Architectural design firm, HLW International, offers much more to clients than the average architectural establishment, with specialties including interior and sustainability services. Headquartered in New York City with additional offices in London, Los Angeles, Shanghai, and New Jersey, HLW’s aim moving forward is to further grow its global presence. We spoke with Managing Partner John Gering.
HLW spends a great deal of time in the early identification of trends, especially pertaining to technology, and has done this since the beginning. This architectural company had a very famous first customer in Alexander Graham Bell. “That was the basis of the firm starting in 1886. The first building worked on was Metropolitan Telephone, which was the first telephone building in New York. Because of that legacy, the firm re-invented itself over the decades,” says John.
Present clients include Google, Amazon, Disney and ESPN, all of which are continually looking for new ways of either producing or using technology. HLW actively embraces technology and is continually evolving its expertise in architecture and design to build through the next hundred years.
HLW is unique in that it provides full architectural service on the building side, but also performs interior design and has a group that offers landscape and master planning for urban, exterior landscapes. Another group tackles workplace strategy and assesses objectives with clients to lead them into the future.
“We also have a group that deals with sustainability and green design, as well as energy and lighting design. It’s a full-service operation in terms of the types of services we can provide. Most firms don’t offer that. We are vertically integrated across our offices as well,” says John.
Part of the vertical integration can be seen in Spark Studio Lighting Design. While HLW had a lighting design group for decades, it never really marketed lighting design; it was folded into other services on a project. Part of the rationale behind initiating Spark Studios Lighting Design as a separate entity was to give the team the opportunity to collaborate on projects outside of HLW. They can now go to the client directly to provide lighting design services.
“In today’s world, lighting is paramount when it comes to sustainable buildings,” says John. A space cannot achieve sustainability unless it is designed intelligently, and lighting is a critical component of that.
Like Spark Studios, HLW’s Sustainability Design group can provide services to HLW projects or directly to other clients. A great example of this is in its work on a restoration project at the U.N. campus. “We provided sustainability services for that, and our lighting design services ended up cutting their energy costs in half by the nature of being smart in how we look at energy and sustainability. The Secretariat Building was designated as LEED Platinum, which is unusual for an existing building,” says John.
The company’s main office is in New York, but it has opened several offices globally to work with its clients. HLW worked for Fox Broadcasting Company in Los Angeles. An office was established there, and a lot more work followed on the west coast. Similarly, HLW was doing work in London and other parts of Europe with Morrow Hill and Merrill Lynch. Through that work, a London office was established. The same happened in Shanghai, as HLW followed clients that were embarking on several manufacturing facilities.
“Most recently, we have set up an office in New Jersey just to service the local, regional market because sometimes markets become very localized. But, our model is to grow globally as this is a global environment, and we have many clients that we travel with globally, including Google, Sky, Willis Towers Watson, and Capital One,” says John.
Looking forward, HLW wants to continue expanding, as more clients are a part of the global economy. “We have ourselves set up in a way where we have the Americas, Europe, and the Pacific Rim covered, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t do work on other continents,” says John.
HLW believes in listening to clients and understanding their story before beginning a design to ensure the client’s space connects with their business model. No two projects are alike because each client is distinctive. “Our work should really reflect their goals and culture, not our interests in terms of what architecture is. Because of that, every space that we design is unique to that client. We don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Our mission is to create powerful experiences through design and deliver places that connect, engage, and inspire. To that end, we really follow our firm tagline—Our Work Tells Your Story,” says John.
By focusing on the client, HLW’s interactive discovery process gains a clear understanding of their particular needs and objectives. Spaces are designed to inspire the users and add value to the business.
Over the last decade or two, HLW has found that it is getting back to its roots, which is to manage the overall process and maintain better control over the results. “Architects used to do that, and we find we need to be very adept at doing it to really get a strong handle on it. It is one thing to talk about how our work tells your story, but we had to find creative ways to help clients get the best of the best with all the various consultants and suppliers. It’s our role as an architect to make sure that happens,” says John.
HLW provides architecture, interior design, urban planning, workplace strategy, sustainability, lighting, and landscape design services for a global clientele within a range of sectors. HLW’s work within the higher education sector draws upon the team’s expertise across numerous industries, providing different space types including broadcasting, technology, corporate offices, and residential. This depth and breadth of knowledge has been in part responsible for the success of HLW’s many long-term client relationships.
HLW is currently working with Hofstra University on several campus projects. Recently, the firm completed their new School of Medicine, which was a joint venture between Hofstra and Northwell Health, a leader in progressive health services. The project is a LEED certified building. Also nearing completion is Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business.
“It’s a great example because the educational world is very forward looking. When we started with Hofstra ten years ago, one of the reasons they hired us was because we are always looking towards the future and do a lot of work for highly advanced technology companies. Universities train people to go out and work for those companies like Google or Twitter, so it fits,” says John.