Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the October 29, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Life in the Fast Lane: Hillier Architects
Five architects who made their careers at Hillier have
opened their own practice on Mapleton Road, in the building that used
to house another architectural practice. The company, called Ikon.5
Architects, consists of Alan Chimacoff, Joseph Tattoni, Arvind Tikku,
Charles Maira, and Richard Holmes, all former leaders of Hillier’s
higher education studio.
Chimacoff, a principal at Hillier, was released by the firm last
after 16 years as being director of design. The other four, all
principals, left Hillier on September 2, and Holmes describes the
parting as pleasant and professional. "On the way out, shaking
our hands, Bob Hillier told us, `If it doesn’t work out, you guys
always have a home here.’ Certainly the experience, the guidance,
and the mentoring we got there is why we are where we are now."
"It was a moment when we were looking for new horizons," says
Holmes. "Everyone has different thresholds for where they are
and where they want to be, and this seemed the moment to do it."
Unlike other areas, college and university building programs are
"It seemed time to take a swing at being our own bosses, charting
our own course, making the choices about the kinds of work we do,
the projects we pursue, and how the resources get allocated in our
The five talents mesh well. Chimacoff is the name-brand designer
for the Princeton Materials and Science Institute on Prospect Street,
and with Tattoni he did the new law school at Rutgers Newark. Tattoni
does a little of everything — design, run teams, win jobs, and
work with clients. Maira focuses on the technical aspects and quality
control and did major work on the new building for the Princeton
Library. "He is a master at interpreting design so that the
can understand what it is," says Holmes. Tikku is the operations
person making sure projects are appropriately staffed and moving
Holmes is an interior designer who concentrates on marketing. All
are married, and between them they have 10 children, of which five
Their portfolio includes commissions at 10 universities, including
Cornell, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and Rutgers. Chimacoff invokes the term
"strong architectural concepts" to describe the team’s work,
saying that each project is rooted meaningfully to its place, informed
by the ideas, values, history, and traditions of the client. "You
might say we create modern buildings based on ancient principles,"
The Hillier studio they left behind has two dozen people working in
Princeton in the area of higher education, about 40 people overall
in the various locations (New York, Washington, Philadelphia, and
Dallas) "Other people have experience and will jump into the
says Holmes. "Both Hillier and our group can take credit for the
buildings that were done while we were at Hillier," says Holmes.
"Bob Hillier has been very kind to say we can use the images on
our website as long as we put up the disclaimer that these projects
were done while we were at Hillier."
Says Hillier: "We are certainly disappointed when anyone has to
depart the firm and the four who have left to go out on their own
have our best wishes for success. As with the dozen or so firms that
have been spawned from Hillier over its 35-year history, we are proud
that their experience here was broad enough in scope to enable them
to go out on their own."
"Our education practice group is busy and continues to win new
projects under the leadership of Managing Principal Phil Dordai,"
says Hillier. Major new commissions include a new campus for a private
school in Pennsylvania, a dormitory for Goucher College in Maryland,
the new business school for Virginia Commonwealth University, a study
for the Fox School of Business at Temple University, Collin College
in Dallas, and major international schools in Dubai, Vienna, and two
locations in China.
At first the new group wasn’t having much luck finding
space that was not just a hum drum office. Then Genuone, a dotcom
at Mapleton Mills, gave its notice. Now Ikon.5 occupies part of the
Genuone space, 2,000 feet in the award-winning rehab design for an
older house, formerly the studio of Ford Farewell Mills and Gatsch
(Short & Ford).
Timing was right, says Holmes. "The projects we were involved
in were coming to stages where we could make a clean break without
harming a project or leaving a client in the lurch," says Holmes.
"The only revenue we have now is the consulting work we are doing
with Hillier to make sure the projects we are working on are well
served and fluidly handed off to Hillier staff. We are continuing
to do that for the next number of months."
Holmes says they look forward "to being able to choose when and
what we pursue. Hopefully we will be able to do that a little more
efficiently. At a big firm, it gets to be a numbers game. You have
to feed the big animal and sometimes it is harder to say no to
a proposal. Hopefully we will be able to choose which projects we
have a chance of winning and have a better hit rate."
The drama of the bidding process is not to be underestimated.
don’t realize that architects might get shortlisted for maybe one
out of 10 projects on which they bid. "Some clients don’t realize
a bid could be a week or two weeks of full-time work for two or three
people," says Holmes. "At Hillier, if we got shortlisted,
we won half of them." A smaller firm can afford to work on smaller
projects, yet this practice can boast of big firm experience.
They also hope to stretch their design wings into other areas. At
Hillier, for example, they were obligated to turn over a university
contract for an office building, museum, or conference center, to
a company specialist. Now Holmes hopes to announce a high-end retail
They chose the name, the Greek word for image, out of sheer
because they needed the name before they could sign a lease or order
phones. Most firms take the names or initials of the principals.
spent days walking through all the references we could come up
This company has no worries about online colleges eliminating the
need for brick and mortar institutions. "While some think
access will cause the eventual demise of the physical campus, we
that campus environments promote the greatest synergy of understanding
between education, research, and society. And let’s be honest: what
18-year-old doesn’t want to go away to college and get away
The five have no administrative assistants. Says Holmes: "We’re
very high on the totem pole, it’s just a very short totem pole."
— Barbara Fox
08540. 609-919-0099; fax, 609-919-0088. Home page:
Another architect who left the Hillier fold, James
left one big company to join another. A 1968 engineering graduate
of Cornell with a master’s degree in architecture from Penn, Greenberg
worked with John Clarke (now with Clarke & Caton) for the City of
Trenton in the late 1970s and had been at Hillier for two decades.
Working in the New York, he was CIO for the national firm and
director for the New York office.
As managing principal of the 60-person Ehrenkrantz Eckstur & Kuhn
(EE&K) Architects, Greenberg will manage projects in New Jersey, New
York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Shanghai. These projects
include master plans for new urban schools and the schools themselves
in Camden, Jersey City, and Newark, and at Rutgers in New Brunswick
Among the 10 new hires at Hillier are six professionals
based in Princeton:
director of the Health, Wellness and Lifecare studio, which is based
in Princeton. He is currently expanding Hillier’s successful
practice into the Midwest. He has a business administration/marketing
degree from California State University.
from the Washington Group International Inc. A graduate of Mount
she went to Duke University School of Law.
in the Science & Technology studio, is working on the UMDNJ Cancer
Center. He has a BA in architecture from the University of Arizona
and an Associate in Architectural Engineering Technology from
Institute of Technology.
assistant. She has a BS in architecture from Georgia Institute of
Technology and an MA from Princeton University. She has also been
awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for Cultural Arts and Policy
revolutionary campus design in Historical Black Colleges and
Science & Technology studio, is working on the Child Health Institute.
is from Lima, Peru, where he went to Universidad Ricardo Palma, and
is finishing his master’s degree at Cornell University.
Health, Wellness and Lifecare studio, is doing a project for the
Center at Princeton. She went to Columbia University and has a
degree from Princeton University.
firm and has almost 300 people. In addition to its 200-person
in Princeton, the firm also has offices in Philadelphia; New York;
Washington, D.C., Dallas and Newark. Ranked among the top five largest
architectural firms in the nation, Hillier has worked on projects
in 41 states and 23 foreign countries and has been honored with more
than 250 awards for design excellence.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.