From the flourishing and creative streets of the Arts District, Only Way Is Up Design’s office is a streamlined space of design filled with custom made furniture; including their Caustics chair that was previously exhibited in Paris design week. The sun pours into their bright, industrial space illuminating a framed rendered section from their thesis project “6AM.” Their bookshelves and tables lend a clue to some of their points of inspiration with Japanese design and architecture books scattered among their current work.
Only Way Is Up Design or OWIU-a phonetic pronunciation-was started by Amanda Gunawan and Joel Wong in Los Angeles. Both designers were raised in Singapore and received their bachelor’s degree in architecture from Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) with the merit undergraduate thesis award. Their designs and services encompass product design and manufacturing, architectural visualization, branding, and content creation.
How did your time at Morphosis architects influence your architectural philosophies and ideas? Have they changed from that experience?
“Our viewpoint on architecture absolutely changed from the time we spent there. We learnt and enjoyed ourselves very much. Morphosis continuously serves as a source of inspiration for us. We saw that architecture can be both a creative and supportive environment. The workload there is extremely intense, there’s constantly so much information and knowledge circulating. We were surrounded by the best of the best. When you’re surrounded by this high a caliber of expertise, you learn a lot faster. Everyone had responsibilities both big and small. Having to juggle working alone and together really helped bring the team together and we carry that philosophy as we embark on our own practice. As long as you have the same philosophy and you believe in our agenda, then you’re part of the team, there’s no such thing as hierarchies, we’re all in this together. Let’s just go all in.”
What are OWIU’s design and thought process?
“It’s important to us to always be immersed in culture. As architects, it’s crucial to be connected to society and the contemporary. Ultimately, you're designing for people and this high level of empathy in understanding each stakeholder is absolutely essential. In OWIU, we’re very true to our name. Styles will always change but we believe if we had improved the space in a forward trajectory, then we have done our jobs. We always make sure we are on the forefront of technology and are always learning and upgrading ourselves. With clients, we want to ensure our design and architecture can add value. We focus on our strengths, which is to help the client realize a space’s potential. That’s our first pitch and then will continue to ensure that our visions align with the client. As a practice, we are also drawn to creative energy and what people bring to the table. We want to be surrounded by knowledge-thirsty, technologically-savvy people who genuinely want to make an impact in architecture and whose views align with our philosophy.”
"As architects, it’s crucial to be connected to society and the contemporary. Ultimately, you're designing for people and this high level of empathy in understanding each stakeholder is absolutely essential."
From your interview in The Glossary, you mentioned Instagram as the easiest and most universal way to share design; How does social media change the public perception of architecture?
“People think architecture is an esoteric discipline. Whenever they hear that you’re an architect, it’s almost like they can't engage in a discussion with you. They think that you have no interest in what they’re about to say or what they do. Architecture is a culmination of everything, and SCI-Arc for us made that clear in their curriculum. Social Media is a universal platform that is a gateway for our generation. It’s almost easier to network through social media than to give a business card. Instagram allows us to speak about our work, engage in conversation, and have people feel less intimidated about the topic; it opens doors to a wider spectrum of the public.
What are some ways that we can all become more aware and appreciate the architecture around us?
“Design appreciation is universal. We can all walk into a space and go “I really like this.” Taste is preferential. To understand and appreciate architecture you need to be able to understand from the perspective of “why’s.” For example, Philharmonie De Paris by Jean Nouvel exemplifies revolutionary construction. To see the building and understand the design is appreciating the difficulty in craft and construction to pull it off. There’s also an appreciation for history with architecture. The building had to be thought of and applied in terms of economics, social standing, time, labor and resources. It's valid to question why so much effort was put into a building and then you should be able to appreciate it.”
As the afternoon winds down, the familiar smell of coffee fills the air to fuel the designers. The computer keyboards and mouse’s click to create a rhythm in their well-crafted office. Amanda and Joel continue to work on their architectural visualizations and share their process on social media to serve as platforms for community engagement and conceptual work.
To view OWIU’s work visit: http://www.owiu-design.com.
“To create a conversation at all times is very important to us.”