As a recent addition to the education studio, Chris Rice expands Hord Coplan Macht’s horizons on both an experience level and geographically, becoming the first architect to work for HCM in Austin, Texas. We sat down with him to learn more about his background and unique perspective on campus master planning. Check it out:

What led you to HCM and how did you get to where you are today?

It’s certainly been a long and unexpected adventure to say the least. The real turning point from architectural design to campus planning occurred while I was attending the Masters of Architecture program at the University of Maryland School of Architecture Planning and Preservation. It was through a professor’s relationship with Ayers Saint Gross and his recommendation that I began my 20-year career in campus planning in 1998. I continued this career path when in 2006 I was recruited by Broaddus & Associates, a consulting firm located in Austin, Texas, to start a campus planning studio.

Then in 2013, I started VisSpiro Strategies with my partner Doug Abraham. Over the years, I continued to look for opportunities to work for a firm that had a national focus on campus planning. In the summer of 2017, I read a post on LinkedIn that announced Kevin King moved from ASG to HCM. Having worked with Kevin for four years on multiple campus planning projects across the U.S., I knew that he and I would have a very deep master planning portfolio that would give us the ability to grow a highly completive national campus planning practice for HCM.

What about the opportunity at HCM are you most excited for?

I’m very excited to now have the strength of a national firm that will allow us to pursue projects across the U.S. Being involved in campus master plans nationally will enable us to apply those lessons learned, trends, and best practices appropriately to a variety of our clients. Although I have been in the campus planning arena for over 20 years, I am still learning something new every day. I’m also very excited to be able to help grow HCM’s Texas presence.

If you could give one piece of advice to budding architects, what would it be? For those who are interested in master planning in particular?

Be careful not to fall into the trap of only looking at the building as a piece of artwork that is the end solution. Look beyond to those things that influence the building from some distance away, be it open space networks, pedestrian desire lines, streets and urban corridors, vegetation and landscaping, habitat corridors, or existing/future utility corridors. Things that influence your building design may be several hundred yards from your site. Be sensitive to how the building fits into its surrounding context and its role on campus, making sure that it fits seamlessly while resolving issues for the “greater good of the campus.”

What’s your most unique leadership trait?

Building close relationships with my clients. It’s not something I feel I must do, as much as something I enjoy doing. Many of my former clients are still very close friends. Because the planning process requires that we be on campus every month (for 12 to 18 months), many times we end up spending a significant amount of time with our clients during our three-day campus workshops. We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. We get to know them on a personal level as we share stories about our families, friends, careers, things we love to do, and vacations we go on. I often know my clients better than my own neighbors.

Tell us about the project you’re most proud of.

Over the past 20 years, there have been numerous master plans that have been successful, but I would have to say that I still reflect on the campus master plan for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill as the one I am most proud of. We started the master plan in 1998 and finished 5 years later in 2003. This project was very rewarding due to a multitude of reasons: From the complexity of the project, the level of detail the plan delved into, the diagrams, concept drawings, precinct studies, campus guidelines to the final plan implementation strategies and outcomes.

Finally, I measure its success by looking at the ‘before and after’ comparison of the 2003 Final Plan drawing and those projects that have been implemented over the past two decades. Of the approximately 13.0 million gsf of new buildings proposed  in 2003, the University has built nearly 8.0 million gsf and implemented dozens of landscape projects in the exact location identified in the final document. Although there have been several planning studies for the UNC-CH campus since 2003,  and an update to the plan in 2008, the one thing I am most proud of is the fact that the University still identifies the 2003 plan image as  the  official  campus  master  plan shown on their website, some 15 years later.

Describe a major challenge you’ve come across and how you dealt with it and/or learned from it.

Probably the single most difficult campus planning effort I experienced had us dealing with a group of local neighbors who were very upset with the University we were representing. This primarily extended from the University’s lack of community engagement, thus creating mistrust and animosity between the two. We made it a point to meet with the neighborhood associations’ leadership and community members every time we were on campus.

The first few sessions we just listened, letting them vent their frustrations. The following two or three sessions we walked them through the thoughts, concerns, struggles, and strategic goals of the University. We presented analysis diagrams of the campus and its edges that most concerned them. The next two sessions, we focused on design ideas that worked in the interest of the neighbors and the University. We listened to their input and ideas as to what they thought worked and what they absolutely did not agree with. We then incorporated some of those ideas making sure that the University still maintained their long-term goals. By the final presentation to the neighborhood community and association members, we were rewarded with a standing ovation.

What trends do you see on the horizon for master planning?

The future of higher education in America is currently in an evolutionary change that will affect the way universities will be forced to address long-range planning. Several factors are causing this chain reaction. First is the exceeding high cost of obtaining a four-year college degree. Second is the lack of state and local funding. Finally, is the economic fluctuation in the marketplace that are forcing institutions to learn how to be more efficient by “doing more with less.”

It will be critical for institutions, both traditional four-year universities and local community colleges, to rethink how they use space, determine how much space they have available and how best to utilize every inch they can. This means that class times will need to be expanded to be taught earlier in the morning, later in the day, and will include weekend classes. Campus master plans will therefore need to be less about the “grand vision” and more focused on near term needs. Expectations will force these planning efforts to produce implementable plans that also identify funding sources per project. Plans will need to drill down deeper to address infrastructure, transportation, and environmental and resiliency issues that are normally overlooked. Above and beyond all of these more technical issues, campus plans will need to be more specific as to how institutions can implement sustainable design, as many Millennial students choose the institution they attend based on how progressive they are toward protecting our environment and how well they are implementing sustainable initiatives.

What are you reading right now? What are you reading that’s not about architecture?

My wife and I are celebrating our 30th anniversary this summer so we are planning a trip to the quintessential architectural Mecca of Rome. In preparation for this trip, a very close friend of mine suggested that if I REALLY wanted to get to know Rome before we go that I should read “The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide” by Anthony Majanlahti.

I’m a sucker for Science Fiction and Action Adventure novels, so I have been listening to a series called “The Riyria Chronicles” by Michael J. Sullivan on audiobook while I drive.