City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.


Another question and answer session with The Two Davids of ArchDaily/Plataforma Arquitectura. If you want to start a smart, funny, Chilean architecture-based talk show, you know where to go.

Oyler Wu Collaborative are an LA-based but they started in NYC in 2001. (I’m interested in these practices that move across the country, given the different cultural backdrops. It was a perhaps inadvertent theme in the ArchDaily guys’ choices – note wHY architecture’s combination of Japan and American and see also Austin Kelly straddling LA and Switzerland.)

Dwayne Oyler and Jenny Wu provided a set of smart, thoughtful answers. I’ll do my best to recall them here.

To the difficult question of ‘what Is architecture for you?’, Oyler replied, as many did, that “architecture is inherently a synthesis of so many different things” – not evading the question so much as suggesting it’s too complex and variable to answer. Though he did then attempt to nail it with “architecuture is specifically the exploitation of material and tectonic ireas for the creation of spatial experience” (which I note is perhaps closer to a more traditional answer to this question, more akin to Corb's “masterful, correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light”…)

Oyler Wu

Wu suggests they’re “more interested in the process itself”, in “experimenting with new ideas,” and constantly exploring detail in the work, throughout construction. Here she specifically mentions fabrication (a theme that would emerge numerous times over the week, perhaps partly due to the looming presence of SCI-Arc in the architectural community here and partly due to the long LA tradition of working with industrial design (boat builders, car designers etc?)

Fabricated shelving system for SCI-arc

They’re also involved with academia (as many architects tend to be – it’s a way of making a living) and so constantly questioning their work is part of the deal.

Question: "What should be role of architects in current society?"
As opposed to some of the ‘strategic thinking / design thinking’ answers this question sometimes elicited, Oyler suggests that “architecture tends to work on an individual basis” I.e. it affects one person at a time. It concerns “how one person engages the work from a tactile and experiential standpoint”. Wu adds that the “architects’ role is the making of space, of human interactive space”. Oyler adds this is about an “obligation to build … and to build well.”

Oyler Wu - villa for Ordos project

In terms of innovation, Oyler suggests that there’s an “incredible over-emphasis on the role of innovation – we never set out to design projects that are ‘innovative’. Yes, technology can enable some new possibilities but you can also create incredibly innovative architecture without technology – so if ‘innovation’ is driving the thing you’re making, it’s misguided.”

In terms of this ‘innovative’ technology, Wu describes how, yes, their work is “all CATIA, Rhino, Maya. You have to know it, as a tool, but it’s not the end point in itself. Don’t let the tool become the end product.”

The ‘social networking’ question draws a blank look. They ultimately respond that it’s “important, but not our favourite thing to do.” They’d also suggested that their schools are the source of networks to some degree, and to the Davids’ question about education for young architects, they respond that its fundamentally important to “go to the schools, talk to the people there, see which school has the right spirit for you …”. They say this as, at the end of the day, “architecture is real hard. It’s hard work, long hours, the pay’s not great. You have to love what you do – have to really love it.” They give the sense that it’s important to flush this out early on.

Oyler Wu

As to what skills they look for, Wu responds, with a smile, “You have to be able to do it all! That sounds like a joke, but when the 2 of us are teaching 3 days a week it has to be someone who does it all. We had someone in the office in front of a computer doing Maya in the morning and he was pounding nails in the afternoon. We’d like to be an office that gets big enough so that that’s not the case, but right now you have to do it all.” She adds that they “work in iterations”, and they don’t employ ‘grunts’. “We don’t have grunts in our office.”

(That’s an interesting sentiment in terms of ‘liking to be an office that’s big enough not to have people doing it all’. Another approach is to stay small in order to retain the ‘do it all’ holistic nature of the work – that the architecture might be better informed by someone comfortable and proficient with both Maya and nails. But the drive towards scaling up is seen as a natural – if incredibly difficult – progression in architecture for sure.)

Oyler Wu

A good conversation, although you feel Oyler Wu have a little more to give, perhaps, particularly as they’ve been featured on one of the handful of truly essential architecture blogs: that of Lebbeus Woods. I was particularly taken with their write-up of their Density Fields project there, not least the final passage, which further reinforces many of the primary interests we heard about at Postopolis! LA, from OW and others:

“The lack of conventional separation between design and fabrication has allowed us to use the construction phase as an extension to the design process. It has been especially helpful with our aspiration to create a level of engagement that is equally as powerful at the scale of an individual as it is as a site strategy. Overall, this process has led to a period of material discovery, invention, and experimentation that comes only through the difficult, but profoundly rewarding task of realizing the work on a given site.” [From 'Density Fields', by Oyler Wu Collaborative, at Lebbeus Woods]

Density Fields

Oyler Wu Collaborative


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