May 11, 2015
BY: and
THEME: Point of View

15 Minutes with Bill Macintosh

Bill MacIntosh serves as a Higher Education leader based out of Perkins+Will’s New York office. With an over twenty year background in architecture and campus planning, Bill’s humanistic approach to design is evident from his earliest work to now.

What are your workspace must-haves?

A view to the outside, an open layout that encourages collaboration, and good coffee.  All here in the New York office.

Bill always has a view onto his home city as he works from our New York office.

Bill always has a view onto his home city as he works from our New York office.

What is your most coveted design object?

The boat I made with my grandfather. It is a hybrid of a canoe and a kayak. While its functionality was a given since it had to float, the design is both subtle and dynamic. Its lines and appearance change dramatically as you move around it. I recently refurbished it and gave it a racing green color to go with the mahogany trim. It has taken me many miles, and now I am enjoying seeing my sons using it.

Which designer do you most admire and why? 

I am very drawn to Alvar Aalto, for many reasons. Mostly because he was one of the first architects to understand the importance of “humanizing” Modernism. His work is both rational and lyrical, drawing from the organic elements of the Finnish landscape and his own artistic inspiration.

Aalto's Viipuri Library project is considered a classic. His humanist take on modernism is much admired to this day.

Aalto’s Viipuri Library project is considered a classic. His humanist take on modernism is much admired to this day.

Aalto also understood that design is a continuum, from designing a vase to a building to a city. It’s all connected. His interest in addressing social issues was evident both in his studies for relief housing after the Second World War, and more broadly in his aim to interpret a future vision for his country in built form. Not too many architects make it onto their country’s currency!

Aalto, one of the few architects to make it on a currency.

Aalto, one of the few architects to make it on a currency.

What is your dream project?

I have a passion for colleges and for the sea. So perhaps envisioning a new college campus overlooking the ocean. Doing a project at UC Santa Cruz several years ago was wonderful. It is one of the most beautiful settings I can imagine for a university – views both to Monterey Bay and of the redwood forest.

The Santa Cruz landscape at sunset. Image (c) Fabio Macor [Flickr Creative Commons]

The Santa Cruz landscape at sunset. Image (c) Fabio Macor [Flickr Creative Commons]

60 second dose of inspiration:

When I was a freshman in college I had a poster of an early Steichen photo of the Flatiron Building in the rain. It was very evocative – both romantic and aggressive. The angle of Broadway slicing through the Manhattan grid created this singular site that Burnham took to very ambitious heights. Now I work nearby. A building I cannot get enough of!

Edward Steichen's 'The Flatiron, 1904.' Image (c) The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Edward Steichen’s ‘The Flatiron, 1904.’ Image (c) The Metropolitan Museum of Art

If you weren’t in this position at Perkins+Will, what would you be doing?

Perhaps being a teacher or professor. I was a teaching assistant in graduate school, and later a guest lecturer at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and liked it a lot. My interest in education is part of why I feel drawn to Higher Ed work. I think both education and architecture are about curiosity and exploration.

What lesson would you share with the next generation of designers?   How would doing that kind of work influence society?

I think a lesson I learned over time is not to be intimidated by tackling new project types. Often the best way to learn is by jumping in and immersing yourself in a new challenge. But it is essential to learn what the key drivers are that make a new project different from the project types you are more familiar with. The design should spring from a deep understanding of the issues and requirements of each project and its unique context. In this way, your response should not only fulfill your client’s expectations, but also enhance the larger setting and society as a whole.

In ten words or less why does design matter?

Good design solves problems, enriches lives, and inspires.

  1. Carol
    2:15 pm on June 25, 2015 | Reply

    Very interesting—thanks!

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