The Rhizome and The Wasted Square


Everything is interconnected (Deleuze and Guattari, 2009)

For all its apparent complexities – as confounding as they are tantalizing – reducing the philosophy of rhizomes to a simple tenet seems like the attempt at an oxymoron, a contradiction of its own terms. For rhizomes, in the minds of Deleuze and Guattari (D&G), is all about things that cannot be pinned down to the hierarchical – top down, vertical way of organizing reality. There is no one answer. Every thought, fact and event is perpetually in a state of motion, expanding and contracting, replicating, destructing in multi-reality where relations supersede “things” as the final meaning. As Bert Oliver has puzzled over and concluded, “Once one has made this mind-switch you are ready to move into a new way of rhizomatic thinking, which, in turn, ushers in grasping the world in relational terms: relations are the dynamic ”basics” (NOT things or objects) of reality as multiplicity.”

What does this mean in architecture where we deal with buildable things in the real world?

The design thesis explores the possible applications of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic theories in a wasted public space in Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia. Investigating systematically, and taking cognizance of D&G’s six principles (connectivity, heterogeneity, multiplicity, asignifying rupture, cartography and decalcomania) I tread cautiously through assemblage and mapping as D&G suggest. The design thesis project is a spatio-architectural expression of endless connections without terminations, music without melody, movements without destinations, and everything without anything in particular. It is inhabitable, useful, profitable and enjoyable. It is architecture as we know it, yet utopian in a quasi-believable way. It is foreign to the existing fabric, yet contextual in its attachment to the networks at every level of the community’s experience. It is new by using the old to set the poetry of the space. D&G were almost predicting The Rhizome and The Wasted Square when they said <Everything is interconnected, and regardless of where you start, you can proceed to any quadrant, nook or cranny of “reality”, with no possible transcendence; only immanence. Nor can you occupy a point or position: “There are only lines.”>


The design thesis takes place in a town located at the confluence of the Rejang and Igan rivers. Dominated by the Foochow Chinese it is the largest and pioneer inland town in Sarawak that associates with several other smaller places upriver such as Kapit, Sarikei, Kanowit and Belaga. For decades, the people of Sibu have been congregating around and area called Loba Lembangan for businesses and trade. It is the oldest commercial and trading zone that has propelled Sibu’s economy and prosperity for generations. Loba’s harbour, central to the hive, buzzed with urban dynamism and drama. Loba Lembangan also forms part of the transportation hub with its trading dock and regional bus station. It is the densest district in Sibu.


While social engagement revolves around the central market by day, during the night it splinters across the town. To address this anomaly I propose a socio-commercial-cultural hub that magnetizes all the disparate urban facilities. It comprises diverse facilities and a series of programmes that are age-versatile and ethnically inclusive. Intervening to form a synoptic entity it becomes a contemporary urban catalyst that expands the potential of Sibu downtown as the most prominent gathering spot in a modern riverine town. Furthermore, it complements (by countering) the dominance of the commercial blocks with the insertion of a new spirit to strengthen Sibu’s decentralised economy and urban fabric. Deleuze & Guattari and The Emergence of Rhizome

Posited by Deleuze and Guattari (D&G) in 1980’s Rhizome Theory was described as an anti-linear and non-hierarchical realm in our living condition. It is a non-signifying system, an aggregate of multitudinous spaces through semiotic chains with no specific basis and directions. It was a statement used to debate and analyse post-modernism, where it was called to embrace and create diversity and flexibility to change. Apart from that, it also asserts post-structuralism which discusses the need of understanding the production of an object’s through its system of knowledge.  The framework is also used to analyse social complexity by emphasizing fluidity, multiple functionalities through entities and their connectivities. It’s about an acentered space of qualitative difference with no central automaton and defined solely by circulations and relationships. Ensuing architectural formulae need to be non-hierarchical, people-modelled and programmatically adaptive. My thesis sort to facilitate urban insertions on that premise.


The chief agenda was to be in a state of readiness to coalesce with the existing local settings with its day activities, fortifying and stretching its vitality into the night. The anticipated multiplicity of programmes are conceived as flexible responses to the public need for contextual operations at any time.

Space Syntax

A city is a composition of various contexts influenced by the energy of movement of its inhabitants at different times of the day. Knowledge of urban spatial connectivity and enigmatic relationships within its sphere can be formed by apply a space syntax as a mathematical solution to determine the flow of humanity between unconscious nodes. I used the space syntax to provide a real-time moment of the given place. At a selected point in time, and from one vantage point, I froze all activities and patterns onto a plane. The resultant syntax was then overlapped onto the existing culture and place characteristic to establish a clearer picture of the general pattern of activities. The syntax verified the spatial configuration of the street network, which then influenced the distribution of space functions. It predicted algorithmic data which was used to create a schedule for the arrangement of space. A city works when the progressive change of the human behaviour pattern informs how a building should function on an hourly basis, rather than be just structures boasting merely aesthetic properties.

Visceral to Formations

The “project of thought” was an installation I constructed to apprehend the urban syntax and its morphology. Spreading out in all directions it created a living network with different levels of interconnections between layers, levels and the centres of growth. It acts as an urban tissue to reconnect all broken linkages to bring about the completion of Loba Lembangan. Nodes and pattern movements were overlapped to form a cartography of theoretical architecture.


What prompted the project and the interest in the work of Deleuze and Guattari?

I chose to work with the architect-supervisor, Ian Aiksoon Ng, for my final design thesis as we shared an interest in generating built outcomes with didactic dimensions – privileging narrative rather than the comprehensively designed building, so to speak. I was also very sure that I wanted to do something in my hometown, Sibu in Sarawak that could boost its trade. As with any town struggling to become a city, Sibu seems to me ripe for attempts at central planning. It hasn’t happened yet despite decades of modern changes. Ian and I discussed both the natural and imposed forces simmering, and it seemed to us that falling for an intimidating single programmed building as an urban solution would be a mistake: The better conceptual agenda might be to create a compound of urban facilities – a kind of continuum that accepts and contains everything – and that would continue the rhythms of urban spatial generation the small peoples of Sibu centre had already appropriated for themselves way before I was born. After probing for some time, rhizomatics seemed the best theoretical system to capture that character, and naturally Deleuze and Guattari (D&G) were inevitable. Coming out from reading D&G, it was as if I was seeing the world of my hometown for the first time.

What defined the choice of site as a wasted public space in Sibu Malaysia?

Loba Lembangan, a commercial square at the downtown of Sibu, was the obvious starting point. Framed geometrically by pre-war shophouses that exuded assorted businesses, the chosen site was Sibu’s first indoor market, even a place of culture fortified by several landmarks at its verge. With expansion the market was soon moved into the purpose built, largest central market in Malaysia, closer to the riverside – leaving an open space that served as a public carpark by day and night-market at sundown. Subsequently the night bazaar was relocated, leaving only cars to hold fort, giving rise to my idea of a wasting away of the energies that keep urban tissue muscular. As my thinking progressed I began to conceive of an intervention that would convert an underused (hence, “wasted” in a second sense) open space into a socio-commercial-cultural hub that staples together disparate urban components.

How do digital layers, as google maps amongst other, through which we perceive the city effect our understanding of this continuous inter connection?

I believe they give us immediate accurate access to the overall framework of performance space. As suggested by D&G, connectivity and cartography are bridges to the unconsciousness and transparent connections between urban fabrics and movement. Google maps and town survey plans were the immediate studies used to observe urban nodes like landmarks and categories of place of interests. However, a single-moment picture is inadequate to envision and quantify the spirit and density of a city generated by the constant state of motions. Hence multiple layers are invaluable in building up dimensions. City matrices exist in 3-dimensional where building façades, functions and people have the liberty to respond to each other on vertical and horizontal planes producing factors we can map such as visual permeability, intensities of business interactions, relationship between building floors and human social life, and so on.

Can we talk about a hyper interconnection? Where do you see this developing?

I think urban planners and cityscapers will become increasingly appreciative of the dynamism of endless interflows to keep cities alive. “The Wasted Square” aspires to incessantly and unceasingly transmit “life”, pervading the surrounding alleys, open spaces and even roads. It has the potential to expand without limitation by responding to any social happening. It seeks to strengthen and tighten the romance between city components and movements, like a worldwide web that networks all data and experience into a singular structure.

What role does representation play within the project?

As a matter of fact, the entire graphic representation was inspired by Peter Cook and his book (Drawing: The Motive Force of Architecture). The vision of my thesis is transmitted via monochromatic, reality-punctuated representations to provoke continuous discussion. The criticism of this direction so far has centred mainly on how realistic rendering of practice buildability has been relegated a secondary position. I feel however that thesis presentations should convey the spirit and power of the architectural argument rather than the actual building itself. It is a leap-forward statement to inspire and tempt in a positive way. No matter how great an idea is, if it cannot be represented by a simple image, its architecture cannot exist. In a sense the representation is the architectural thesis and the building-on-ground that follows merely an enactment of the representation. After all, as Peter Cook says, “if the drawing is not to lead the way, what else?”

What would you say is the architect’s most important tool?

There isn’t a superlative for everyone, I don’t think. But in my thesis I would say the architectural image was the mind leader.