Starter Series: Jenny Wu

Jenny Wu reviews & interviews

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The Mamalode Starter Series is an exciting opportunity for us to introduce you to some of the amazing people we get to meet. Starting something takes enormous amounts of work, faith, help and community. Every week we'll share another story of starting. So, community of Mamalode, read up, get inspired and check out these wonder-folk.

Tell us a little bit about your business and how you started it.

I founded Oyler Wu Collaborative, a Los Angeles based architecture and design office, with my husband. Dwayne Oyler, in 2004. We met when we were studying architecture at Harvard. When we finished school, we knew we didn’t want to follow the traditional path of working for large offices doing conventional projects. Instead, we chose to pursue our passion for exploration and experimentation with the type of design that pushes the boundaries of what architecture is. When we relocated to LA after being on the east coast for 10 years, we knew that starting a business in a new city, where we knew no one and had no prospect for work, was going to be difficult. On top of that, finding a client who would give us the chance to do the type of work we wanted to do would be nearly impossible. 

We decided that instead of waiting around for clients to knock on our door, we were going to invent projects that would allow us to experiment with new design ideas while simultaneously building up our portfolio. Our very first project was our own loft, in which we invested one month of rent (merely $2500!) on building supplies and our own labor (hundreds of hours) in renovating it. We had to be resourceful with the material ($2500 doesn’t get you much) and inventive with our design to create something that showcased our design sensibility and was worthy of being published.

That project started a new practice for us—that of designing and building our own work. Since 2006, we have completed 10 installation projects, from LA to as far away as China for the Beijing Biennale (although we didn’t have to build that ourselves). Through this process, we have had the opportunity to experiment and test out unconventional design ideas as well as work with amazing staff and students on making these projects happen. 

At this point, we are lucky to have clients who support our work and no longer need to build the projects ourselves. However, we still do on occasion, out of the love of building and learning. We've evolved from the days of our initial design/build projects, and we are now working on a large range of projects.   The projects range from a small meditation booth, to pavilions for large-scale events, to a 16-story residential tower in Asia. My latest endeavor is in the design of my own 3-D printed jewelry line, which I hope to launch later this year.

What do your kids think about your job?

My son Emery is 9-months-old and may not yet have a sense of what we do. But he certainly knows that we are very hands on and love to work outside. He has accompanied us to many job sites and watches us build things. We really love that we can incorporate him into our work life as well.

Tell us about a total mom + biz win (brag away!)

Architecture and design, like many other creative fields, do not operate on a 9 to 5 schedule. In figuring out how to operate our business and still have time for our family, we had to invent and set up our live and work situation that best suits us. First, we had to find the right neighborhood to accommodate both and ultimately settled on Silver Lake, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. For us, it is the ideal LA neighborhood for living and working at the same place. We decided to set up our design studio as part of our house by having our living space upstairs and our studio downstairs. This separation is just enough that we are able to focus on work when necessary but also pop up to see our son throughout the day when we need a break. I feel so lucky to do what I love which is being a mom and an architect at the same time!

What's your relationship with Mamalode?

I met Dori Gilels last summer at Summit Outside, a retreat for entrepreneurs.  She was one of the first people I met and we immediately clicked as I was lamenting about how difficult it was to leave my baby at home. When we left the retreat, she sent me home with my own copies of Mamalode and ever since then I’ve been a fan. I love how personal the stories are and also the attention to design on every page.

About the Author

Jenny Wu

Jenny Wu is a partner at the Los Angeles based practice, Oyler Wu Collaborative, which she started in 2004. The office has been published globally and is recognized for its experimentation in design and fabrication.

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