HMC Architects has enjoyed seven decades of success in education and healthcare projects in Southern California. Now, the employee-owned firm is branching out, to Northern California and beyond, in search of new opportunities.

October 04, 2012

Spreading its wings in healthcare

Healthcare accounts for nearly half of HMC annual revenues—$42.7 million in 2011. Patient-centered design is at the core of its healthcare strategy. In 2009, the firm was one of only five nationally to be named a Planetree Visionary Design Firm, signifying leadership in evidence-based design, patient-centered care, and sustainability.

Travel fellowships broaden HMC staffers’ horizons

Since 2007, HMC has offered travel fellowships to give two employees a year the opportunity to explore a culture or idea that could benefit their work.

In recent years, Yunnan Allen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Project Leader, immersed herself in China’s musical heritage to understand what she calls “the ephemeral junction between tradition and progress.”

Emily Kay, Senior Construction Administrator, apprenticed in a stonemasonry restoration project in Provence, France. David Fennema, Senior Graphic Designer, studied “things that disappear” through his photographs of the demolition of Yankee Stadium, the vestiges of Coney Island, and a cloud forest in central Mexico.

Kaysha Bucher, a 26-year-old Interior Design Coordinator in the Los Angeles office, spent eight days last year in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, working with Schools for the Children of the World, a Colorado-based nonprofit that builds and renovates schools in Third World countries.

She and other volunteers conducted physical assessments of earthquake-damaged schools (see photo, left). She also helped prepare construction documents for two elementary schools and a high school that are now being built by Haitian laborers. “We worked with them on how to do structurally sound concrete block and different ways to do rainwater harvesting,” says Bucher.

“I was most inspired by the resilience of the people and how eager they were to meet [non-Haitians] who could bring hope to their country,” she says.

The Xref fellowships provide winners a week of paid time off and $4,000 in travel expenses. Winners are chosen by a jury of consultants and current and potential clients; HMC staff input is prohibited. The program administrator, Arturo Levenfeld, AIA, LEED AP, Associate Principal, says this process gives jurors a deeper sense of “what makes us tick.” The judging rotates to a different office every year to reach a fresh group of clients, prospects, and consultants.

Kaiser Permanente has been a client for more than 50 years, but now other mega-systems, including Dignity Health, are coming to HMC. “They’re asking us to work with them in more of a business partner relationship,” says Trisha Clark, LEED AP, Vice President of Strategic Development. “Sometimes we’ll give them an option that doesn’t lead to a building, but the Dignity people tell us that every dollar they save can go to patient care.”

Fast project delivery is a potent weapon of HMC’s healthcare armamentarium. “We’re delivering projects with any kind of delivery system that’s out there,” says Jerry Eich, AIA, ACHA, Healthcare Practice Leader. A $150 million, 140-bed hospital for Universal Health Systems of Philadelphia (with DPR Construction and Turner Construction) is using lean construction and prefabrication. “We’re coming in at $842 a square foot, 1,450 square feet per bed, and 15 months early. OSHPD is amazed,” he says, referring to California’s notoriously tough hospital construction oversight agency.

“We see a lot of competitors coming into California, but we’re doing the opposite, going out geographically,” says Eich. “Kaiser Permanente has a strategy to go national over the next 15 years, and we’re going with them.”

Seeking a more Northerly exposure

Gaining a foothold in Northern California has been a crucial component of HMC’s strategic plan. Although the firm has had offices in San Jose and Sacramento for years, it was not until last year’s acquisition of Beverly Prior Architects, a 25-member firm in San Francisco, that HMC was truly able to plant its flag in NoCal soil.

That acquisition significantly expanded the firm’s expertise in civic and justice projects. BPA’s founder, Beverly Prior, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, NCARB, Principal, is well known in state and local government circles as a tree shaker. Named firmwide Civic and Justice Practice Leader, she has been tasked with leading this activity nationally.

Prior has been busy at the municipal and county level. With DPR Group and Sares Regis, HMC recently won a project to renovate an existing building into an emergency services facility for the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. “Design-build is huge in the government market,” says Prior. “This is a kind of public-private partnership, with the developer managing the project and the sheriff getting some handle in the choice of design.”

Prior says California counties have money to build jails, but hesitate to build them over worries about being able to maintain them. She sees her mission as providing “sustainable justice”—finding ways to build less and do it right, economically, environmentally, and for the community. “I find the economic crisis exciting because it’s requiring us to fire on more cylinders,” she says.

Sharing the civic-sector responsibility on federal projects is Diamond, who brought extensive experience with the GSA to the firm. A recent coup: Being named one of four Building Teams (with Brooks + Scarpa Architects and McCarthy Construction) shortlisted by the GSA for the $322 million Los Angeles Federal Courthouse.


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