Nathan Cooprider

Nathan Cooprider is a registered architect with over 15 years of professional experience. He has worked on projects of all sizes from single and multi-family homes to wineries, schools, parks, public buildings and transit facilities. Nathan’s focus is to create graceful solutions to complex architectural problems. He approaches each project as a collaboration, and achieves great success through listening to his client’s goals, and translating them into designs that harmonize with their environment, and honor the construction budget. Nathan uses freehand sketches, traditional 2D drawings, and 3D computer modeling to help his clients visualize their project from the beginning of the design process through the end of construction.

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Interview with Nathan Cooprider

Shan was impressed with Nathan’s skill and artistic ability before they even had the opportunity to meet.  Shan used to go to a barber shop with an interesting portrait of Gandhi on the wall. The painting was done using only dots (stippling technique) and was a unique display of artistic ability.  Shan was fascinated and wondered about the story behind it. After admiring the painting for a couple of visits, Shan finally asked who the artist was. The barber, Beth Cooprider, told Shan about the artist, her son Nathan, who was practicing architecture in Kaua’i, Hawaii at the time.  Nathan impressed Shan then with his artistic ability displayed in that portrait and continues to impress us with his artistic expression through his architectural designs.

Winsome is fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Nathan on a number of projects, and we look forward to working with Nathan on many more in the years to come.

Winsome: When did you first become interested in architecture as a career?

Nathan: I did not always know that I would be an architect – but when I look back it makes sense.  As a kid I loved to build and create things.  I was constantly drawing and inventing.  On family camping trips I would build structures out of fallen branches in the woods.  I was good at math, but I felt my calling was in fine arts.  I dreamed of working for Will Vinton Studios as an animator.  Then I spent a year abroad in Israel before college. I was fascinated with the ancient buildings and urban spaces I was never exposed to growing up in McMinnville.  I loved visiting the ancient city of Akka, with narrow cobblestone streets, courtyards and caravanserai.   Israel has so many layers of history and culture in its building and ruins.  There was never an aha moment that I wanted to be an architect, but I know that traveling and seeing those ancient structures had a profound effect on me.

When I returned from the year abroad I enrolled as an art student at the University of Oregon.  I wasn’t very excited about the art program, and as I learned more about the Architecture School I knew it would offer a more rigorous and broader education.  I applied and was accepted into the program and eventually grew into the idea of architecture as a career.

Winsome: You studied architecture at the University of Oregon.  What did you like about your studies there?

Nathan: I liked that it was such a broad approach to design.  It was something that I didn’t expect and couldn’t have anticipated.  The U of O focuses on environmental design, but not just from the perspective of preserving the natural environment.  The emphasis was on shaping the environment we live in.  It broadened my outlook on design.  They discouraged us from thinking of buildings as a freestanding piece of sculpture, but rather as places for life to happen.  I think of my job as creating stages for the beautiful drama of life.

Winsome: You lived in Hawaii for a number of years, why did you move there and what did you do professionally while you were there?

Nathan: My wife, Christine, and I moved to Hawaii shortly after we were married and before we had our two children.  It was a wonderful experience that we look back on as a three-year honeymoon.  I worked at a small firm designing homes on spectacular sites on Kauai.  Hawaii is an amazing place.  Its climate was very agreeable in some ways and harsh in other ways.  It was really different to design for the Hawaiian environment.  For example, in Oregon sunlight is a premium and we design to welcome the sun in for most of the year.  In Hawaii, on the other hand, you want almost no direct sunlight and shade is at a premium.  In Oregon you orient to daylight and in Hawaii you orient to ventilation and natural breezes.  A room without breezes in Hawaii is like a room without sunlight in Oregon.

Winsome: What have you learned in your experiences in architecture in Hawaii and the Middle East that has really helped you to be a better architect where you are?

Nathan: Both experiences gave me a chance to see that every project is unique. There is more than one way of being green and many ways to design a building.  These experiences have allowed me to approach each project with an open mind.  There is no one-size-fits-all in design.  It is all determined by the specifics of the place, the climate and the client.  In Oregon we are learning to insulate homes better to reduce heating and cooling loads.  In Hawaii the inside of the house and the outside of the house are usually the same temperature, so better insulation was not necessarily a strategy for greener design.

Winsome: You have worked with many prominent architecture firms including Waterleaf, Terraforma and Nathan Good Architects.  What did you learn from your time with these firms?

Nathan: I feel fortunate to have worked with a number of great architects and I have had many wonderful mentors along the way, many of which I am still in touch with and still collaborate with.  The common thread in my experience was an emphasis on the humanist side of design.  I consider many of my mentors great artists but they were not necessarily concerned that the spotlight be on them and their art.  They were truly concerned with providing design solutions to meet the needs of their clients.  I was fortunate to have engrained in me, through my education at the U of O and through my work experiences, a commitment to energy efficiency and green design.  But my experience with these architects helped me consider how a building impacts a place and environment not just from the perspective of resources, but also from the perspective of culture and history.  The greenest building is the one that is not torn down in 20 years.  A building that works and that people love will be taken care of and should last for centuries.

Winsome: Why did you decide to start your own firm?

Nathan: At a certain point when you have been doing something for long enough, it’s time.  Throughout my career, I have focused on being a well-rounded professional.  At a certain point it is time to test your wings and to allow others to be in the role of the apprentice.  I’ve spent 15 years building the tools and experience needed, and now I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve clients directly.

Winsome: What part of the job do you like best and what do you excel at?

Nathan: I really like immersing myself in a design challenge.  I love the creativity involved in coming up with beautiful solutions to complex challenges.  One of my strengths is an ability to listen, to adapt and be flexible so my work becomes a collaboration with my clients rather than an artist working alone in a studio.

Winsome: Which would you rather be responsible for, an ugly LEED building or a beautiful modernist energy hog?*

Nathan: First of all, it’s hard for me to see this as “either – or”.  One thing architects are trained in is to reconcile seemingly contradictory requirements.  Architects aren’t purveyors of style, we are problem solvers – and to respond to the environmental crisis, and to do so in a profound and poetic way is one of the greatest challenges facing us today.  To me, beauty is the highest objective of architecture.  We should surround ourselves with a built environment which uplifts and inspires.  Conserving our natural resources is everyone’s responsibility.  There is only one earth, and we need to take our stewardship seriously.

*excerpt from a 2009 interview with Brian Libby.

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