Oana Stanescu, Family
Oana Stănescu is a Romanian architect who runs her eponymous design studio from New York. Former co founder of Family New York, she was recently shortlisted for MoMA PS1 YAP 2019. Her projects include the +POOL, a floating, water filtering swimming pool, as well as a wide range of collaborations with Nike, MoMA, Virgil Abloh, The Office of PlayLab, 2x4, Arup, New Museum, the Storefront for Art and Architecture, Need Supply, Fool's Gold, Kanye West, and many more. She currently teaches at the Architectural Association in London and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
We do all kinds of work at various scales, some is more architectural than others, meaning some things are purely theoretical or experiential and not necessarily space-driven. In parallel with the practice I also teach, which I enjoy quite a lot.
On the name Family
We are asked often why we named our studio Family, and we actually don’t have a good answer. It happened almost by, well, not by mistake, but by intuition, kind of the same way that our work happens. One way we post-rationalize it is that we do argue a lot, and that’s what the office is built on — you argue but at the end of the day you still have dinner together. So, family is a series of things but also a feeling that you are stuck together. Dong and I always found we had this kind of design communication — that we were on the same wavelength when it came to design. We never found that with anyone else, so we just stuck with each other.
While the common idea is that a family of objects implies a series of commonalities, I am more interested in the differences between the objects. Thinking of a Thanksgiving table, with the quirky uncle and strange cousins — sometimes you can't help but wonder if the idea of family is stronger than the actual connection or relation to some people. So I guess what I am saying is that first and foremost you have to believe in Family as a concept; the way it manifests itself is largely up to you.
I think having a partner means that you get unique points of view that often times you don’t see because you are immersed in your own specific point of view.
On communal spaces
It’s always a tough one, because in every project, when you draw something and say “this is where people are going to hang out and have a great time!,” I always question, “Is that really going to happen?” Sometimes moments of togetherness happen in the least expected places. Those are the most interesting spaces to me from a purely architectural point of view.
On being alone together
Obviously people are spending a lot of time on their phones, at home, on laptops, immersed in technology. But I do think, ironically maybe, that this does create the desire to be more together. Even if everyone’s on their phone, they’re together. You can see that in the ubiquity of the use of the hotel lobby as a social space, or all these shared work-slash-social spaces. Everyone is looking for places where they can just “hang out.”
I have been thinking a lot about the nature of public spaces and how technology is affecting our collectiveness. While technology can be isolating I do think there is an inherent need to be surrounded by people, to see, feel, watch, hear others. There are some subtle and other not-so-subtle changes in the way we inhabit a city, in the way we go out and spend social time. The interesting thing is that we adopt these tools so quickly, they become second nature overnight and our lives change drastically in an organic and seamless way. You can surely criticize it, yet change is only natural, so I find it rather fascinating to see how we adapt and how values and desires shift accordingly.
On play as prompt
You can try this at the office if you want, but my observation is, as silly as it sounds, if you have a tennis ball and you play with it, everyone you talk to is going to want to play with the tennis ball too. They are going to take it, and bounce it, and maybe give it back, maybe not give it back. People are way more interested in playing or willing to play or connect than they seem. Sometimes it’s the smallest of gestures that can loosen people up, get them playing. The ball is just an example, but these social moments are actually the key to create places of togetherness, creating something that manages to get people to pause, if only for a second. And when I say pause, I mean from everyday life, wired energy. I’m doing stuff: I’m running now, and then I’m taking a call, and then I’m eating. You know what you're doing in your normal day, you know where you are going, you know where you are sitting in the restaurant, all those kinds of things. Places of togetherness interrupt that slightly. Something that’s able to take you out of your own head for a second. That can be texture, that can be objects, that can be space.
On seeing things
I don’t like to approach a project with notions of what things mean or what people expect. I am by nature extremely playful, and it does make me happy to see something that is just different and surprising. That is something that I, and I think people more generally, respond to very well. It can be the smallest thing — people are really perceptive — because the world around us has become so uniform that we have become immune to seeing things.