Architecture is grounded in optimism and a belief in what lies ahead. Building a body of work around this idea, architect and author Lance Hosey serves as a Design Principal and Chief Impact Officer at HMC Architects. A Fellow of both the American Institute of Architects and the US Green Building Council, Hosey is working to champion more sustainable design strategies and reconsider how architecture is practiced.
In an interview with ArchDaily, Hosey explores his design motivations and recent work, as well as his latest role at HMC in San Diego.
Why did you choose to study architecture?
Before I studied it, my impression was that architecture was one of the few professions that encompasses every possible interest—it’s creative and analytical, visual and verbal, intellectual and practical, culturally and socially engaging, etc. Every year, this proves to be truer. Architecture can be an incredibly fulfilling occupation.
Can you tell us more about HMC and your role as Chief Impact Officer?
I have a dual role. On projects, I serve as a Design Principal, one of a dozen steering design teams among our 360 people. I also serve as Chief Impact Officer, and it appears I’m the first person in the design industry with that title. I oversee sustainability, research, innovation, and communications, cultivating strategies and messaging to ensure our work has a positive impact. While sustainability originally was conceived as a very broad topic, spanning social, economic, and environmental value, it often is perceived to focus narrowly on conserving resources. Reframing it as “impact” makes clear that our ambition is to improve how our work affects communities in every possible way.
Your career has spanned design and communications with a focus on sustainability. How has your different roles and past experiences informed your leadership in a firm and as a designer?
Much of design is about persuasive communication. Architecture is about ideas, and some ideas are more easily explored with words than with bricks and mortar. With clients, colleagues, and communities, I have found it very effective to explore the intersections of the verbal and visual. If we can’t clearly say out loud what good design is or should be, how can we hope to practice it?
What are some recent projects you’ve been working on?
I just joined HMC this month, so I have nothing under my belt yet. But in recent years I have worked on various high-performance projects with major corporate and institutional clients. A primary area of focus is higher education. I love working on university campuses: the opportunity to create environments that will influence the next generation of leadership is very rewarding.
With changes to climate, technology, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?
The profession may be at a crossroads. New environmental and social challenges will definitely continue changing how we practice and the techniques we use to design and build. For example, the industry is nowhere near where it needs to be with energy efficiency, and integrating performance analysis into basic design will become increasingly urgent. However, the more-essential shift that needs to happen is around the values and very purposes of architecture.
Look at the history of architecture portrayed in textbooks: the vast majority of it is a chronicle of edifices for wealthy and powerful institutions, and before the past 500 years all of it concerned sacred space—temples, churches, mausoleums, cathedrals. A consistent theme in the major Western religions is that sacred space is set apart from everyday events. So, from a young age, architects are taught that great architecture is wealthy, exotic, and separate from common experience. The seemingly hidden histories of indigenous and vernacular traditions demonstrate how people of modest means learn to live the land with grace and with respect for resources. To meet today’s challenges, we’ll need to rediscover ancient wisdoms about how architecture can be tailored to local climates and communities.
Changes due to COVID-19 have been swift. How do you think the pandemic will shape design?
Architects never waste a good crisis. At heart, we are creative problem-solvers, and we jump at any problem that needs solving, a tendency that is inherent to our industry’s optimism. Right now, the profession is facing what could be the most significant disruption in our history. The COVID-19 crisis could force us to reimagine virtually every type of space, and many architects are responding with brilliant proposals, demonstrating how essential design can be. At the same time, public health experts’ understanding of COVID-19 changes frequently, so aligning design ideas with scientific consensus can be difficult. Yet, clients and the public are asking for ideas they can implement right away. In our eagerness to help, do we risk outpacing the evidence? Resolving this requires a combination of creativity and humility. Architects can be persuasive public health advocates, but we are not public health experts. If anything, this crisis will teach us to be more adaptable to future crises. Our work can be designed to weather any storm that may come—especially the ones we can’t predict.
As you look to the future, are there any ideas you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
This is the question that gets me up in the morning and keeps me up at night. Many of the most-important advances affecting practice today—energy conservation, health impact, social equity, etc.—were identified and explored by some pioneering architects a generation ago. Where would we be if we could quickly adopt new ideas en masse? What fringe topics today will become tomorrow’s basic practice? On the one hand, it’s tempting to explore topics that could fundamentally change design and construction. For example, I’ve written a lot about artificial creativity and the possibility that the design process could eventually be fully automated. How would we define our profession if buildings could design themselves, evolving and adapting to climate and context the way living systems do?
On the other hand, improving the relevance of our work is arguably more important than developing new techniques. Ten years ago, in the middle of the last recession, for my then-column in ARCHITECT magazine, I asked, “What Could the Next Decade Hold for Architecture?” (April, 2010). The points I outlined then still apply—strengthen the ability of the architects to serve communities, guide our clients with conscience, and work to improve the impact of the built environment in every way possible.