The Bespoke Builders: Hines' Quiet Designs on New York

Gerald Hines.

If Hines is well-known anywhere, it is in the architecture and design community, where it has been a patron for so long. “There are many good developers, but I think Jerry is unique because he was the first to see architecture was an economic asset,” said David Childs, the influential SOM partner who designed 450 Lexington for Hines. “He was been ups-selling design in a way no one ever thought to do, though now everyone does it.”

Mr. Cobb recalled how he was working on a project for the firm in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s, and Mr. Hines took an exacting interest in every detail, down to the bathroom stalls. “The toilet rooms in a Hines building are nicer than in other people’s buildings,” he said. “It’s a little Steve Jobs-like.”

When people describe the great office buildings of New York, the most common examples given are the Seagram Building, and Lever House across the street. Other favorites include the Chrysler Building, Chase Manhattan Plaza, and CBS’ Black Rock. What stands out about all of them, beyond their designs, is the names, all of which are tied to a corporate client. Hines Interests was one of the very first developers to appreciate the commercial possibilities of architecture, one of the first developers to nudge its colleagues away from impersonation—ever notice how most Park Avenue towers look the same?—toward individualism and inspiration.

“I think Gerry Hines is the original, I think he recognizes quality like few others,” echoed George Klein, the builder of 499 Park Avenue and an admirer of Mr. Hines’.

Vision has been a guiding principle of the firm since its inception. Gerald Hines began as an engineer who went into development creating warehouse-offices. On his third project, a 10,000-square-foot space on the edge of downtown Houston, he employed the best architecture firm he could find (long since defunct). “I received three new jobs from just that one,” Mr. Hines told The Observer by phone, from his new base in London. “That was when I realized the potential of good design.” Mr. Hines might be called an architect’s best friend.

“I think it’s actually a very conservative approach,” he said. “We spend a lot of effort in trying to achieve architectural distinction because it may be more expensive but it’s lower risk. If we’re the first to get leased and the last to empty out, we get better rates of return and achieve better results.”

The Bespoke Builders: Hines' Quiet Designs on New York