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In pursuit of balance. Words by George Upton. Photography by Justin Chung.

Amanda Gunawan does not believe in designing for the moment. At OWIU—the architectural practice she founded with Joel Wong in 2018—Gunawan is designing refined residential and commercial spaces that are intended to evolve slowly with each inhabitant. “You have to leave space for people to come in and add their own touches,” she says. “You hope they will take your design and grow with it.”

OWIU stands for “The Only Way Is Up,” a motto that guides the progressive, considered projects of the LA-based practice. Here, Gunawan reflects on the importance of slower, more considered processes and why it’s important to take time away from work, even if it’s in the middle of the day.

Where does your interest in functional design stem from?
I went to Japan in 2016, when I was midway through architecture school and really receptive to what I saw there. I was in awe of the level of detail that was put into the architecture. It was so intentional and I thought, “That’s how it should be.” I wanted to carry that forward in everything I did—the idea that success, money, anything else, should be a by-product of passion for the craft itself, and almost a social responsibility. That’s the ethos with which we want to run this practice.

How has that philosophy translated into OWIU projects?
We always design with purpose. We place a lot of emphasis on craftsmanship and material exploration. We’d rather spend the budget on ensuring the integrity of the material we use over ornamentation. It should have an aesthetic role but be functional.

Do you work sustainably?
You would be surprised by the amount of waste that architecture produces. It’s why we like working on mid-century modern projects. Everything was built to last in that era—it’s very different to today, where developers are just looking to flip houses quickly. When we take on a mid-century home, we can preserve almost everything. We see the patina of time as something beautiful. With an organic material like wood, something that ages well, it’s worth trying to preserve it—even if it’s a lengthy process to remove many layers of paint. You can’t replicate history by buying something new from the hardware store.

How do you balance the emphasis on craftsmanship in your practice with modern innovations and technology?
Architecture is still something that very much lives in the physical world, and you have to be careful to use technology in such a way that it doesn’t take away from the values we believe in. We still draw by hand, but we use digital 3D models to communicate with our construction team because they’re super accurate.

Are there any practices that help you with this slower, more considered approach?
I’ve cultivated a habit of running every day. When I’m running, it not only conditions my mind to not be afraid of pain, it also enforces discipline. It’s an active form of meditation that makes me disengage from work. Even if I have a lot on my to-do list or a bunch of meetings, I will make sure I take the time to run. By slowing down and having that time for myself, it has taught me a lot about life and how to run my company better.

This story was created in partnership with Samsung as part of Slow Systems—a new series offering simple ideas for transforming everyday moments into more meaningful experiences.

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