Architect gives back to program by teaching

By Terri J. Moore

Special to the Arizona Daily Wildcat

After a $2 billion project in Canada, a $600 million job in Australia and 19 award-winning years, a "lucky" architect has returned to his alma mater to share his knowledge.

Architect Richard E. Hulbert, 48, of the Hulbert Group International architectural firm in Vancouver, British Columbia, graduated from the University of Arizona in 1969.

Hulbert said he first became interested in architecture in high school, when he looked over plans for a house his parents were having designed near Los Angeles.

"Now, I learn the most about design from people who are not architects," Hulbert said. "I like to observe how people of other disciplines, such as scientists, doctors or writers solve problems, and apply that to architectural design."

Hulbert received the Architects Silver Medal awarded by the Architects International Association, for highest design ability in 1969. The award is given to one graduating student per year.

"I was lucky," Hulbert said. "I didn't have a 'bad project' in school."

While he was in school his most memorable influence was from Louis Kahn, Hulbert said. Kahn is a famous architect known for his intellectual theory on architecture. "I was impressed by Kahn's thought process, and I appreciated his ability to translate his perceptions into actual design," Hulbert said.

Kahn used a common image, a book, as a basic design concept for the library.

"The building has the invitation of books," Kahn said of his design. The building is two parallel areas encircling a large space in the center where the stacks are kept from light, like the smooth, vulnerable pages of a book is protected by its cover. The periphery materials and contours of the building are rougher than the center core.

Fifth-year architecture student Kevin King said Hulbert is intensely creative.

"If there is nothing to grasp for a design concept, he will create a theme," King said. "In one of his designs, Hulbert imagined that agriculture still existed where it was a vital function in that area long ago. From that theme he developed a design exploiting the agricultural element."

Working with students and faculty, Hulbert said, was the best part of his education and what he enjoys on his return visits.

"The UA architectural program taught me how to think," he said.

The architecture program now teaches more on-the-job skills than it used to, Hulbert said, such as technical drawing, construction document interpretation and computer drafting. "Yet, it has always been and remains a design-oriented school," he said.

Hulbert is teaching a three-week design studio for fourth- and fifth-year students. The Distinguished Alumni Studio is taught by architects who are UA graduates.

Hulbert had the students design an urban resort, hypothetically proposed for the 100-acre site of El Con Shopping Center, 3595 E. Broadway Blvd.

"Students must consider the neighborhood and community at large," Hulbert said. At least one student is studying the historical El Conquistador Hotel that was demolished on the site prior to construction of the current mall. Students may include shopping, restaurants and other businesses in their designs for the resort, he said.

Hulbert asked the students to form three design concepts. In the first concept he told them to break the rules. In the second, he said to be outlandish.

"Propose the third concept if you cannot build the first two," he said. Hulbert will be the fictitious client and real visiting critic for the student designs, presented Nov. 2.

King said communication is Hulbert's strong point. "He told us that we have to be able to sell ourselves and our ideas in order to sell our designs."

Hulbert's contributions have been consistently recognized by the architecture profession in Canada where he has lived for 20 years since receiving his master's degree in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. He has received 13 awards over the past year for nine separate projects. A recent off-shore project of his is the internationally acclaimed Sanctuary Cove Resort, a $600 million mixed-use waterfront development in Queensland, Australia. The resort was voted Australia's Best Resort by the Australian Tourism Industry.

Hulbert was the lead architect for the master planning of Pacific Place, a $2 billion mixed-use, waterfront development on the former 200-acre Expo site in Vancouver. The project was recently judged the Pacific Rim's finest new community development at the 29th annual awards competition held by Pacific Builders Conference in San Francisco.

"I'm lucky," he said. "Our clients come through our door they come to us and request our service." Some of the 12 people in Hulbert's firm look at the site, talk with the client to establish goals and collectively make a proposal which includes a fee, he said.

Architecture senior Unchu Song said she likes Hulbert's design for Pacific Place, the development in Vancouver. "That guy makes a lot of money, doesn't he?" Song asked.

"I'll tell you one thing about my income," Hulbert said. "It varies a lot from year to year, but I receive fair compensation for the service that I provide."

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