Radical Thinking: Nigel Tresise of Align


With the latest FX Talks event still fresh in the memory, we spoke to the co-founder of Align for his take on radical thinking


Main image Svart Hotel design by Snøhetta, copyright Snøhetta/Plompmozes

Nigel Tresise, director & co-founder, Align

Can you pinpoint the thought that led you to a career in design?
My father was an electrical engineer in the automotive industry, and so we spent hours on end together fixing whatever car we had at the time in the garage. I used to marvel at the complexity of these machines and how they were designed so that all the components just fitted together neatly to create this amazing machine. It was no surprise then that I started in mechanical engineering and completed my first degree in product design, although I ended up in interior architecture, which has been an interesting evolution!

In terms of the design and architecture industry, what do you consider the most radical era or pivotal moment?
Quite possibly tomorrow! Current developments with AI, machine learning, robotic construction and nano technology are moving so rapidly, you sense that all kinds of life-changing discoveries are just around the corner.

Which radical thinkers have been an inspiration to you in your career?
When I was studying at Central Saint Martins, our course director was Dr Geoff Crook, who was a real character with a unique style in hair, fashion and innovative thinking. Geoff’s book, The Dream Café, draws on the history of the avant-garde as a source for the kind of disruption that shaped the future. It highlights the fact that periods of paradigm shift that have resulted in new rules, values and opportunity have typically been informed by trans-cultural, interdisciplinary discourse in cafes. Whether it’s the birth of modern art or the first Apple computer, the genesis of radical new thinking is supported and informed by gathering together different hearts and minds in convivial locations that are not managed by a dominant interest group.

Who are the radical thinkers who inspire you now?
I think the way Steve Jobs approached the experiential and aspirational aspect of technology and reverse-engineered the products to create user experience has transformed the way we engage and socially interact.


Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water is ‘an amazing homage to its location

Who outside the industry can architects and designers learn from?
I think the age of isolated design is over, and with technology being integrated into everything, we now need to collaborate with a wider spectrum of specialists, coders, and app and UX developers. We are also entering a phase of the technological revolution where the longer-term impact of technology on people is starting to be more fully appreciated. Whether it be information overload or smartphone withdrawal symptoms, the buildings and workplaces we are designing need to be, at a very base level, human-centred, and our collaborative work with environmental psychologists helps that process.

What will lead the way for more radical thinking in your field?
There’s a common misconception that radical equals extreme, but radical comes out of the Latin adjective radicalis meaning ‘of or relating to a root’. As designers and architects we are generally designing for people to experience and engage with the objects/ buildings we are designing and the cultures they generate. A deeper understanding of the psychology of that engagement process and the reactions to it can surely lead to us being more radical and challenging in our outlook.

Could you recommend a book/article/blog that inspired your thinking?
During my masters, we were encouraged to read Objects of Desire by Adrian Forty, which is a great narrative on design and its impact on society since the industrial revolution. It’s interesting to compare the societal transformation of the late 18th century with the current technology revolution and how we’re dealing with the impact on everything from social media to climate change.

Can you name two buildings that you consider radical designs of their time, or perhaps still today?
I have Cornish roots and a deep connection with the ocean, so it’s not surprising that both my choices are connected with water. In terms of radical design, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water is an amazing homage to its location, juxtaposed with finely crafted concrete and stonework. Coming bang up to date, the Svart hotel design by Snøhetta to be constructed inside the arctic circle on a Norwegian fjord is designed to reduce its energy consumption by up to 85% and produce its own energy – all whilst looking absolutely stunning!

I think best with… (my hands/a pencil/a computer)
A Pentel 0.5mm pencil and a notebook.

I think best… (first thing in the morning/last thing at night)
I don’t think I have a particular time of the day which is best for thinking.

I think best when… (in a gallery/at home/ outside/over drinks/with friends/on the bus)
We decant to a bar or restaurant. Any relaxed venue over a drink!

The thought that keeps me up at night is…
The devil in the detail. I’m an unapologetic pedant and sometimes that gets the better of me when we’re pulling a scheme together.

The thought that gets me out of bed each day is …
Knowing I’ve cracked the missing detail in my sleep and the need to get it recorded before I forget it again!

Do you think with, or think against?
I’m definitely a glass-half-full type of person so I would have to be with, not against.

If you weren’t a designer/architect where do you think your way of thinking would have led you?
I’ve always been a bit of a geek, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d ended up in astrophysics. I love star-gazing on a clear night.

Could you describe radical thinking in three words:
Deep-rooted optimism (as you can tell, I’m definitely a glass-half-full person!)

What’s the most radical thing you’ve come across today or this week?
Most people have heard of DNA being the building block of life on earth, but fewer people will appreciate that the famous doublehelix structure is made of four-letter coded components that pair-up in unique sequences. Hachimoji DNA has just been created in the lab, which has eight components that will add information density for future synthetic biological applications. Now that’s radical!


Align is a specialist in workplace hospitality and residential projects. Director and co-founder Nigel Tresise brings long experience of architecture, consturction and technical knowledge to the role. His MA from Central Saint Martins centred on optimising briefs and the tools that can assist the understanding of analytical and emotional factors affecting organisations during project briefings.

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