In 1992, a tall handsome Texan, Frank Brooks, and Alan Baldwin, a Virginian who had spent the past 20 years as president of his own firm in Maine, joined the leadership team at Charlotte’s oldest architectural firm, FreemanWhite, Inc. In the years since then, the firm’s national ranking has risen from 78 to 16 (according to Modern Healthcare Magazine’s Design and Construction Survey published in March 2004). Revenues have increased from $3.5 million in 1992 to over $28.8 million in 2003, and the number of employees has grown from 38 to over 200.
“We met in Raleigh before either of us were hired,” says Brooks. “We talked about what we could do together and mapped out a vision for what this company could become.”
“Frank and I were soul mates; we read the same books, had the same interests,” adds Baldwin. “After two days we knew we had a chemistry.”
Together Brooks and Baldwin created a vision in which FreemanWhite would move beyond the position it occupied in the early ‘90s as an architectural firm focused on healthcare. They intended to create a narrower and deeper company; one which would focus on healthcare architecture in a new way. They began shaping FreemanWhite into a “value-driven consulting and design firm” intent on meeting its clients’ needs and helping its clients to be more successful.
“Our designs are all operational-driven,” says Baldwin. “It’s not just how beautiful or great it looks; it’s all about how efficient it is.”
Today, FreemanWhite is “an inch wide and a mile deep.” It doesn’t build shopping centers or schools or houses; it focuses entirely on healthcare facilities. Eighty-five percent of its business is designing new hospitals or expansions, like the new Outpatient Treatment Pavilion at Union Regional Medical Center in Monroe. The other 15 percent is in the growing market of senior living facilities, such as Aldersgate, the United Methodist Retirement Center in Charlotte.
Charles Hook was the first registered architect in North Carolina. He established his Charlotte practice in 1892 with an ad in the paper reading “Chas. Hook/Architect/ Office No. 1 Harty Building/Charlotte.NC/ The Best in Town.” At the same time, he laid the groundwork for what was to become FreemanWhite, the 10th oldest architectural firm in the United States.
Hook not only designed many of the prominent residences of his day, including homes for tobacco magnate James Buchanan Duke, cotton broker Ralph VanLandingham, and William Henry Belk, founder of Belk department stores, but also a great number and variety of public buildings. Among these were city halls, post offices, office buildings, banks, fire stations, theaters, railroad terminals, and facilitates for colleges and universities. At least 40 of Hook’s projects are registered historical landmarks in Charlotte today.
Although Hook originally practiced on his own, he joined with Frank McMurray Sawyer in 1899 to form Hook & Sawyer. That partnership lasted until 1906 when Hook went back into practice by himself until he joined up with Willard G. Rogers in 1910. After dissolving the partnership with Rogers in 1916, he again practiced by himself until 1924 when he established a partnership with his son Walter.
According to Lisa Bush Hankin’s biographical sketch of C.C. Hook for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, Hook died a mysterious death in 1938 at the age of 68. He either fell, was pushed, or jumped from a window on the 12th floor of the Commercial National Bank Building on the corner of Fourth and South Tyron Streets.
Walter Hook assumed presidency of the firm after his father’s death. It was during this period that the firm became well-known in North Carolina for its designs for hospitals and healthcare facilities, including Mercy Hospital, Carolinas Medical Center, Presbyterian Hospital and the VA Hospital in Salisbury. When Walter died in 1963, Bev Freeman and Ed White formed the leadership team of the firm, which was now known as Freeman and White Associates, Inc. In 1986, Bill Hartsell, who had worked for the firm since 1960, assumed the presidency.
In the early ’90s, the firm’s name was changed to Freeman White Architects, Inc. and in 1997 with Brooks and Baldwin at the helm, the word Architects was dropped and the firm became simply FreemanWhite, Inc. This reflected the success the firm was having in offering innovative planning and consulting services to its healthcare and senior living clients. It also demonstrated the direction in which Brooks and Baldwin were taking the company.
“We’re here to play on a national level,” says Baldwin. “We want to be a Top Ten healthcare firm and grow our revenue to get to the Top Ten. We want to team with clients that share our values and pursue challenging and interesting projects.”
Design for healing environments
At FreemanWhite, Brooks and Baldwin have created a model that is different from an ordinary design firm. In fact, 20 percent of the firm’s employees are not architects. The firm operates with a series of multidisciplinary teams, which includes engineers, marketing experts, industrial designers, and even emergency nurses.
“We believe that creative and great ideas come from talented people with diverse backgrounds,” says Brooks. “We deal with very large, complicated building types and we work as a team.”
FreemanWhite has two markets: senior living facilities and hospitals. Its services to those markets include traditional design services, but also a consulting service designed to help clients become more efficient. The firm helps clients with market analysis, operational efficiency, and long-term strategy. The consulting services represent about 22 percent of the firm’s work effort while traditional architectural design represents about 78 percent.
“We help the client look deeper than the need for facilities,” says Brooks. “We look at what is driving that need for facilities. We look at the clients’ needs without assuming facilities are the answer to every need.”
In 2001 FreemanWhite completed a $9.5 million project at the HealthPark at WakeMed in Raleigh in which the design team was able to build on WakeMed’s patient-centered approach to healthcare. The HealthPark provides critical rehabilitation care for patients suffering from strokes or accidents. However, the facility faced issues such as inefficient internal circulation, lack of space for rehabilitation activities, and limited resources for helping patients “relearn” integral life skills. By remodeling existing space and adding some new construction, the FreemanWhite design team created a dynamic new facility that integrated rehabilitation activities with an exciting and visually stimulating atmosphere.
Since the project was completed, the waiting list to enter the facility has grown from two days to three weeks.
Brooks and Baldwin are focused on becoming national leaders. And, while they want FreemanWhite to grow, they also want it to grow in areas that make sense.
“There are only three ways to grow,” says Baldwin. “We can increase our market share; we can develop new products; or we can grow through mergers or acquisition.”
Currently the firm is focused on all three of these areas. It opened a Raleigh office through acquisition of another firm. It is expanding its market by taking on work in Albany, N.Y, Anchorage, Ala., and California. And, it is developing new products. It now offers consulting services to healthcare clients in the fields of oncology, laboratory, imaging, women’s services, critical care/inpatient, surgical services, cardiac/heart, emergency services and departments, centers for ambulatory care, certificate of need preparation, and equipment planning.
FreemanWhite has recently taken on a project of adding two major additions, totaling 350,000 square feet, to the main campus of Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allen-town, Pa. It is teaming up with one of the best known national architectural firms, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, on the work. Venturi, a recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1991, is well known as the author of "Learning from Las Vegas." Published in 1972 the book created a controversy in architectural circles by calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of the “common" people and the commercial vernacular and less immodest in their erection of “heroic” self-aggrandizing monuments.
A firm understanding
Both Brooks, 53, and Baldwin, 60, believe in an inclusive management style. At FreemanWhite they have surrounded themselves with talented people and work to create a horizontal organization that rewards creativity, is driven by opportunities, and mixes individuality with diversity.
“We’re looking for high performing, motivated professionals,” says Brooks. “Then we offer them the opportunity to make a difference. We want people who are interested in helping clients and creating something of enduring value.”
Jon Huddy joined the firm in 1993 and has been instrumental in creating FreemanWhite’s consulting and national practice. Huddy became a managing principal in 1999. Mark Furgeson was hired in 1997 to help recruit new talent and expand the national practice. He became a managing principal in 1999. In 2000 David Thompson joined the firm as COO after a 20-year career as a county manager for major North Carolina counties.
As a management team Baldwin and Brooks compliment each other in their skills and abilities. Both are good strategic thinkers and they play off one another very well. Both are generally optimistic and often rely on others to play “devil’s advocate.” Both are passionate about what they do.
And, while Baldwin is a fly fisherman with a summer home on an island in Maine and Brooks relaxes by practicing martial arts, they are both creative architects. Both designed their own new homes. Baldwin’s house on Colony Road is designed to show off his extensive art collection, while Brooks’ 4500 square foot prairie style home in The Cloisters is more contemporary.
“To be great, you have to have something at the core that is passionate,” says Brooks. “Alan and I share a compelling common vision of what is meaningful for the organization and for the people in the organization.”