A Conversation With Larry Malcic, Director of Design in HOK’s London Office
After nearly a quarter-century leading design in HOK’s London office and 35 years as an architect, Larry Malcic is still learning. “I want to always be learning and growing,” he says. “That’s how you know you are alive.”
For Larry, each building is a monument. “It can be a monument to the architect’s ego if the client allows it to be,” he says. “But what it should be is a monument to the ambitions of the client, the community and the team. For architects, this is a tremendous responsibility and privilege.”
Take us through a typical day for the design director in HOK’s London office.
LM: This morning, I met with a potential client who wanted to talk about our ideas and approach.
From there, I met with a Turkish architect whose organization may use HOK for a project in Istanbul that would involve adaptive reuse and conservation of historic buildings and infill of new buildings. It’s a mixed-use project with hotels, retail, residential space, offices and a museum.
Next, I reviewed the design of a headquarters building in Asia with two senior designers in the London studio. We decided on the elevation treatment. Part of a design director’s job is to serve as editor. We edit out the extraneous, less important ideas so we can create a single, unified expression.
Later today, we will review the schematic design of another large project in the London studio.
What are some of your favorite projects of the past 25 years?
That’s like asking parents to name their favorite child. Architects have intimate knowledge of every aspect of their buildings.
The Francis Crick Institute, under construction in London, is about bringing institutions and scientists together to work on interdisciplinary science that will lead to dramatic new discoveries and cures for age-old diseases. The design is based on ideas of sharing and creating a sense of transparency and openness. Community spaces, elevators, coffee and food areas are arranged around an atrium. We want to lure scientists out of their labs and encourage them to meet colleagues from other teams over a cup of tea or coffee. These spaces line the atrium and provide visual continuity across, above and below. Natural light from skylights floods the space and adds a sense of well-being. On the ground floor of the Crick is a large auditorium for seminars and conferences.
With the building’s location next to the St Pancras railway station, people from all over Europe can get there quickly and easily. It’s a nexus for discovery. Science ultimately is a kind of torch race as people build on the successes and experiences of others. That’s what this building promotes.
The BBC New Broadcasting House in London is an example of bringing different types of people together. From the broadcasters of BBC Radio 1, a cutting-edge UK music station, to the more sober news readers – all these people are in one building. Our design reconciles the differences while allowing for individual expression. The BBC newsroom is the largest in Europe. It’s my favorite space in the building because there is almost nothing of significance that happens in the world that isn’t broadcast from that newsroom.
The Barclays World Headquarters in Canary Wharf is a good example of a building design driven by environmental considerations and a desire to create a sense of community and collaboration among large groups. Though it’s a high-rise, we created a series of five-story atrias on the south face. These spaces are collaborative and open to users, and have proven to be extraordinarily successful. We created U-shaped floor plans with the core offset. Everyone can see one another on their floors and, through the atria, on other floors. This visual connectivity encourages the recognition that everyone at Barclays is working together for an important enterprise. The atria also provide an energy buffer between the south-facing windows and the heat gain from the afternoon sun.
The Darwin Centre at the Natural History Museum in London contains more than 20 million animal specimens preserved in spirit alcohol. The big story is the 120 researchers conducting important biogenetic research on examples that date back to Charles Darwin’s collection and Captain Cook’s first voyage to Australia. The building organization helps people work together, learn and share their knowledge.
I’ve always been fond of St. Barnabas Church in Dulwich in South London. It is a 10,000-square-foot building full of symbolism. Though it is a simple structure made of brick, slate and traditional materials, the design creates a contemporary building that is appropriate within a conservation area. I met my wife, a member of the congregation, during this project, so I owe a lot to it.
What do you most enjoy about being an architect?
I like the need to combine art and science. We have to be imaginative and innovative while drawing on engineering, physics, biology, psychology, sociology and many other subjects.
How does knowledge about psychology affect your work?
Psychologists say that all people of every culture need three things to be happy: identity, security and stimulation. After the Second World War, modernist architects were clear about the need for security and identity. But some of their buildings lacked a sense of stimulation, excitement and beauty.
The social relevance that was important in post-war architecture seems less important to some of today’s architects. Many are using high-tech tools to draw to draw unusual forms. No matter how visually stimulating these forms are, they still need to contribute to the dialogue about social values. Finding the right balance between security, identity and stimulation is a very proper challenge for architects who want to create buildings of lasting value.
Is there are a unique HOK approach to architecture?
We design buildings that are intelligent and memorable. They are intelligent in that they are sustainable, thoughtful and functionally well-conceived. They are memorable in the quality of the building expression. You can admire the building from a distance and see the robustness of the details from up close. When intelligent and memorable qualities come together, there’s an overwhelming feeling that everything is right. That’s the type of building we want to deliver in London.
How do you know when a design is successful?
Clients allow us to give physical form to their hopes and dreams. We listen to them very closely and then use our creativity and professional skills to fulfill their aspirations in meaningful ways.
Cities don’t just evolve. Every brick, window and door has been chosen to be there at that place and time. There is no better measure of the values of the community than the built environments we create.
How does the cultural diversity in the London office contribute to your projects?
Because we have people from 30 different countries in the office, we can draw on a variety of diverse experiences. Whether we are working in the Far East, Middle East or Africa, we almost always have someone who has a degree of cultural recognition and who speaks the local language. There are many similarities in cultures throughout the world. To create a truly successful design, though, we need people who understand the differences.
Do you have a favorite space in London?
My answer would be a collective: the beautiful London squares. Our squares can be big or small, fenced or open – they are all different. Though each square is unique, collectively they establish a strong character for London. I’m constantly discovering new ones.
St. James’s Square in London – photo by David Iliff via Wikipedia
What’s your advice for young designers?
Always maintain your patience and optimism. We have to be patient because it can take months, years or even decades to achieve a vision for a project. We have to be optimistic because we spend our whole lives working with people coming to us with something as it is and asking what it could be. We have a tremendous opportunity to improve and change the world. We can’t forget the importance of this role. We are the people who make the drawings that make the buildings and the cities.
What’s the last good book you read?
The Story of My Life by Augustus Hare. It’s fairly obscure, but full of extraordinary anecdotes and stories of Victorian England.