by Eva Hagberg Fisher
Fu-Tung Cheng ISN’T in a hurry. The mainstay contributor to the East Bay design world, whose storefront office on San Pablo Avenue has been a hub of studies in concrete and a variety of design modes, is happy to talk about the musician David Byrne, the CIA’s penchant for recruiting at UC Berkeley when he was graduating in 1971, and his recent discovery of the work of Japanaese artist Yayoi Kusama.
It’s a languid approach to an interview that, 20 minutes in, has yet to address his most recent project, a house in Tiburon that trips down a hillside and works as a study in reflective planes and multiple forms of concrete, and it gets at least one writer fascinated about what, exactly, this designer is expressing with his work.
He references Frank Lloyd Wright in discussing the compression and expansion and sense of rhythm that his firm introduced into the house through the judicious use of hallways and parallel concrete walls, as well as the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, whose influence he sees in the front entrance and the way that orange and red and gray concrete seem to converse with each other.
The interior is a study in what concrete can be, and the material shows up everywhere. A long entrance hallway is pockmarked with apertures that are backed with a polyurethane cast, a glowing material that would fit right into a Jurassic Park set.
Why this love for concrete? “In the 19th century, concrete was considered this miracle liquid stone,” Cheng says. His reverence for the different forms the material can take comes through in conversation, and his interest in a material that can change texture, strength and appearance makes sense in context of the rest of his interests.