Architect Spotlight – Rachel Nolan

Rachel Nolan

Kennedy Nolan is an architecture practice which has established a strong reputation for making architecture with a distinct approach to built form and highly considered interiors and has been recognised by numerous design awards.

Kennedy Nolan has been the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the University of Melbourne and has been widely published both in Australia and abroad. The work of Kennedy Nolan is informed by the socially progressive aspects of modernism and seeks to engage with landscape and memory to engender meaningful relationships between people and their environments.

Rachel Nolan is a founding partner of Kennedy Nolan with expertise in creating built environments that are inspiring and responsive to the brief, context and environment. Fascinated by both the material and the immaterial, Rachel is both conceptually driven and pragmatic, focused on creating enduring places that support a life well lived.

She likes to draw and talk.

How would you describe your design philosophy in 3 words?

Instinctive, evolving and depending on the day…either collaborative or combative.

How do you see design improving our quality of life, and how we live, work, consume and connect?

Good design must address a problem: often the skill lies in simply identifying what the problem is.

Great design identifies a problem, resolves it and adds something extra…maybe it’s fun or whimsy or even beauty.

We need to be reminded that design is not just what we can see; good design should improve our lives and not just be another pretty version of something we already have. Great design should not be wasteful, inaccessible or indulgent.

Tell us a project that made you really happy to work on.

A project that makes us happy to work on is our first Nightingale Apartment building.

Our city in Melbourne is being destroyed by poorly developed apartments that are driven by maximising developers’ profit (these developers don’t seem to realise that it is their city too!) We have seen property prices go crazy over the last decade and we know our young architects have very few choices when it comes to future home ownership.

The Nightingale Housing model was developed by our friend Jeremy Macleod from Breathe Architects. Having worked in this sector of speculative housing for a number of developers we have felt inspired to get behind him to have a go at delivering apartments that have sustainability, affordability and community at their core.

Last year, seven local architecture practices raised their own funding and got together to purchase a large piece of land in inner city Brunswick. Together we are developing the first Nightingale Village. This project brings a great deal of happiness to our practice – it was time for us to stop complaining about how buildings were being generated in this sector and actually help deliver an alternative. We are very excited to be part of a movement that is looking to explore a solution.

Fitzroy lane. Photographed by Derek Swalwell

As society enters an unprecedented period of globalization, do you believe that australian designers have a unique aesthetic or attitude?

I certainly hope so, and would even venture to say that even the states are distinguishable.

Our environments are all so unique, and if your buildings aren’t responding directly to these I think there is a problem. I have less and less interest in buildings that look like they could be from anywhere.

How do you see design shaping the world around us?

I am interested in how the hand held device has changed our world; I am torn between thinking it is wonderful or the work of the devil. The ever-changing design of the interface is there to make our lives easier but ends up making us so reliant on it that we cannot go anywhere or do anything without it.
I find it hard to remember how we managed in the past.

We have recently had fun refurbishing a city shopping centre where we have explored ways to ‘get the faces out of the screens’.

Melbourne Central

For you, what is the most challenging part of the design process and what is the most rewarding?

We are finding the cost of building very challenging and very hard to explain to our clients. Building costs a lot in this country; the English Grand Designs has a lot to answer for!

The most rewarding time for both Pat and I is when we visit old projects, in particular our houses that have settled into their gardens. We always consider the landscape when we design; we look for this balance to determine the success of the project.

If you were given an unrestricted creative brief, what would this look like?

An unrestricted creative brief sounds slightly terrifying; I fancy a few constraints myself.

Please give me a progressive and intelligent client with a site that has beautiful trees and a program that benefits many.

(Actually we would love to design a house for Wes Anderson).

What do you look for in good design?

My go-to good design quote is from the Melbourne man himself- Robin Boyd:

“The object of a design, in architecture as in anything else, is to say or do the essential things as simply and directly and purely as possible.”

I have a deep dislike for ‘over’ design; this quote says it perfectly.

….And finally who are your design heroes?


Robin Boyd- for the quote alone….but also because he tested and tried things with a youthful enthusiasm.

Jeremy Macleod- for the extraordinary energy and passion he has poured into the Nightingale movement. Both Pat and I feel a deep sense of urgency to get behind this model.

Patrick, my business partner of nearly 20 years…I still enjoy how quickly and clearly he can find the design solution and how determined he is to deliver it as purely as possible.


Le Corbusier for designing the most perfect headstone for his own grave…refer to Boyd’s quote above.

I love everything Fay Toogood touches and I love the Castiglione Foundation for keeping the fun alive.

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Architect Spotlight – Rachel Nolan

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