Meet the Architects Behind Some of Kanye West's Biggest Projects and Virgil Abloh's Off-White Store
By Cedar Pasori
9 October 2017
Photo courtesy of Andy Hur
College of Environmental Design alumnus Dong-Ping Wong (B.A. Arch ‘01) has been changing the definition of what it means to be an architect for years. As the co-founder of architecture studio Family New York, he and co-founder Oana Stanescu are well known for their expertise in combining the unexpected and for creating memorable spaces. Family New York was established in 2010 and has since attracted the attention of high-profile clients, including rapper Kanye West.
In 2013, Wong and Stanescu’s work was featured in West’s “Yeezus” tour. The architects helped construct elements of the stage, including a large-scale movable mountain that was just as well received in the entertainment realm as it was on social media. Family New York’s multidisciplinary contributions to the stage are in line with the architects’ style, which aims to be “intentionally fun and focused on the emotionally impactful aspects of buildings, homes, and space in general.”
“With most clients, you meet, you think of some ideas, and you come back in a week or two weeks to present,” Wong said. “It's relatively organized. With Kanye, it's very much like, ‘Come. We're going to work with you nonstop for a week. Let’s get this done tomorrow.’”
In addition to Kanye West, Family New York also garnered the attention of Olympic swimmer Connor Dwyer, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony, and Karen Wong of the New Museum. Despite this impressive fan base, Wong and Stanescu’s intent was never to create “popular” work. At the core of their existence as individuals, and as a unified studio, is a desire to use architecture to efficiently improve people’s lives and provide essential resources.
Both designers are at the forefront of productive architecture, a term they coined, which is based on fulfilling human needs beyond housing—clean water, air, and food are among them. Wong presented these thoughts at a 2013 TED Talk where he explained that productive architecture exists in direct opposition to the ubiquity of expensive, pre-Great Recession buildings, erected in the early 2000s in cities like Dubai and Doha, that were seen as gratuitously excessive and grand. Wong and Stanescu’s practice and early projects starkly contrast this wasteful style of design.
Wong, who grew up in San Diego, was not exposed to architecture until high school when his parents forced him to attend a two-week arts summer camp. Wong resolved to become an architect after house hunting with parents. When deciding between four nearly identical tract homes in San Diego suburbia, Wong noticed a bridge between two bedrooms in one of the homes. “This is what architecture is,” Wong recalled thinking. “You design those differences, and they have a huge impact on how you feel about space.”
At CED, Wong was further exposed to the concept of purpose-driven design by Professor Emeritus Richard Whitaker (B.A. Arch ‘61) who is known for his work on Sea Ranch, a utopian, coastal residential project developed in the 1960s. At the top of every stair, you need to have a little seat,” Whitaker told Wong’s class. “Because that's where the grandfather has to sit down, to be able to take a rest, but also to read a story to his grandkids.”
Family’s work has so far been executed with a fearless, optimistic ambition. It’s the kind that comes from being self-realized, from understanding what the highest human highs feel like, as well as the lowest lows. Wong hopes to ground his architectural focus on the improvement of others lives, especially through public spaces.
“I have a big interest in working on public spaces that you often forget about in cities,” Wong said. “Projects like public libraries or recreation centers that are purely for the community are usually not very interesting architecturally. Philosophically, they have an incredible use; they are places for the public to go and be engaged in their communities. I think that's becoming more and more important.”
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