The Sustainable Future of Facilities with HOK’s Chris DeVolder

September 21, 2015

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John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good in downtown Chicago. We are so honored to have with us today Chris DeVolder. He is a Sustainable Design Leader for Sports and Recreation with HOK. You can find HOK at Welcome to Green Is Good, Chris. Chris DeVolder: Thanks, John. Great to be here. John Shegerian: Before we get talking about all the great work you’re doing at HOK, can you share the Chris DeVolder story and journey leading up to now? Chris DeVolder: OK. Sure. Well, of all things, I was playing in a band – an Irish band. John Shegerian: OK. Chris DeVolder: And the lead singer was a real thought leader in sustainable design, and he was on a local radio show – this is in Kansas City, where we live – and someone called in and said, “Hey, we’re interested in doing something pretty unique. Do you want to help?” So he asked if I wanted to help. I said, “Sure, sounds great,” extra work, right? John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: So it turns out that what they wanted to do was to develop an organic sheep farm so they could sell the wool, sell the meat, milk the sheep and make organic sheep’s cheese. John Shegerian: That’s great. Chris DeVolder: And they had set this bar of sustainability at the highest level. Could have been off the grid. They wanted to be connected to the grid. But anything and everything around energy, water, materials, that sort of thing. So he started giving me things to read. I had never really indulged in sustainability and researched it all, and with every book he gave me, I realized this is what we should be doing. At the time, I had two young children and realized there is generational connection there that I had never thought about before. So that’s really how I got started, and just from that day on, I have been trying to implement it into all of our projects, especially now with our sports facilities. John Shegerian: And what is HOK? Can you explain to our listeners and our viewers what is HOK’s macro mission? Chris DeVolder: Sure. So HOK is – in fact, this year is our 60-year anniversary. John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: We’re a global design firm – architecture engineering. We’ve got 26 offices around the world. John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: And we’ve been a leader in sustainability really since the beginning. It’s part of our culture. You might say it’s part of our DNA, so it’s just a good fit. John Shegerian: And where do you work out of? Which office? Chris DeVolder: I’m out of the Kansas City office. John Shegerian: Kansas City office. So 60 years of history. Talk a little bit about the evolution since it is culturally and DNA part of HOK, then talk a little bit about some of the projects that you’ve done historically and some of the more recent cooler projects that you’ve done that our listeners and viewers can all relate to. Chris DeVolder: Sure. We take the approach that every line we draw impacts life, whether it’s the people that use the building or the people that are connected to them. John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: So when you boil it down to that level, it makes you think differently about what we’re doing. So we do that in everything, whether it’s a small office for Google or if it’s a brand new $1.6 billion stadium for the Atlanta Falcons. John Shegerian: Got you. Wow. And so you do both office buildings. Chris DeVolder: Office buildings. Airports. In fact, we just got the new award for the La Guardia renovation and expansion. John Shegerian: Thank you. You are my new favorite best friend. I mean, my gosh. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. Offices – as we mentioned – and sports facilities, recreation centers. John Shegerian: So you do brand-new and you do redevelopment work. Chris DeVolder: Yes, sir. John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. John Shegerian: And everything has a sustainability or…. Chris DeVolder: We always try to, yeah. John Shegerian: Right. Like you said every line can affect the domino effect of every line that you draw. Chris DeVolder: That’s right. And I think because of our brand – if you will – around sustainability, we have those clients that are really in tune with that that are now coming to us asking us to help them out. John Shegerian: That’s so neat. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. John Shegerian: That is so neat. So talk a little bit about HOK and GSA. How many years has HOK been involved with GSA, and what specifically are you excited about here at this conference? Chris DeVolder: Yeah. Good question. So this is the fifth summit that they’ve had. John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: This is my fifth summit. John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: The first one in Portland, I think there were about 100 of us there. John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: It was a small group, obviously, and it has grown to – I think – over 700, 800 this year. So we’ve been supporting them as best we can through membership support or just providing input, helping with panels, that sort of thing over the years, and they are a great resource and a great partner for us. John Shegerian: And you’re speaking at this event? Chris DeVolder: I am. I am actually moderating a panel on how our projects can impact urban revitalization and urban development. John Shegerian: Which seems to be a theme that I hear a lot about here at this conference. Can you share who is on your panel, and how does that look? Chris DeVolder: Yeah. The panel is an all-star panel really. John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: We’ve got representation from the Atlanta Falcons, who are building the new LEED Platinum stadium – it will be the first LEED Platinum stadium in the world – who happen to be a client of ours. John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: Sacramento Kings, Kunal Merchant – who you are going to talk to – they are doing a new arena downtown. John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: Edmonton Oilers. They’re doing a new arena that we’re helping them with downtown. John Shegerian: Wow. And so they’re on your panel, and the thesis is how a new sports venue can take what was potentially historically…. Chris DeVolder: Nothing. John Shegerian: A blighted area. Chris DeVolder: Absolutely. Yeah. John Shegerian: And create new life. Somewhat akin to what the Staples Center did for downtown Los Angeles. Chris DeVolder: Right. It really becomes a catalyst. All three of those examples. They created this intention of “here is what we’re going to do,” and because of it, there is all these other redevelopment that they’re not even associated with that now wants to be part of these districts. John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. John Shegerian: That is exciting. You’ve seen and been part of the GSA growing from day one. Where are you with HOK and the GSA in the evolution of this, and is this still just beginning times and the massive growth is even still in front of you? Chris DeVolder: I absolutely think it is, John. I think we’re not even crawling yet. We’re just learning how to crawl around this. John Shegerian: That’s good. Chris DeVolder: What I’ve seen in the last five years is it has really grown from a group based in the Pacific Northwest to not just all over the country, but there are people here from – I think – four or five continents this year so the reach is now global. John Shegerian: It’s a global deal. Chris DeVolder: And we’re just getting started. John Shegerian: It’s a global deal, really. Chris DeVolder: It absolutely is. John Shegerian: Because sports is so global, so it makes sense that this would be global. So HOK was always a global company for the last 60 years? Chris DeVolder: Pretty much, yes. John Shegerian: Pretty much. So this just fits perfectly also. So this is not only living your ethos really, but it’s also a great business opportunity also for HOK as with the growth of sports and sports venues wanting to be greener this is a great business opportunity. Chris DeVolder: It absolutely it. John Shegerian: Similarly for HOK. Chris DeVolder: Right. Just like we’ve seen ourselves as a partner to them here in the U.S., we see ourselves as a partner to the GSA globally. John Shegerian: How many firms are there like HOK around the world that are doing green design, green architecture, green building and what kind of collaborative interest do you have in terms of all of you trading best practices? Chris DeVolder: That’s a great question. What’s always interesting to me when I come to the GSA summit is every year I expect that all of our “friends” are going to be here. John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: And they don’t show up. John Shegerian: Really? Chris DeVolder: So this year, our main competitors – I haven’t seen one person even on the list. I don’t know. John Shegerian: So interesting. Chris DeVolder: Some of our competitors are doing some of this work, and I think if you brought them all together, we could create some great things, but I can’t answer that question. John Shegerian: Wow. That’s interesting. Talk about some of the cooler things that you’re doing in green building now and in green architecture for sports venues and for areas where big people congregate in, a lot of people congregate in. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. Sure. So for the Atlanta Falcons, we’re doing something – as I mentioned a little bit earlier – be the first LEED Platinum sports facility in the world. We’re capturing rainwater, and we’re going to use it to irrigate. One of the really cool things that sounds really simple, but it’s fantastic, is we have this big rainwater cistern and there is a group called “Trees Atlanta” that is a nonprofit, so we put a plug in the cistern so their trucks can come in and plug into the cistern, get water and go for that project. John Shegerian: Come on. Water the trees around Atlanta. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. John Shegerian: Come on. That’s awesome. Chris DeVolder: The list on that project just goes on and on and on, and it has really created a catalyst for the development of the neighborhood. John Shegerian: So you’re really making it a community hub center – really – in many ways. Chris DeVolder: That’s right. John Shegerian: It’s not just eight times a year for eight NFL games. Chris DeVolder: That’s right. John Shegerian: It becomes a 365 day. Chris DeVolder: It’s an asset for the community. John Shegerian: An asset. Chris DeVolder: That’s the best way of putting it. John Shegerian: Wow. An asset for the community. And is that mission – then – is that macro concept for any arena or anything that you’re building now with regards to sports venues making it an asset for the community? Chris DeVolder: That’s always how we go into it. That’s the ideal. John Shegerian: That’s so brilliant. Chris DeVolder: How can it be an asset? How can we add other programs to the building so you can use it 365 days a year? The University of Washington Husky Stadium just opened last year. We actually put a retail store in it because the metro link – the Light Rail out there – is now going to stop next to the stadium. It’s right on campus so people will be able to get off the Light Rail, go to the In-N-Out, grab a coffee – something like that – and go on to campus. So we’re looking for other ways that these buildings can be used other than six or eight times a year. John Shegerian: That is so nice. And – like you say – year-round use hopefully. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. And we’re building the structure. We might as well plug in some programs. John Shegerian: So we’re talking about year-round use. Talk about La Guardia airport. It’s really sad. Being a native New Yorker and having the opportunity to travel the world on business and coming back to La Guardia or JFK or, by the way, many other American airports – LAX hasn’t been touched since the 1984 Olympics. It’s sad to go around the world to emerging economies and see first world, ultra amazing and cool airports and fly back to the USA and almost slide backwards. How do you approach for renovation and one that you then have to or should be thinking about legacy and history but then also thinking about not only today but obviously the future? How do you do that? How do you meld legacy today and the future? Chris DeVolder: When you think about airports they’re really similar to sports facilities. Big surge. You’ve got a lot of people coming through them and what do the people want? They want the bathroom so you’ve got a lot of people in the bathroom potentially. They want food service so you have to deal with concessions. And really I think what they want, John, is a place where they can just get away for a few minutes. John Shegerian: You’re right. Chris DeVolder: Somewhere quiet. So we’re thinking about those sorts of things, not just “how do I get from the entry onto the plane?” How do you make it a place where they’re comfortable? John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: And that I think hopefully is the legacy. John Shegerian: And so La Guardia, how many year project is it? You just landed it recently so how many years until we see the La Guardia through your eyes? Chris DeVolder: Oh wow. I think it could be four or six years. I think they’re just figuring that out. John Shegerian: Figuring it out. Chris DeVolder: Projects like that – as you know. John Shegerian: Long term. Chris DeVolder: Yeah, long term. John Shegerian: Long term. And is JFK going to get a similar facelift also? Chris DeVolder: I can’t speak to that. John Shegerian: You don’t know. Chris DeVolder: But if they want to call us we’d be glad to talk to them. John Shegerian: JFK, this is the guy. Chris DeVolder, HOK. What percentage of your projects are new and which are renovation and redevelopments? Chris DeVolder: Good question. So out of the Kansas City office, which is where our sports group is based, I’d say it’s probably 70 percent are new. John Shegerian: OK. Chris DeVolder: But the 30 percent that are renovation, that’s a good market. John Shegerian: Yeah. Of sports venues. Chris DeVolder: Of sports venues. Not everyone is looking to build a new stadium, especially when you look at college campuses. John Shegerian: And is there a lot you can do with a legacy stadium? Chris DeVolder: What do you mean by legacy stadium? John Shegerian: I mean, like an older stadium. Chris DeVolder: Oh sure. John Shegerian: As a redevelopment, is there a lot you can do in terms of bringing it up to standard and beyond? Chris DeVolder: Sometimes I think there is more that you can do because it could be the original lighting, it could be the original plumbing. John Shegerian: So there is a lot of “move the needle” stuff right off the bat. Chris DeVolder: Right. John Shegerian: Cool. Chris DeVolder: Yeah. John Shegerian: That’s really cool. Chris DeVolder: And when you have a legacy stadium that is so historic, especially on a college campus, people love that authenticity. John Shegerian: Yeah, it’s true. Chris DeVolder: So we think about how can we be authentic with our sustainability design and initiatives around that. John Shegerian: Is it hard for you to walk into any public venue – whether it’s an airport, whether it’s a beautiful facility like we have here at McCormick – and not look at it through your own professional eyes and say, “I would have done this better; we could have done that better”? Chris DeVolder: Absolutely. You notice the things that look kind of wonky that’s for sure. John Shegerian: Wonky. Tell us about the future. The future of both HOK and GSA, the future of HOK and the next 60 years and what you could be doing with regards to sustainability, architecture and building. Chris DeVolder: Great question. I’ll start with the second question. I think where we need to be – especially around designing sports facilities – is not just looking at an individual building, the four walls and the roof. We need to be looking at the stadium and the buildings around it and how can they work together. So, for example, if we have a hotel and a stadium next to each other, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. When you’re at a hotel, John, and you get up in the morning what do you want more than anything? Hot water, right? John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: Well, the stadium isn’t completely shut down so it is generating some heat throughout the night, so how can we take the heat from the stadium and help to heat the water in the hotel so the hotel isn’t having to heat its own hot water? How can we share those assets, those resources back and forth? Those are the conversations that we’re starting to have. It’s what we call a “district approach.” John Shegerian: Wow. Chris DeVolder: That’s where we need to get to. John Shegerian: So really taking architecture, design and building into the shared economy. Chris DeVolder: That’s a great way to put it. I’m going to quote you on that. John Shegerian: I mean, you’re the one who explained it so well that it was easy to say something like that, so wow. Chris DeVolder: But that’s the future. John Shegerian: That’s the future. Chris DeVolder: It has to be. John Shegerian: I never even would have guessed that. Wow. Talk a little bit about GSA and HOK in the future. Chris DeVolder: So, hopefully, HOK and GSA will continue the good work that we’ve done. John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: We just announced an official partnership this week at the summit. John Shegerian: Oh, congrats. Chris DeVolder: So we’re hoping to build on that. John Shegerian: And what is that partnership called? Chris DeVolder: So it’s really consulting with each other on the makeup of what is called the “Global Leadership Council” within GSA for companies like us to help network, get more people involved, but it’s also – as I mentioned a minute ago – looking at what is the future of sports facilities and the design and the construction and the operation. John Shegerian: That’s great. Chris DeVolder: Getting outside the four walls. John Shegerian: Getting outside the four walls. Well, that’s great. So that just kicked off? Chris DeVolder: Two days ago. Yesterday, we just announced it. John Shegerian: And what are the goals that you made for initial kickoff for that partnership? Chris DeVolder: Really, I’d say the main goal, John, is to develop this piece of what is the future of sports facilities? What does it look like? John Shegerian: Right. Chris DeVolder: So we’re working together right now. We’ve started working on that this spring, and the idea is to release that this fall, and hopefully, that will lead to development and new ideas. It’s really about generating new ideas together of the future. John Shegerian: Got you. Just collaborating even more. Chris DeVolder: Collaborating. Absolutely. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Well, Chris, we thank you for all your great work in sustainability at HOK and with GSA. We thank you for making our public venue experiences better. I personally thank you for coming in and fixing up La Guardia airport, even if it takes four to six years; it doesn’t matter. Later is better than never. Chris DeVolder: That’s right. John Shegerian: We appreciate all that you’re doing. This has been John Shegerian and Chris DeVolder, who is the Sustainable Design Leader for Sports and Recreation with HOK. You can learn more about all of Chris’s great work and his colleagues’ great work at HOK at, and you can learn more about the Green Sports Alliance at We thank you for being with us today. Chris; we thank you for making the world a greener and a better place. You are truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you for being our guest today. Chris DeVolder: John, thank you. It was a pleasure. John Shegerian: Thank you.

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