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Interview with Garrett Nelli – Advocate for the Public Interest

Garrett Nelli Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a designer at NAC Architecture in the process of completing licensure. His professional work includes medical facilities, K-12 educational facilities, residential and student housing. Garrett’s work focuses on articulating spaces that promote sustainability while encouraging rich community interaction. He believes architects have the potential and responsibility to address the broader issues of a global society through thoughtful, contextual design solutions. This passion and core ethos have manifested in the designs of an Infant Rescue Center in Burkina Faso, in collaboration with Architects Without Borders–Seattle, a water kiosk led by the University of Tennessee addressing the lack of clean drinking water in rural Appalachia, and most recently, an exhibition at the Center for Architecture and Design cataloging the social impacts of six civically minded architectural interventions. He is currently working on Wing Luke Elementary, a new elementary school located in the diverse Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle.

Q: TRUST in design is…

A: The removal of one’s ego.

Q: Where have you found TRUST in/ through design?

A: The moment of realization when a community imagines the potential for architecture to positively impact them and views the architect as the implementer of this dream.

Q: Where do you see a need for TRUST in/ by design?

A: There is a need for trust to shift the perception of the design profession. Too often we are viewed in a negative light as the self-motivated artist. It is our responsibility to improve this perception, through our actions, so that we are seen as advocates of the public welfare.

Q: My favorite thing about my city is…

A: Seattle is comprised of forward-thinking, driven individuals ready to create change. There is the capacity here to set a precedent on what it means to create spaces that address the aesthetic, social, and environmental needs of a community.

Q: Tell us about a project that you completed that you are most proud of.

A: While at the University of Tennessee, I had the opportunity to participate in the design and build of a water kiosk in rural Appalachia to provide clean drinkable water to over 9,000 inhabitants. The design process required extensive user engagement and feedback to best support the community’s needs. We delivered a scheme that in one year dispensed over 5,000 gallons of water, hosts the community farmers market, serves as a social watering hole, and harvests rainwater for the community garden. We were offering far more than architecture; we offered new perspective and insight for how this population can improve their condition. Once the potential of the community-engaged design process was revealed to me, there was no turning back.

Q: What design object or story most strongly influenced your interest in design?

A: I was struck by the indelible impact that the opening of a doorknob to Zumthor’s aunt’s garden had on him; memory, touch, smell, mood, a heightened experience of the world—all existing in that one moment. It is through these moments that I try to frame architecture and these moments that I hope to realize for others.

Q: If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

A: Every day, once a day, give yourself a present.

Q: What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to contribute?

A: To participate in the creation of moments that uplift the individual and collective psyche.

Q: If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?

A: Enjoy endless Dick’s burgers and shakes with no repercussions.

Q: What’s next (for you? For Design? For Seattle?)?

A: Spearhead the shift for the profession to be aware of, and active in, the civic and social influence of the built environment.

Learn more about Garrett’s work:
Instagram – @gknelli
Email –

Don’t miss Garrett’s exhibit, In the Public Interest, on display at the Center for Architecture & Design through May 26, 2018.