Chris Hong, Project Architect Group 70 International
Chris Hong, project architect and associate at Group 70 International, has accomplished more at 33 years old than many have over their entire career. He has completed more than 15 projects both on the mainland and in Hawai‘i and currently shares his expertise with architecture students at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. He’s also the recipient of the American Institute of Architects’ 2015 Young Architects Award, a major feat in the architecture world. His poise, quiet confidence and humble nature have taken him far in the industry, but his greatest satisfaction comes from the long-lasting relationships he’s built with clients and students.
“I prefer the relational aspect of architecture, whether it’s the client interaction, in-house mentoring or when I’m teaching at UH,” Hong says.
“It’s all understanding human behavior, understanding how people interact.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree in architecture at California Polytechnic State University, the Punahou graduate spent six years at a firm in Seattle, Washington, where he specialized in healthcare architecture.
The opportunity at Group 70 International ultimately led Hong back to the islands in 2011, and he’s been with the firm ever since.
“You come home to Hawai‘i to make your home better,” Hong says. “Coming to Group 70 was like helping out family.” This was the case both literally and figuratively for Hong, since his father, Norman G.Y. Hong, is a founding member and the current chief executive officer of the company.
“Architecture is this lifestyle, this way of seeing the world where you’re challenging yourself, problem solving and appreciating.”
Most recently at Group 70, Hong helped convert an old Blockbuster into the state-of-the-art First Hawaiian Bank branch in Waiakea on the Big Island. The new building provides customers a more user friendly experience, including design features that enable customers to video conference with tellers during off-hours and customer service pods that eliminate the teller window barrier.
Hong’s latest endeavor is the expansion of the University of Hawai‘i William S. Richardson School of Law. He’s designing a freestanding, two-story building that will serve as the face of the law school. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
“Each project has its own challenge,” Hong says. “I think the goal of each project is to essentially become friends with the client when the product’s said and done. You’re going into a project almost going to battle with the client because of the challenges of design, construction, budget and unforeseen circumstances.”
Hong enjoys the human interaction and tries to better understand his clients for a more personalized end result. The same can be said for his teaching he gets to know each student in his fourth-year design studio course on an individual basis. “It’s similar to teaching a sport,” Hong says. “You can relate certain motions from one sport to another.
You can use what is familiar with that person and you use that as a starting point.” His concurrent roles as architect and educator feed off each other. Hong says that teaching forces him to be more aware of what he does as an architect because he has to be confident about the subject material.
At the same time, he’s constantly learning from students who share their fresh, new ideas. “You have this exchange of energies,” Hong says. “I think it can be very refreshing and very rewarding to be in that academic environment, to see what the students do or get the validation of understanding [the field of architecture] better.”
The most rewarding part of the job for Hong is making a difference in people’s lives. With architectural projects, it’s his clients’ reactions and excitement for their new spaces. With teaching, it’s the look in his students’ eyes when they feel inspired or engaged. In either realm, he is motivated to change the community for the better.
“Architecture is this lifestyle, this way of seeing the world where you’re challenging yourself, problem solving and appreciating,” Hong says. “Sometimes it can be a little daunting—deer in headlights—because there’s a lot to understand. But it can be very rewarding too, to see the connections between everything that goes on.”