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This article by Melinda Sherwood was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on July 7, 1999. All rights reserved.

Hillier’s Expanding Horizons

Sprint’s Kansas City headquarters will be the largest

commercial building in the country, and the Hillier Group,

headquartered

at Alexander Park, is designing it. The founder of the $80 million

a year architectural firm, Bob Hillier, marvels at the size of it.

"It’s 4 million square feet and it’s going to hold 14,000

people,"

he says.

For most architects the Sprint project would be the crowning

achievement

of a career. For Hillier it may or may not be. Last week Hillier

announced

major changes in the firm’s management, with Hillier himself replaced

as CEO by David Erik Chase, a relative newcomer to the firm who has

served as president of the Hillier Group, Pennsylvania, since 1996.

Other changes: Guy Geier, formerly head of the New York office, was

named president of the Hillier Architectural Group. Alan Chimacoff

and Gordon Griffin were named to spots on the board of directors of

Hillier International Inc.

Hillier will remain chairman of the board and of the executive

committee.

When asked if this was the architect’s way of easing out of the

business

he built from the ground up 33 years ago, Hillier (Princeton Class

of 1959) says no way. "I’ve still got a good 13 years left,"

he chuckles. Rather, he’s shooting for a penthouse view of the

company,

from where he plans to supervise the company’s more ambitious

objectives.

"My responsibilities are more dedicated to making the firm grow

further," he says. "You can’t focus on those issues and worry

about the important decisions going on in Princeton all the time.

That’s why we’re divvying it up."

Among some of the changes to the company, Hillier will be opening

offices in "the south and west" of the U.S. He won’t say where

just yet, though, because "that will get people in that city

upset."

A greater presence overseas is also paramount to the firm, he says.

"We think that the U.K. could be a wonderful launch point for

other sites throughout Europe," he says. The firm’s current

project

in the U.K. is the 17-story corporate headquarters for SmithKline

Beecham in a highly visible spot where two major roads from Heathrow

and London intersection.

In a profession notorious for erudite distinctions and enormous

price-tags,

the Hillier Group has earned a reputation for being both on-time and

on-budget, while at the same time expanding its parameters. Hillier

started his career building private homes 33 years ago; today the

company has "self-determining" branches that do interior

design,

historic preservation, and landscape architecture as well.

This built-in flexibility allows Hillier to chase changing trends

— not in the field of architecture, necessary, but in

society-at-large.

"The architectural business is driven by the demographics,"

says Hillier. "And right now those demographics are shifting."

Specifically: the maturing babyboomer generation. "The boomers

are becoming empty-nesters, which is a different housing market,"

he says. The firm is interested in building retirement communities

and may even acquire a firm that does health spas, he adds.

Another major niche for the Hillier Group is schools. In East Orange

alone, the company has seven school projects underway. This was

largely

the contribution of new CEO David Erik Chase. He started the "K-12

Education Studio," a plan for financing and building public

schools,

when he joined the company three years ago.

Among his strengths, Chase creatively structures

financing

packages using private funds often raised through bond issues to fund

public buildings. He intends to use the same approach to financing

in order to get contracts with new hi-tech companies. "As many

of the hi-tech E-commerce companies begin they’re looking for

economical

ways to start a project without a large cash investment," he says,

"so we’re putting together a consortium of private financing."

Chase grew up in Binghamton, New York, where he became a carpenter’s

apprentice in high school, and later, landed himself a summer job

at an architectural firm. He attended Syracuse University and received

a masters in architecture from Columbia and attended Ecole des

Beaux-Arts,

Fountainbleu, France.

Like every young aspiring architect, says Chase, he looked to masters

like Frank Lloyd Wright, LeCorbusier, and Walter Gropius. After 20

years at the head of his own practice Chase’s tastes are more evolved,

however. "Every design solution is a response to the client’s

requirement within the context of their environment," he says,

when asked about his current philosophy.

Noted for his "relentless energy," Chase says he finds little

time to escape his duties in the Princeton office. "An architect

lives architecture," he says. "I’m a great reader and I like

to play golf, but free time is not a commodity that architects

have."

Hillier, on the other hand, teaches a course on professional practice

at Princeton University, and continues, whenever possible, to get

involved at the design level with some of his corporate clients.

"I’ve

tried to stay close to it and I think I’ve done that reasonably

well,"

he says. "Every architect loves to design buildings and to be

able to do that is great." He’s also raising a six-year-old

daughter

with his second wife, Barbara, who also works for the company.

Once the other major figures in his life are introduced to the

conversation,

the man who was so eager to defend his continuing leadership role

in the company changes his story just slightly: "I’m letting go

some right now and I feel really good about it."

— Melinda Sherwood

The Hillier Group, 500 Alexander Park, Princeton

08543-0023. J. Robert Hillier, chairman. 609-452-8888; fax,

609-452-8332.

Home page: http://www.hillier.com.


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