Once known as half of the duo, Predock Frane, John Frane is now embarking on a new chapter in his career as an associate vice president and principal of HGA Architects and Engineers. Frane joined the firm about two months ago, immediately after he and Hadrian Predock parted ways last summer. However, the two remain close friends and supporters of one another’s futures.
“I am so proud and grateful for so many of the projects Hadrian and I did together,” says Frane, who adds that he can’t pick a favorite child when it comes to the work they accomplished together. He plans on bringing the same kind of high-quality design he was doing in his previous practice to HGA. “We worked on a broad range of projects, from small installations to large institutional projects,” he says, adding that he hopes to contribute critical design thinking across a spectrum of work.
We sat down with Frane to discuss this transition into his new role.
You mention that you wanted to join a firm with the right cultural attitude. Can you describe what you were looking for?
A couple of people have asked me, “Did you consider other situations with other firms?” I really honestly hadn’t. It was something that grew out of a long relationship with the CEO. I’ve know the [former] CEO of HGA , Dan Avchen, for decades and I was impressed by how he forefronted every conversation about the mission of HGA as a practice around design. He understood that in the world of three letter firms, design, in the end, has to be the thing that distinguishes you as a practice and distinguishes your designers in the larger field.
When I was talking with them initially, and they told me Dan would be transitioning out of the role, and the new CEO was going to be one of their most senior designers, Tim Carl, who is a fellow and has done a slew of award-winning projects. To me that signaled the culture that put, first and foremost, an interest in the quality of the design work the practice produced. The other aspect that impressed me about HGA was the dedication that people have to the practice. I was continually greeted by people who had been there 20, 30, 40 years, which says a lot about a culture that values both design and the human resources that make those great projects.
Design and the integrity of design is important to you. What is your process?
Process for me personally is both disciplinary and programmatic and site related and culturally related. One of the things that distinguished the work that Hadrian and I did together was the specificity to the project that led to projects that weren’t necessarily singular in their signature. Our work had a certain Predock Frane-ness to it that people identified but, at the same time, there was a unique singularity to each project deeply embedded in the particulars of [it]—the program, the physical situation, the cultural environment—as opposed to something that was a part of a more formalistic agenda.
Do you think it will be challenging to transition from being your own boss, so to speak, to working in a larger firm?
We’ll see! [laughs] No, I don’t think so. When Hadrian and I started our practice 15 years ago, we purposely sought out each other as partners because we were interested in this idea of what two different minds would bring to a practice and to the process. And so, it’s always been a negotiation and a collaboration to make any set of decisions, even in a partnership, and in a smaller scale practice. The range of resources [HGA has] in terms of expertise of project types is so much more enormous than two individuals could have. I think it will be a really positive transition. Stay tuned.
What experiences from your previous practice will serve you best in your new role?
Fundamentally, when you have your own practice your head has to be in every aspect of the project—HR, contracts, negotiations, marketing, winning projects, execution of projects. That’s the unique thing of having a small practice; understanding how all those pieces have to come together to make a successful project and a successful practice. I think that understanding is a unique perspective.
Conversely, is there a part of you that’s relieved that you no longer have to do it all?
I will not miss doing HR responsibilities. I’ll go on the record saying that. Obviously, one of the positive aspects is that there are people who do those really well and they are essential. People in small practices get really good at wearing a lot of hats but as architects we want to be focused on the production of a building maybe not on the production of human resources and contracts. Now, I work with a bunch of people that do that and do it well.
What projects will you be working on?
We’re continuing to pursue the projects that we built more of a specialty around, particularly around the performing arts and visual arts arena. But like my last practice, we are really open to a whole range of project types. One of the things that I think is really interesting in this opportunity is having people with more experience in a range of project types and then being able to pursue them and hopefully bring critical design thinking to them. There are a couple of arenas in particular that Hadrian and I had worked on around sustainable infrastructure projects. We did the Land Art Generator competition that really looked at issues of sustainability from a much more holistic design opportunity point of view versus a purely infrastructure point of view. HGA has a group that looks just at infrastructure and energy resources, and I’m curious to see if there is some engagement there.
You are continuing to work as a professor. Why do you feel it’s important to teach alongside your practice?
Teaching is something we’d done on and off during the first years we were working together. We did a stint at Tulane, a stint at Berkley. [Now], I have been engaged at USC for my 7th year. I think its an ideal combination if you can balance the pair. There’s a level of engagement, questioning and criticality that’s inherent in teaching and in academia in general that simply can’t be paralleled in practice. But, conversely, there’s a testing of real ideas in real time that happens in a practice—a design-build studio doesn’t have all the implications of building in a real environment with codes and cities and real clients. What I love about teaching combined with practice is that you’re continually bouncing back between these two ways of looking at architecture and, in the end, that relationship is really healthy in the larger landscape of architecture in the world.