Drive by this live/work space in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake and you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at. The undulating metal fence reads like a piece of sculpture. The cement-board structure behind could be a home, it could be a duplex, it could be an office. In fact it is the home and office of architects Jenny Wu and Dwayne Oyler of Oyler Wu Collaborative. I visited the space during the Dwell house tours last month and was impressed with how they’d set up their live/work space. A common design language linked the office/public space downstairs with the private/home area upstairs, creating a clean-lined oasis on a busy urban road.
In 2001 Oyler Wu was established when you were both were living in New York City. You both went to Harvard – did you meet there? Yes, during our time there we entered a couple of competitions together. The partnership turned out to good one – in a couple of ways.
You are currently located in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles where you’ve taken a 1930′s residential duplex on a very busy street and turned it into a live/work space. Can you describe that process? The building wasn’t residential when you took it over. At the time we purchased the building in 2009, there was a wood flooring company operating out of the ground floor, and it was in serious need of an overhaul.
Although it had been renovated numerous times, there was never any real attempt to change the exterior from the pseudo-Spanish style stucco box to something more modern. Because of its simplicity, we saw the potential of the building to become a simple, elegant volume.
Because we have been doing most of the work ourselves, the renovation has happened slowly, beginning with those elements that just made it livable. And over the two year period, we’ve begun slowly adding design elements.
The building is clad in cement board with recessed aluminum windows. Why those material choices? The cement board was chosen for its simplicity and the honesty of its materiality. The clear coating reveals the richness of the board and the nailing pattern across the surface. We felt that there was beauty to that that one just can’t get with a stucco surface. The deep recessed windows came out of the need to flatten the surface of the building. The existing building essentially required a second layer, and that process ultimately made the walls incredibly thick. Recessing the windows was a way of expressing that thickness.
You have stripped the interior back to its essentials, exposing the 1930′s wood frame construction. Tell us how those design decisions impact they way you work and live in the space? Nearly everything we own is modern. The exposed wood (and the shelving that was made from wood salvaged during the renovation phase) made for a contrast with those more modern elements in a way that we felt was complimentary to both. I’m not sure that particular aspect dramatically changed how we live so much as it highlights the aesthetic qualities of both. What does change our lives is the live/work configuration of living upstairs and working downstairs, as well as the incredibly vibrant Silver Lake neighborhood.
What inspires you in your work? We’re occasionally asked this question, and we always have a hard time answering it. While we love the work of so many architects (Gaudi, Otto, Miralles, Saarinen to name a few), our work more often works in an evolutionary way. We tend to draw on unanswered questions and tectonic discoveries produced in previous projects as well as specific contextual problems of a given project (a site constraint, for example). It’s also fair to say that we’re constantly inspired by our students (at the Southern California Institute of Architecture – SCI-Arc).