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For a serious architect who has designed public housing in Dallas and a bridge in Slovenia, it may come as a surprise that Oana Stanescu’s best-known work is a 50-foot-high volcano that Kanye West ascended onstage during his grandiose Yeezus tour.
But then again, Ms. Stanescu, 32, is not your typical bespectacled architect, reaching for trophy buildings or lucrative commissions.
Along with Dong-Ping Wong, her partner in the West Village architectural firm Family, Ms. Stanescu is making a name for herself in design circles for her ability to merge pop culture with utilitarian design.
Her firm recently completed the Hong Kong flagship store of Off-White, a high-end streetwear brand started by Virgil Abloh, Mr. West’s creative director. Ms. Stanescu is one of the designers behind the +Pool project, which is seeking to install a floating swimming pool in the East River. Other clients have included Marina Abramovic and the New Museum in New York.
“Oana is a creative ticking time bomb; she never stops,” said Carl Jackson, 41, a filmmaker who recently hired Family to design two projects in San Diego: a film studio and a sustainable housing community.
Ms. Stanescu’s penchant for pop culture began in Resita, an industrial town in western Romania, where she grew up watching British MTV and listening to Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction.” They offered an escape from Romania, which was in the violent throes of a revolution and the ouster of Nicolae Ceausescu.
“I have memories of hiding in the basement, sleeping on floors where there were no windows,” she said.
Ms. Stanescu studied architecture at Polytechnic University of Timisoara in western Romania. Midway through the six-year program, she landed an internship at REX in New York, formerly a branch of Rem Koolhaas’s prestigious Office of Metropolitan Architecture.
From there, she worked at other top architecture firms, including Sanaa in Japan, Herzog & de Meuron in Switzerland and Architecture for Humanity in South Africa, before joining Family in 2013.
“At one point, my mom said, ‘There aren’t enough continents for you,’ ” Ms. Stanescu said.
She now lives in a sunny townhouse in Harlem, which she shares with friends and a dog named Perry, and teaches a graduate-level design course at Columbia University, a short walk away. […]