Q+A: New HOK CEO and President Bill Hellmuth Shares His Vision for the Future
Hellmuth, who is based in the firm’s Washington, D.C., studio in Georgetown’s historic Canal House, has been HOK’s president since 2005. His promotion to CEO signals a renewed emphasis on design thinking and innovation across HOK. For the first time since 1990, when Gyo Obata stepped down to assume the role of chairman, the firm’s CEO is a design principal. Hellmuth brings special insight on managing the creative process—balancing the art and the business to generate the most value for clients.
What is your first priority as CEO?
BH: Design excellence will define our future. I joined HOK in 1991 for the opportunity to be part of a practice that had the opportunity to do the best design work of its time. We’re now creating design solutions that address some of the world’s great challenges. We’ll continue broadening the scope of our creativity and problem solving and using design thinking to strengthen our design culture. This will attract the best people and clients to HOK.
Over the past 13 years, Patrick accomplished amazing things as CEO. His business strategy placed strong leadership at the base, great operations on that foundation, true collaboration above that and pursuing our dreams at the pinnacle. Because of the robust organizational foundation Patrick has built, we’re now comfortably operating in that dreams area. This is where we can flex our design muscles.
Capital Market Authority Tower in Riyadh, Photo © Peter Bogaczewicz / Omrania
What does it mean for HOK to be operating in the dreams area?
It means we are now free to focus on designing exquisite artifacts that add to our culture and civilization. The artifact we design can be a plan, an interior space, a piece of furniture, a building or a community. The places we create will be around for a long, long time. But they should never be primarily about HOK. Every solution must be in response to the client’s program, site and goals.
As we continue to mature as a firm, we need to maintain the highest levels of design excellence while freeing our design studios to achieve more regional differences. Our buildings should begin to take on the design personality of the HOK studio in which they were made. Though we want to share core values like sustainability and technical excellence, we don’t want all of our designs to look like they came from one hand.
We must support our design solutions with equally exceptional client service. Clients need to feel so well-served by HOK’s people that they are proud to be associated with us. We want to be a sounding board and trusted advisor—the people our clients call for advice, a favor or their next project.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
How does HOK innovate?
Our sweet spot is where design excellence intersects with expertise in specific markets and building types. No firm does this better than us.
Look at what’s happening with scientific innovation. Scientists say that the most important discoveries in the core sciences have already been made. New innovations come within the overlaps between those core disciplines.
That same type of cross-fertilization leads to architectural innovation. We are experiencing powerful overlaps among the various markets and facility types, whether it’s sports, office, hospitality, retail, residential, healthcare, aviation and transportation, or science and technology.
Just as opening Nationals Park in Washington led to the development of the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, current HOK arena design projects in Barcelona, Detroit and Edmonton will catalyze the development of mixed-use districts. As the great minds across HOK approach our clients’ challenges in different ways, many innovations begin to emerge.
Which other trends are influencing commercial development?
Our commercial clients are focusing more on the artifact. It’s incredibly important to design high-performance, intelligent buildings that also are quite beautiful. Clients want to develop a building that does something for its community and tenants that other buildings don’t.
What is the state of sustainable design at HOK?
We’re proud of our historic leadership in sustainable design and the performance of our buildings. Today, our approach to sustainability has become both more scientific and a contributor to the business success of our clients. We can bring deep sustainability to all types of projects while staying within the client’s budget.
We’re focusing on how sustainability interacts with building sciences. BIM enables us to set and achieve significant improvements. Our clients are getting terrific energy use results from post-occupancy evaluations.
HOK takes our AIA 2030 commitment to achieve a carbon neutral built environment by 2030 very seriously. We track the projected energy performance of every project across our global design portfolio in all market sectors. We’re improving the average energy use intensity of our portfolio by at least 5 percent every year. That’s a more than 50 percent improvement over the 2030 baseline. We are on track to see an 80 percent improvement by 2021. Many of the projects we’re designing are already 70 to 80 percent better than the 2030 baseline.
FC Barcelona New Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona
What have you been working on in Washington?
Cities are my passion, and I’m extremely proud of the 35 buildings we have designed in and around DC’s National Capital Region since 1990.
Our current projects here include design of the National Association of Broadcasters headquarters in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, with a scheduled move-in by fall of 2018. One block to the east we are designing 25 M Street, SE, an office building with retail on the ground level.
Not far from both buildings is the previously completed LEED Platinum DC Consolidated Forensic Laboratory, which brings together the best of HOK—a combination of design excellence with expertise in creating state-of-the art labs and sustainability—in a single building.
These three buildings are part of the fast-growing Capitol Riverfront neighborhood a few blocks south of the US Capitol Building. I’m also proud of our contributions to the design of the Nationals Park baseball stadium, which was a catalyst in reviving this part of the city—and also the nation’s first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver certified.
HOK has opportunities to work on incredible projects of all different scales in the cities where our offices are located. But we also have the ability to go outside our region to work on high-profile international projects. We bring this local and global expertise to each client.
What are some of your favorite projects being designed outside the District of Columbia?
The 74-story Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Headquarters (left) will open this year on a prominent urban site overlooking the Arabian Gulf. This is a beautiful, sustainable building. It’s a parallelogram with a simple diagram. All the primary windows face due north. The east and west facades, where it’s extremely difficult to achieve solar control, are solid. On the south, where the direct sunlight can be mitigated, there are elevator cores and conference rooms.
The clarity of the design stands out from the twisting, turning and muscular massing of the surrounding buildings. It embodies the core values of ADNOC, which is a pillar of Abu Dhabi’s economy and society. There is a wonderful meshing of the building’s design and purpose. In 25 years, this tower will look as great as it does today.
For the Capital Bay project in Abu Dhabi, we are working on a master plan that has a 70-story building as part of an 8.5-million-sq.-ft. mixed-use development along the shoreline.
The new Palau Blaugrana arena for FC Barcelona is an important project for one of the world’s leading pro sports franchises. It will help create the Espai Barça sports district in Barcelona.
The 80-story Capital Market Authority Tower in Riyadh, designed by an HOK / Omrania joint venture, is a beautiful, high-performance structure with amazing detailing and craftsmanship.
LaGuardia Airport’s New Terminal B (above) project in New York is a major redevelopment of a city airport—an innovative new terminal on very restricted land.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta features an innovative retractable roof that opens and closes like a camera aperture. Fans will have an amazing game-day experience.
The BJC Healthcare Campus Renewal Project at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis is well under construction. This project gave the team an opportunity to knit together what had been a series of five independent hospitals on a single academic medical center campus housing the highest levels of clinical care, research and education. It’s on a magnificent site across from Forest Park.
Our design for BBC’s Worldwide Headquarters (above) in London creates a responsive workplace that facilitates collaboration for more than 1,200 employees.
These are all special places that will make profound contributions to their communities. They are examples of how HOK’s design solutions come from the client, the place and the program—not from a sense of fashion. They have meaning. I’m proud of all the HOK people whose hands have touched these projects.