Featured Member - Matthew Hufft, AIA
With two offices and over 500 completed projects under his belt, Matthew Hufft and his eponymous firm are ready for what he predicts will be a transformative age in architecture.
Matthew Hufft, AIA, is the principal and creative director at Hufft, the eponymous firm that he founded in 2005. Their first office was located in Kansas City, Missouri, and his first project was designing his parents’ home at the age of 22. To date, the firm has completed over 500 more and opened a second office, which has led both Hufft the person and Hufft the business to go through necessary—and beneficial—evolutions.
From day one, my career has been focused on being an architect. Hufft has been almost 100 percent repeat referral work; that’s somewhat based on relationships but mostly based on good design and a commitment to excellence. As an entity, we’ll soon be turning 14 years old. But as a company, we’re only five years old. A half-decade ago, we realized we really had to start thinking of this as a true business. I had to learn how to transition, on a daily basis, from architect to businessperson. It’s admittedly a constant struggle. As such, we recently hired a managing principal to take many of day-to-day business elements off my plate, which has been wonderful. It’s helped me devote a little more time to working in the business and not necessarily on it.
We started our Bentonville, Arkansas, office about 4 years ago; it was initially more of a move made out of necessity than a very well-thought-out business maneuver. Our company has grown by being opportunistic. We won a master planning project for downtown Bentonville which, in turn, led to several other large commissions. We found ourselves needing a presence in the region, and fortunately we wanted to be there. The area is really infectious with its energy and all the nearby development.
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We’ve found Bentonville to be a great opportunity, especially because it happened in the middle of both a growth stage and a transition stage. We weren’t exactly a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine. But opening the second office forced us to become one; having two offices requires you to have certain protocols and systems in place. It wasn’t always easy, but it forced us to grow up.
It can be a little nerve-wracking to see your company evolve. I’ve gotten used to it, because we’ve always been in a stage of evolution. I think our field is one where, if you are an owner or principal of a design company, not evolving makes you a lot more anxious than evolving. We’ve got an amazing leadership team, and you have to have faith. I always tell my team, “It’s OK to have an issue; it’s not OK to not learn from it.” As long as we’re learning from our mistakes, I don’t find myself worrying too much.
When it comes to design, I feel like we are all on the cusp of a great age of enlightenment. That’s because of many things, but most predictably and specifically technology. But if you look at what has happened in our field, starting with some of the very early Modernists 100 years ago and moving forward to today, we are reaching a peak. The next decade for our field is going to be fascinating. I think we are going to see the most transformative decade ever for architects, both in how they work and how architecture evolves as a business.
I believe this because, when we started Hufft, there was nowhere near the level of design that we’re seeing today. There’s exponentially more right now, in both quantity and quality. I’m also starting to see, through technology, people being empowered to challenge architects. There are several apps where you send in a picture of your kitchen and, for $50, they’ll send you back a scaled design. You can buy a 3D printer for $150; SketchUp is free. These things are equally scary and exciting. But they’re happening, and the result is an increased importance in things being meaningful. At Hufft, we’ve incorporated that into our mission: We focus on meaningful work, and on creating spaces that have meaning. It’s all part of awakening society to the value an architect brings. —As told to Steve Cimino
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