Written by Xiao Luo Photos by Xiao Luo and Ali Al-Sulaiti
The Gold Nugget Awards
“The best project is always the next project,” says Alex Wu, owner of AWDA, an Architectural Interior Design firm in Los Angeles. When you walk into his office, you see an organized modern gray and white workspace. On the walls are his ten Gold Nugget Awards which he won for designing different international buildings. Even though we are sitting across a big wooden desk, I feel very comfortable talking to him. He is friendly, professional, and the way he talks about architecture is interesting to me as a young architecture student. His favorite building in Los Angeles is The Schindler House which is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, and he is full of advice and passion for architecture. Under Alex Wu’s supervision, AWDA Company has ranked as the No. 31 firm on the 2016 Annual Top 200 Giants List. Since 2011, they have won 12 merit awards and a Grand Award of Gold Nugget Award. Running an architecture film by himself is not easy, especially for a man with a wife and kids. Even though he is so busy, he took time to talk to me about his career.
"We want to create an inspiring place to create, learn, innovate and grow. "
How did you start your business? I started my business when some friends asked me if I was interested to work on some projects in China. In 2007, the US was in recession, but the China market was still going strong. I decided to give it a shot and thought to work on some interesting projects on my own after worked for some large architecture firms in Los Angeles and Orange County for nearly 15 years. I first started a small studio in Irvine to work on those projects and hired some of my former co-workers who were laid off due to the recession to help on those projects and eventually I relocated to Shanghai as we got more projects from China and set up an office there while maintaining some staffs in the Irvine office.
Can you talk about the history of the company? AWDA has been in business for 10 years. We started in Irvine, California in 2007 and we were working on some small local projects. We hit it off once we worked on some large-scale China projects and eventually opened an 30-person office in Shanghai, China.
Can you talk about the spirit of your company? We are a design-oriented design firm and we promote open ideas within the office and a culture that emphasize competitiveness. We establish a culture of collaboration throughout the office. We want to form an inspiring place to create, learn, innovate and grow. Our philosophy is work hard and play hard.
Radisson Blu Hotel in Shenyang
The Home of The Artists
What is the challenge having two offices in two different countries? Communication is challenging because of the time difference. Conference calls would be arranged at a time that works for both offices. Sometimes both offices need to coordinate closely to make sure that projects runs smoothly. The good thing is technology is a big help.
Can you talk about the days when you were in USC? USC is a “Trojan Family “. School enabled me to meet and make so many friends with other students from around the world. When I was at USC, campus life was fun and stimulating but school work was very demanding. It was an amazing experience to learn from so many great professors. While USC provided world class academics, architecture school was overwhelming since we had a lots of late nights for projects.
"We want to create places and buildings to improve community health and resilience while promoting sustainability and equity."
What’s your passion and tenet of design? My passion and tenet of design would be creating buildings and communities to enhance human health both mentally and physically. Sustainable design plays an important role in our projects. We want to create places and buildings to improve community health and resilience while promoting sustainability and equity.
How do you manage so many projects at the same time? It is definitely very challenging to manage so many projects at the same time especially when it comes to maintaining the quality for each project. We had to utilize the time difference between China and the US and technically employed the concept of “Open 24 hours”. Teamwork is very important in our office. It takes a lot of passion, dedication and commitment from the team members.
Can you tell some behind stories of the awards you won? We always have the same mentality that each project is unique, and the best project is always the next project. Our design teams always strive to do great work not only for our clients but ourselves in a consistent basis. We are a research-based design firm that research for the history, culture, geography and climate for each project and make sure the projects are socially, economically and environmentally responsive.
"It is not easy especially in the profession of architecture and the schedule is very demanding. "
Alex Wu and co-workers
What is your favorite architecture project you designed? I think the Home of the Artists is one of my favorite projects I have designed. It is a cultural project that reflects the history, culture, geography and climate of Hainan Province. It is also a very sustainable project. The Moon Lake Resort is also one of my favorite projects I designed. It is an agricultural tourism project which is Eco-conscious.
What are your favorite works of architecture in LA? I always like sustainable projects that embrace nature and relate to human scale. The Schindler House is one of my favorite works. It is truly a masterpiece for modern architecture. It is the best example of California’s courtyard housing. How do you balance between family and career? It is not easy especially in the profession of architecture and the schedule is very demanding. We constantly work overtime and sometimes we may have to work on the weekends. I try to find time to spend with my family whenever is possible. I really owe that to my wife and young son. I try to go to the office early and come home early to spend time with my family. I try to have dinner with my family together and squeeze some time to do some work after my wife and son go to bed. I set up some parameters that help create family time. When I left the interview, I felt inspired by Alex Wu’s accomplishments. His advice made me think about what I want to do in the next 5-10 years as an architect and gave me new visions of what architecture can be. Success is not a coincidence. It comes from working hard, having talent, and balancing your life as Alex Wu has taught me.