Designer Profile: Rick Fawell of VOA Architecture Design

unnamedName: Rick Fawell

Company: VOA Associates Inc.

Position within company: Managing Principal, Design Principal


Tell us a little about your background in design (education, experience, etc) 

I am a product of the Midwest in the United States, hopelessly Midwestern in every way. I have worked and studied in the United States, France, and Finland as a young designer and now, for the past eight years I have worked and live in China. I was trained as an Architect at the University of Illinois and have a Bachelor and a Master degree. I lived and worked in Finland for four years, where we always designed the interiors with the architecture as a whole, France for two years, then moved back to Boston for ten years where I worked in Cambridge with Benjamin Thompson and then in Chicago for twenty years with VOA.

How would you describe your personal design style?

Pragmatic, human, sensible and sensitive…


Where does your design inspiration come from?

Almost always from the context, historical, cultural, climate, and personal context.

In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?

It depends where you are. In China design has been open to new ideas and has questioned the conventional, for western designers this has been a wonderful opportunity, and I hope that as China develops this attitude doesn’t change, design should be about art. In the west, I feel that design has become a product, different programs and uses but often with similar assembly line like solutions, a product for every need without the benefit of thought or any questioning of the conventional approach. Design in the United States is all about return on investment and less about art, an attitude that we know the solution before we understand the problem prevails.

Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2015 and beyond.

People would be my answer to all five themes, if what we design doesn’t work for people, doesn’t make their lives better, richer, more comfortable and pleasing then it doesn’t matter what else we have achieved with design. Sustainable to allow people to last, healthy to allow people to thrive, humane to allow people to feel appreciated and act accordingly, artistic and pleasing to the eye to allow people to think and experiment with their own sense of design.

If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to design, what would it be?

Let it be natural and contextual not contrived for the benefit of the creator but designed for the benefit of all.

How important are The International Hotel and Property Awards as recognition of talent and achievement?

All awards are important as a recognition of achievement and a chance to see what others have done to learn from other designers and see how they relate to their clients and their environments. The International Hotel and Property Awards are especially important due to the number of people that hospitality projects touch each year all around the world. The industry is a very personal industry with a strong connection to all types of people and their families.

What projects are you currently working on?

A large resort hotel in Xiamen on the beach with amazing views of the water, sky and trees from virtually every space, it will be a very special hotel, resort hotel and business hotel in one.

What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?

Same as the last 35 years and hopefully for years to come, find great clients with good projects and strong vision and provide them with ideas that tap into their particular site, culture, and history.

Final thoughts; tell us a little more about yourself…

Your most treasured possession?

My Kindle, I carry hundreds of books on it and several movies, it goes everywhere I go.

Your favourite holiday destination?

Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, still no prettier place on earth

Your favourite hotel / restaurant / bar?

This is easy, my favorite hotel is the Capella in Singapore on Sentosa Island, my favorite restaurant is Tango in Miami, and my favourite bar is the Martini Bar in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Singapore.

Your favourite book / film / song?

This is hard, there are so many. My latest favorite book is “Abundance, the future is better than you think”, everyone should read it.

My favorite film is “Giant” with James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, it is under appreciated.

My favorite song writer is Cat Stevens (these days Yusuf Islam) and his 17 minute “Foreigner Suite” is my all time favorite song.

Your favorite food and drink?

Salmon is the favorite food and carrot juice the favorite drink, sounds stupid, I know.

Your favourite way to spend an afternoon? 

Bike riding, exercise and a good chance to look around.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?

Singer songwriter….like everyone else.