The Cool Box / Ryan Nichols, Associate, Higher Education Studio

The Hord Coplan Macht Cool Box is a place to get to know some of the people and personalities who are delivering great ideas and leading work for our clients. In the Cool Box today: Ryan Nichols, AIA. LEED AP BD-+C, Associate, Higher Education Studio.



“If I couldn’t be an architect I’d probably be a…”

…Dissatisfied man! I don’t think there’s anything that could replace the complex blend of technical issues and design that is architecture. Architecture is a wonderful blend of logic and art that leaves a lasting imprint in our communities and in the people that use it, and I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it.


When was the first time you were really wowed by a space or building?

When I was young, we went to visit a great-uncle that lived in the middle of a planted pine forest in south Alabama. The trees in the forest were mature and nearly ready for harvest and the paper mill. It was a remarkable environment of strong order, proportion, and rhythm, which was all the more striking in what would otherwise have been a natural environment. It was truly unforgettable running and playing among the trees!


Do you approach new projects differently now than say, five years ago?

Definitely! I’ve been getting better and better at delayed gratification. It’s not easy starting a project without preconceived notions of what the end product will be, and simply starting by looking at what the end product must do. It’s in that process that you can find the fundamental questions that the design must answer, from simply responding to the context to solving the needs of the various users.


Tell us about one of your favorite projects from the last few years.

Without a doubt the most enjoyable project that I’ve worked on in recent years was a new building at the Fort Lupton Campus of Aims Community College. The project placed the second building on the site after 30 years of existence, which was the first time you truly had a campus. It was a great user group and a really fun design team, and everyone was open to exploring various ideas, from the initial campus master planning to the final details of the building. From the time we were hired, we had a new building in place 12 months later that everyone was happy with and that we had a lot of fun doing.


What is your design philosophy? Can you distill your design philosophy into 1 sentence?

First find the problem, then provide the solution. It sounds overly simplistic, but it’s actually important to say. It’s in truly understanding the issues that we’re able to synthesize solutions. When you understand the problems you can make the single move that solves three or four issues at once, which is where a project gains richness, value, and real beauty.


What’s the first thing you want to know about a new client or their project?

First of all, I want to know who they are and what they really do. It’s the very first thing I think about when I have an RFP or RFQ to respond to, and subsequently the first thing I do when I start a project. The more I know about who the client is, the more I can give them what they need. Not to mention that the more we all know each other, the more fun we end up having!


What is one thing a client should expect about a project that they don’t otherwise think about?

A client should expect the unexpected ideas. As designers, we’re able to look at and synthesize solutions to problems that owners often didn’t know they had or didn’t think we could solve. Many times what makes the project truly great for the user is not just providing the space that they knew they needed, but having that space make their world better in surprising ways.


Where in your studio have you seen the conversation shift in recent years? What are you seeing in terms of trends?

The biggest difference is how we communicate. Where we used to rely on words and spreadsheets to communicate, we now use graphics and 3D modeling to convey information more completely and clearly. What we get is a richer conversation and fewer surprises.


Is collaboration important? Overrated?

Collaboration is absolutely critical to success! One of the most challenging aspects of architecture is bringing together groups of 20, 50, or even 100 people to execute a project. Engagement and buy-in from all parties involved is what ultimately makes not just the design a success, but also the process. It’s that process of successful collaboration where we all get to have a good time – and I’m wholly uninterested in a process devoid of fun!


What aspect of Hord Coplan Macht’s approach to projects do you see really making a difference for clients?

Hord Coplan Macht’s commitment to client service sets us apart from much of the competition. Sometimes that means stepping in on the difficult schedule or budget when others back away. Sometimes that’s having the hard conversations or elevating design. What it always is though is a commitment to client satisfaction and being there through the very end of the project.


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