Corrections or additions?
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,
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
For most architects the Sprint project would be the crowning
of a career. For Hillier it may or may not be. Last week Hillier
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
When asked if this was the architect’s way of easing out of the
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
from where he plans to supervise the company’s more ambitious
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
the contribution of new CEO David Erik Chase. He started the "K-12
Education Studio," a plan for financing and building public
when he joined the company three years ago.
Among his strengths, Chase creatively structures
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
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
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
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.
tried to stay close to it and I think I’ve done that reasonably
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
with his second wife, Barbara, who also works for the company.
Once the other major figures in his life are introduced to the
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
08543-0023. J. Robert Hillier, chairman. 609-452-8888; fax,
Home page: http://www.hillier.com.
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