For the past ten years, Howard Building Corporation (HBC) has done the majority of the construction work in Southern California for Google. This includes the Internet monolith’s LEED Platinum-certified campus in Venice Beach—the one with the rock-climbing wall, theater, and satellite juice-and-coffee bar—and the more recent Google/YouTube production facility, which also earned LEED Platinum certification.
Marking 31 years this year, the Los Angeles-based general contracting company has a long list of big name commercial clients under its belt, including Accenture, Glumac, and Warner Brothers Studios, to name a few. According to CEO Paul McGunnigle, the company’s secret lies in its consistency and a philosophy that carefully defines success: “We set up a project to be successful in our estimation, and then whether or not financially it will be successful, we treat it as if it’s the best project we ever did,” McGunnigle says. “You never make decisions solely [based] upon money. You base them upon success.”
Along with the YouTube project, which was built inside a portion of the circa-1930s Howard Hughes complex and required HBC to balance historical preservation with LEED criteria, HBC’s recent successes include the new 82,000-square-foot headquarters for motocross apparel company Fox Head.
Working under tight time constraints, HBC established a collaborative relationship with architect Clive Wilkinson in order to meet those demands as well as Wilkinson’s desire to incorporate unique architectural elements. “He was part of Frank Gehry’s early studio,” McGunnigle says. “[He’s] almost a sculptor more than an architect. He was open minded enough to come to us and say, ‘Well, how would you build this?’”
McGunnigle recently joined the board of directors for USGBC-LA and believes the green movement in Southern California has finally caught on. Throughout the nineties, he says, only a small number of businesses willingly embraced sustainability. The bottom line took precedence. “Most clients would say, ‘Well, we’re interested in this,’ but they wouldn’t take it very far. If there was even a dime that was associated with getting certification, it was a killer.”
McGunnigle saw people “starting to turn the corner” in the early 2000s, and, though not a fan, he gives credit to Al Gore, whose film An Inconvenient Truth McGunnigle believes was a true catalyst for change. “That’s when I started seeing people here actually saying, ‘Yeah, we can spend that much,’” he says. “The private sector was really starting to look at green building and be serious about it.”
Southern California’s massive entertainment industry has wholeheartedly embraced sustainability, McGunnigle says, and while the state itself already had one of the most stringent energy codes in the country, as of July 2014, “it’s been notched up incredibly.” “Some of the points necessary for LEED certification are virtually automatic in California,” McGunnigle says; in order to comply with codes, earning those points is essentially mandated. “So now you’ve given people a little push in the right direction.”
A push in the right direction also means more collaboration, the kind exhibited by Wilkinson, an effort McGunnigle is leading while on the board for USGBC-LA. “I think there is a resource in the construction end that has not been tapped into until now,” he says, “and I would really like to see that expand.” Although McGunnigle recognizes that HBC enjoys a more collaborative position than some of its peers, he feels the construction industry in general has been left out of the process.
“Historically, we have been dragged along by the design industry, who has secured the commitment from the owner to implement sustainable design,” he says. “Then the general attitude is, ‘Come on, contractor, we want you to do this, we want you to do that.’ There’s been very little outreach to the contractors, and there has been absolutely no incentive for contractors to be proactive in the process, and I think that they are missing opportunities.
“Designers who recognize that contractors have [experience],” McGunnigle continues, “will profit by the idea that if you ask a contractor or subcontractor, ‘What’s the best way to do fill-in-the-blank,’ you’re going to find efficiencies that you didn’t know existed.”
Fox Head and HBC’s recent I Heart Radio project are examples of successful collaborations, as is the Herman Miller showroom, the first project in California to receive LEED Platinum certification for Commercial Interiors. As with a current project HBC will soon complete for video games company Riot Games, the Herman Miller showroom is in an old bowstring truss building. “It’s a very popular look out here, but most of the architects really kind of leave it alone,” McGunnigle says. “[But Herman Miller] really made an elegant design with a very rustic background.”
Beyond taking responsibility within the construction community to encourage sustainability, HBC does the same in house, encouraging employees to continue relevant education, which the company pays for, along with testing to earn LEED Accredited Professional credentials. “We’re just trying to raise the level of competency of our staff … and make it a positive experience, where they want to do it.” HBC also is a steward to ANEW, a nonprofit that helps companies repurpose unused furniture, further emphasizing McGunningle’s unique approach to sustainability, in which any effort is inherently a collaborative one.