Ian M. Ellis, Assoc. AIA, is a design associate and project manager at Matt Fajkus Architecture in Austin. Ellis also serves as an advisory board member for Magic Always Happens, a multidisciplinary, nonprofit research organization exploring innovative solutions regarding design, disabilities, disorders, and diseases.
If you had not studied architecture, what other profession would you have pursued?
I’d likely still be involved in some kind of design field that provides problems that need solving. I feel that in an alternate universe, my other self would be creating environments for the film or video game industries or working as a landscape architect. I find a lot of these designed experiences — whether on screen or in real life — lend themselves to being quite cinematic and surreal at times. As a result, I try to learn from these vignettes and take inspiration from them.
Pen, pencil, or computer?
Pencil. Pencil, pencil, pencil. I think with a pencil. I work things out with a pencil. I love the subtleties achievable with pencil, but most of all I don’t feel limited by software or pressured by real-world constraints that come into play in later phases of designing. First and foremost, I sketch and think with a pencil and sketchbook (unlined paper without a grid, to be exact). If the goal is production work, then I switch to digital: a Wacom tablet, some quality time in Rhino and Grasshopper, and post-production in VRay and Photoshop. The real work happens in a sketchbook or on trace paper for me first — the rest is just figuring it out digitally with more precision so it can be realized and built.
Where do you find inspiration?
Aside from buildings and landscapes, I’m inspired by my closest friends, who are all constantly making things — wildly different things. The process of creativity gives me a lot of energy, and I find that in my friends’ acting, music, graphic design, cooking, entrepreneurship, photography, art, writing, films, game design, medicine, and so much more. I am consistently impressed by the abilities people can discover and hone simply when they elect to directly make something, make anything. As a result, these various forms of creativity need to be exhibited somewhere, and that’s typically in a setting of designed architecture or landscape. I’m lucky to witness a lot of these processes from start to finish, and it fuels me to want to make more, see more, and do more.
Do you listen to music when designing? What kind?
Almost always. We listen to a lot of different music at MF Architecture. There’s typically something playing which I find to be refreshing and wonderful. Our office came with a speaker system that’s meant to be heard in large auditoriums or outdoor venues (it looks like a Soviet-era spy satellite and hangs in the center of our space), so we take advantage of that. If my earphones are in, lately my Top 10, in no particular order, would include Jamiroquai, Amon Tobin, Portishead, Mark Kozelek, Clint Mansell, Mos Def, Nine Inch Nails, Archive, Every Time I Die, and Thievery Corporation.
What type of advice would you offer to young professionals?
Don’t settle for less than what you want to be doing, don’t slow down, and don’t lose sight of what’s important to you. Architecture affords an equal amount of opportunity to directly influence and create change with an equal amount of responsibility. Find somewhere that allows you to work all sides of architecture: business, design, construction, academics, theory, and so on. Look for the immersive deep end that may be a little too “high-risk-high-reward” and fall in — there’s plenty of rope to roam and pull you back out so long as you don’t hang yourself with it.
Architects aren’t known for their hobbies… Do you have one?
They aren’t? Nonsense! I split my time equally between two hobbies-turned-passions: motorcycles and psychology. When I’m not out riding and enjoying the glorious Texas summer (I love the heat) on my bike, learning about the engineering and craft, exploring the Hill Country in search of pie and barbecue, meeting friends I haven’t made yet, or cheering on Ducati while my blood pressure spikes during MotoGP, I’m researching. I’m fascinated by how buildings and environments affect psychological or phenomenological aspects of everyday life. My current research seeks to develop evidence-based design standards to improve the connections between architectural and designed landscape environments and these varied mental aspects of everyday life.