December 14, 2006

Robert J. Tindall



Firm: Callison Architecture

Position: President

Robert Tindall is a nationally recognized expert on mixed-use and retail design trends and developer business strategies. He has been responsible for overall project direction for retail, office and financial facilities, a diverse background that allows him to approach project challenges from a cross-industry perspective.

Give us a brief background on Bob Tindall.

I was born in Seattle, went to Ballard High School, then onto the University of Washington. I worked for four years in Honolulu for an architectural firm, then back to Seattle. I’ve been with Callison for 30 years. I went in thinking I’d work there until I figured out what I wanted to do. Thirty years later, I’m still looking. People ask me why I’ve stayed at the same firm for so long. Well, it’s not the same firm. There were 14 people at the firm when I started. Now there are over 600. There are always new and different projects.

Callison has projects around the globe, with an impressive footprint in the Middle East. What is happening there?

We’re involved in residential, hotel and retail development in the Middle East. We created the master plan and designed the buildings for The Pearl of the Gulf, a 14 million-square-foot, $2.5 billion man-made island off the coast of Doha, Qatar.

There is nothing about the Middle East that is comparable with the United States. You have to lose your U.S. mind-set when you think Middle East.

Take Dubai. Over 75 percent of Dubai’s population was born outside of Dubai. It is not a national population, it’s an international population. And two-thirds of that population is under the age of 25. By comparison, the U.S. has very few young people.

Getting personal
with Robert Tindall
Q: If you could own any property, what would that be?
A: Complementing the great environment in Puget Sound with a great retreat in Sun Valley would be ideal. Enjoying wonderful natural settings and experiences with family and friends is what works for me.

Q: What was your very first job?
A: Besides being a paperboy in high school, my first job was working in a tire store mounting and balancing tires.

Q: What’s next on your leisure reading list? Business?
A: The book sitting on my nightstand is “The Five People you Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom. The business book is “Treasure Hunt, Inside the Mind of the new Consumer” by Michael J. Silverstein.

Q: What one thing about yourself would surprise people?
A: I wish I could play the guitar and sing at a professional level. For me, it would be about making people feel good and being lifted by the music.

There are about 4 billion people within a six-hour plane ride from Dubai. That’s a pretty big market to cater to and with employable people moving in comes huge opportunity. Good paying companies are hiring architects, engineers, accountants and other professionals. They weren’t able to do that a few years back.

There are over 3,000 cranes in operation in Dubai, constructing buildings to accommodate the influx of well-educated people taking advantage of career and economic prospects.

They have a “get it done attitude” in the Middle East. They’re sensitive to cost, to energy, to sustainability. They are not wasteful and are incredibly efficient. They realize they are in a world-competitive market and feel design is a big factor. So, as architects, we love it; they look to us to push the limit on design.

Dubai’s ultra-luxury hotel, Burj Al Arab, is depicted on every license plate. How many countries have a building as an icon on their license plate?

Callison’s client list is a who’s who, from Nordstrom to Nike, Fed-Ex to Williams Sonoma. What attracts them to your firm?

Clients that we work with, especially on the retail side, recognize that the environment in which people shop and work is extremely important. They know that their facility design needs to support and reflect their brand. That’s what we do. We convey their message through design. For example, in any given Nordstrom store you couldn’t tell me what color the carpet was because the design is not overpowering. Our goal is to display the goods and sustain the brand without dominating the customer.

What’s the process for a Callison client?

Oftentimes, we’re in with developers, before a property is built and the retail space is leased. For instance, we know what the Gap wants and needs. So we give the developer the information and benefit of our insight and experience. Our advisory services help clients recognize the opportunities within a parcel; how much can we build, what restrictions apply. We help pull financial performa information together and offer environment counsel. Environment concerns are critical today.

Design is about identifying the target population, knowing where they are coming from, what influences them. Many industries are now affected by the baby boomers’ different expectations. It’s our job to anticipate expectations. Some of our most exciting projects are creating the next generation of shopping centers, such as Flatiron Crossing in Colorado.

One of the challenges of planning a project is thinking to the future. Focus groups can only relate to things they know. Our challenge is to relate to things that haven’t been thought about yet. So we take the facts and blend them with predictions. It’s instinctive, it’s relative. Then of course, there’s technology. We are constantly thinking, “what can we do with all this new technology?”

On that note, how does the Internet affect bricks and mortar shopping?

People still go out to shop. People who could just as well stay home and Web surf go to Internet cafes. We want to be alone together. The key things are a sense of community and the need for connection. People want to socialize. And there’s the sense of the experience. The smell, the feel, the warmth, the breezes. Things you can’t do or feel on the Internet.

Care to weigh in on the Alaskan Way Viaduct quandary?

Now here’s a design opportunity. I grew up in Seattle and every time I come back into town I think what an incredible ride and view on the viaduct. But it’s an eyesore and there are the sound, dirt and safety issues. Why not solve it with design? What if we had a beautiful suspension-like structure that housed an enclosed viaduct? It could extend from the Space Needle to Harbor Island and create an incredible statement. Think of the cover shots.

If you ran into 22-year-old Bob Tindall today, what advice would you give him?

Nothing comes on a silver platter. I had the unique opportunity at a young age to help solve design problems. You have to create those opportunities; it’s up to you. I’m a person who needs to see results. If there’s an idea, I like to see it done, or at least tried. I don’t like seeing time and energy wasted. There’s always a way to put thoughts and processes into place so you can get rid of the waste. But it’s all up to you. So I’d tell him nothing comes on a silver platter and usually it is disguised as something else.

Your daughter, Lauren, is an architect, following in her father’s footsteps. How are women faring in the industry?

Yes, my daughter is, believe it or not, an architect. This is a great time for women architects. We’re looking for fresh, diverse viewpoints in our field. Women have more patience and tend to stay on task better than men. Well, maybe not across the board, but our business is linear in process, so it helps to have that discipline in the design profession. My son, Jeff, is in media communications and is doing a great job in that line of work.

Looking back, what project still makes you smile?

Venturing into Southern California with Nordstrom and opening their first store in there in the late 70s. Nordstrom was seen as some little old department store from the Northwest. A year after the store opened in Orange County, it had the highest sales per square foot in that state.

What would be your next career?

If money wasn’t an object, I would love to do nautical design. I’d design boats. The lines and functionality and grace are just beautiful. The thought that goes into boat design and how the insides and outsides interrelate, given such limited space, is incredibly creative.

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