Style Observer

A Passion for Design

Sunday, January 20, 2013    

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Neil Hall is a man who takes design and style seriously. A Kingstonian by birth, he left Jamaica for the US in the late-sixties. An army brat who moved around with his enlisted dad, he eventually settled at the University of Florida, where he studied architecture.

Opening his practice, The Hall Group, in Miami in 1989, he immediately immersed himself in various projects, using the diverse skill sets of his professional training. His firm was enlisted as Project Manager for the Miami Beach Convention Center, and the Bayside Market Place. He also provided consulting services for the Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami, as well as the development and revitalisation of the Scott/Carver Housing Development in Miami, Florida. This work as associate architect for the South Dade Performing Arts Center is included among other early projects.

In the last 15 years, Hall has worked on the Miami International Airport, including five duty-free stores and concourse A for American Airlines. An organiser by nature, Hall created the Association of African-American Architects in South Florida to ensure that black architects were getting a piece of the design pie. Out of this association 15 African American-owned architectural firms were created, which further expanded to spawn an association owned by women.

Not one to rest on his design laurels, and still not happy with the development in minority communities, Neil Hall raised his voice a tad in the political arena and was elected the first black president of the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architecture. In 2000 he was elected president for the National Organisation of Minority Architects -- representing over 6,000 black architects nationwide, and currently serves as vice-chairman for the State of Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design.

Driven by his passion for design, and not able to sit still, he recently opened TheUrbanCollective, a retail establishment celebrating eclectic, individualised, hand-crafted pieces from around the globe. Clearly not busy enough, he started a television show You and Your Architect, to highlight the professional aspects and tangibility of architecture.

Celebrating his firm's 20th anniversary, he now sports the new title of Commissioner Hall, another accolade in his well-feathered cap. Recognising passion and the absolute unadulterated love of design and architecture above all things, I needed to know more about what makes the man.

Cecile Levee (CL): Neil, I am absolutely exhausted just from your schedule, but it's one I can easily relate to. As Confucius so wisely stated, "When you do what you love you never work a day in your life."

First, I want to know, having left Jamaica so long ago, what are some of your memories of home?

Neil Hall (NH): About being proper and having manners. I remember a country where we strived for excellence, not settling. And the sheer beauty of being on an island.

CL: What are some of your passions?

NH: Architecture and architects, furniture, the colour white, beauty in all its forms, and aesthetics. We need to train our eyes for beauty.

CL: What would be a dream project?

NH: A restaurant, a beautiful restaurant that has sensual décor and sensual food.

CL: Which architect would you like to work with?

NH: I would love to work with Frank Gehry. He is one of the few architects who has taken the straight line and crushed it. I would love to understand that process.

CL: Do you have a Design bible?

NH: Not yet, but I am now developing it. A modern African aesthetics to do with colour, texture and layering. I spoke at MIT a few years ago on just that topic -- Modern African Aesthetics.

CL: What design trend would you like to see the last of?

NH: I think post-modernism is dead. Aerosol painting and hip-hop design don't move the dime forward... my opinion, of course.

CL: Describe your ideal client.

NH: One who believes in the ideas I am putting forward, who gives me latitude to fail or succeed, as my ideas are always evolving; who will take the risk of the journey. Finally, a client who trusts me.

CL: From your résumé, you have lived an active and accomplished life, both in serving and contributing to your community as well as in your profession. What in your life would you erase and how would you re-write that chapter?

NH: I have been fortunate to have a wonderful life, but my impatience with "slackness", I maybe need to be more tolerant with others.

I am still searching for that something. I have a lot of prejudice, specifically for people who do not have a life of design, who do not understand or accept design. I live for design.

CL: What are some of your favourite things?

NH: Books, design books, I cannot go into a bookstore without buying a book. I love my Hugo Boss glasses. They're quite old but I am not about to part with them. I love Mini Coopers and I love beautiful women.

CL: Yes, beautiful women, the undoing of many great men. I personally prefer interesting women. They are so much more engaging.

NH: Beautiful and engaging women, I will take both.

CL: What is your guilty pleasure?

NH: I am a voyeur.

CL: I imagine this is where your appreciation for form comes in.

NH: (Laughing) Absolutely.

CL: What project is currently keeping you awake?

NH: My Art Africa Exhibit I am doing for Art Basel in South Beach, next week.

CL: What inspires you?

NH: My work.

Spoken like a man who is destined to design.

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