Many architects make names for themselves by experimenting with building materials. But Dwayne Oyler and Jenny Wu, the married couple who ditched budding careers in New York to form Oyler Wu Collaborative in Los Angeles nearly 10 years ago, are the rare ones who've exploited the design potential of polypropylene rope—hundreds of thousands of feet of it. “We're both a bit obsessed with lines, and using rope has let us explore this idea in our installations,” says Wu.
These experimental projects, which include a soaring canopy, a sculpture wall that appears kinetic, and most recently The Cube, a steel-and-rope affair for the 2013 Beijing Biennale, have become the firm's calling card, much the way that cutting-edge houses launched the careers of Los Angeles'based predecessors such as Thom Mayne and Eric Owen Moss. Not that the couple planned it that way. “We started doing installations to keep ourselves working when we didn't have clients,” says Oyler. They've also reaped the benefits of being on the faculty at Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), an institution that both encourages their why-not-try-it? spirit and has given them a regular venue to showcase the results. Oyler and Wu have built a project side by side with their students on the campus nearly every year since 2008.
Though the formal complexity and repeating motifs in their work might appear to be digitally derived, the couple uses software as just one tool to develop projects, moving fluidly from sketches to digital models to physical models to large-scale mock-ups and back again. “Often, it's a sketch that kicks off a project,” says Wu; indeed, Oyler's precise pen-and-ink studies will convince any skeptic that some young, tech-savvy architects can still draw.
Today, the firm is finally getting clients who are building at many different scales and who, like them, are young and willing to experiment. Case in point: JUT, the developer who hired them to design the exterior of a 16-story residential tower in Taipei. Wu, a Los Angeles native whose family comes from Taiwan and who's unafraid to knock on doors, first persuaded JUT's leadership to let the couple design an installation that the developer could build. That kickoff effort, an interactive work called Anemone that featured thousands of tentacle-like plastic rods, gave the company confidence that Oyler and Wu could apply their innovative thinking to a full-scale building.
Now that a temporary sales center for the tower has been built according to their design and the tower itself is about to start construction, the couple is eager to keep tackling the challenges of scaling up their work, both in Taipei and beyond. “At first, with the tower, we were applying ideas from our smaller, line-based projects directly, and they didn't always work,” says Oyler. “Sometimes the scale was off, or the proportions, or the neighborhood fit, so we reworked the design several times. In the long run, we would welcome projects that allow us to go more deeply into solving problems of entire buildings from the ground up. If someone asked us to design an arts center in the middle of Los Angeles, that'd be our sweet spot.” Are you listening, City of Angels?
Oyler Wu Collaborative
DESIGN STAFF: 4
PRINCIPALS: Jenny Wu, Dwayne Oyler
EDUCATION: Wu: Harvard GSD, M.Arch., 2001; Columbia, B.A., 1997. Oyler: Harvard GSD, M.Arch., 2001; Kansas State, B.Arch., 1996.
WORK HISTORY: Wu: ARO, 2002; Gluckman Mayner, 2003'4. Oyler: Lebbeus Woods, 1997'9; Toshiko Mori, 2001'4.
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: The Cube, Beijing Biennale, 2013; Stormcloud, Los Angeles, 2013; Taipei Sales Center, Taipei, 2013; Centerstage, Los Angeles, 2012; Screenplay, Los Angeles, 2012; Netscape, Los Angeles, 2011
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Meditation-space prototype, Los Angeles, 2014; Taipei Tower, 2015
WEB SITE: www.oylerwu.com