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Interview with Shawn Ewbank

Home > Designer Interviews > Shawn Ewbank

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

Interview with Shawn Ewbank at Wednesday 26th of October 2016
Shawn Ewbank
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?
SE: I think I was probably born an architect. From a young age I was the kid spending hours alone with the Legos and building villages with sticks and mud in the flower beds. I began drawing houses, then schools, airports and finally, a city plan the size of my small bedroom made up of sheets of computer paper taped together. At some point in adolescence, I got lost and strayed from my intuitive path, ending up in the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. I made it through but with the understanding that I had to get back to architecture. I made it to San Franscisco and the San Franscisco Institute of Architecture. I was drawn there because of pioneering and dedicated focus on ecological sensitivity, creative freedom and, most enticing of all, it’s summer sessions at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen West, where the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture resides during the winter. It was there, at Taliesen West, where I first began to make abstract drawings and where I began to truly feel the weight of the role of the practice of architecture on humanity and civilization.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
SE: I founded Shawn Ewbank Design Collaborative as a boutique design firm after completing the Zen House project (The Phillips House) in 2013. My path has been unusual because I began working on my own immediately after completely work at the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, in order to take on the Phillips commission. I build a collaborative team around each project and value the input and expertise of various other professional consultants, engineers and building professionals depending on the requirements of each project.

FS: What is "design" for you?
SE: I’ve known since I began studying architecture that I wanted to practice it as a healing art and have always intuitively understood that the phenomenon of space within and around the built environment not only influences the obvious cadence of our external lives but also the more subtle rhythms of our secret inner worlds. Like music, which can move us in sudden and unexpected ways, the resonance and harmony of space - the tone and tempo of form - influence our interior atmosphere because they reflect something deeper within. It is this, the thing that touches the spirit, that is architecture.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
SE: While I am still “young” and it is early in my career, at this point I can say that the aspect I most enjoy when designing spaces is thinking about the experience of others. So I suppose I most like designing works where I have an opportunity to really create something beautiful and extraordinary for others to experience.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
SE: My tastes and interests vary to such a degree that it is impossible for me choose a “most favorite” design. Of my own designs, they are all like my children. I couldn't choose a favorite. I will say that the Zen House project is also spectacular and I hope it can also be shared more widely.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
SE: My first project was Zen House, in Rehoboth Beach, DE. Mr. Phillips commissioned me to design his home on Rehoboth Bay as I was completing my thesis work at The San Fransciso Institute of Architecture.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
SE: Light and the use of light is so important in manifesting a higher quality experience of space. But there is no one material that is more important than the other is a composition. In a cohesive and organic space, all materials come together to create a particular kind of resonance. In selecting material, important for me are texture, color, reflectivity, a deeper idea of the “object hood” or “suchness” of a particular material. There is a life and communication of life going on in everything. It is important to pay attention to this.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
SE: I think I feel the greatest surge at the moment I begin to initiate an idea on paper. This follows thought and reflection on the client and the requirements of the building. Usually, I’ve done some writing, evaluation of and contemplation at the site and then waited a period for the seed to grow. Then – boom! Something comes alive and floods out – bringing with it a torrent of ideas, feelings and visual impressions of what a finished place might be. This moment is repeated with less intensity as the design develops through what is always an interative process.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
SE: Others’ holistic experience of the space is the most important to me. I begin with an organizing principle and then ask, “What is the greatest gift here?” and “Is this both beautiful and coherent within the prescribed organizing principle?”

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
SE: Love, Empathy, Strength, Compassion

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
SE: There is a sense of satisfaction and completion. Relief. Perhaps it’s similar to what a parent might feel when their child graduates from college or gets married. There is a release into a new phase of life.

FS: What makes a design successful?
SE: When the client is given something they didn’t know they could have – and that what they are being given is a vision inspired by dynamics of their own being.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
SE: -How it feels to be there. -Does it meet the functional needs of the client?

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
SE: See#17

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
SE: More responsive to the needs of human beings More focus on sustainability More focus on quality of space and experience Better use of materials

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
SE: The Phillips “Zen House” was on a home tour in the summer of 2015. The Fisher Studio, Home and Gardens will be on a home tour in the summer of 2016

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
SE: What truly motivates me is promulgating a sense experience of place in a way that can awaken a reflection of the inherent interior power, dignity and complex beauty of those who would enter the spaces I create. This attempt is, on my part, an offering of unconditional love for others and our shared home as well as an expression of my desire to build a world where perception of and esteem for what is beautiful within each of us is a more present and practical reality of our daily lives.

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?
SE: I shy away from defining the work I do in terms of “style”. I employ an organic design process in the sense that I try to define an organizing principle or set of principles for each project. Even if what is defined is an idea or philosophy, ultimately there should be some physical manifestation of the organizing principle. My goal is to connect people, the natural environment and space together in a way that elevates experience and affirms the desire to achieve a more beautiful way of existing.

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?
SE: I live in the United States, currently in the State of Delaware. I think that the cultural heritage in any region affects design as well as the reaction to design. This is true for me. Cultural heritage is often influenced by geography, climate, etc and these things very much affect the materials and forms employed in buildings and are thus very important in architecture. In my country, there are both those who are more comfortable living in traditional or pre-defined forms and “styles” and those who are not bound by tradition or certain pre-conceived notions of style. Both ways are valid but I think those in the latter group are the people who respond most strongly to my work and who are most likely to commission a work from me.

FS: How do you work with companies?
SE: N/A

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
SE: Find someone who listens carefully and allow them offer ideas that you may not have considered. It can be uncomfortable for organizations to open up a real creative process but it is well worth it to consider a broad set of wild ideas and then bring everything back down to Earth and perform what is most practical.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
SE: I always begin my work by learning and fully absorbing the needs, desires and aspirations (even those that may be inexpressible) of the client. This cultivated awareness subtly affects the more linear, structured act of composing a three dimensional, physical form. The process is intended to be fluid and undefined within certain broad parameters, allowing seemingly separate ideas and positions to engage, mold one another and work themselves into a singular organizing principle with the capacity to guide a given project. Once there is a general idea and a design has made itself clear, there is an iterative process of refinement as we define finishes, fixtures, lighting, furniture, etc. It is best to keep things loose because an idea can and will evolve, others can offer valuable input and budgets can change or are often exceeded. It is important to stay flexible and creative through the entire process while always hewing to, and updating if necessary, the original set of organizing principles. This approach is key in supporting our mission to provide architecture that offers a reflection of the inherent beauty of those who would dwell within.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
SE: -I don’t have much but my favorite items tend to be clay vessels that friends and family who artists have made and given to me. -I also have a couple of artworks I love and love living with.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
SE: No two days are ever the same, it seems. My day usually includes site visits and working through issues arising during construction – and there are always issues no matter how rigorous the planning has been. Sometimes I go to a project site just to think and reflect on what is happening there. Emails, Coffee, Gym. I usually take short breaks to read the news. I usually take a short nap mid-day. Daily meditation is crucial for me. I spend a lot of time looking through materials, furniture, fixtures – either looking for things that I need or things that I might want to use in the future. There are the mundane tasks associated with running a business – bills, marketing, etc. When there is a new project in design, most everything else falls to the sides as a new, big idea takes center stage and focus. This is critical in the creative life – to be able to set things aside and do the most important thing – thing for which you do all the other things – and that is to create something beautiful and bring it into the world.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
SE: -Follow your heart! -Do not EVER listen to people who tell you that something can’t be done. (Know that sometimes it can’t be done – but that it is always best to try –really hard). -Look for people who are willing to help you and nurture those relationships. -DO NOT EVER GIVE UP, but know when to change tactics. -Learn and grow continuously. -Good ideas and big projects are only realized through the work of good teams and the help of others. Be a good leader, be the person who knows what everything adds up to, but graciously accept the help and participation of good partners. It is rewarding for people to be involved with the creation of something beautiful and that, in turn, is good for the world. -Speak up and, if possible, make a change if something isn’t working.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
SE: It’s fun, It’s work.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
SE: “If you have a loaf of bread, break half of it off and give it for the flowers of narcissus, for the bread feeds the body indeed but the flowers feed the soul.” - Frank Lloyd Wright

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
SE: Creativity, Imagination, Sense of Humor, Integrity, Diplomacy, Leadership

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
SE: Paper and pencil, scale and triangle. AutoCad, Revit. There is nothing more inspiring than a walk in the woods.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
SE: I work until it’s done. If I feel burnt out, I stop and take a break. I don't have a family so this method works for me.. I expect I'll continue to get better at the time management thing as I grow professionally. Eventually I will be able to hire others and have a fully functioning group, which will help tremendously but right now it is just me, so time management means “Oh God, I have to keep working.” It’s a good thing I love what I do!

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
SE: For me, to design a house is around 6 months, depending on the client and the various dynamics surrounding the project. If there are obstacles and challenges, this process can extend into a year and beyond.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
SE: N/A

FS: What was your most important job experience?
SE: Dealing with difficult client relationships, and difficult circumstances during construction have by far been the most valuable experiences. This is followed closely by making mistakes, which is invariably the most effective learning method there is.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
SE: N/A

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
SE: N/A

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
SE: I hope to expand my firm and continue to looks for ways to bring beautiful places into the world.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
SE: I always develop the initial design myself. It is a very intimate and for me, spiritual process. After that, then I bring in people I trust and can have fun with in taking the project all the way down the path through construction.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
SE: Some of the most fun, most challenging projects are renovations. I have two really exciting renovations underway right now. They are completely different, but in the end, each house will be completely different than it was before. There is something very rewarding about taking a dilapidated and unpleasant place and breathing new life into it. The Pullen House and the Simon House will both be up on my website soon.

FS: How can people contact you?
SE: 415-378-0672 shawn@shawnewbank.com smewbank@gmail.com www.shawnewbank.com

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
SE: N/A


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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