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Interview with Nathan Fell

Home > Designer Interviews > Nathan Fell

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Nathan Fell (NF) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Nathan Fell by clicking here.

Interview with Nathan Fell at Thursday 7th of May 2020
Nathan Fell
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?
NF: I made the decision to be an Architect late in High School after I had already applied to several colleges. I applied to only one school, Clemson University, as a Design major within the College of Architecture. I was lucky to be accepted there and like it. My interest in Architecture was just hunch during High School. It took me a few semesters before I really took to it. Studio was always my favorite class and the most challenging. I never worked as hard at something in my life up to that point.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
NF: Nathan Fell Architecture was established in 2019 to allocate more attention to smaller projects including residential in addition to larger project. There is too much of a divide between Residential Architects and Commercial Architects. Exceptionally large institutional and commercial projects tend to value innovation and durability more than smaller project do, but they extract time away from designers for more technical and even clerical needs. Smaller projects on the other hand typically lack in technical development, but they generally allow for more thoughtful implementation of design and detail throughout. The goal of Nathan Fell Architecture is to establish a diverse mix of project types and project sizes that allow for learning and improvement of all projects. Designers in the studio will work on all project types rather than be stuck in specialist studios partitioned within the firm.

FS: What is "design" for you?
NF: Design is something that is done with intention and care. Talent or potential to design something skillfully is only a latent trait that needs a purpose and rigor for it to matter and have meaning to others.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
NF: I like designing all sizes and types of Architecture, but I think it is important to always have smaller projects such as houses to work on. There is an immediacy to the them. Some of these projects can often be designed and built in under a year if the conditions are right.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
NF: The Bagsvaerd church by Jorn Utzon. It is a standard for understanding the broad relevance of classical beauty and Architecture with a modern language context. The exterior is contextual as an unassuming industrial-suburban building, knowledgeable of its role to queue visitors to a more transcendent interior. It does this through a transition of spaces similar to a classical church, but without the trappings of a particular ornamental style. I was a student, knee-deep in studying Architecture in Italy when I went to visit it during a spring break. It made a great impression through that lens (in particular).

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
NF: A stair in an office lobby. I was still an Intern, so it was a good opportunity for me.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
NF: I advocate for an “any and all” approach when it comes to design tools. There is no magic software for me. I always sketch usually with a pencil. I really don’t mind using commonplace technologies like Revit because of its versatility. I’d rather not have to use multiple computer programs if I have to.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
NF: Right after I wake up and in the late afternoon and late evening.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
NF: Although I do like figuring out details, I try not to focus on one part for too long. It’s easy to become detached from the overall concept if I spend too many hours (or sometimes days) fixated on one particular aspect.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
NF: When things are working, I fee joy, excitement and energy.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
NF: Exhaustion and elation. I think of finishing a work of Architecture like completing a marathon, it’s going to take a monumental effort so having a plan and pacing yourself is important but it will still result in a combination of fatigue and euphoria no matter how good the plan is.

FS: What makes a design successful?
NF: When it is useful and beautiful it is always a success.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
NF: I like things that are clever, not just beautiful. Outside of pure art, good design should not ignore or compromise its usefulness for the sake of beauty. The goal is for one to be the result of the other.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
NF: Sustainability should not just be about the planet, but the object as well. As an Architect, I realize that a building is likely to be inhabited for at least 50 year or longer even if it is a bad design. I try to understand that responsibility in addition to the initial monetary goal. Good design can lead to re-adaptation.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
NF: Which types of Architecture practices will be willing to embrace evolving technologies as a virtue rather than an opponent? Architects will likely need to be more familiar with coding as a means of design than they currently are. I have no clue when the next major shift it will happen but am certain it will eventually. Buildings are expensive. If they can be conceived in a faster and cheaper way industry will move in that direction. There will be a lot of buildings developed with Artificial Intelligence in a cynical manner, but I suspect there will be a pushback against this approach. Good designers will need to find a way to gain efficiency using emerging technology to compete I suspect.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
NF: I try to use older Architecture references for big ideas. In terms of staying current, I’d rather have a robust understanding of contemporary materials, details and products. I consider my designs modern, but there is a lot to be learned from older and even ancient designs and ideas.

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?
NF: Humanistic Modernism. It is a given that buildings are designed and built differently than they once were. It makes sense that this should result in an aesthetic change as well. Labeling something modern simply mean that it accepts this reality philosophically. Modernism was never about exposed steel beams and glass facades, it was more about a search for meaning in the modern world. Labeling something new “traditional,” is confusing because there are a lot of conflicting traditional ideas and it shows a lack of intention. I think “traditional” is a term used to provide comfort in the lie that the world around them isn’t changing as rapidly as it is. As for me I like to prove that a modern approach can still elevate a humanistic one as well. By embracing and understanding the virtues of modern building materials and construction techniques a warm, inviting, and livable Architecture is feasible.

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?
NF: I live in New Orleans. I love it. There are a lot of old buildings and spaces here to study and learn from. It inspires me. There is a debate here about what is the appropriate aesthetic for new buildings in this historic context (by American standards). My view is that replicating style patterns from the past provides a false sense of history that waters down the meaning and beauty of the original designs. To me, buildings that are designed to replicate have listened to history, but they didn’t hear or understand it and they cheated on the test. I do believe that modern Architecture can be contextual and cohesive within a historic fabric.

FS: How do you work with companies?
NF: My goal is to use the ideas and values of the person, group or company who conceived of the project to establish a vision. Often a project will try to skip the part where non-visual ideas are shared and understood. It is understandable that this seems efficient, but it leads to problems if and when a conflict arises and can lead to a more shallow and aimless design.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
NF: Try to establish specific ideas and values rather than a specific aesthetic vision. A good designer will use these ideas as fodder for a design that a person or company can take ownership based on the shared values. Also, if you are not in love with a 1st or 2nd design it is part of the process and is sometimes a good thing. However, I suggest that time is taken to understand these initial designs even if it doesn’t meet preferences. A good design sometimes has to push up against some resistance to find it’s way.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
NF: Research, read and listen. Those should be the 1st phase. The process adapts to the discovery of information from this 1st phase.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
NF: Always design something even if it is a made-up project. The more you design the better you get. It is probably true that some people are innately more talented than others, but nearly as important as someone’s rigor and experience. Even when designers work in their chosen field most of us are not privileged enough to do so in a manner than truly develops design skill in an impactful way. Do not wait to be promoted to a chosen position within a firm or practice to get design experience. Set apart some time outside of work to gain experience yourself.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
NF: The positive is that designing Architecture provides a frame that depict people in a way that is optimistic. Optimism is an essential component to making something remarkable. A negative aspect is that designers are usually not in positions of power on projects and are often not initially trusted. It takes time to develop trust, but it is often most needed most at the beginning of a project.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
NF: Always study an elevation as a flat drawing. A flat drawing is an abstraction, but it is the best way to understand proportion.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
NF: It is important for designers to understand that they will not always have the best idea. The goal is to produce the best project from all available ideas with the least amount of personal bias. Even the best designers do not have the best ideas all of the time.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
NF: I sketch, draft, read and research. I am not opposed using drafting programs early in the process, but I always sketch as well. Regardless of the format everything tends look a little rough with multiple versions and would not make a lot of sense to most observers. There are a lot of lines on the page that do not necessarily depict physical things. I always spend some time reconstructing a drawing of an early design before presenting it to someone else.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
NF: I try to come to stopping work at a point where I can complete a thought rather than just stopping abruptly, but that does not mean I have to resolve an issue. Long periods of uninterrupted work time are necessary but taking a break occasionally can be more efficient. Breaks can help from overly-obsessing over something and re-examine ideas.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
NF: For Architecture, the overall length depends on the ambition of the project. It depends on how big, how complex and how many people are part of the decision-making process. Some projects take a few weeks to design and I have worked on project that have taken over 3 years of continuous effort to finish.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
NF: How did you think of this idea? Which is a hard question to answer because for me ideas usually evolve in a non-linear, difficult to transcribe sort of way. I think a lot of people believe ideas happens all at once, then you draw it.

FS: What was your most important job experience?
NF: Construction Administration for a large University Classroom building. It was not something I wanted to do in the beginning but learning more about construction and implementation of design ideas was the exact experience I needed. Understanding technical detail requirements, products and construction processes made me a better designer.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
NF: Projects where the client is collaborative, communicative and open minded. I have designed Architecture projects of almost every type and size, and they all have advantages and dis-advantages, but regardless of project type it is always more enjoyable to work with smart and collaborative people.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
NF: Work on some great projects and collaborate with some great people.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
NF: Both. It depends on the project.

FS: How can people contact you?
NF: Email is best; nathanfell@nathanfellarchitecture.com

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
NF: Let me know if you would like me to elaborate on any of these responses. I usually have to edit a good deal out.


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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