Creating in a Parallel Environment Devoid of Logic and Rules

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Creating in a Parallel Environment Devoid of Logic and Rules

Tom Ngo


Who influences you graphically?

No doubt, there is a lot of Hejduk influences in my work.  I really enjoy how he tailors form to expressing his narratives.  His work is also deeply personal and represents, to me, the work of an artist/architect. I also find myself reflecting on the work on the De Stijl and in particular the Van Doesburg drawings. The counter-constructions are a high-watermark for me.  They are an elegant blend of spatial intent, personal philosophy, and representation.

You talk about and explore absurdity to liberate and inject new life into architecture. To what extent might you associate your vision to that of the Surrealist and/or Metaphysical of Dali and De Chirico?

My work exists in the realm of the pataphysical, which means it is created in a parallel environment devoid of the logic and rules that exists in the real world i.e. economic, social, political.  This allows me to consider the rules of architecture without any qualitative judgments.  I just make, in a sense, or it frees up what I can make and the resulting buildings can be analyzed through contradiction or metaphor.  Ultimately it’s not about creating real world solutions but rather expanding on and questioning the limits of architecture.  Architectural speculation in my work is defined by the limits of human logic.  So the work doesn’t respond to surrealism in particular but has similarities to the melange of philosophies inspired by existentialism coming out of turn of the 20th century.


You mainly explore your compositions through axonometric. How and to what extent might this tool objectify architecture and how on the other hand does it allow to frame the architectural object through a 360 degree angle?

The axo is a very efficient drawing type in the information it displays.  It is generated from the plan and doesn’t distort it like an isometric, the dimensions can be scaled, it communicates form and since it doesn’t mimic the eye it is easy to play within.  I’m starting to explore the drawing set as a way of communicating architectural fantasy but previously the axo has been the best way for me to communicate an architectural concept in a singular drawing.

Every image is staged centrally, what is the effect and purpose for this?

I’ve struggled with this and the reason is process based.  Early on I was drawing buildings everywhere on the page and I would have to restart drawings because I didn’t like where it was sitting especially after the buildings changed, or grew an extension, or an appendage during the design process.  I couldn’t crop them because I was drawing on the backs of discarded maps that were limited in size that had been thrown out by the library because they were outdated. Conceptually they added another layer of abjectivity to the ideas I was exploring but I found myself drawing and redrawing trying to avoid stains on the pages or rips in the paper.  This was absurd in and of itself. When I moved on from the maps I found it quite liberating because centering the image allowed me to focus on the architectural concepts without having to redraw as often for composition.

What role does the white canvas play? Is it the Tabula Rasa on which you construct?

The very first works I did came about from participating in art auction fundraisers that were put on annually when I attended the Azrieli of School of Architecture at Carleton University.  Since I was part of the team organizing the fundraisers I had to contribute works myself.  I can recall a really late night sitting there looking at a blank piece of paper, having the pressure of making something and being paralyzed by not having any parameters.  What do you draw when you can draw anything? Well you really can’t draw anything because you start being limited by your own conscience.  You start asking yourself things like, what am I drawing? what does it mean? who would care about this? Then after you get comfortable with what to draw, let’s say it is a building, you start asking yourself a different set of questions.  How does it work? What is the progression of space, what is the buildings purpose? etc.  This internal dialogue really is the crux of my work — how can I free myself from the external and subconscious design baggage that limits me from creating.  In the end, for the auction, I made this piece which is a structure designed for a person with 8 arms.  It was very juvenile when I look back at it but at the same time it planted the seed for the type of work I wanted to explore.

What dictates the use of a bold or textural colour palette? And how does this influence the image is perceived by the viewer?

Honestly, it’s probably born from trying to mimic the techniques of architects I admired.  In addition to the previously mentioned influences, the drawings of Bernard Tschumi, Elia Zenghelis, and Zaha Hadid all had these flat beautiful colours.  I experimented with a gouache set that someone had thrown away and it really allowed me to break free from the pencil hatched rendering style that dominated architectural representation during my time in school.  I became comfortable mixing paints to get the colour I desired and it just stuck.  The colour works to welcome in the viewer and presents something fun and whimsical.  But I hope after some reading of the drawings, the work starts to present ideas that allow the viewer to start to questioning the validity of my work and viewpoint on architecture — and if i’m lucky, questioning their own.


The Decline: Bathroom, gouache on gypsum, 2008


The Decline: Kitchen, gouache on gypsum, 2008

03-Any Given Day3

The Any Given Day, gouache on gypsum, 2009

04-Split-Level - large

Split-level, gouache on gypsum, 2010

05-normal dwelling 1

Normal Dwelling 1 , gouache on gypsum, 2010


Matroyshka, gouache on gypsum, 2010

07-Beta (Axonometric)

Beta, gouache on gypsum, 2012

08-Dim House (2)

Dimhouse 1, gouache on gypsum, 2012

09-Dim House (1)

Dimhouse 2, gouache on gypsum, 2012


Janus, gouache on gypsum, 2014


Tom Ngo

A Small Monument 




Tom Ngo is a Hong Kong born visual artist based in Toronto.  Tom’s work has been exhibited in Canada and in New York and has been published in print and online media outlets.  His recent work has been included in the exhibition ‘TBD’ at the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art, Toronto, and in the publication ‘Imagine Architecture: Artistic Visions of the Urban Realm’ by Gestalten.  In conjunction with his visual art practice, Tom is also a senior project designer at Moriyama and Teshima Architects and an instructor of architectural representation at the Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture, and Design at the University of Toronto.

Tom can be followed on instagram at @tom_ngo and on twitter @tomdngo.



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