Partner at Method Architecture (Houston, TX), a full-service architecture firm that is uniquely ego-free in its commitment to a systematic, client-focused creative process.
By Liisa Andreassen
As a partner at Method Architecture, Holley says it’s his primary job to support and foster meaningful connections for anyone who wants to work for or with Method. He’s committed to cultivating a culture that has an ego-free philosophy at its core and to keep the company moving forward into the future.
“The idea of ego-free architecture came from us understanding that our clients know what their needs are better than we do, so our responsibility is to be facilitators and translators for the built environment,” Holley says. “To clarify, it’s not meant to say that we don’t or can’t have ego. We are all human. It’s more about being intentional about putting our ego aside and focusing on our clients’ needs ahead of our own.”
A conversation with Keith Holley.
The Zweig Letter: You recently added two new partners and also joined forces with GSC Architects. There seems to be some synchronized momentum happening. What do you attribute this to and how do you see these two moves changing the face of the firm?
Keith Holley: Method Architecture’s story is one of creating positive disruption through constant change. Our firm has to be about more than any one person and the belief that adding more voices and perspectives only makes us stronger. So, inviting key staff like Jackie Rye, our Houston market principal, and Melissa Pasche, our CFO, to the ownership group was the obvious next step because, aside from the tremendous value they bring to the firm, it ensures Method never becomes complacent or stuck in a single way of thinking.
The GSC acquisition allowed Method to further bolster its Central Texas presence by joining forces with a firm with a strong regional brand and legacy of doing high tech, sustainability-focused and high-end design projects. But on an even more rewarding level, it allowed us to add some extremely talented and experienced staff onto the Method team, further enhancing our sector expertise and rounding out some of our project, design support, and operations teams.
TZL: Moving forward, what are some of the top challenges you see for the industry as a whole? How do you plan to work to meet them?
KH: Where to start? Inflation, material costs and availability, ongoing supply chain disruption, threat of global conflict, and an inevitable market correction (the “R” word) have probably gotten the most attention. However, I like to think that we do a good job with identifying potential blind spots by staying engaged with our clients, contractors, and consultants and openly talking about this internally.
One of the more recent and less obvious challenges was how much of a hit the professional labor pool took coming out of the COVID years. There was a noticeable drop off in available talent, just to keep up with normal levels of attrition, let alone impacts from the “great resignation.” Our marketing and HR teams have done amazing work to help us differentiate Method, innovate our approach to hiring experienced talent, and find new ways to engage with universities across the state to attract up and coming talent.
TZL: I like the concept of “ego-free architecture.” Tell me about how this tagline came about.
KH: It’s more than a tagline. “Ego-free” isn’t one of the firm’s core values by accident. It’s our commitment to make the profession better. It’s also somewhat of a reaction against a longstanding perception and stereotype that “star-chitects” and “black-cape” architects are the profession.
The idea of ego-free architecture came from us understanding that our clients know what their needs are better than we do, so our responsibility is to be facilitators and translators for the built environment. To clarify, it’s not meant to say that we don’t or can’t have ego. We are all human. It’s more about being intentional about putting our ego aside and focusing on our clients’ needs ahead of our own.
TZL: Have you had a particular mentor who has guided you – in school, in your career, or in general? Who were they and how did they help?
KH: I’m fortunate to have many. My parents and family created an environment based on sound morals and a solid work ethic, but still made room for play and surprise. Additionally, I’ve had coaches, teachers, and professors who have guided me at critical times to push me beyond what I thought was possible for myself. Early in my career, I can point to a few people in commercial real estate, specifically Brent Wood (EastGroup Properties), as the greatest influence on the importance of a really great team and how to use humor/levity in business situations. It makes it much easier to go through the imperfect parts of the design and construction process armed with both.
TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
KH: I am 99.9 percent working “on” the business and my role continues to be refined to better support our teams and firm goals. This was a hard transition, coming from an owner/doer model, but it was something that I think all the partners recognize is essential if we want to continue to evolve Method into what we think it can become.
TZL: As a Native-American owned firm, is it important to you to pay homage to traditions or the overall culture within the world of architecture? If yes, can you please illustrate with a specific example?
KH: Absolutely. This idea of cultural inclusion is key to any piece of architecture, native or not. As architects, we must be in tune with the local community and its needs to create culturally-responsive and useful buildings. Our teams work with several tribes across the country and one of the first steps when starting a new project is to meet with the local community members and tribal leadership to understand their goals and challenges, and to learn more about their traditions, symbology, and history. Each tribe is unique so each design decision must be as well. Respect and listening are the foundation of our strategy when working with tribal communities.
TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
KH: Demonstrating accountability and effective communications are important, but I think that authenticity is essential to the early foundation of any successful relationship. Experience certainly doesn’t hurt, but I’m a believer that you need to start on some common ground and the fastest way to do that is to cut past formalities and be willing to share personal experience. It ultimately humanizes the process, and makes it easier to discuss the technical things and to navigate through future issues.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
KH: The lines between work and home life are definitely blurry – Jake Donaldson and Eric Hudson (the other founding partners of Method Architecture) are two of my oldest friends and we’ve all transitioned from college life to work life to family life on similar paths. We all have young families and some of our kids go to school together.
I don’t think I’m here if not for my family. They are my motivation and the welcomed distraction that keeps me grounded. My wife, Lindsay, is incredibly supportive and has an uncanny ability to know how to lift me up or carry us through challenging times. We have four beautiful children who are all wonderful and unique, so it lends itself to being a very full life. Our youngest child was born with some genetic challenges that we were certainly not expecting, but he has brought us all a new perspective and helped us grow as individuals and as a family. He helped me learn to be more open about sharing this part of my story with colleagues, and I continue to be overjoyed by how receptive people are and how willing they are to share their own stories and challenges. Those challenges have reinforced that I want to make meaningful connections and offer support wherever I’m needed.
TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?
KH: We ask a lot of our managers, but one of the central challenges is their ability and willingness to grow into a role that bridges the gap of being in projects versus working on team management and learning to support firmwide goals.
We invest heavily in training, mentorship, and educational opportunities for current and future managers, to build skills and confidence. Aside from providing external opportunities, we have created an internal mentorship program, which is intended to create a safe place for rising stars to connect with current Method leaders and find or create their path to growth at Method.
TZL: Personally, what types of projects do you enjoy working on most and why?
KH: Spec industrial and brewery projects are some of the first that come to mind. I like industrial because those buildings can be deceptively hard to do right. The main challenges are working within site constraints that are dictated by circulation, market demand, and the marketability of the finished product. So, we try with each of them to make a facility or business park that maximizes efficiency and leasable square footage, but also suits our client’s portfolio and creates an identity for that development.
Breweries are fun for similar reasons, but with the added layer of the types and variety of people who are immersed in beer culture.
Ultimately, I like any project where we can assemble a team, identify the goals that would make it successful, execute, and then do it again. Profitable ones aren’t too bad either!
TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid?
KH: Communication is an obvious choice, because it’s the only way to test whether it can work or not, but I think that empathy is probably equally important to keep front of mind. Empathy is really the grounding element. It helps to look beyond just the financial benefits or new market sector opportunities, and to stay grounded in the people this impacts and what this change means to them.
TZL: How many years of experience – or large enough book of business – is enough to become a principal in your firm? Are you naming principals in their 20s or 30s?
KH: This is a funny one – it really would be much simpler if we boiled down formula or if it was just tied to tenure. The truth is that age is possibly the least relevant factor in becoming a principal at Method. Experience certainly comes with time, but instincts, attitude, and approach also play significant roles. We’re a relatively young company (in average age and in business terms), but we use that as an asset because we aren’t really bound by the expectations of working within “normal” or “corporate” rules. It’s mostly tied to need, opportunity, ability, and timing.