“I don't see things as failures, I just see them as part of the evolution. The only way you are how you are, is having gone through all of this. ”
On a chilly day in May, we had dinner with architect Oana Stanescu at her home in Harlem. Oana is an accomplished Architect and educator currently based in New York by way of Romania, South Africa, Switzerland and London. She holds multiple teaching appointments and designs through her own practice in Long Island City.
Oana was born in Romania and attended Romania’s Polytechnic University of Timișoara before moving to the United States to pursue her career as a designer. Oana has worked at Herzog & de Meuron, OMA, SANAA, Architecture for Humanity and REX prior to co-founding her first practice, Family, with Dong-Ping Wong in New York City. She now runs her eponymous design studio from New York and projects include the reconversion of a 500m long funicular into a public park, a charity hotel in Bali and a vacation home in Canada.
Despite the cold spring conditions outside, Oana cultivated an inviting gathering space in her living room overlooking a lush garden behind the building. As we entered, Oana offered to swap our wet shoes for house slippers and we made ourselves comfortable in the living room where a wooden crate lid has been given a new purpose as an accommodating coffee table. A large painted portrait of a notorious assassin hangs over the sofa and trace paper pinned to the wall depicts profiles of an upcoming project. The heaviest and most oversized of the books belonging to Oana and her flatmate spill out from their respective personal bookcases onto the crate and other available surfaces, most containing notes of recollection and dedication scribbled inside the covers.
After the first pours of wine, we uncased an armament of pies from Harlem’s Sottacasa pizzeria. Guests spread around the living room in a circle of eclectic chairs including a beautiful pair from Ishigami’s Family collection. In addition to our group of dinner guests, we were joined by Oana’s flatmate and her dog Perry. We uncorked more bottles of red and white wine and began the proceedings with introductions before launching into the beginning of our conversation.
Oana took us through her childhood in revolutionary Romania, where she recalled spending hours in food lines with her mother, an economist, and climbing over defunct industrial equipment with her father, an engineer. We heard about Oana’s time as an architecture student at the Polytechnic University of Timișoara, which she contrasted to Western design education as more utilitarian in its aim of teaching young Romanians to literally rebuild their country after the Revolution. Oana explained how a last-minute visa complication thwarted her plans to study on scholarship in Milan but ultimately reoriented her to another opportunity in South Africa, where she accompanied renowned photographer Iwan Baan for a project documenting African architecture. The next leg of Oana’s journey led her to positions at OMA and Herzog de Meuron before finally making her way to Manhattan.
While working at REX in New York, Oana developed a robust collaborative dynamic with her colleague Dong Ping-Wong, who would soon join Oana in establishing an independent design practice called Family. We chatted about the various considerations of departing a coveted role at a top firm to launch a new studio. After delivering a number of successful collaborations with notable clients under the Family moniker, Oana recently set off on her own to continue cultivating a more personal practice.
As the evening drew to a close, Perry made his rounds for leftovers while we discussed current affairs in design, including the Hudson Yards project on Manhattan’s West Side, upcoming exhibitions at the Guggenheim and the recent launch of a workplace design consultancy by women-focused co-working collective The Wing. Guests bade farewell to friends new and old, traded back their temporary house slippers for boots and filed out into the drizzly New York evening.