30 Years and Counting

We invite some of the most notable designers we’ve profiled through the years to reflect on where their personal journeys have led them since we last spoke, and how they feel about design's future.

by Robert Nieminen

This opening line from our editorial mission statement has been the guiding force behind every decision we’ve made as a magazine for the past 30 years. We’ve been in the vanguard of promoting the value of design services in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public, as well as connecting the professionals, firms, and associations with projects and products that have shaped the built environment for the better.

Those who have been paying attention know that the I&S brand has evolved significantly over the past three decades, responding to changes in our industry as well as the economy. During our first 20 years, esteemed interior designers and architects graced our covers and shared their insights into the critical issues facing the profession, as well as their abiding passion for good design—examples of which are now featured prominently on the front of and inside each issue.

In 1995, the editorial team, led by former editor Katie Sosnowchik (now with HDR Architecture), came to the critical realization that good design could not be divorced from social and environmental responsibility. As such, they formally ratified the mission statement to reflect the magazine’s support of “the creation of functional, sustainable and aesthetically-pleasing environments.”

With that stance, we quickly became well-known as the “green magazine” among the suite of design publications in the market. We launched the groundbreaking EnvironDesign Conference in 1996, which enjoyed a 10-year lifespan and was regarded as a precursor to the now hugely successful Greenbuild Expo, produced by the U.S. Green Building Council. We also hosted the popular GREENlife Pavilion and the Green Walk showroom tour at NeoCon before sustainable product offerings were a given.

I&S continues to champion the design of sustainable interiors, which are now (thankfully) part of mainstream design thinking and a permanent part of our brand’s DNA, as we received a LEED-CI Silver certification for the remodeling of our Cedar Rapids headquarters following a devastating flood in 2008.

But we’ve also become much more than that; we’re a go-to resource for busy practitioners who seek practical, reliable, and inspirational ideas to keep their creative juices flowing and to help them become better at what they do. By keeping abreast of industry trends, offering expert analysis on vital topics, going inside the latest interiors projects, showcasing the most beautiful and functional new products on the market, and tapping the minds of the people who are pushing the envelope of design thinking, we aim to be the publication that delivers the most relevant, exciting, and actionable content around.

With that in mind, we invited some of the most notable designers we’ve profiled through the years to reflect on where their personal journeys have led them since we last spoke and how they feel about design today—and tomorrow. Their perspectives on the practice of design are as fresh and inspired as we feel today as we celebrate this significant milestone in our magazine’s history.

 bill valentine, faia 
Architect and Chairman Emeritus

Chairman Emeritus Bill Valentine, FAIA, retired in 2012 after 50 years as a design leader at HOK. Valentine joined HOK in St. Louis in 1962. In 1970, he moved to California to open the firm’s San Francisco office, where he remained until his retirement. As a sustainable design pioneer, Valentine led HOK’s adoption of sustainability as a core value in the 1990s. He served as president from 2000-­2007 and chairman from 2007-2012. Today, he lives in Mill Valley, Calif., and continues to consult on design projects with HOK.

When you were last profiled in I&S back in 2003, you were still president at HOK and have since retired. How has life changed for you since retiring?
Since I’ve retired, I get to spend more time with my family. My wife, Jane, and I have three-year old twin granddaughters who live in the area. It takes both of us to babysit them!

What role does design continue to play in your life?
Since the beginning of the year, I have been helping a team in our San Francisco office with a design competition. Going to the office twice a week to focus on design has been great fun.

I sponsored the AIA Fellowship nominations for two HOK architects this year. I was delighted that my friends Alan Bright and Ernest Cirangle both were elevated to the College of Fellows. We are hosting a sponsor dinner for them at the AIA National Convention in Chicago in June.

In our 2003 cover story, you had said, “Architecture, in its best light, is a social instrument about how you can make the living condition better. And, so, that’s what I see for us in the future.” Do you still see architecture in this light, and is this still a notion that drives the work at HOK?
Yes, overwhelmingly. I see architecture in this light even more so today. Improving the living condition remains the highest purpose for architecture and still drives our work at HOK.

What topics or ideas interest you most these days?
At the top of my list would be two intertwined ideas: sustainability and zero carbon emissions. Architects have a social responsibility to reduce the carbon used by our built environment. There is a fair amount of discussion about achieving zero carbon but not enough progress. Renovating existing buildings to achieve zero carbon emissions would be the gold standard.

How has design changed, in your opinion, since we last spoke? Do you see that as a good or a bad thing?
Design has changed for the better. There is an increased interest in efficiency and sustainability. The cost of sustainable technologies like solar panels is going down and the political climate is much more accommodating. LEED Gold certified buildings are almost pro forma. Compare this to a decade ago when people said, “What’s LEED?”

Planners and designers are revitalizing urban areas and densifying suburbia. There is more emphasis on creating compact, walkable communities where people can live, work and connect. With the needle moving in the right direction on so many fronts, I am quite optimistic about the built environment.

What worries or concerns you about design?
What worries me is that there still is too much attention given to complicated “look at me” buildings instead of buildings that are really striving to help people.

If you could go back and revisit one thing in your career over again, what would it be? Why is that?
I would be more proactive in connecting with universities to cross pollinate the innovative new concepts coming from their faculty and students with those of the talented designers in our HOK offices. I would encourage all design firms to do this.

Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I am the absolute luckiest architect in the world. I grew up in a small North Carolina farm town, went to a state-supported architectural school, and then, in graduate school, had the incredible good fortune of a leader from this new firm called HOK visiting our class and eventually offering me a position in St. Louis. Then I was given the opportunity to move to California and open a small HOK office in San Francisco. Years later, I ended up as president and chairman and suddenly found that I had a voice in the national design community. I could not have imagined this career! I would be afraid to replay it because it could never turn out this well again. I was just doing what I loved. How could you want anything else?

Describe the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
My lessons stem from Gyo Obata’s teachings about simplicity in design and listening to clients to really understand their needs. I believe one can help the most by designing buildings that are simple, affordable and helpful to clients and our society.

What advice do you have for designers on their way up?
Approach design from a social perspective. Instead of designing to create something splashy, ask yourself how the design can help people. You have an opportunity for your work to be germane and helpful. Our society has a crying need for this type of design and, in my experience, it also is good for business.

What do you see as the future of design?
We are living in an increasingly complex, urbanized world. There is a need for design thinking that will actually make life better by using fewer natural resources, providing access to education, creating humane environments that promote interaction, making the world a safer place—the list goes on. These are real problems that designers can and must tackle.

Think about an iPad, a Prius, or the Golden Gate Bridge. What do they have in common? They all were designed to enhance life and uplift us while being incredibly useful. There is great beauty in their simplicity.

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