Interiors Star Irving Joins HOK in San Francisco

By Sharon Simonson

Richard Irving, an interior designer whose history includes work for The Getty Center in Los Angeles and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, has joined the San Francisco office of global design firm HOK as its first design principal representing the interiors discipline.

Going forward, Irving, Design Director Paul Woolford and Design Principal Alan Bright will lead design for the San Francisco office of the 57-year-old privately held company, which recorded 2010 revenue of $470 million worldwide. HOK has had a San Francisco presence for 45 years.

Irving returns to Northern California after more than two decades at Richard Meier & Partners Architects LLP in Los Angeles, where he was design principal for interiors.

He immediately joins HOK’s work on Terminal 3 at the San Francisco International Airport and for developer Wilson Meany Sullivan on WMS’ proposed 1.5 million square-foot office complex at its Bay Meadows mixed-use development in San Mateo. He also undertakes the redesign of HOK’s own San Francisco studios. The offices consist of 35,000 square feet on two floors of One Bush Street in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. The studios were last redesigned a decade ago.

Rob Steinberg, president of Silicon Valley’s Steinberg Architects, which also has San Francisco offices, said HOK has scored “a competitive coup” with Irving’s addition to its practice.

Steinberg worked with Irving on the City of San Jose’s downtown Civic Center, an 18-story office building complemented by a glass rotunda entrance and public plaza, all completed in 2005. Irving led design of the common-area interiors including the rotunda, the council chambers, lobby and other public spaces.

“He is a very thoughtful, refined and elegant designer who has worked in environments with gold-medal, top-of-the-line architects. His background is first-rate,” Steinberg said. “They are lucky to have him.”

Irving’s arrival matched nearly to the day the retirement of HOK’s former San Francisco managing partner Edward McCrary, who played a pivotal initial role in bringing Irving to the new post. Irving, Woolford and McCrary all worked together in the San Francisco office of design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP in the early 1980s.

His arrival at HOK follows that of Denise de Ville, the former director of business development for the Western United States for global design behemoth AECOM Technology Corp. De Ville joined HOK in October as its vice president and director of business development.

Woolford said the firm expects to make additional strategic hires in San Francisco as HOK positions itself to compete in what he says is a rapidly changing business environment. “We are seeing the work of design moving to a larger-scale production model,” he said. “The people we are designing for are younger, a new generation. Clients have a focused problem, schedules are shorter, the financial commitments are tighter, but the expectations are what they were or higher.”

The practice is currently evaluating the expansion of its design team with a design principal focused on building physics, Woolford said.

HOK has 1,500 employees in more than two dozen offices around the globe. It has 200 employees in San Francisco. The company specializes in complex, program-driven projects where the intended use is quite specific, such as hospitals, airports, courthouses and scientific-research laboratories.

The firm is currently designing the 370,000 square-foot Pacific region research and administrative headquarters for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for instance. It also has completed such signature Bay Area projects as Apple Inc.’s existing Cupertino headquarters and San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal’s master plan.

Irving’s hiring represents the culmination of a year-long, national search that included 15 preliminary contenders and eight finalists. HOK has a long focus in San Francisco on its architectural work. Irving’s arrival telegraphs a new strategic direction for the firm and a disintegration of the “membrane” between interiors and exteriors in the firm’s approach to its work, Woolford said.

“About a year ago, we looked at our practice and the ways we wanted to amplify it as a whole. We felt there was a piece that needed focus: our interior architecture. It was very strong, but we wanted someone at the table with myself and Alan as a principal-level person,” Woolford said.

Irving spent 23 years at Richard Meier & Partners in Los Angeles. From 1988 to 1997, he led design for the Getty Center interiors on the firm’s behalf. He oversaw planning, finish selection, woodwork design and custom furniture design of all areas, including lobbies, galleries, restaurants, lab spaces, museum, shops, office operations and public spaces.

More recently, he led interior design of Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse and lounge Cut and Sidebar at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel. He also oversaw the interior design of the federal courthouse in San Diego, the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center Renovation at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the UCLA Wasserman Center, which houses the Jules Stein Eye Institute and the International Education Center for the university’s neurology department.

Leaving the Meier fold and work with Meier himself as well as Design Partner Michael Palladino was not an easy choice, Irving said. Personal considerations including a recent remarriage weighed heavily in his decision to move his center of gravity north. The couple shares a Berkeley home.

“I always strive to make my best work whatever I am doing right now,” he said. “But with my new partners Paul Woolford and Alan Bright, I am looking forward to doing my best work at HOK.”

“It’s a nice thing to be able to go from one place to another and know the quality will still be there,” he said.

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