In his seminal book for the modern design era, “S, M, L, XL,” Rem Koolhaas wrote, “Bigness is ultimate architecture.” That may or may not be true, but it could be said that having written a 1,344-page book that weighs six pounds, Koolhaas is biased.
“Because of the way that we produce the jewelry through 3-D printing, it’s much more hands on. And in some ways that really ties into the way we think about our architecture,” says Jenny Wu, partner with her husband Dwayne Oyler at their design firm Oyler Wu Collaborative in the heart of Silver Lake. “I think there is a way to solving problems in architecture that helps me solve problems in the jewelry, and then it feeds back to the architecture again.”
This year is a pivotal one for the practice, with projects like Wu’s Catena necklace, recently acquired as part of the permanent collection at LACMA, as well as their installation at Exhibit Columbus and their first completed large-scale structure, the 16-story Monarch Tower in Taipei, Taiwan, opened just months ago.
Oyler Wu Collaborative has been around since 2004, but LACE, Wu’s jewelry line, was begun just three years ago. Wearing one of her designs at the 2014 Miami Art Basel, she received numerous compliments from strangers and thought, why not produce and market them?
She originally thought to use 3-D printing for prototyping, but eventually came around to adapting it as a means of production. In the past four years, larger printing beds, improved resolution and a drop in costs for producing in metal have made LACE jewelry commercially viable.
Available by appointment only, her rings, bracelets and necklaces adorn some of entertainment’s biggest names including Amy Adams, Jessica Alba, Carrie Underwood and Christina Aguilera. The Catena necklace is a thick, flowing multi-strand interlocking chain, the airy intricacy of which undermines the very concept of a chain. Prices range from $392 to $427 for natural and black nylon. The price for a steel version is available through consultation only.
“To do interlocking in metal and 3-D printing multiples is super-difficult. The kind of complexity that we did, it took a long time to even make this piece. And so I think it was a kind of technological feat, but also something that was beautiful and sculptural and all the things they really liked,” Wu says of LACMA’s decision to acquire the necklace.
Curator Bobbye Tigerman has been following Oyler Wu Collaborative for a number of years and sees the piece as a microcosm of their practice. “It has that sophisticated design, and that made it stand out in a pretty crowded 3D printing field,” Tigerman tells Artbound. “It’s different in that it is designed by an architect and not by a trained jeweler. But it’s continuous as we explore how jewelry can not only be used as a status symbol or a means of displaying wealth, but it can communicate other ideas about our identity and about our values.”
Wu first learned about 3D printing when she was at the Harvard Graduate School of Design where she met Oyler. Today they are married and live in a 1920s duplex in Silver Lake, fully remodeled to fit their esthetic. The downstairs is dedicated to their practice, and the metal gate separating the house from the busy traffic on Hyperion Avenue is made of steel louver with an abrupt crimp, a signature mark.
A short walk away is a showroom for Wu’s jewelry as well as a workshop where they assemble many of their installations. The surrounding space used to be a nursery, but is now a massive garden, which Oyler maintains. It makes the perfect play space for their little boy, who has just entered the kindergarten.
“When we first started working together we were trying different things. And pretty quickly we started to gravitate toward work that had a certain line-based geometry,” recalls Wu, who came to the States as a child from Taiwan. “We looked into how these lines could translate into real materials. In some of our early work we were working with aluminum, with steel, rope, different materials,” she says about installations like the pavilions that decorate SCI-Arc’s DTLA campus, (where they both teach), as well as their 2013 Beijing Biennale piece, “Cube.”
Earlier this summer they were chosen along with five other emerging design firms to contribute to the annual art, architecture and design fest, Exhibit Columbus. Working from three existing pavilions, “Exchange” was shipped in 32 pieces from their shop in Silver Lake. Fabricated on site in Columbus, Indiana, it is a semi-enclosed area in white, a structural and sculptural piece that incorporates Oyler Wu’s singular use of geometric lines. “Starting to work with projects with real enclosure, real buildings, our ideas about this line-based geometry gets woven into ideas of volume and surface,” Oyler clarifies.
Click right and left below to see "Exchange" at Exhibit Columbus.
Enticing and no doubt a little intimidating was the fact that “Exchange” sits next to a simple low-lying glass-walled modernist structure designed by the legendary Eero Saarinen. Instead of borrowing visual motifs from Saarinen, they based their conversation with the mid-century master on concepts. “We didn’t look and say what shapes did he use? We’ll use those,” says Oyler. “It was more like what were some of the ideas that he was working on and how do we translate that into something of our own?”
With Oyler Wu’s first major project, the Monarch residential tower, the notion of the typical rectilinear urban structure is subverted by a façade woven from aluminum mesh, fritted glass, solid panels and steel, adding voids and depth that generate dynamic surface changes, giving the building a character of its own.
“The pixilation actually starts to gesture toward the linear movement that is present in our work,” Wu indicates the façade’s broken line pattern. In earlier proposals, the lines were thicker and more prominent but out of scale. “What we used in this specific project was a system of layers, so there’s still the line work, but we achieve this kind of depth.”
Click right and left below to see LACE's 3-D jewelry and Oyler Wu Collaborative's Monarch Tower.
Linear adornment and motif will no doubt find their way into a whole new challenge for the couple, a 19-mile stretch of the L.A. River project. Their section runs from the Griffith Park Zoo up through the San Fernando Valley. Seven miles of the riverbank have existing bike paths, so it’s up to Oyler Wu to connect and extend them the full length of the 19 miles, which means 23 overpasses, tunnels and the like, crossing roads, freeways and the river itself. It’s part of an overall plan that includes a bike path on one side and a footpath on the other running the river’s entire 51 miles.
“It’s a very slow process. Jurisdiction and community meetings, and different constituencies want different things,” sighs Oyler, though he and Wu are grateful for the commission. “To be able to work at this scale and in a way that impacts such a major part of the city is amazing.”
Aside from the river project, they are looking at a master plan for a hotel, a residential renovation and a tree house, all in New York, and are in talks with developers in Asia. “For the past five years, Oyler Wu has been transitioning from the smaller scale installations to large-scale building projects,” says Wu who can no doubt feel the energy around the firm shifting into high gear. “I hope to see Oyler Wu working on institutional and cultural buildings in the next ten years. We want to bring to these larger projects the same intensity and attention to detail that we are known for in the installations.”