Patrick MacLeamy on Designing a World-Class Architecture Firm

The Second Studio (formerly The Midnight Charette) is an explicit podcast about design, architecture, and the everyday. Hosted by Architects David Lee and Marina Bourderonnet, it features different creative professionals in unscripted conversations that allow for thoughtful takes and personal discussions.

A variety of subjects are covered with honesty and humor: some episodes are interviews, while others are tips for fellow designers, reviews of buildings and other projects, or casual explorations of everyday life and design. The Second Studio is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This week David and Marina are joined by Patrick MacLeamy, Architect and Former CEO of HOK to discuss his new book, 'Designing a World-Class Architecture Firm: The People, Stories, and Strategies Behind HOK'. Patrick discusses the struggles HOK went through, acquiring other offices, maintaining office culture, the key components of a successful architecture office, and much more. Enjoy!

Highlights & Timestamps

Patrick discusses meeting his wife at HOK and moving to San Francisco for the office. (06:50)

Patrick talks about the ups and downs of most architecture practices and George Hellmuth’s (one of the founders of HOK) four principles to creating a successful architecture office. (16:10)

Patrick discusses the failure of the current practice of architecture. (30:22)

The world needs great architecture. It needs design more than ever […] Probably this iPhone 11 Pro is the best design work, far better than any architect practicing today. Why? It’s elegant looking, but it also works like the slickest thing you can imagine for putting a whole world in one had. And it’s so affordable that millions of people around the world are using smartphones. The buildings we are designing now are not as well designed as this. They’re too expensive and they don’t perform so well.

"We need to organize ourselves differently so that we step up our game. Because we are not serving the needs of society with great design thinking. Instead, I think architects are playing defensive architecture. Design is in the backset and in the front seat is spending plenty of time with working drawing and specs and so on to keep the contractor form having our lunch. We’re practicing the wrong way. Unless people think about how to practice, we’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes the Hellmuth and Hellmuth made 100 years ago.” (30:22)

Patrick discusses HOK’s office culture and the issues they had with HOK Sports. (36:20)

Patrick talks about the key tactics he used to fix issues at HOK and listing different HOK offices during his time as CEO. (44:35)

“I found that if I (HOK) was earning $100,000 a month in fees and I had a backlog of $1,000,000 dollars, that’s 10 months work of a backlog [if I had that] I wasn’t growing or shrinking. If had less than $1,000,000 in the backlog, then I was shrinking. I might not know it yet, but I was shrinking. If I had $1,500,000 in the backlog, then I was growing. So I can plan.” (56:00)

Patrick discusses one of the most challenging projects HOK undertook. (01:03:25)

Patrick talks about bridging analytical information needed to run an office with understanding and motivating people. (01:08:25)

Patrick discusses the challenges of growing HOK, acquiring other offices, and retaining its office culture. (01:13:13)

Patrick shares the ‘suggest don’t tell’ way of leading a group of people and Gyo Obata’s way of communicating with clients. (01:23:24)

“Most architects, when they go a client to present themselves, what do they talk about? They talk about their work and themselves. “I’ve done this, here’s a picture of that building. Isn’t this a pretty one? Aren’t I great?” And Gyo would say, “You have to really listen to what your clients have to say and they’ll tell you insights about the design work you need to do” So he did it just the opposite of the traditional architect approach. It’s about the client.” (01:38:22)

Patrick recalls attending ‘charm school’ to learn how to work with other people better. (01:46:17)

Patrick reflects on his stepping down as CEO and the evolution of the office and his time in it. (01:52:14)

“The work needs great design. It doesn’t need struggling architects. It needs great design.” (01:53:06)

About this author
Cite: The Second Studio Podcast. "Patrick MacLeamy on Designing a World-Class Architecture Firm" 29 Nov 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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