Tim Carl, CEO of HGA, supports a highly collaborative design process, promoting a “studio approach” within HGA’s multidisciplinary environment. DesignIntelligence talked with him to ask how he sees the future evolution of the architecture and design profession, professional practices, how client needs will evolve, diversity in the firms of the future, and more.

DesignIntelligence: What do you see as the future of leadership in professional practices? Will there be new models of leadership and organizational structures?

Tim Carl: Like many larger firms, HGA’s initial geographic expansion was built on a centralized leadership model that has been evolving over the last several years to a more collaborative matrix of leaders. Our local and regional leadership teams are empowered and accountable to sustainably grow their practice. They, in turn, have access to and benefit from the knowledge and resources of national leaders guiding market strategy, operations and financial performance. In order to effectively leverage that matrix of leadership across the firm, we have made structural changes that incentivize leadership at both the local and national scale and make them accountable to collaborate effectively.

This organizational model is designed to leverage collective strength and, we believe, is key to sustainable growth for a firm of our size. A matrixed structure is more adaptable to the differing cultural and generational expectations and nimbler in terms of sharing staff across offices and markets based on demand.

DI: How will client needs evolve in the future?

TC: Recently a client shared with me valuable insight into how her needs were evolving. She told me that we were well positioned to win work at her university based on our reputation for truly listening to our clients and working to solve their specific needs. However, what she has learned is that, while listening is a differentiator in our field (many architects do not truly listen to their clients in her opinion), it is not enough. In the higher education world, they are trying to address rapidly changing needs and solve often unprecedented challenges. To be successful, her consultants need to bring a rigorous process that, in addition to listening, helps them think differently about the challenges they are facing.

Increasingly our differentiator will be a research-based approach to our work that understands the intersection of social and technological developments with market specific challenges. Our process must delve deeply and specifically into a client’s world, employing a host of tools to understand what is critical to the quality of our work with each.

DI: How do you see service offerings and business models evolving in the future?

TC: Our client’s needs are evolving to require a more consultative business model where we must illustrate how our work is driven by strategy with research-based metrics demonstrating the measurable value—both qualitative and quantitative—of that strategy. Architects must elevate the science and the art of what we do. At HGA we are looking at our 21st century version of the Bauhaus—structuring ourselves to leverage the collective strength of very diverse mindsets and designing how architects, engineers and interior designers collaborate with researchers, scientists, process engineers, and other design thinkers to leverage data to predict and measure performance. There must be strategy behind this complement of disciplines that is both targeted and serendipitous with an openness to new and differing points of view.

DI: What do you feel is the future of design and delivery models? In other words, what will the context of future practice be, and who will participate in the design and delivery process?

TC: Like all A/E firms, we are navigating how we both influence and become more effective in the design and delivery process. Regardless of what delivery method is employed, we are consistently successful when we have a strong, collaborative relationship with the contractor, construction manager, design builder, P3 partner, etc. Critical to our industry’s future success is to learn from those relationships and influence how delivery evolves.

One aspect of delivery that we are currently navigating is the more prescriptive act of construction through pre-manufactured and modular solutions that provide an array of choices. The design professional becomes the curator and artist instead of the technology-driven detailer. As machines fabricate instructions provided by computers, design professionals must learn how to manipulate the parts and pieces to continue to meet our aspirations for architecture; to borrow from Vitruvius, to deliver “firmness, commodity and delight.”

DI: Who will populate the firm of the future?

TC: Our success will depend on our ability to leverage the collective strength of a diversely talented, emotionally intelligent, and complementary work force. Fostering an environment that values diversity in gender and race is foundational to this; we have a gap in the A/E/C industry and we believe this should be an urgent focus over the coming years. In order to build genuine diversity our organizations must understand how both the culture and structure of our practice supports an equitable and inclusive work environment. The work we have done in this area just in the past two years shows an enormous benefit in attracting and retaining fantastic talent and clients.

Tim Carl is the CEO of HGA.

Photos by Vl Iv and Daniel Chen on Unsplash.