the change and the new, and there is certainly cause for caution and skepticism. But — there is cause of hope and celebration about the change as well, personified in Mark Paddon and Josh Holland Alexa Beaman and Aaron Rivera, working on a great idea from the belly of a tardigrade on Mathews Street.

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

Editor’s note: Eugene Tssui formerly spelled his last name Tsui.

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