Fresh Ideas - Patti McNair

March 22, 2023

Fresh Ideas - Patti McNair
Fresh Ideas - Patti McNair
Fresh Ideas - Patti McNair

Name: Patti McNair

Location: Milwaukee

Current job: Principal FRESH North America


One word that best describes how you work: Focused. I often work intensely for long periods because I get so engrossed in my tasks. Colleagues used to regularly startle me in the workplace because I effectively blocked out everything else going on around me. I joked that I needed to get bells for others to wear so I could hear their approach.

Favourite website: I browse the web most frequently to do research or shop.. but I do enjoy “” for its curation of great, contemporary design and branding examples across architectural typologies – from hospitality to office to exhibits to products to healthcare to stores. It’s great to see how others are solving problems and then synthesize those thoughts into ones that help solve problems you are working through.

First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today: I think we are all a result of our cumulative experiences, and I am no exception. I had opportunities to travel internationally from a very young age and I believe that cultivated a life-long interest in connecting with others and fostered a desire to bridge between differences. In school, I gravitated towards studies involving logic and reason, doing well in economics, math and science. Architecture school was a perfect fit for me combining problem solving and rational thinking with the nuance of understanding how people respond to physical space. My tenure at Harley-Davidson helped focus my interest on creating environments that influence behavior through study of retail design.

Favourite piece of architecture: Corbusier’s “Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut” de Ronchamp; anything by Portuguese architect, Eduoardo Souto de Moura

What motivates you? Working through the puzzle of improving the experience of a space; connecting deeply with clients to offer them a physical/financial/operational/aesthetic set of gains.

What is your process of finding the answers to creative problems? I like to start by understanding the context of a problem deeply. This is followed by research into trends, possibilities, and the way a user group of individuals engage or interact readily and naturally to a stated problem in order to begin the problem solving journey.

Tell us about a moment when you knew that it was all worth the hard work: I read some career guidance once that encouraged consideration of what you would do even if you weren’t paid. That resonated with me. I’m always imagining new solutions to everyday physical problems and I love sketching them out to consider various possibilities. I could do it all day every day.

Where is architecture going? What’s the next big thing? I will make no claims to having a crystal ball with view to the future, however, I am hopeful that architecture moves swiftly towards a state of “responsibility”. We need to pursue efficiency, smaller footprints, versatility and an eco-awareness in our building. We need to embrace renewable energy and sustainable materials and practices. We need to live, work and play in spaces that suit our needs rather than our egos.

How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work? I’ve become an excellent streaming binger after our Covid experience! Netflix or similar is the ultimate brain-break & un-plug for me! I also love walking the paths and trails near my house with a good podcast to open up my mind to new or different ways to approach things. And if I’m really stuck on a problem, a long run always seems to help loosen the mind and clears the way to make connections.

What book are you currently reading? “City of a Thousand Gates” by Rebecca Sacks. I’ve always shied away from news or stories of the Middle East because it has always been such a confusing topic for me. This book, however, manages to narrate multiple stories that intertwine over time, and gives a personal, relatable view of the conflict and the emotions that are, I have to believe, characteristic to this region of the world.

What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now? Twice, in my late teens and early 20s, I made the decision to not take the more adventurous path, and I wish I hadn’t shied away from the challenge. The fear of missing out on the familiar swayed me from checking out the unknown and in retrospect, I know now that I wouldn’t have missed out on anything, I would have gained more.