"I like to think I've learned how to run toward trouble."
To most, that wouldn't seem like sound advice, but HOK's CEO Patrick MacLeamy's line has served Director of Interiors Tom Polucci, AIA, IIDA, LEED GA, well.
In a world where real estate—not to mention fees—is shrinking and more and more functionality is being demanded of a space, Polucci has returned to his hometown to take a job that many others might slink away from.
Along with a team of 25 interior designers that work with him, not under him (as he is careful to point out), Polucci has been tasked with developing HOK's interiors practice in New York City—a market that can be unforgiving at times, to put it lightly. But he says that as far as relationships go, the New York market subscribes to a much more collaborative process.
"I'm dealing with some major brokers here and it's been great. Everyone has a vested interest in the client."
Collaboration is the name of the game it seems, not just for Polucci but for HOK as a whole, in terms of how they work as a team. It has also become an essential element that is injected into each and every project the company undertakes.
"We're focusing around trust in one another, trusting our clients and consultants," he says. The team is also expected to do much more with less, while still designing spaces that are "culturally relevant" to the client.
"My goal is to take what we've done here for a long time, build on it, make it better, build more client relationships and build a stronger level of collaboration as far as all the different disciplines go, from science and technology to healthcare and beyond. It truly takes a village!"
Polucci sees office interiors not only becoming more about collaboration and space versatility for a variety of teams, but also about kicking the wired life to the curb. Telephone booths and phone rooms have become relics of the past, as everyone is now "tethered" to the outside world by smartphones and VOIP. In response, Polucci's team is currently designing spaces around Wi-Fi and scattered hubs, working with IT consultants to place the hubs effectively and prevent any interference from the architecture.
Audio/visual elements have also taken on a new importance in modern office environments, and Polucci's team has deftly made the jump. In conversation, he references companies like Cisco that have made major advances in videoconferencing, and companies like Steelcase that have created products (such as media:scape) to take advantage of it. They are also integrating tablet technology and usage into their designs, as it's already being implemented at HOK's New York offices.
"The ability to use that technology when you're onsite, especially going through the construction and administration phase is vital," he says. "It's impacting our business, so if it's impacting our business, we know it's impacting our client's business."
With wireless technologies driving a majority of their work, Polucci feels that it's creating a generation of "technocrats" among young professionals fresh out of school. They are incredibly adept at the software being used to design spaces and are entrenched in sustainability, but they lack a world's view to give them some perspective on the environments they are creating.
"It's not just about the application of surfaces or putting furniture in a space. It's really about creating an envelope that a human being has to inhabit and feel really good being in. That's the thing that's missing. They know all the tools, and that's really great and we need that," he says of recent graduates. "But if I was a student today I'd be focusing on the broader implications of design in the world at large. I'd be looking at sociology, I'd be studying art, I'd be reading the classics—I'd be trying to create a world's perspective for myself so I had a vantage point, so when I got out of school I actually had a point of view as I was designing. I think that's something that students should really be thinking about and striving for."
Another piece of advice for future designers is to never let a little problem turn into a really big issue. Hence, the mantra "run towards trouble." And of course, always be able to work as a team, rather than an individual. If you only know how to be a chief, you won't succeed in the new climate that is architecture and design. This is something he takes very seriously as a leader. And he wants more than anything to share the spotlight with his colleagues.
"In the role of running this practice it's really about me making sure they all have the tools that they need to get the obstacles that might be in their way out of their way, so that they can be successful," he says. "It can't be my imprint—it has to be their imprint."