1883 Magazine
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In a city renowned for its youthful incline and spirit of experimentation, LA architectural firm Oyler Wu Collaborative is one that is truly thriving. The brainchild of Dwayne Oyler and Jenny Wu, the practice is one that is marked by its innovative and complex designs that have captured imaginations across the Californian state. But the practice isn’t just excelling in their home state. In Asia, the duo are quickly gaining momentum thanks to striking structures such as Anemone pavilion in Taipei and the Taipei Tower- examples of projects that have since led the firm to gain numerous design award nods and acknowledgements across the Asian design scene and beyond.

 

 

The practice began when the two Harvard alum joined forces in 2004. The pair first tested the waters in New York, however they describe a very different scene compared to the one at present in LA.  “There’s not the same kind of freedom in New York as there is in LA,” explains Oyler. “We were seeing very talented architects 10 years old than us and if they were lucky, they had a flourishing practice designing lofts. There’s not the same range of experimentation there as there is in LA. There are younger architects in New York of course, but for the most part they work more in a conceptual realm than actually realising the work in building form.”

Wu agrees, “There’s definitely a spirit about LA and I’m not sure if it’s got something to do with the entertainment industry or not, but it just seems like more people are willing to take a chance on a young architect instead of always turning to the bigger, more established firms. There’s a stronger sense of belief here that you don’t necessarily have to be older and more established in order to pull something off.”

 

 

With a fresh confidence, the pair swiftly relocated from New York to Wu’s native California and built the firm up from complete scratch. Originally with no clients and no jobs, the duo didn’t waste any time hanging about in the hope that work would come a-knocking and instead channeled their energy and creativity into building their portfolio. First, they spent a month’s rent developing a live/work loft for themselves before then designing a slick outdoor decking structure for Wu’s parents’ home.

Learning the ropes initially a little closer to home, the pair then moved further afield and next completed a four-series project. First came an aluminum cantilever piece- ‘Destiny Fields’- that was designed for a gallery in Silver Lake, with the following then a moveable display system for the LA Forum of Architecture and Design. Both pieces proved to be massive learning curves, with the pair learning fresh methods and techniques, which they carried on with them to each respective new project.

Following a complex staircase named ‘Live Wire’ designed for the SCI-Arc Gallery; they then proceeded to come to the “provisional end” to their aluminum series with an installation that comprised of 1300 punching bags, which together made up the face of Mohammad Ali. The incredible feat of perspective and technical design wowed onlookers for weeks at LA’s popular hub, The Staple Centre.

 

 

However perhaps the project that has seen the firm’s profile rise even further and seen their designs reach spectacular new heights, has been their huge work for the SCI-Arc graduate pavilion for the past two years. “Each year, SCI-Arc ask faculty and students to make a graduate pavilion with the only real requirement being to provide shade for one day of the year, for a two hour period and be able to sit 1000 people. So over all, the scale was enormous,” says Wu.

The first incarnation of their graduate pavilion was christened Netscape and was built in 2011. A pavilion constructed of a steel frame along 40,000 linear feet of rope that was knitted to create an intricate canopy, Netscape not only captures functionality; but also is also visually stunning. “Occasionally you hear people saying it looks like it’s blowing in the wind. But it’s really just the fabric following the shape the net has conformed to,” says Oyler. “It also looks different depending on the location of the sun at certain times, in turn making it appear a different colour throughout the day.”

In 2012, Oyler Wu Collaborative were asked to once again design the architecture for the pavilion but this time with the challenge of rethinking the event of the ceremony while keeping the existing Netscape. Reworking the pavilion, they decided to re-orientate audience 180 degrees from the previous year and have the crowd face outward towards the open end of the existing pavilion where their new stage entitled Centerstage has since been positioned. With the canopy of Centerstage playing off the repetitious structural elements of the existing pavilion, this time it also combines an ambitious steel cantilever with a colour twisting shade fabric. Perfectly complementing the original structure, Centerstage truly exemplifies the remarkable natural progression and evolving skill of the team’s design in just one year.

 

 

So what are the future ambitions of Oyler Wu Collaborative? “Though we change materials depending on the project, there is a lineage in our work and we’d like for that to continue. We hope to do more projects abroad also,” says Wu. When asked if they have a preference between designing buildings or installations, Wu turns to her partner: “ I like both, the variety,” says Oyler. “It keeps you sharp. We’re one of those strange LA offices, where we don’t do so many houses. We jump from experimental installations to large-scale projects. It’s interesting looking at the architects who are the generation above us they all got their start making these really interesting and inventive houses in the 80’s in LA. That genre- meaning houses as experimentation- isn’t what it was then. But it’s ok because this installation stuff has now emerged as this generation’s new ‘house’.”

 

 

For more information visit www.oylerwu.com

Words by Aideen Shannon

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