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Interview with Robert Nichols

Home > Designer Interviews > Robert Nichols

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Robert Nichols (RN) for A’ Design Awards and Competition. You can access the full profile of Robert Nichols by clicking here.

Interview with Robert Nichols at Friday 5th of May 2017
Robert Nichols
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
RN: When I was 12, my father hired architect J.Robert Hiller (now StudioHiller which was changed after The Hillier Group - the nationally known firm in Princeton, NJ was sold) to design a new laboratory for him. I visited the firm to see the model and drawings and soaked up the ambiance between my father and Bob Hillier. Fortunately, when I was fifteen and in a youth employment program, I got a part-time job in Hillier's firm. When I was in the college, I studied pre-med for two years, then changed my mind and returned to the arts. An architectural history professor who was a member of the state historical board asked me if I would like to help save a 100-year-old cabin in the Green Mountains in Vermont. Without assistance, I drove to the cabin , measured the entire structure, and prepared the final drawings for the report. The professor not only gave me an A, but encouraged me to apply to the School of Architecture at Cornell University.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
RN: As Owner/Principal in Design of my own firm - Nichols Design Associates, Inc. - in Washington, DC, I work closely with the client and other appropriate non-profit organizations to create sustainable, universal design and planning solutions for residential, multi-housing, commercial, municipal and institute buildings. residential, small commercial interiors and government. For the past two decades I have presentation on the conference universal design and design programs throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan.

FS: What is "design" for you?
RN: I am specializing on the contemporary design to explore a new style and language of architecture that fit to the site and client's program.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
RN: It depends on different kinds of the working project to match the client's program. Most of my working design is involved within a range in the building's scale from interior architecture to the urban design. The work by the design solution includes a style in the project.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
RN: My favorite design is the contemporary house. The spatial organization in the family house is defined by the structural wall and/or column on a level or more levels. Sometime, the main volume of the house is entered through the primary facade, located at the center with an opening space of the composition. An opening space in the house is void which is opposite as anatomy from the fireplace as Frank Lloyd Wright's solid core space in his house design. An opening space is a visual cue in the 3-dimensional way from lower to higher level of the house design.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
RN: My first thing for my industrial design for the remodeled kitchen is the rolling cabinet. The kitchen features new cabinets with universal design and a rolling cabinet with folding countertop, light fixtures, and appliances. The rolling cabinet also features a universal design; it rotates, enabling hearing-impaired two residents to see the signals flashing from the doorbell and telephone. Two spotlights under the upper cabinets are accessible, and they are wired to flash when the doorbell, telephone, smoke detectors, or security system requires attention.The renovation, however, did more than simply meet the client’s need for a safe home. It unified the requisite technology with a natural, environmentally focused design. Wood cabinets, granite countertops, and hardwood floors exemplify the project’s use of natural light, color, and texture.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
RN: My favorite material for exterior veneer is cembonit sheet - a special cement fiber panel to prevent water staining and dirt. Their cembonit sheets on the facade retain its attractive appearance in both dry and wet weather conditions. Another favorite platform on exterior platform is Ipe. Ipe which is originally made from Central and South Americas is a special wood treatment for decking which also resist the weather for a long term. Radiant heat flooring is one of the building technologies for the mechanical system in the house. Radiant floor heat saves energy and is cleaner, healthier and maintenance-free in the family house.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
RN: The site analysis and programming provided by clients for a new building will help me feeling the most creative to design a new style and shape of architecture that fits to the environmental land.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
RN: Design research including programming, site analysis and existing buildings relationship in the neighborhood area and model study is most important for designing.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
RN: Motivation, inspiration, exciting, communication.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
RN: The good lord gives me a brain that works so!

FS: What makes a design successful?
RN: Solution by design in 3D with drawing, CAD, and model making makes me successful.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
RN: Respect to what the design jury/judge gives positive and negative on the preliminary or final design presentation because it is important for me to change how the building design improve the people need to live and work more environmentally.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
RN: As a designer, I am responsible for the community meeting to review the presentation showing how the building design on the site works in the relationship to the other existing building on a street or block. Meeting with the local society and organization of the neighborhood is very important for them to understand how the concept in design works in advance for approval and grant.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
RN: I have no idea. I will tell what is the future of design when I have a contract for building.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
RN: The last exhibition for my several detached family designs, universal design in public and private accommodation for people with disabilities and other professional architectural designs was held at the local AIA (American Institute of Architects) Chapter. Hopefully, the new design projects like this Silver Trophy A'Design Award for the house will be held in the next chapter exhibition.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
RN: I have greatly learned from Colin Rowe’s theories and historical teachings of modern architecture. Rowe was a professor in the Urban Design program at Cornell University, and he taught me how to create and enact a "vision of the world of architecture". There are two aspects to the concept of the single family house; one ideal and abstract, the other real and analytical. These aspects are interdependent. The abstract concept of the Takoma Park House, which won the Silver Trophy A'Design Award this year, is the idea of a spatially layered linear system with circulation across and along the layers from main entrance to rear private area. The proposition to this is the acceptance of the problem, inherent in any linear system, of ending that system. The ideal aspect of the concept - vision of the world of architecture - affects and is affected by its real and analytical response to problems related to site, program, circulation and entrance, structure and enclosure.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
RN: The principal idea of my design for the house and other types of building is the central opening space is the "visual cue". This will make people living and working more comfortable in an opening space with the provision of the natural light in the structure. The cost of energy will go much lower and the natural light inside the space will be more cost effective in a long term.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
RN: Washington, DC, USA. Sometime the cultural heritage (mostly hearing people) in my country affects my designs, because of the problem in communication with me as a hearing loss architect. The pros what my own business is to buy and build a great contemporary house for a sale. Also most of the clients who are disabilities as well as hearing loss, wheelchair and aging are sympathetic in relationship with me as hearing loss architect for design and building structures. The cons for my design is that the client is having a second thought about the communication with me as hearing loss architect in all basic phases of architectural services from programming to construction administration.

FS: How do you work with companies?
RN: I work for myself as Principal and Owner of Nichols Design Associates. Sometimes I work as a design consultant with the large A/E firms on their request for proposals and other accessible design in the building.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
RN: As President and Chairman of the Board of World Deaf Architecture, Inc.(WDA), I have many suggestions to give attendees who are members and non-members of American Institute of Architects (AIA) at the annual National AIA Convention about how to work in accomplishment with the other architects who are deaf and hard of hearing at work. WDA is now affiliated with the AIA Knowledge Communities and Networks that associate with over 100,000 AIA members in the national and international. For my own business, I can give some advices to some interns who are hearing loss students learning how to improve their skill in design for the future.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
RN: At this moment, I am working on programming and design development for another new house in Washington, DC. The next step after the end of design development is the presentation review within neighborhood association and county zoning board.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
RN: Design guide instruction, CAD, model study, sketching, photography.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
RN: Work in office every day. Ride bicycle in the park. Visit the museum. Dining out with a family.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
RN: The board members of WDA and I will share some pearls of wisdom for young deaf/hard of hearing designers how to improve their communication with the others through out the AIA committees, meetings, and other events in annual convention.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
RN: The only positive way what I need to work by myself is to get business with payment for living and working.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
RN: Work every day from 8AM to 8PM, making "cold call" with potential clients, improving and upgrading the website to make an attraction to outside people. Go to the community meeting in the neighborhood to market for my business, too. Communicating, wearing well casual dress, showing images of work on iPad are the tool of business marketing.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
RN: Must have a knowledge in CAD, 3D Revit, programming, construction management, etc. Must have a skill in oral communication for the meeting and construction.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
RN: ArchiCAD produced by Graphisoft; Photoshop C4; Sketch-Up; Architectural history and modern design books, Lego's model making.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
RN: Team is better than individual to manage the time. I cannot do by myself without a team so that's why I learn from the past.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
RN: It depends on the programming and scale of building. For the new house design, I can do on programming and schematic design that will take up to 6 -7 hours which will be split for two days. For a mid size office building it will take around 10 to 12 hours and it will be split for three days or so.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
RN: Not very much to ask anybody. When I have done my schematic design for the concept, I will invite a group of 2 or 3 staffs to sit and review with their comments on design.

FS: What was your most important job experience?
RN: The most important job experience is to be involved with all basic phases of architectural services as well as working on programming, schematic design, design development, construction document development and construction administration. These phases are very important to learn to become familiar with the scope of service as professional designer.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
RN: Some of my clients are married, single or divorced for residential. Some of other clients are the board for multi-housing, condominium association and non-profit organization for commercial and office.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
RN: I really enjoy my experience on the design for the house, because my job is a freedom of work without being supervised or pardoned by my boss as principal. It is a very challenge job and I can create anything from my design work.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
RN: I hope some day I will become successful whenever the new concept in the building design is successful.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
RN: Most of my time I can do by myself on design. Remember, I cannot do better without a team on all phases of architectural service. The relationship between myself as individual and staffs as team is essential to keep up well on the design.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
RN: Not yet for now, but I would be happy to talk about any works when I have upcoming new development in a moment.

FS: How can people contact you?
RN: Contact me at robert@robertnicholsdesign.com or my telephone +1-202-540-8889.

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
RN: I will publish new article for the WDA newsletter about new design development by deaf and hard of hearing architects this month. Hopefully, I will bring copies of newsletter for the gala ceremony.


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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