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

Fixing a laser-like focus on design excellence

HMC has taken a number of steps to shine a light on its design excellence image, starting with the investment necessary to become a Planetree Visionary Design Firm. It has established a studio, known as HMC ArchLab, under the direction of Pablo La Roche, PhD, LEED AP, Sustainable Design Director, that is devoted exclusively to sustainable design. Since it was formed in 2011, HMC ArchLab has devoted thousands of hours of staff time to support research on sustainable strategies and evidence-based design in the built environment.

Foundation tightens HMC’s bonds with local communities

Founded in 2009 with an initial endowment of $1.9 million, HMC’s nonprofit Designing Futures Foundation (DFF) has donated about $230,000 in its three years of existence, including $105,000 in scholarships to California students. The grants help promising high schoolers with an interest in architecture, design, engineering, education, or healthcare pay for expenses like test preparation services, computers, and college entrance exam fees and tuition. The scholarships can be extended for up to five years of college.

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The firm has also been aggressive in acquiring top designers like Prior, Diamond, and, most recently, Charles Dilworth, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, as Principal and Regional Director of Design. “In the course of our discussions, Randy made it very clear to me that his agenda was to build up the HMC design identity,” says Dilworth. “I wanted to get on this winning horse.”

In less than a year, Dilworth has launched a three-pronged campaign to raise the level of design at HMC. First, he has been holding monthly “design roundups” via video telecon, where the five more northerly offices—Fresno, Reno (Nev.), Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Jose—present their current work. Dilworth does not hesitate to say that at times these critiques have been quite frank.

Dilworth’s second initiative has been to be what he calls “an advocate for design” at HMC: “I look at every project and ask, ‘Can we push for design here? Can we make this project worthy of an award?’”

Finally, Dilworth has been nudging HMC out of its comfort zone. “The San Francisco office is kind of a startup, so we want to pursue projects that are just outside our wheelhouse.” Pressured by intense competition from other firms, says Dilworth, “We have to put a lot of work into a project even before we get the interview. You can’t just go in to an interview with ideas alone. You have to go in with sophisticated design work and solutions.”

Peterson says he sees HMC becoming a “national presence.” He does not hesitate to say that further acquisitions are well within the realm of possibility. He’s also looking to widen the firm’s client base, especially among mega-healthcare systems like Universal Health Services, Banner Health, and Dignity Health—major players with plans to expand nationally and whose coattails HMC hopes to ride.

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At the global scale, the firm recently won its first international competition, the 2,000-bed First People’s Hospital in the Shunde District of China, a new city being built southwest of Hong Kong. The 2.8 million-sf hospital was the recipient of the 2011 AIA Academy of Architecture for Health Unbuilt Award. HMC is also designing a 250,000-sf campus in Santiago, Chile, for Duoc UC, a division of the Catholic University of Chile.


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