I'm a design researcher and writer of fiction and narrative non-fiction. My research bears the traces of this twin concern with the empirical and the imaginative and is typically expansive in its focus, combining aesthetic theory, philosophy of science, anthropology, literary theory, design history, art criticism and poetry. These diverse thematic and disciplinary lenses are bound by an enduring concern with the way particular feelings and sensations attach to and are expressed in objects and places, and how such feelings are complicated over generations through technological, political and economic change. In my practice as a writer of fiction and the essay, I am particularly interested in how narratival and tonal dimensions of literary writing can be combined with design research for the purpose registering the more obscure and fleeting aspects of such change. As a design researcher, I am interested in developing better ways to understand forms of experience that have been studied as consumer or user oriented, but which demand more subtle and complex analysis.
My academic work has appeared in The International Journal of Food Design, The Design Journal, Design and Culture, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, Craft & Design Enquiry, Human Ecology Review, and Environmental Humanities. I am currently working on a book manuscript for MIT Press that combines fictional and non-fictional modes of writing to explore emerging technologies. I have collaborated with design practitioners on a range of traditional and non-traditional research projects, including university funded exhibitions and awarded book publications with visual communication academics (Dr Zoë Sadokierski on Analogue Bodies and Jacquline Lorber-Kasunic on Words from the First Walk) and a City of Sydney Recycling Innovation grant with Berto Pandolfo, Rachael Wakefield-Rann and Nick Florin. I am currently working on a university seed funded research project looking at the relationship between repair and design.
In 2018 I published my first novel, Coach Fitz, with Giramondo, for which I was awarded 2019 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist and which was long listed for the 2019 Voss Literary Prize. Coach Fitz is part city guide, part coming of age story, which catalogues a series of adventures through distinctive and often less well-known Sydney landscapes.
2016 Postgraduate Futures Associate
2015 UTS Learning and Teaching citation
2014 UTS First Year Experience Award
2014 Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship
Contemporary aesthetic theory (Peter Sloterdijk, Sianne Ngai, Steven Connor)
The poetics of place
Design and affect
The material imagination
Science and technology Studies
Data and design
Crosby, A, Pham, K, Peterson, JF & Lee, T 2019, 'Digital Work Practices: Affordances in Design Education', International Journal of Art & Design Education.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
Lee, T & Wakefield-Rann, R 2018, 'Design Philosophy and Poetic Thinking: Peter Sloterdijk’s Metaphorical Explorations of the Interior', Human Ecology Review, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 153-170.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
This article makes the argument that Peter Sloterdijk’s philosophy provides a useful and thought-provoking basis for studies of contemporary indoor ecologies. Sloterdijk’s philosophy is distinctively attentive to the various environments in which humans exist and of the ecological situation of beings in general. e notions of interiority explored in Sloterdijk’s work, particularly the third volume of his Spheres trilogy Foams (2016), provide important tools for conceptualizing the changing nature of indoor spaces and contemporary modes of being in the world. Sloterdijk’s approach to philosophical analysis exhibits a number of interrelated advantages that mesh well with the ambitions of human ecology, particularly in relation to indoor ecological conditions. ese include his sustained conceptual exploration of technological and scienti c developments, his distinctive use of rhetoric and philosophy in the characterization of human agency, and the close attention he pays to the relationship between being and design. is article unpacks the value of these perspectives through a sustained attention to Spheres III: Foams and aims to demonstrate why Sloterdijk’s work provides an invaluable philosophical tool kit to foreground and unite scholarship in diverse elds exploring the relationship between interior spaces, human perception, and society.
Lee, TM 2018, 'Sense, substance, fruit: Examining poetic descriptions of how people experience fruits as input for design considerations', International Journal of food Design, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 3-19.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
This article discusses the intimate sensory relations between humans and fruit. It articulates a view that the dynamically interrelated characteristics of microstruc- tural complexity, sweetness and extreme malleability make the experiential dimen- sions of fruit distinctive in anthropological experience. The article draws on the work of Steven Connor for theoretical support. Particular focus is given to his concept of ‘senstance’, which emphasizes the important role substances have in the human imagination, and inversely, the way imagination allows humans to make explicit the seductive but often obscure properties of substances. It proposes Connor is a worthy inheritor of the place held by thinkers such as Roland Barthes and Gaston Bachelard, whose work has been an enduring influence for design theorists and historians. Fruit-focused examples from poetry, art and design are discussed with the view of elaborating a suitably rich and multifaceted account of the anthropological importance of this mundane but pervasive thing.
This paper is a collaboration between an academic design practitioner, whose primary medium of research is the designed object, and a design researcher with a background in literary, critical and poetic writing. As such, the subject of this paper is woven from multiple dialogues. It is a practitioner-led account of the design process which produced a specific object. This perspective brings into focus the role of the hammer as tool for shaping timber, assigning particleboard dignity as a material, and the relationship between digital processing and manual workmanship. In parallel to this dialogue between investigator and object is a secondary dialogue that emerges between the practice of the designer, the design and a writer, who is removed from the process of material making but engaged in the wider cluster of ideas and expressions, which become activated as the design process is explicated in language. The perspective of the writer is significantly informed by various lineages of thought that might be crudely grouped within the field of “thing theory”, most significantly Steven Connor’s different takes on the relationship between thinking and things, sense and substance, Daniel Tiffany’s work on lyric substance, and Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophical writing on beauty. The tension which gives the paper its structure comes from the personal, reflective, practical and semantic knowledge of the designer and the patterning of associations and theory used by the writer to variously enhance the scope of the writing and research.
Walden, R, Lie, S, Pandolfo, B, Lee, TM & Lockhart, C 2018, 'Design Research Units and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs): An Approach for Advancing Technology and Competitive Strength in Australia', The Design Journal.View/Download from: UTS OPUS or Publisher's site
ABSTRACT This paper makes the case that small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the manufacturing sector have the potential to benefit from connections with design research units operating within universities. It points out some of the challenges associated with research and development for SMEs, and argues design research units can allow SMEs to better meet
these challenges. Additive Manufacturing is used as an exemplary emerging technology that makes explicit the new possibilities and instability of the contemporarymanufacturing landscape. A case study is used to articulate
the potentials and limitations of industry and university partnerships in design. In conclusion, two alternative models are analysed in order to highlight different ends to which the practitioner-based research can be put.
This paper showcases insights derived from the work of Steven Connor, Peter Sloterdijk, and Sianne Ngai, thinkers who give particularly provocative accounts of why the meanings of work and play have changed in the late twentieth century and the way these changes can be read through specific, exemplary objects or services. Following the work of these thinkers, it interprets the relationship between work and play as characteristically dynamic and argues that in cultures where pleasure, fun, and leisure become abundant, the affects associated with these experiences also change. The intent is to provide a suggestive introduction to the work of Connor, Sloterdijk, and Ngai, and do some initial sorting of ideas for subsequent design-focused research. For design practitioners, this article will be useful for the insight generating and discovery phases of the design process. From a design studies and theory perspective, my argument is that the work of these thinkers should sit alongside cultural theorists and philosophers who are more routinely referenced in this field, such as Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Jean Baudrillard.
Lee, T 2016, 'You Must Change Your Life by Peter Sloterdijk, Trans by Wieland Hoban (Cambridge, MA: Polity Press, 2013), ISBN: 9780745649214, 500 pages, hardcover ($23).', Design Issues, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 96-97.View/Download from: Publisher's site
This paper is an introduction to the work of Steven Connor and Sianne Ngai, two theorists who make contrasting and complementary efforts to think critically about a number of resilient biases in contemporary aesthetic discourse. I argue that the work of these two thinkers is united by a more or less explicit effort to generate argumentative friction from questioning two key strands of thought within aesthetic theory of the past 200 years: the centrality of the sublime and the beautiful, and the idea that the discriminatory power of the distance senses, particularly vision, justifies their centrality in aesthetic theory.
In his book Last Landscapes (2003), Ken Warpole notes that, for a number
of reasons, cemetery architecture is the most conservative aspect of the institutions
and practices surrounding death and memorialisation in the West. This is starting to
change, with designers and architects responding to the groundswell of sentiment
demanding that we moderns modernise our ceremonies and associated institutions.
In the following essay, I look at the different demands and opportunities in urban and
rural cemetery design, and focus on the multifunctional roles that cemeteries have
played in the past and might yet play again.
This essay is the meeting place of previous work on paddock architecture in the
Australian landscape and a recent project looking at death and the landscape.
I am interested in the ways that design might respond to the nexus identified by
the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk as ‘reactionary religion and progressive
technological medicine’ (2013: 421), which can bar the possibility of a dignified
death and a dignifying place for the dead among the living. This doesn’t mean a
return to the ostentation of Victorian mourning rituals or adopting the ‘death as
party’ practices of Ghana or Mexico—which isn’t to say we can’t learn anything from
these. Instead, the task seems to be finding a way to give meaning to the values of
specific lives and the contexts in which they are embedded, and to provide better
support structures (both material, atmospheric and symbolic) for those who gather
around the absence created by the departed.
Knowledge has no proper homeland. It is scattered among disciplines and genres. A novel is filled with events, described in a particular manner, which might be translated into objects of scientific worth. Science makes new discoveries that find their way back into literature. Philosophy questions starting points and adds nuance to grey areas between disciplines. Science contributes to philosophy’s repertoire of relevant ideas. This article is an effort to account for the dynamism and complexity of the relationship that exists between differing kinds of knowledge. It uses an essayistic form of narration to pull together contrasting examples that suggest hard and fast distinctions between subject and object tend to provoke misleadingly abstract descriptions of place. The specific place under investigation is a farming property in rural New South Wales. It has played a significant part in the author’s perceptual history. Burrs and burrows are two of its key features.
Since the late 1990s, W. G. Sebald’s innovative contribution to the genre of prose fiction has been the source of much academic scrutiny. His books Vertigo, The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants and Austerlitz have provoked interest from diverse fields of inquiry: visual communication (Kilbourn; Patt; Zadokerski), trauma studies (Denham and McCulloh; Schmitz), and travel writing (Blackler; Zisselsberger). His work is also claimed to be a bastion for both modernist and postmodernist approaches to literature and history writing (Bere; Fuchs and Long; Long). This is in addition to numerous “guide to” type books, such as Mark McCulloh’s Understanding Sebald, Long and Whitehead’s W. G. Sebald—A Critical Companion, and the comprehensive Saturn’s Moons: A W. G. Sebald Handbook. Here I have only mentioned works available in English. I should point out that Sebald wrote in German, the country of his birth, and as one would expect much scholarship dealing with his work is confined to this language.
Lee, TM 2018, 'Coach Fitz', Coach Fitz, Giramondo Books.
Weaving earnest, comic and dreamlike voices, Coach Fitz finds marvels in unlikely places: in outdoor gyms, picnic spots and water towers; in internet cafés, hotel restaurants and bottle shops; in goat’s cheese, olive oil and sourdough bread; and via the body in motion, in its squats and stretches, burpees and breath friends, run-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, warm-ups and cool-downs.
Playful, philosophical and strangely captivating, Tom Lee’s first novel speaks to the contemporary fixation on self-fashioning and wellness, conjuring an immersive world of intimacy, awkwardness and elation.
Lee, TM 2018, 'Eccentric Guides: Vanessa Berry’s Mirror Sydney', Sydney Review of Books.
The internet has allowed the familiar yet alien perspectives of other city users to become easily and widely shared in the form of photographs and writing. People have always kept records of place. Now these records can be shared more widely and quickly than ever before. Instagram has an active and diverse community of users (of which Berry and I are both part) preoccupied with alternative views of Australian cities (see: @lord_fry, @the_coburg_plan, @the_northern_delights, @innerwest, @sublurb, @redbrick sydney, @urban_schnapps, @ezekieldyer, @gritpix, @oncewereshops, @housesofsydney, @theaustralianugliness @kirstenseale, @matte_rochford). Blogs such as Spitalfields Life, Newtown to North Melbourne, Melbourne Circle, Vanishing New York, Places Cities Encounters , The Australian Ugliness and 150 Great Things about the Underground, make public everyday records of human life, viewed through the prism of a specific location or theme.
Lee, TM 2016, 'Lost Landscapes of Waterloo', Sydney Review of Books, Sydney.
An essay on the aesthetics of post industrial suburban Sydney and the poetics of place, with a focus on the Waterloo and Botany areas.
A collaboration between writer Tom Lee and writer/designer Zoë Sadokierski, documented over ten months and visualised as a series of published books, artist's books and lectures.
'Words from the First Walk' explores three different perspectives of the same walk at 'Coorah', a sixth generation family farm in central west New South Wales. Poet and essayist Tom Lee, whose ancestor William Lee first arrived in the district in 1818, led the walk. His writing about contemporary Australians' relationship to the land has been published in Environmental Humanities, Rabbit, Overland Magazine and Southernly Journal. Two of Tom's essays about Coorah are presented in the catalogue. Zoë Sadokierski is a designer and researcher. In this exhibition, her collages, etchings, drawings and books respond to a passage from Murray Bail's novel Eucalyptus which links paragraphs to paddocks, and publishing to farming. These works are a form of text analysis, through design practice. Photographer and researcher Jacqueline Lorber-Kasunic builds on her doctoral thesis `Receding visions of pastoral idyll: An ethnographic and photographic study of marginal farming in the Maranoa', to tell a different kind of story using the landscape as visual evidence of custodianship and change, through a photographic essay. The collaboration is an ongoing one for Tom and I; we have been working together as writer and designer on private projects since 2009. This is our first public work.
Wakefield-Rann, R, Lee, T, Pandolfo, B & Florin, N Institute of Sustainable Futures and Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building 2019, Addressing Expanded Polystyrene Waste Through A Closed-Loop System Using Digital Technologies: University of Technology Sydney Pilot Study, UTS.View/Download from: UTS OPUS
Pandolfo, B 2018, 'POLY-STYLIN: TURNING PLASTICS INTO AESTHETICS', 2ser Radio.
We use polystyrene in so many single-use products- from packaging peanuts to “disposable” cutlery and plates. But did you know that more than three quarters of Australia’s polystyrene isn’t properly recycled, and ends up in landfill?
At the University of Technology Sydney, the Design Faculty have decided to take action by experimenting with polystyrene and turning it into art. They’re hoping this will prevent so much polystyrene from ending up in landfill, and start raising awareness about the proper recycling of the material.
Tess was joined by Berto Pandolfo and Dr Tom Lee, Lecturers at the University of Technology Sydney’s Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, to find out how the faculty is tackling the issue.
Australia exports some EPS to be recycled overseas, but we have less than one collection point per state. All of this means that The NSW Evironmental Protection Agency estimates that some 12,000 tonnes of EPS is sent to landfill every year. According to the Australian Plastics Recycling survey, about 14% of EPS is recovered for recycling. Most of that is exported – only around 1.6% of all the EPS used in Australia is recycled here.
This is why many researchers are looking for ways to re-purpose EPS, taking advantage of this very useful material and keeping it out of landfill.
For many people there is something irresistible about chocolate. But in the hungry rush to make it part of our bodies there is a missed opportunity to meditate on the different gestural experiences chocolate affords. We take it for granted that chocolate commonly comes to us in bars – that stereotypical industrial form. But prior to the colonial project and the industrial revolution, the idea of eating chocolate in a bar would have seemed like a radical idea. In Mayan and Aztec cultures, where chocolate was part of the culture for a much longer time, it was consumed in liquid form. In addition to being pleasurable to eat, chocolate bars are designed to be handled in particular ways. Take the KitKat for example, which has been the focus of a recent trademark protections lawsuit.
Lee, TM, 'How art merges with maths to explore continuity, change and exotic states: A Review of Kate Scardifield's 'Soft Topologies'.'.
Craig Walker Design and Innovation
Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District Mental Health Service
Hearts Above the Sea
Centre for Inclusive Design