Diversifying the Disciplines: Hacin + Associates on Integrating Multiple Expertises Under One Roof | Features

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The Hacin + Associates team with founding principal David Hacin pictured in the top left. All images courtesy of Hacin + Associates. Established in 1993 by architect David Hacin as a traditional architecture firm, Boston-based Hacin + Associates has since grown into an interdisciplinary design practice with more than […]


The Hacin + Associates team with founding principal David Hacin pictured in the top left. All images courtesy of Hacin + Associates.

The Hacin + Associates team with founding principal David Hacin pictured in the top left. All images courtesy of Hacin + Associates.

Established in 1993 by architect David Hacin as a traditional architecture firm, Boston-based Hacin + Associates has since grown into an interdisciplinary design practice with more than 30 team members.

We reached out to Hacin for this week’s Studio Snapshot to learn more about the incentives for integrating interior design and branding departments, his take on an office size ‘sweet spot,’ and the importance of fostering Boston’s local identity.

Can
you tell us how Hacin + Associates was founded?

H+A was founded in my dining room in 1993 as a result of a commission
from my sister to design a new house for her family in Scottsdale,
Arizona. At 32, I had already worked in ten different design offices
and was ready to venture out on my own; I was also very excited about
doing a ground-up project in an unfamiliar desert environment. I
called the firm Hacin + Associates (even though I didn’t have any
associates) as a reference to my father’s firm in Geneva,
Switzerland that was called Hacin et Associés. It was an
aspirational move.

At
first, H+A was an architecture firm in the traditional sense. We
began by designing homes, retail, and mixed-use projects in Boston
and beyond, including overseas. While many of our projects
incorporated architectural interiors, I learned quickly that interior
design is a different discipline, requiring a distinct set of talents
and expertise. Over a short period of time, we saw the power of
integrating the two disciplines under one roof. By 2005, H+A had
officially expanded to include full-service interior design, offering
a more holistic experience for our clients. Taking that one step
further, we began including identity design when the project
environments demanded a brand presence. In 2014, H+A officially
launched a branding department, adding a third discipline to the
studio.

Hacin + Associates’ studio in Boston. Photo: Flagship Photo.

How
many people are currently employed at your studio
?
How is your office structured?

We
currently have 30+ members of ‘Team Hacin.’ Even though I am
currently the only principal, I am supported by a team of talented
design and management professionals, many of whom have been with the
studio for over ten years and some for much longer. It’s a
close-knit team with a collaborative sensibility, each of us relying
on the strengths of the others. Our leadership group includes five
Senior Associates and seven Associates; our management group includes
Studio Leads in Architecture, Interior Design, and Practice as well
as our Office Manager/HR Administrator and Controller. We just began conducting
discussions about how to transition to a broader-based ownership and
leadership model, which I am very excited about.

FP3. Photo: Bruce T. Martin Photography.

District Hall. Photo: Flagship Photo.

Would
you like to scale up and grow your team? What do you consider the ideal size for your practice?

H+A was started on the principle that ‘slow and steady’ growth
wins the race. We have grown by one or two staff members per year
since our founding, and I hope that we can continue to grow smartly,
getting to know team members as they join, incorporating them into
our culture, expanding our expertise, and maintaining a sense of
intimacy and collegiality. 30 people feels like a ‘sweet spot,’ although I would argue that the dynamic is more important than the
number, and I am not an advocate of growth for its own sake. Office
size has never been a benchmark of success for me — I find that to
be a peculiarly American obsession.

While many of our projects incorporated architectural interiors, I learned quickly that interior design is a different discipline, requiring a distinct set of talents and expertise.

83 Gardner Street. Photo: Bruce T. Martin Photography.

The Whitney Hotel. Photo: Chuck Choi.

What
have been the biggest challenges starting and running your own
practice?

Not surprisingly, adapting to the roller coaster of economic cycles
and riding out unpredictable events like 9/11 or COVID-19 has been a
constant challenge. You learn to never get too comfortable. Big jobs
can stop with an unexpected phone call. You just need to remember
that big jobs start that way, too.

On
a more practical note, organizing around a collaborative and
multidisciplinary model is an everyday challenge. I’m constantly
thinking about how to make sure all voices are heard, understood, and
respected at every stage in the process. It’s work but worth it.

150 Camden. Photo: Bruce T. Martin Photography.

Amagansett House. Photo: Chris Cooper.

What
challenges have you faced during the past pandemic months? Are you sensing a return to “business as usual” soon?

A funny/not funny story: a month after the pandemic really hit Boston
hard, our office building was flooded by a water main break in the
street that knocked our studio space out of service for five months,
forcing the relocation of our servers and even preventing access to
the building. I thought it was the end of the world (and maybe the
end of our practice), but we had already been working remotely for
about a month, and our team took it on as a challenge to conquer the
additional adversity. We came out stronger — and the free rent
provided an extra bonus for my team at an important juncture.

We just began conducting discussions about how to transition to a broader-based ownership and leadership model, which I am very excited about.

Since
then, we managed to safely return to a reconfigured studio during the
summer and fall months of 2020 as well as this spring. We have been
on a hybrid schedule, where about half of our team is able to return
to work two days a week. This schedule was tailored to make sure that
each person present was six feet from other occupied workstations, so
a mask was not required while seated. We also closed our kitchen
space that was a thriving lunch spot for team members in a
pre-pandemic world.

Shore Leave. Photo: Bob O’Connor Photography.

Chestnut Townhouse. Photo: Bob O’Connor Photography.

With
the availability of vaccination and anticipated decline in the risk
associated with COVID-19, we’ve outlined a ‘return to the office’ strategy, recognizing that our creative work is highly collaborative,
requiring ongoing mutual training and mentorship, and that our
culture thrives on personal connection and engagement with our local
Boston community. We’re hopeful that all employees will be able to
return to the office, healthy and vaccinated, this summer and fall.
And eat lunch together!

Public Garden Townhouse, interior. Photo: Trent Bell Photography.

Public Garden Townhouse, rooftop space. Photo: Trent Bell Photography.

Describe
your work. How do you define your own unique style and approach?

We joke that we specialize in not specializing, but it’s true. We
enjoy the challenges associated with all kinds of design work, from
building high rises to selecting the right upholstery for a couch.
Our highest priorities are the client and the community as well as making sure
that whatever we design reflects and elevates who or what they are. I
hope our work is beautiful, responsible, and
accessible, telling meaningful stories about people and place and improving people’s lives. We don’t design for other designers.
We hope to make meaningful connections with the general public
instead. That involves a lot of listening and accepting that all
architecture and design is fundamentally local.

Adaptive reuse is the art of the possible; Preservation tells a story. I hope our new buildings will sustainably stand the test of time and may themselves be preserved or adapted by others because they remain beautiful and useful.

When
discussing projects that impact the public realm, we often recall the
notion that “small actions add up.” Incremental urbanism, or the
steady culmination of precise, strategic design interventions made in
a particular urban neighborhood, is critical in perpetuating the
identity and heritage of a local community. The process is almost
surgical by nature, with each project influenced by the narrative of
the past and the needs of the future.

IDEO Cambridge No.2. Photo: Bob O’Connor Photography.

Marlborough Townhouse East. Photo: Bob O’Connor Photography.

Adaptive
reuse and historic preservation projects in and around Boston make
up a sizeable share of your portfolio. Can you tell us if and
how your architectural approach towards these commissions differs
from designing new buildings?

Boston is a historic city with a community that is deeply engaged
with our local heritage and character. We are constantly considering
the relationship of old and new as well as the meaning and relevance
of context in a modern and rapidly changing world. I like that we are
committed to reinforcing the materiality and traditions that keep
Boston looking like Boston and not Anywhere, USA, but still searching
for innovative solutions to problems like housing affordability and
sustainability.

Here
in New England, we also believe in designing for the long haul,
cognizant of the fact that we are adding to a timeline of history
that began centuries ago and will continue to evolve into the future
after we’re gone. Adaptive reuse is the art of the possible;
Preservation tells a story. I hope our new buildings will sustainably
stand the test of time and may themselves be preserved or adapted by
others because they remain beautiful and useful.

Four51 Marlborough, exterior. Photo: Trent Bell Photography.

Four51 Penthouse. Photo: Bob O’Connor Photography.

Do
you have a favorite project? Completed or in progress.

My favorite projects are those that take full advantage of our
interdisciplinary approach and multidisciplinary skill sets. Four51
Marlborough is a good example of a project that began as a
multifamily development in a highly sensitive historic setting, grew
into a branding and marketing project, and became an opportunity to
customize a few apartments with the outstanding work of our interiors
team. In that way, we were able to tell one thoughtful story from
beginning to end to a variety of audiences, public and private.

If
you could describe your work/practice in three words, what would they be?

We just went through this exercise with our team, and the list of
words was longer than three. A few that stick out in my mind are “fresh,” “enduring,” and “collaborative.” Although, on a more personal note, I also appreciate “family” and “compassionate,” especially after the year we’ve had.

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