Dwayne Oyler on Digital and Physical Making

Dwayne Oyler on Digital and Physical Making

The Midnight Charette is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by architectural designers David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features a variety of creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions. A wide array of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes provide useful tips for designers, while others are project reviews, interviews, or explorations of everyday life and design. The Midnight Charette is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This week David and Marina are joined by Dwayne Oyler, Architect, Professor at SCI-Arc, and Co-Founder of Oyler Wu Collaborative, to discuss the pros and cons of digital and physical making, building tricycles, the evolution of their office, translating conceptual work to buildings, welding, power tools, the importance of being selective in your work, and more!


Dwayne discusses his transition from the Midwest, to New York, then Los Angeles; owning and transforming your own home; and having a ‘home office’. (00:00)

Dwayne discusses the pros and cons physical processes and digital processes: computer modeling, digital fabrication, physical modeling, and building things by hand (16:20)

  • There is definitely a mentality that now that we have 3D printers and certain technologies that we should rely on them for everything. And a lot of times that's a really smart thing to do and a lot of times it doesn't make any sense at all. [. . .] We’re in a funny moment now where I am still always really wanting to use the physical models as an intuitive way of designing and making decisions [. . .] and I've got to get over it, because we have reached the point where people modeling digitally can see it in the same way—they’ve learned to see it as an extension of their own hands. (17:44)
  • The making of the [physical] model is on one hand, intuitive. On the other hand, you have to make really deliberate decisions when you put the glue on there in a way that the digital model just allows for endless variation. You're not forcing yourself to make the same kind of unchangeable decision. Obviously it can be changed, but I like that process of forcing you into making these deliberate moves. (21:14)

Dwayne discusses the importance of making decisions in the design process.

  • Particularly in school, a student will say,“Why do we have to make a model at this stage? We kind of know where we are, so why are we doing this for the presentation?” And there's some truth to that but for me, the making of the models and having to meet these deadlines and pin up, really is about forcing people into a benchmark that forces decisions. [. . .] I see a lot of ‘design constipation’—designers are either completely stuck and don't know what to do or they have so many things they could do but are unable to make decisions about which ones are the right ones. And I happen to think there aren't necessarily right ones, there are paths that you can build on and grow, and you have to force yourself into making those decisions. (25:44)

Dwayne discusses the challenge of translating and scaling up conceptual work to larger built projects. (29:22)

  • [Conceptual projects] do have to change. That's what's interesting. Early on when we were working on this line stuff, we did a lot of projects [where we said,] “Now let's try this on a large building.” And it just didn't work. When we look back at those early ones, we were glad many of them didn't get built because it might've been an interesting test, but they would have failed on many levels to us. You've always got to ask yourself when you blow something up a hundred times, “What is that thing now?” Because it's no longer a chunk or a piece of structure. “Is it a spatial device? How is it interpreted? What does it mean when it exists in the city? What needs to happen so it still maintains the conceptual basis or can that happen? If not, have you reached a limit?” And there are limits for many. (13:21)
  • [. . .] And I think having taken on that problem—finding the limits of those issues—that's where the work grows. The work changed at that point for that building. And it brought with it a lot of different ideas. (33:12)

Dwayne discusses incorporating different professions into their office, such as construction management or real estate and their office growth. (42:50)

Dwayne discusses their installations, how they are fabricated and what happens to them after they are used (01:03:36), hacking tools, and shop injuries. (51:06)

Dwayne talks about the influence their work has on their kids and making cars and tricycles. (59:16)

  • [Our kids] know that our house isn't like other people's houses. For example, the other kids are drawing homes with a pitched roof and they draw boxes and crazy lines. There are several houses that they've drawn and they're the weirdest houses ever. And it's not just weird like a little kid who draws a house that isn't right. They actually have like bizarre sawtooth roofs that you'd only see from our kids. (01:00:24)

Dwayne discusses teaching with Lebbeus Woods and working for Toshiko Mori and reflects on where his design sensibilities and preferences came from (01:05:11)

Dwayne discusses the importance of having an architectural thesis, and why young designers shouldn’t rush to find one (01:11:34

  • When I went to school instructors were very much [believed] that when you get a new project, you need to pretend like you don't have a thing you work on. [Instead] you need to go to the site, you need to ask what the site wants—you’re like a child looking freshly at this new site. And I believed that for a long time but then when I started to really look at other architects more closely—all those architects that we admire—they were sensitive to issues of site and place, but they often also said, “What can the thing I do contribute to that site or place?” And so those architects I'm talking about—people like a Frei Otto and Antoni Gaudi, Eero Saarinen— they had a thing. They didn't start ‘fresh’ by any stretch of the imagination. They had a thing. So I do think at some point in life, an architect has got to ask,"Am I working on an architectural issue? Am I bringing something to the table?” (01:11:38)
  • I will say about that though, I don't think people when they're very young should be super worried about that. I do notice that increasingly students are worried—and we as instructors are partially to blame—that they they haven't found their thing, there’s not a clear trajectory. When students do a thesis, we ask them to do that. But I do think that if a person has decided when they're 19 or 20 years old that they know what they're going to—the exact kind of architects are going to be—they're really going to limit their ability to continue learning and growing and evolving in unexpected ways. I think you should have a thing, the whole point of it should be that it is absorbing every influence similar or different until you've reached a certain point where it's robust enough o continue to grow on its own. (01:12:58)

Dwayne discusses changes in education and students. (01:14:02)

  • I think architecture is a really long and slow career and I just wish people would be a little more patient about it. You're going to live many lives in architecture from the time you go to school, to working for someone, to then having a struggling office to winning the Pritzker someday. Imagine how many lives most of those offices lived! (01:17:04)

Dwayne discuses the struggle to get clients and how to get interesting projects (01:18:35).

  • There's a huge misconception that you start your office, you take the jobs you can get and you might get one interesting moment, but the next one will get two interesting moments, and then the next thing you know, you're setting the world on fire with the most interesting project ever. That's just not generally how it works. The proof of that is, thank of the number of offices who started doing relatively boring projects and grew into being a world class, interesting office. I can think of a couple, but not very many. Most offices that got to that point were really stubborn, they did what they wanted to do and they struggled to do that for a really long time. (01:19:08)

The three discuss design competitions. (01:21:29)

About this author
Cite: The Midnight Charette. "Dwayne Oyler on Digital and Physical Making" 14 Mar 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/935486/dwayne-oyler-digital-and-physical-making> ISSN 0719-8884

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