Robert Nicolais’ biography and background are noted below. For his thoughts on Architecture visit his site at https://www.robertnicolais.com/architecture
I grew up making things. As an undergraduate, I majored in fine arts and sculpture and after graduating in 1964, served for a year in the Corps of Engineers in the Army in Korea. While in Korea, I came to admire Korean art, particularly the ceramics and became interested in Asian Art in general. After leaving the Army, I went to Architecture School at Yale University and graduated in 1971. After architecture school, I moved to New Mexico, where friends put me in touch with Peter Van Dresser. He was an early advocate for adobe regional architecture and passive solar design. I worked for him for several years on his projects in Northern New Mexico. As a result, I believe that buildings must respond to their climate and should take advantage of solar considerations.
My paintings are partly figurative but also combine different elements. I like to combine different images and materials and I hope meaning can emerge from the images and ideas that the viewer can link in a personal way. I would hope connections can be made in the mind of the viewer between images set in a background of geometry. For me geometry is a metaphor for an absolute reality which is universal and is that from which physical reality emerges.
With my wood panels and sculpture, I like to play with geometry and spatial perception.
Furniture & Woodworking
The first serious woodworking I did was at R. M. Schindler’s Kings Road House where I rebuilt some built-in elements and made some reproductions of the original furniture. This evolved into making reproductions of Schindler furniture and a previously unbuilt FL Wright lamp designed for the Storer House in Los Angeles. Now the Rotary house is full of 30+ years of my furniture and built-ins, much of which stays with the house. And all this was fabricated in my Rotary workshop.
Some of my neighbors in New Mexico built hand crafted looms. They made one for me and I used it in the 70’s and 80’s. It requires a lot of patience and weaving makes my back ache, so I donated my loom to the local fibre arts center in Espanola, NM. I still use many of the pieces I wove.
In my architecture I tried to incorporate Schindler’s feel for space in architecture with solar design principles. I never tried to design a “solar house” but wanted to use solar ideas to make a solar tempered building. While living in New Mexico I did build an adobe house and studio in northern New Mexico
The Rotary house shows my appreciation for RM Schindler’s designs. The space in a building, not the finishes, is what is important. Ideally, I think a building should reflect space in its setting and environment. One thing I enjoyed at the Rotary house was using Dow phase-change salts sealed in plastic containers to introduce thermal mass in a standard wood frame building. Our new Santa Fe home, currently under construction, uses some of the same ideas used in the Rotary house.
Architecture is a team sport. I do my best work when operating alone. When I came back to Los Angeles in 1979, solar and environmental design were a hard sell. I didn’t find clients who were interested in this, though now it might be easier now for a designer. In terms of historical interest, I was very involved in getting a National Historic Landmark designation for Baldwin Hills Village, now Village Green, which is an important landmark in urban design, landscape architecture and architecture. Buildings built before powerful HVAC systems were available often show useful design strategies for dealing with local climate and environment. My little house and studio in Northern New Mexico are adobe construction and take advantage of the high thermal mass of the adobe, as well as the low energy content of the material. The new home currently under construction in Santa Fe combines traditional local exterior features with phase-change material as well as exuberant interior space.
I am currently spending my time painting and you can see more of my work at robertnicolais.com.