Every Monday we interview inspiring individuals that have one thing we’re all looking for — a dream job. Whether it’s a full-time thing or a moonlit gig, we want to know the passions that drive them. This week we chat with Alan Paukman, a designer interested in creating memory and visceral experience through objects.
As a recent graduate of Columbia’s GSAPP, and the other founder of Nikolai Rose Studio, he knows a thing or two about form and function. Focus is his secret weapon! To create experiences, Alan works with artists like Gogy Esparza, designers like Rogan, and stores like Assembly New York; utilizing every media from photography to concrete to translucent fabrics. See what Alan has up his tailored sleeves when developing his varied design projects in our interview below.
The icebreakers: Where are you from and how old are you? What do you do and where do you do it?
I've lived in New York City since I was born in 1987. I make images, objects, and spaces. Depending on the project and its phase, I work either in studio or on site.
What kind of images, objects and spaces have you been working on lately? Or what are your favorites in your portfolio?
My favorite projects are inhabitable. Drawings and models are always part of the process, but I want to make things where people can go inside. This spring I worked on a project called "Sway" with seven collaborators at Columbia University. We designed and built an architectural folly that had a rigid but flexible structure with a soft, tactile interior. The main components were PVC pipes and plastic bags, but we were able to give these common materials a quality of unfamiliarity by using them out of their normal context, and making them consistent with an all-white palette. All of the children at the opening loved it, which was flattering. Kids are valuable critics because they’re more likely to respond to the immediacy of their senses over some conceptual understanding.
How long have you been pursuing your dream occupation?
I was always pulled in the direction of design, but testing out different interests helped me find what matters to me most. Around 2007, I stopped doing what felt unrelated and really started narrowing in on work that could be an honest reflection of myself. Years later I'm still encouraged by where this process continues to lead.
Did you have a “eureka” moment?
Not a moment, definitely a slow distillation. Instead of a moment, I had eureka people; who motivated me, or whose work motivated me, to make more focused decisions.
What is it about being a designer that you find satisfying or fulfilling?
What interests me most is the interface between humans and what surrounds us. It’s fulfilling to be able to work with physical space and visceral experience. Ultimately, architects and designers are deployers of material into space; people live with and feel the work. I am drawn to this sensual and emotional side of my occupation.
Are you in pursuit of ultimate greatness or are you excited to add to the collective repertoire?
A meaningful life for me would involve being responsible for the creation of memorable spaces.
Which designer do you want to hang out with? What would you ask them?
Louis Kahn is someone who really understood the poetic potential of material, mass, light, and space. For an architect of his stature, he completed a surprisingly small number of works, but each one is meticulous and inspiring. He created some of the most moving buildings of the 20th century, but died penniless and alone in a Penn Station bathroom. I’d like to hear his assessment of his own life. Did he feel fulfilled?