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From OMA to Raleigh; Hobgood Architects is a family business with Starchitect Roots | properties

After 8 years in OMA’s New York office, Patrick Hobgood moved back to Raleigh, NC to run an architecture firm with his father, Kenneth and brother, Paul. Together with colleague Alan Tin, their firm Hobgood Architects is working on a number of projects near and far, from a boutique hotel in Raleigh’s warehouse district to an arts foundation in the Middle East.

As part of our Small Studio Snapshots, we spoke to Patrick about his time at OMA-NY, what it’s like to run a family practice, and about projects the company is currently working on.

How many people are in your practice?

We currently have 8 employees, this number varies slightly from project to project, but that’s an accurate representation for us over the past few years. Four years ago there were only four of us, these four are the core of our office: my brother Paul, my father Kenneth, our long-time employee Alan Tin and myself.

Hobgood Architects Associates.

Why were you originally motivated to start your own practice?

Our office is actually a continuation of the practice our father started almost 25 years ago. He set a pretty high standard for us, his career has been heavily recognized with design awards and AIA recognition. He continues to work with us on a wide variety of projects and proposals. A few years ago we decided to change the name from Kenneth Hobgood Architects to Hobgood Architects. Seems pretty simple and straightforward, but I’ve always thought that was a pretty big gesture. Until then, the office was really just about him and his work. I would also say that my personal motivation for returning to Raleigh, aside from being able to work with my father and brother, was the fact that my wife and I had a couple of children in a row and, most of all, lived in New York and After 8 years at OMA it became a tough juggling act.

The concept model of the Ark Royal Boutique Hotel in Raleigh, NC.

The Ark Royal Boutique Hotel in Raleigh, NC.

What is it like to run a family business?

From the beginning we were always in each other’s business

We grew up in a very close family environment and have always been in each other’s business from the start. It’s a wonderful feeling to come to work every day and see my father. I spent much of my childhood in his office playing with scale cars and looks. As I got older, I worked on construction site models and context buildings. Sharing this experience with my older brother is something very special. We both took on the day-to-day duties as well as business development and HR. My mother is here too, she does the bookkeeping for us in the office and is always there. Oh, and my wife, Eve, does a lot of the photography and website management for us. We also work a lot with my father’s younger brother, Tom. He’s an incredible furniture maker in Charlotte, he does the built-ins when the budget allows, as well as lots of freestanding pieces. The line between family and work is therefore blurred, practically nonexistent in every respect.

Healthgrades office in Raleigh, NC.

Indian Creek Residence in Miami, FL.

What have you learned from working with OMA that you have taken over into this new practice?

In retrospect, I feel incredibly lucky to have worked in the OMA-NY office for almost a decade. Before graduating from high school, I worked under the direction of Joshua Prince Ramus for a year. After the GSD, I worked with Shohei Shigematsu for almost 8 years. It’s hard to sum up how incredibly wonderful the experience was, being surrounded by incredibly talented people from all over the world working on phenomenal projects in America and Japan, and mostly with super interesting clients. It was beyond a dream.

I would also say that being there during the 2008 financial crisis turned out to be the most intense and rewarding experience. When I started it was maybe 40 people, when the economy picked up we got down to about 10. Although we were under the OMA umbrella, we functioned very much as a small office. Desperate to keep the doors open, we pursued every possible lead and made proposals and competitions for several years in succession. This enabled our small team of 5 to 6 employees to pursue potential projects very efficiently. I’m not sure how many projects we’ve done in those lean years, but it could easily have been 30 or more.

We introduced ourselves to a special task force, often on a suicide mission

What was remarkable to me was the experience of working so closely with Shohei in everything we were tracking. We introduced ourselves to a special task force, often on a suicide mission, and there in the trenches was one of Rem’s most trusted generals. Occasionally Rem was very involved in certain projects, which was very intense and exciting to have a dialogue with, but for me as an architect it was the time I spent with Sho and this team most of all. It was a complete reprogramming of the approach to design, conceptual narratives, team building, presentations, project and customer management. Almost everything we try here is a direct result of what I was fortunate to experience and learn with OMA.

Office on E. Hargett Street in Raleigh, NC.E. Martin Hobby Tower in Raliegh, NC.

What hurdles did you encounter?

That is a difficult question, or perhaps too easy a question. I would say that any office that tries to create new foundations faces inward and outward obstacles. Many of our internal problems have shifted from a traditional single authoring facility to a multi-vocal practice. When my father ran the office, it was a master’s apprentice who sketched the plans and sections and passed them on to architects to build into the computer. We have moved from this approach to an open collaboration approach and prefer an atmosphere in which everyone can come up with ideas and challenge them. When it’s one person doing all the lifting, it’s easy to develop a language. Rather than learning that particular language, we prefer that each project have its own identity, a specific response to the site, program and client’s wishes. Basically, the results should vary.

The RFP and RFQ processes are not beneficial for small offices

Outwardly, I would say that it is very difficult for a small office to manage. Architecture is inherently slow, and it takes a lot of time and money to make it a reality. Therefore, it takes a lot of trust and a lot of expertise and experience. It is difficult to get hired on a specific project unless you can show that you have already successfully completed a similar project. For these reasons, it is also very difficult to work in public spaces. It’s really sad – we’d prefer to work in the public sector, of course, but in general the RFP and RFQ processes are doing small offices no favors. I would say that our desire not to specialize in one typology also puts us at a disadvantage, but it is much more interesting for us to jump from one set of programmatic needs to the next. Right now we have a pretty good mix: a mosque in Durham, a Dutch textile company’s headquarters in NC, an arts foundation in the Middle East, a SF 30,000 private residence in Miami, two separate hotel and condominium projects, a vertical arrangement in downtown Raleigh and the other more horizontal organization in the southernmost part of the Outer Banks, a couple of office supplies and a number of furniture projects.

Art factory in the Middle East.Mosque studies for project in Durham, NC.

Is scaling a goal or do you want to keep the size of your practice?

I hope we can keep this current size. This allows us to work on some actual projects while tracking a number of potential projects. It’s still a constant rush to make ends meet – when a project is put on hold we definitely feel that it’s getting financially tight. In the street I could see us getting a little bigger, something between 15 and 20 people would be great. Architecture is a slow moving creature that requires good luck, good customers, and perfect timing to actually create a project. In general, a project can take 4-5 years from concept to occupancy. So it’s a simple strategy. If you want to increase the chances of not only getting projects but also creating them, you need to increase the work and speed with which you pursue them. And for that you need horsepower. For us it means finding, training and encouraging good people to run with ideas and see where they take us.

Instead of expanding, we prefer to work with other design firms or offices

On this scale, you can still get your hands on almost anything, but much bigger and I’m not so sure. Instead of expanding, we prefer to work with other design firms or executive offices to get new thinking, to work on different scales, different typologies, different material sensitivities etc. problem in dealing with a new scale or typology. We partnered with ASA, a super talented young design firm for projects in Miami and the Middle East. We teamed up with our friends in Kutonotuk at a nursing home in Iceland and received an Honorable Mention for our contribution to the Guggenheim Helsinki competition. In the past few years we have been pursuing projects with OMA-NY, INABA and SO-IL, unfortunately none came off, but we continue to strive to bring great people and ideas here. We are currently working with LS3P, a really good design-oriented regional office in the southeast. We’d love to play a part in bringing a really great office here to run a project. It really is a win-win situation for everyone.

VESCOM North American headquarters in Henderson, NC.

LaFarm Bakery in Cary, NC.

What are the advantages of having your own practice? And stay small?

If it’s your office, or in this case your family’s office, you have the freedom to explore any direction – you can throw something away and start over at any time, you can work late or go home early. Apart from the design school and the model shop at OMA, it is as close to total design freedom as it is. Conversely, having your own office also brings the constant stress and pressure of payroll, business development, marketing, customer management, contract negotiations and many other things that you won’t learn in design school. Having a small office resembles a small creek or even something before this stage where the water can wind freely and quickly change course depending on obstacles and topography. Larger offices really are the established bodies of water, fast moving rivers with a set route, strong currents, wide latitude, incapable of quickly adjusting or changing course. Right now we prefer the freedom, flexibility, and playfulness to stay small.

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