The innovation crossroads: Where good architecture meets good business
In a world of seven billion people and counting, innovative design has become more important than ever.
From residential to transportation to healthcare, how can we create an innovative built environment that caters to humanity’s changing needs?
These are the questions that occupy leading design firms.
For Olson Kundig’s CEO Hemanshu Parwani, or “HP” for short, the goal is to source top talent and deploy staff in ways that solve specific problems for clients—and benefit the world at large.
Here, HP explains why it's valuable to follow a design-led approach, ask the right questions, and embrace innovation at every turn.
Be a design-led firm
In the last few years, Olson Kundig has been perfecting a new art: letting design lead the way. “A few years back we embraced the thinking of going from a professional-run firm to a professional-led firm,” HP said.
What does that mean, exactly?
For Olson Kundig, it means that business professionals work in tandem with design professionals to achieve a shared goal.
The business side is embedded throughout, instead of dominating the discussion. HP recognized that architects don’t leave school knowing how to run a business. Instead of forcing designers to wear business hats, they have support instead.
“I don't think anybody goes to architecture school to learn how to run business. When they come out, they're probably the least armed to know how to run business,” he said.
“What's been successful for us is that we let the design folks run design. We let the business folks run business. And we come together as partners which have the same beliefs and a common purpose.”
Understand the role of operations
Just because your firm is design-led doesn’t mean that operations won’t play a pivotal role.
In fact, at Olson Kundig architectural operations are the cornerstone of smooth project management, from the proposal onwards.
“We have practitioners also participating in that process. We have accounting folks participating in that process. So it's an amalgamation of different disciplines coming together,” said HP.
“They're able to understand project needs, what resources are needed, staffing. That group of architects or operations is able to assist with the project management as well. So bringing that team together has been a very defining moment for us.”
Fleshing out their operations team and processes has had added benefits, like continuity throughout and between projects.
Project managers are able to engage with the design teams at every step, ensuring that they get the support and resources they need to bring the project to life.
Look for talent, not resources
Whether you are hiring for design talent, operations, or any role in between, it’s important to hire the right people.
HP makes a clear distinction between resources and talent.
A body in a chair is just a resource. An innovative team member who can execute your vision at your standards is true talent.
“I see bringing on talent as not just a process. You're making a marriage work together between the person that's coming in and what the firm is.”
That’s why Olson Kundig recently brought on a firm to help with the recruitment process.
To make sure the recruitment firm truly understood their needs, culture, and DNA, they brought them in-house.
“We told them if you're going to identify and hire talent for us, you have to effectively be one of us,” HP said. “They would be part of our Monday morning meetings, or our crit, even beer thirties.”
It was a hefty onboarding process, but it’s resulted in better candidates and smarter hires. Olson Kundig looks at hiring as part of a big-picture strategy.
That’s why they’ve also recently expanded an internship program that sources participants worldwide.
“We’ve brought on board interns from different parts of the world, different countries. We look at the profession as not just a microcosm domestically, but on a larger scale,” HP said.
Set criteria for new projects
Even if you’re like Olson Kundig and enjoy the challenge of designing a tiny cabin right after a large commercial structure, you still need basic criteria in place when it comes to signing new projects.
When considering new business, HP and his team ask themselves a number of questions to make sure they and the potential client are properly aligned. They include:
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We’re chatting with Hemanshu Parwani "HP", CEO + Owner of Olson Kundig about how to blend the art of business with architecture.
Hemanshu Parwani – or “HP” as he is called by friends and colleagues – is responsible for directing operations and finance at Olson Kundig, including the firm’s business and organizational development, human resources and finance departments, information technology, and the administrative team. In this role, HP supplements the firm’s design-first strategy with effective operational resources. HP has worked in international operations, capital markets and strategic development for over 30 years.
“To me, reaching the summit is merely a byproduct of a larger goal, which is to build trust and personal bonds in our daily work with each other.”
He began his career in finance at a specialized financial advisory firm before moving to the Middle East where he worked on International Corporate Tax Advisory services. After that, he became the Chief Financial Officer of International Operations for AECOM, a multinational engineering firm. Since then, HP has gone on to hold CEO, COO and CFO roles for various international firms in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry, delivering projects on almost all continents.
About Olson Kundig
Now in its sixth decade of practice, Olson Kundig is a collaborative design practice whose work includes cultural and museum projects, exhibition design, commercial and mixed-use design, private and multi-family residential, hospitality projects, places of worship, interior design, product design, and landscape design. With deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, the firm and its staff of 200 work with clients around the world. More information at olsonkundig.com