We’ve never featured an architect before! In this interview Ryan gives us a look into what makes architectural design different from expressive art, but he still gets to push boundaries and make a statement with the pieces he creates.
When did you know that you wanted to be an architect?
Somebody asked me that question yesterday and it caused me to stop and think. Actually, they asked, “Did you always know that you wanted to be an architect?”
When I was young, I could draw really well. Being from a small farming town in Southern Indiana with not much culture, the immediate reaction to that from adults is, “You should be an architect.” So that path had always been suggested to me from early on. However, like most people, I had no idea what an architect was or what exactly they did. I liked to draw and I was told that architects draw, so that sounded good to me.
Along those lines, people also called me an artist based only on the observation that I could draw. It wasn’t until later in school that I realized the difference between having a skill (drawing, singing, etc.) and actually being an artist. Previously, I had been given a subject and asked to reproduce that subject two dimensionally on a sheet of paper (portrait, landscape, bowl of fruit on a table, etc.). However, one day in art class, our teacher handed us a blank sheet of paper and instructed us to come up with our own painting. Something I had never thought about doing before and an idea that was very foreign to me. That is when I realized art wasn’t about the skill of drawing or painting, it was about the idea.
I still pursued architecture based on the previous assumption that I would get to draw all day. But by that time, I wasn’t satisfied with just drawing. I was in search of ideas and the creation of ideas and became fascinated with architects who seemed to put design and ideas ahead of all else. Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff. As I began studying them and their work, it lead me to seek many different creative individuals and study how they work, how they think and what drives them to create.
I have had the unique experience of working and learning from two different architects that were apprentices to Frank Lloyd Wright and also working for one of most creative architects in the world, who was also a former apprentice to Bruce Goff.
My goal then became to apply the drive and creativity that I had worked so hard to seek out, and use architecture as my medium.
What is your favorite style of architecture?
I try to stay away from styles. Styles are trends and if you are practicing a trend, then you are already behind. I feel like once I have designed something, it is time to start over fresh with a new idea and to grow from the previous projects. My aim is for a timeless design that will be viewed just as modern and progressive 50 years from now as it seems today.
Wright referred to his design as “Organic Architecture”, which can mean a lot of things. But deep down it is honesty in form, in idea and in materials. Like nature, it is something that is always changing and evolving.
What is the best thing about being an architect?
It is a challenging profession, but it is very rewarding. Every building I design takes an amazing amount of time and effort so to see all that effort materialize and my vision come to life is what the job is all about. The most rewarding part is after all of the time and struggle, having a client that appreciates the finished product as much as I do.
What is the hardest thing about being an architect?
Unlike traditional artistic mediums, I am bound by many different factors that make it difficult to achieve my overall vision. Which means that vision could change multiple times during the course of the project. Budget, Building Codes and outside influences such as zoning districts all have tendencies to take every project and make them all the same.
I am taking what is probably a person’s largest investment and trying to push the limits of everything that is pushing back. It isn’t uncommon for people to tell me it is impossible to do what I am trying to do. It is a constant battle.
Have you ever had to turn any clients down?
Yes. Frequently. I have committed myself to staying a very small architecture firm. I want to personally be the one that does all of the design on every project. So there is only so much work that I can take on at a time with limited resources. However, those projects that I do take on get my full attention and care; that is difficult to find anywhere else.
I have also committed myself to only taking on projects that fit within my vision of design. I often have people call up wanting traditional homes or wanting something to “fit in” with the neighborhood. Often, people get offended when I try to explain this as they feel I am suggesting my style of architecture is somehow superior to what they like. That isn’t the case. I respect their opinion and taste just as much as I hope they would respect mine.
Do you have any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
I have had a few projects that clients put their trust in my enough to create something very unique and special. When I arrived in Nashville, the economy took a nosedive. There wasn’t much work going on at the time so I decided to create my own work by designing and building an addition on to my home. Budget was a huge restriction, but it allowed me to express my design and show people what I am capable of doing. I was fortunate that this project gained a lot of attention nationally winning a few awards and was even listed as one of the coolest offices in the world by INC. Magazine.
Since then, there have been a handful of projects that stick out. The Ahlbrandt Residence in East Nashville, the Sharp Cabin in McMinnville and the Dickson Orthopaedics office in Dickson, TN. These are all good examples of me being able to express my personal style and design.
What is your favorite part of the process of bringing a building to life?
Once I take on a project, it becomes very mentally consuming. Everything I see or hear or read influences the design. I don’t typically sketch. Most of the time I let the design incubate in my head and go through many different revisions. There are always so many ideas or directions something can go. But once an idea takes hold, that is when it gets fun. Getting it out of my head and into a form that can be viewed and shared with the client. Allowing them to visualize my ideas. That is the exciting part.
Have you ever had any projects that were particularly challenging either in design or execution?
Because I choose to do things differently than what is typically done in conventional construction, I can’t think of a project that hasn’t been a challenge. And since every design is different, every challenge is very different. Having built projects on my own and working in construction gives me an understanding of the limits of what is possible to build. I see a lot of students that design interesting looking structures in the computer, but the reality of taking those structures and building them is another story. Especially on real world projects with real world budgets.
The main challenge that I have across the board is convincing the client that the additional money needed to execute the design as opposed to just building a normal house is worth every penny. I have been fortunate thus far to have a good number of clients who appreciate and value good design.
I want to thank Ryan for being our last full-interview feature. When he first emailed me wanting to be on the blog I was hesitant, because I wasn’t entirely sure how much creative work went into architectural design. Ultimately, I’m glad we interviewed him for our last interview. I learned a lot and I hope you got something out of it, too.