As our industry continues to encourage diversity within the profession, JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE is working hard to ensure a diversity of perspectives to better serve its clients and inform its design. The architecture and interior design firm behind some of Denver’s highest-profile hotels including The Crawford Hotel at Denver Union Station, The Maven Hotel at Dairy Block and The Ramble Hotel in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE is committed to building a diverse and creative team, inclusive of different genders, backgrounds and experiences. Among the AIA’s national list of top architecture employers for female staff, women comprise 68 percent of the firm and 60 percent of its leadership, including firm partner Nicole Nathan.
Nathan joined JG Johnson Architects in 2002 as a junior designer, intrigued by a project in the works at the time for the National Sports Center for the Disabled, an organization for which she had been a long-time volunteer. A fourth generation Colorado native, Nathan earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder and a Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
As Nathan’s role with the firm expanded, she and Tobias Strohe became partners alongside founder Jim Johnson in 2015, representing the birth of a second-generation firm that has earned a national reputation as a leader in architecture and interior design. The firm was renamed JOHNSON NATHAN STROHE, and today Nathan leads the firm’s architectural and interior design studios, focusing on hospitality, urban mixed-use and multi-family housing projects.
“When I started here 12 years ago, I envisioned it as a stepping stone in my career,” said Nathan. “Thankfully, I realized that this stepping stone was in fact my career. It was Jim Johnson’s belief in me, his openness to my ideas and his boundless enthusiasm to take on each new challenge that ultimately guided my path to partnership.”
Nathan’s impact is felt as much within the walls of JNS as it is in the dynamic spaces she creates. Whether on her team or in the broader community, you’ll find her championing efforts to bring diversity of perspective to Colorado’s architecture and design industry.
“Great design doesn’t come from the same perspective and thought process that you’ve used over and over again,” said Nathan. “Great design is inspired by context and experience. It is the interactions with people and uniqueness of places that expose you to new ways of looking at the world. Our architects and designers offer diverse viewpoints that inform transformative framework for how our communities interact.”
At the core, each employee in the firm is seen as an equal architect or designer, and gender does not factor into how you will progress in your career. Yet for women employees, programs that support working mothers allow for personalized flexibility to foster their continued career growth. And the female perspective also lends valuable insight for industries the firm excels in, including housing and hospitality. “Women are often the decision-makers in housing as well as leisure travel,” says Nathan. “We are ultimately the end user for these project types.”
The commitment to diversity of place and background is truly the foundation for the practice, where staff from all over the world are working together and infusing design with unique perspectives. “We have regular weekly studio where we bring together teams with the partners and design leaders to collaborate, charrette and provide constructive dialogue,” adds Nathan. “This regular forum for collaboration fosters an environment of mentorship and helps all of us excel.”
Nathan’s philosophy around aligning purpose and place for diversity in architecture and design is also reflected in her work. She believes in creating architecture that is of its place and time – a contextual framework for experience that blends practicality and beauty to achieve spaces that are at once memorable and timeless.
Some of her most notable projects include The Maven Hotel at Dairy Block and Moxy Denver Cherry Creek. The exterior and interior design of The Maven celebrates craftsmanship and the spirit of the maker and is also the one Nathan is most proud of as it embodies the JNS philosophy of ‘pragmatic beauty’ through a holistic and contextual design that tells comprehensive story.
“By creating a framework for people to experience places, and inspiring others with creative design solutions, I see the work I’m doing have an impact, and that continues to inspire me,” she says. “The opportunity to shape my path has also allowed me to help shape Denver’s urban design and foster the growth of a new generation of leaders. I have learned more than I ever imagined, and continue learning every day.”