The Alexander Road-based architecture firm RMJM Hillier is now operating as RMJM. But J. Robert Hillier, founder of Hillier Architecture, which merged with RMJM last summer, will remain with the firm as vice chairman.
Founded in 1966, Hillier Architecture became the eighth-largest firm in the world before the merger. Since the merger RMJM has become the world’s second-largest architecture firm, employing more than 1,300 in 14 offices globally. RMJM was founded in Scotland in 1956 and is still headquartered there.
Hillier says the merger has been good for both firms, particularly the one he founded. The union has afforded his employees the luxury of working on buildings around the world and of designing a wider range of projects.
This growth is a far cry from what Hillier expected when he hung out his shingle in Princeton 42 years ago. “People start a career for a lot of reasons but they don’t really think, what am I going to be doing in 40 years,” he says. “I thought I would be in Princeton designing houses for rich dentists.”
Reflecting on more than 40 years in the field, Hillier says he would advise his younger self to think in more urban terms. The move to cities by recent college graduates is being matched by the move of Baby Boomers, also eager to move closer to the action, he says, adding that while Princeton does not like to consider itself a city it faces urban problems such as traffic, housing, and development.
Hillier will continue to be a name in Princeton. He is working on a number of projects here and nearby, including the University Medical Center at Princeton expansion and new buildings at the Peddie School in Hightstown. He also is still teaching architecture at Princeton University and is working to renovate the former Jefferson Plumbing warehouse on Witherspoon Street.
The Jefferson project is a good example of Hillier’s present-day perspective. Having embraced green and eco-friendly design principles for years, he is putting many of them to use at the warehouse, which he plans to convert to office space. The design principles start with abundant natural light, but also factor in a creative solution for the parking dilemma there. As there is no parking available at the warehouse, the parking lot at the Waxwood building, which Hillier also owns and has converted to apartments, will be used by day for office workers.
The warehouse’s conversion to office space strikes a personal chord as well, as one of the tenants is to be Obit, the magazine Hillier founded with his wife, Barbara, in 2006. A publication whose goal is to celebrate life, the magazine, Hillier says, has reached the 30,000-hit mark and is growing well.
As for architecture, Hillier says his biggest change has been a return to the basics. “I’m having less and less to do with the day-to-day operations of RMJM,” he says. It is a change he enjoys, as it gives him the ability to design and to meet with clients, rather than worrying about every detail of running a business. Still, he sees no timeline for himself at RMJM and plans to stay until whenever it is time for him to go.
The removal of Hillier’s name from RMJM was planned when the merger occurred in 2007. Peter Morrison, CEO of the RMJM Group says the removal of the Hillier name “is a real measure of the success of the merger. Since the merger the U.S. offices have truly become part of the RMJM Group.”