To Live and Design in L.A.

Architecture firm Oyler Wu makes its mark.

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WWD Scoop issue 09/29/2008
British architecture critic Reyner Banham observed in his 1972 book, Los Angeles, “Once the history of the city is brought under review, it is immediately apparent that no city has ever been produced by such an extraordinary mixture of geography, climate, economics, demography, mechanics and culture; nor is it likely that an even remotely similar mixture will ever occur again.”

Think what you will about many of Los Angeles’ traditions, but to design structures in the City of Angels requires architects to adapt to that mixture, especially given its changing, and forever sprawling, landscape.

Few young architecture offices better exemplify this agglomeration than Oyler Wu, founded by Dwayne Oyler and Jenny Wu, where the mix of projects sits at the  intersection of the urban and suburban and reflects the city’s constant flux as being neither one nor the other. The pair run their office out of the American Cement Building—which is clad in a dramatic X-shaped concrete shell—on Wilshire Boulevard in what is technically Koreatown, but recently has become the middle ground between the idyllic, palm tree–lined stretches of West Los Angeles and the grittier landscape of downtown.

“I find the residential parts of downtown really interesting. It’s not quite downtown [in the normal sense], but certainly not suburban,” says Oyler. “I like that in-between; there is this intensity and activity there.”

That energy emboldens the two architects, who met while students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Both of them worked in several offices in New York—Oyler at Toshiko Mori, while Wu worked for Gluckman Mayner, among others—before establishing their practice on the West Coast. This year, the duo  won a competition to design a new home for the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Design. The gallery was envisioned as a constantly shifting space—exhibition room one day, an event venue the next. For the narrow interior, the architects incorporated an ingenious system of metal aluminum racks that pivot downward to hold visual material, and can neatly be put away into the ceiling so the space is a true forum. When collected, the system resembles a chaotic tangle of metal wires.

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