Michael Nowlan, an architect known for his focus on nature and sensory experience, brings a unique perspective to the field with his emphasis on thoughtful design and appreciation for materiality and craftsmanship.
Drawing on over a decade of experience in the industry and a background in both architecture and building design, Michael approaches each project with a holistic consciousness, incorporating elements of his personal passions such as cycling, surfing, and handcrafting. With a keen understanding of environmental impact and a focus on sustainability and connection to site, Michael designs spaces that seamlessly blend with their inhabitants, fostering growth and evolution over time.
We sat with Michael and asked him a couple of questions about design, life and his design vision.
What’s the reason you got into architecture?
I’ve always been fascinated by architecture. As a kid, aside from playing basketball professionally as my dream, my other dream was to become an architect. I was never gifted from a writing and reading sense but always loved drawings, art and being creative. My first taste was learning 1,2 and 3 point perspectives and that blew my mind of what you could draw in 3D. As my dreams evolved with basketball I was able to receive a scholarship to play basketball in the USA whilst studying Architecture so it was the best of both worlds. Once I completed my stint overseas I came back and completed my studies and have never looked back with it all.
Deep down to my core I want to save our planet. Housing is one of the biggest impacts from energy production, waste production and resource dependent industries. I want to improve this and show that there is a better way. I am working towards this everyday and hopefully leave this planet having shown what good-for-the-planet architecture is and that I made an impact to save our planet.
What are you passionate about in architecture?
Sustainability! The industry is so focused on the visual, the expensive, the imported and has lost focus on what a home is really for and what it can do for the inhabitants, surrounding nature and the community. Architecture can change lives and change how people view a home. Also, if our homes can adopt better principles it will mean less demand on our planet and less demand financially.
I personally hate architecture. Bold statement but it is so off its path I want to drive it to follow the sustainable direction of better design, better impact.
What inspires you?
Getting to design homes that are actually having an impact. I get to visit a site and decide how a home best fits and works on the land. I then get to guide a client from written words into something they want to spend the rest of their lives in. That’s pretty powerful and when I have the mental space it is amazing to get in flow and design something unique that responds to its surroundings and mirrors the client’s intent.
I don’t think I would have lasted as long as I have at TSW if I wasn’t inspired. Everyday I get to push my sustainability agenda on staff, design and clients and I feel like I get a real voice to preach what better looks like and the direction housing and architecture should take.
How do you approach a new design?
Before anything I need to visit the site. Ground myself into the land and understand it. Direction of the sun and wind to understand what I feel should be placed on the land. Whilst I do this I have the client’s brief in my head, and in a way design it on the spot. The rest of the process is outlined in the mind map write up.
I have a deep connection to nature. I need to be in it and I really believe you can’t design something without appreciating the site and its surroundings. Architecture is abrupt and places something on the land that really shouldn’t be there at all. If I can soften this and allow the home to merge with the landscape and be second to it then that’s when I feel architecture is successful.
What’s your philosophy on design?
Nature has the ego and the hierarchy and architecture should come second. When you approach design like this it starts the process and allows you to create rules that the design needs to respond to. Once this is established my goal is then to design something that is an offering to the land and its surroundings.
Another massive helmet of architecture that has fallen off is listening. I like to think I can meet someone or read a brief and then really understand what a client wants. Listening in this phase and early design is so important as it then creates the dialog between the client, the trust and then a successful final outcome.
For design to last it needs to be respectful to the clients, nature and surroundings. It needs to be visually engaging and use materials that last. I want all of our homes to last 100 years.
What key things do you focus on first in a new design?
Similar to above. Key areas though are in design are reduced size. On average a home has 40% of wasted m2 and I am always trying to challenge a client’s brief and what they presume a home should be like.
Then again responding to nature and how I can have as much of it as possible enter the home.
What trends are you seeing in design?
Amazingly more people want to have an impact and improve performance. With house pricing and cost of living going up, becoming sustainable with no electricity bills or water bills makes so much sense. If you can add food production into this as well then you’re free! Free from the man and then you can actually have a real impact. Your property becomes more than just a home and starts to become an ecosystem and example of impact. I’ve had more clients and heard more talk about this of late which is amazing. People like Joost Baker are just ‘doing it’: saying no to the norm and showing what better can be.
I personally try to avoid ‘trends’ from a design sense. I avoid looking at other designers’ work and really try to respond to the site and the client. This has always guided me and seems to work well with the outcome produced.
Lastly, what are the most important things people should consider with their home designs?
So many factors:
- the site, levels, slopes, traits, existing trees
- retain existing or demolish
- key views
- sunlight — the sun’s path and ways to get a much of it in as possible
- size of the home and if you really break it down how much you can reduce. Pricing has gone up roughly 40% since Covid and if we can reduce m2 it will have a huge impact on budget
- budget. Budgets at the moment aren’t stretching as far as they once were so being mindful of what your budget can actually get you
- researching materials, where they come from and how you can have more impact by staying local in all areas
If you’d like to learn more or work with Michael, reach out for a chat here.