Nathan Fell

Professional in Architecture Design.

About Nathan Fell

An American Architect with over 20 years design experience in a wide range of project types. Project designs accept the American ideal of space, but reconfigured and distilled to favor an urban lifestyle.

  • Winner of Architecture Design Award.
  • Specialized in Architecture Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Architecture
Bienville Duplex

Bienville Duplex

Architecture Design

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Interview with Nathan Fell

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?
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.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
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.
What is "design" for you?
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.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
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.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
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).
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
A stair in an office lobby. I was still an Intern, so it was a good opportunity for me.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
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.
When do you feel the most creative?
Right after I wake up and in the late afternoon and late evening.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
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.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
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.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
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.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
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.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
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.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
How do you work with companies?
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.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
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.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
Research, read and listen. Those should be the 1st phase. The process adapts to the discovery of information from this 1st phase.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
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.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
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.
What is your "golden rule" in design?
Always study an elevation as a flat drawing. A flat drawing is an abstraction, but it is the best way to understand proportion.
What skills are most important for a designer?
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.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
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.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
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.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
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.
What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
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.
What was your most important job experience?
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.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
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.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
Work on some great projects and collaborate with some great people.
Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
Let me know if you would like me to elaborate on any of these responses. I usually have to edit a good deal out.

Extended Interview with Nathan Fell

Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
I have over 20 years of working experience in the profession of Architecture and a Master of Architecture from Clemson University. Clemson is a 4 year undergrad with a 2 year grad school. I worked for 4 years in between the two programs starting with single family residential projects then some smaller commercial projects. This working experience allowed me to benefit greatly from the additional 2 years of grad school. I moved to Chicago and worked for Stanley Tigerman and Margaret McCurry after grad school, then later Perkins+Will.
What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
Discovery. I am always motivated by the potential for an idea that I haven’t thought of before to present itself.
Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
I chose to become an Architect. It took me a few years to understand that this required a lot of rigor and discipline if I was ever to going be good at it.
What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
For the last 15 years of my career I have worked on huge Institutional and Commercial Architecture projects. I like them, I just think it is important to work on smaller projects simultaneously regardless of use. It is satisfying to work on a project that can be realized quickly. Larger projects can become disorienting, because it is easy to lose the plot during the long process.
What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
The Architecture profession is not always a meritocracy interested in your personal development. There is always something to learn from a professional experience, but people need to make up what is not provided on their own. The profession will quickly shift certain people to design positions and other to management or technical roles often in a clumsy, and arbitrary manner. I never understood why knowledge about Architecture is split into a left brained and a right brained set of roles, but it often that way. There are a lot of people in “design” roles who believe their positions entitle them to not have knowledge about drafting programs, details, project management, contracts and so on, but all of those things affect design. Being a good designer should mean that you are open to learning more not less. Similarly, I would not be disheartened as a designer if your professional role starts to veer away from one of those “design” roles. Allocate a certain amount of time away from work for designing. If there is not a competition, make up a specific project that has parameters and a site. The number hours you spend thinking about design are often more valuable than a projects themself. I have seen a lot of really talented people lose their passion and drive over the years when something they really wanted to happen professionally didn’t. The profession is not fair and may never be, so there is no need to rely on it.
What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
Good designers have good ideas that they implement. Great designers have good ideas that they improve.
What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
In Architecture a design can be elevated when it conceives of beauty and usefulness as harmonious objectives. If the two objectives are in conflict neither are likely to last.
What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
There should be a different answer to this for each project. It is crucial to understand the values of the project early on in a very honest way.
What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
An ideal project would be to design an entire urban block as a private and public space.
What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
If I ever have success at something, it’s because I’ve worked really hard on it.
What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
I like the small bank buildings that Louis Sullivan designed toward the end of his career. They are a lot more thought out than most realize at first glance. They are a wonderful example of how great Architects think about what is happening behind the façade in how they articulate its artifice.
What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
Bienville House is the best project that I have personally designed. I really thought about the areas of the home that were important to have a sense of visual transparency and which elements did not. I like that the design was able to think about privacy issues within a home without completely sacrificing the openness and semi-public visual connection to the areas adjacent to the property.
How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
I think people should do what ever they can to always be designing or thinking about design. A lot of the projects we are working on professionally do not providing this for some reason or another. Usually because the time to design major elements for a design passes quickly relative to the other professional obligations we have to close out and deliver that design. Make up a project in your head, but then follow through sketch it, model it and more importantly refine it.
How do you define design, what is design for you?
Design for me it supposed to be a harmonious resolution between utility and beauty
Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
There are a lot of people who care about me, but the one person who has supported me to be more ambitious is my wife.
What helped you to become a great designer?
I had several teachers in grad school who were tough and challenged me to think more critically and in different ways. A lot of my colleges in Chicago were great and challenged me as well.
What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
20.Being an Architect takes the right balance of hubris and humility. We receive a lot of feedback, both solicited and unsolicited and it is easy to become imbalanced by listening to the wrong feedback or dismissing the right feedback. I try to reassess feedback once I am less emotionally attached to it.
How do you think designers should present their work?
When presenting a new design, I think they should summarize the big idea(s) in two or three sentences. Those should be the first sentences of a presentation, not the last.
What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
I have some residential projects I am working on. I love houses, but I hope to be working on some larger commercial or multi family projects as well.
What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
I would rather be prolific than a perfectionist. I think good Architecture needs to be produced quickly as well as beautifully if it is ever going to make a meaningful contribution to improving the built environment. We have the tools to do it, we just cannot let perfection be the enemy of good.
What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
For those that regard me this way it is often expected that I can provide quick responses that are accurate without need to be improved. This is rarely the case most ideas need to be developed and refined.
How does design help create a better society?
Good design projects optimism onto society by its ambition, bad design projects cynicism.
What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
I am working on several houses and competitions. I am excited about some of the diverse work.
Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
I like working with people who are smart, collaborative open minded and good at what they do. It is always great for the scope of a project to be ambitious or something specific that is intriguing, but I am more confident that a project will be great when I work with great people.
What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
I would like to see more smaller sized firms in a given region, rather than these large practices that seem to grad the lions share of projects. Outside of massive and complex projects like Hospitals I think that smaller firms haven proven more capable of delivering high quality design projects. It will take some collaboration on the part of these smaller practices outside of their offices within regional committees or just informally. Smaller firms will need to play nice with each other to make this work, but it seems to be moving in this direction anyway.
Where do you think the design field is headed next?
I haven’t been invited to attend any corporate board meetings, but if I had to guess I think there will be a lot of competition between large practices to become even larger with projects that are less regional; more national and international. I suspect there will be a lot more mergers than Architects have seen in the past which will be uncomfortable. Regional practices would be better off staying small to medium size rather than expanding.
How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
Predicting the time it takes to complete a project is very specific to the project. It can take anywhere from 1 week to 3 years in my experience.
When you have a new design project, where do you start?
I always want to just start sketching, but really reading and research is where a project should start. I would start a project by asking the person or people who conceived of the project a lot of questions, I research the site, zoning etc. It always seems more boring to do a little research first, but it vastly improves the focus of a given project.
Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
Other types of design fields are probably more concerned with trend than Architecture. From my perspective if there is a trend it should be set by good, well-reasoned design as the foundation.
What is the role of technology when you design?
I am agnostic when it comes to technology. I am neither a luddite nor technophile. Some projects require a low-tech approach and other a high tech.
What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
In Architecture, I think people should not be afraid to use a color with a lot of hue. I understand this requires balance and is challenging, but brightly hued colors are widespread throughout history and can be beautiful. I think sometimes we believe that a brightly hued color needs a stronger and more cerebral justification than other colors, but I disagree. They can be used as a means of sequencing spaces, providing depth in certain areas, wayfinding, and setting tone. Neutral colors are fine, but I would not dismiss brightly hued color entirely.
What do you wish people to ask about your design?
Practical questions about how a space is arranged. I spend a lot of time thinking about a Kitchen layout for example.
When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
I usually focus on a detail or a clever way a designer has used a material. I try not to copy a detail verbatim or thoughtlessly, but I always add it to a palette of potential design ideas.
Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
I do believe in co-design. Sometimes that process requires individuals to work in a vacuum for a set amount of time, but rules and values for this should be established by a team, together. A work of Architecture requires so many ideas, it is sometimes difficult for one person to generate them all. Because projects can be so time sensitive one person can only generate so many ideas. When this is the case there are often are missed opportunities.
Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
My professors in Graduate School and my work colleagues at a few firms in Chicago. I am glad that I moved to a big city like to Chicago after grad school. A lot of talented people flock there, it is really competitive, but you can find some great people to bounce ideas off of.
Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
“The Necessity of Artifice” by Joseph Rykwert; Any essay by Adolf Loos particularly “Ornament and Crime”; “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” by John Ruskin; “Towards a New Architecture” by Le Corbusier; “Function and Sign: Semiotics of Architecture” by Umberto Eco; “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” by Robert Venturi
How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
There is no substitute for experience, but you do not have to get experience from a professional setting alone.
Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
I am assuming that Jesus is not available in this scenario. If not, then I would like to have a conversation with Adolf Loos. It is probably true that Architecture was modern before him, but I consider him to be the Architect to proudly espouse it first. There were so many Artistic movements happening in Vienna during his time. It seems like he received less fanfare than some of his contemporaries, but his ideas have proven to be more accepted over time.
How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
I am not famous. I am happy that my wife and kids usually like me.
What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
Color- Orange; Place- Rome, Italy; Season- Autumn; Thing- a Forest; Brand- Ikea
Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
When I was in Grad School, I had spent several late nights gazing at a computer screen. My eyes started to get pretty blood shot and irritated. I reached up on a shelf over my drafting table for what I thought was a bottle of eye drops. It was not, it was a bottle of super glue. They look similar. Fortunately, I read the label.
What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
I like the days where I work on a design, as opposed to the days where a design is approved or realized even though they are both great. Any day where I got great sleep the night before and there are no distractions. Good sleep is less hard to come by, than the days without distractions.
What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
I think there is likely to be chaos for a certain amount of time leading to a period of benevolent governance that values culture.

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