The following article by Velpeau Hawes is a map of sorts on how the now widely-acclaimed Nasher museum succeeded, starting with an owner’s vision, role clarity and ego suspension.

Ed. note: The following article by Velpeau Hawes is a map of sorts on how the now widely-acclaimed Nasher museum succeeded, starting with an owner’s vision, role clarity and ego suspension.

Roles and Responsibilities
Obviously choosing the right people to begin with is where it all starts. The team:

Raymond D. Nasher—Owner, spiritual leader, patron of the arts

Renzo Piano (Renzo Piano Building Workshop) Genoa, Italy—Architect, concept leader, captain of design

Peter Walker, FASLA (Peter Walker and Partners) Berkeley, California—Landscape Architect, design leader of the garden

Alistair Guthrie (ARUP Engineers) London, England—MEP & Structural Engineers, developers of the technical solutions for the design concepts

Velpeau Hawes, FAIA—Owner’s Representative, team manager, interpreter of Owner’s goals, mediator, ego manager

Mark Wamble (Interloop A/D)— RPBW representative at weekly job meetings, communications and interpretations between project and RPBW office

Neil McGlennan (Beck Construction)—manager of the subcontractors and suppliers, quality assurance, costing, scheduling

Jeffery Hill, AIA (Beck Architecture)—Code coordination, document distribution and management, misc. coordination, limited construction documents

It’s about a Good Owner

No project is better than the Owner will allow. Most important is when the Owner is the real passionate leader of the project.
All high end design projects begin with a good Owner. Whether the Owner is a single individual or a group, it is the same. All of the team members are important, obviously, but unless the Owner is on board with a passion and commitment to excellence then the team can only hope for noninterference as a minimum. All of us respond to good leadership and if that stems from the Owner the project’s chances for a good outcome are enhanced significantly. The Nasher Sculpture Center was blessed with a seasoned, articulate, positive thinking and quality driven Owner in Raymond D. Nasher. He also committed his fabulous collection of modern sculpture and his desire to give back to society.

It’s about relationships

Select People you know and trust to do the job.
Nasher is one who is very much about relationships. Selection of the Architect was, of course, an essential piece of any High End project. In the course of thinking and talking about candidates, Nasher met Piano Piano at the opening of the Beyeler Museum in Basel, Switzerland which Piano had designed. He was impressed both with the work and the man and invited Piano to come to Dallas and discuss the Nasher project. Renzo came and spent several days talking with Nasher, walking the site and the surrounding areas understanding the nature of the setting and the program. The thoroughness of thought and sincerity in his investigation, without yet commissioned to do the work, greatly influenced the choice by Nasher.

Other key members of the team ultimately selected were the results of previous successful relationships. In my own case, Nasher had been a client for more than 32 years when he discovered that I was retiring from private practice and invited me to join the team as the Owner’s Representative. The General Contractor, Beck, has constructed almost all of Nasher’s many outstanding development projects for the last 40 years.

One of the most significant aspects of the project’s success was that the construction project manager and I personally interviewed and selected all of the subs and suppliers on the project. We also had commitments from the principals of those firms chosen to provide their best people, assure highest quality, and to be personally available if something went wrong.

It’s about Committed Professionals

Excellence has no place for people who will settle for mediocre results.
One of the over riding characteristics of the various team members was a single minded commitment to excellence. Much of this came from the passion of Nasher, Piano, and Walker but it was also inherent in the individuals themselves. This commitment was to see that everything possible was done to insure that the goals of the project were met or exceeded.

It’s about a Quest for Quality

Team must commit to excellence in everything.
Another characteristic was to see that everything was designed, constructed and completed in the highest quality possible. Design ruled but logic, practicality, simplicity, and durability was equally important. The Contractor’s key people were equally committed to insuring that designs could be executed and completed in the spirit in which they were designed.

It’s about Experience

Work with those who “know the ropes.”
One of the overwhelming problems that design consultants often suffer from these days is lack of experience and immaturity of design and production teams. There was plenty of “gray hair” to go around on the Nasher project. Where youth and inexperience was found, it was tempered by the judgment of experienced supervision that high end projects require to succeed.

It’s about Chemistry and Respect

It really helps when team members grow to like to work together.
Good team chemistry can be both inherent or it can be created. Not all teams are born equal and in this case it was quite a challenge. We had international, national, and regional diversity along with language and procedural differences to start with (evidenced by the fact that there were four clocks in the job trailer. One on Genoa time, one on London time, one on Berkeley time, and one on local Dallas time). As we worked together, with a dedication to the project, respect built into good chemistry. By projects end respect and friendships developed out of the great results of the project. I truly believe that everyone felt that the entire team had benefited the outcome in a very positive way.
It’s about Challenging Everyone to “Raise The Bar.”

Nasher was constant in his challenge to everyone to do something better than they have ever done.

One of Nasher’s many great characteristics is to challenge everyone to “raise the bar.” When one asks a great professional like Renzo Piano or Peter Walker to do something better than they have ever done before it is like throwing a match on gasoline.

It’s about Including Construction People as Full Team Members
Construction people generally are not asked to do anything but to “hurry up.” When they buy into the quality and excellence thing they will enthusiastically be on board.

One of the Piano’s, and his staff, early concerns was for our ability to obtain quality workmanship in “the boondocks of Texas.” Our construction project manager and I assured them that it would not be an issue due to our knowledge and respect for the subs and personnel that we had selected. Also, we knew that properly challenged, that they would respond in a resounding way. As construction progressed the concerns died gradually and the first words to me from Piano when he came to the opening were, … ”the workmanship is exquisite.”
I fearlessly submit that this project will remain the highlight of most of us who had the pleasure of participating. This particular opportunity came along for me as I was retiring from private practice. I Challenge “senior” Architects to seek ways toward the end of their careers to utilize the years of experience that they have garnered to close out in the most exciting ways as possible. In addition, some of these “lessons learned” can be incorporated in most of our daily projects as a bonus.

—Velpeau Hawes

Hawes, an AIA Fellow, has served as the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Director of Design and Construction since 2000.