Architects Talking to Architects: Jim Henry, AIA

Jim Henry, AIA, is the director of design for the South Region for HDR and is based out of the firm's Dallas office. Jim is an award-winning architect whose most notable projects include the Galveston Fire Station #4 and his co-designed Parkland Hospital. Jim has participated in several levels of leadership at AIA Dallas. He is currently in his second term on the board of directors as one of two directors of communication. 

Jim Henry, AIA

Jim Henry, AIA – photo courtesy Jim Henry

Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Corpus Christi, but moved around several times while I was growing up. My dad was in pharmaceuticals (the legal kind), and as his career progressed, we moved accordingly. I lived in Corpus and the Rio Grand Valley (McAllen). Then, we moved to Boerne, which is just north of San Antonio. So for the short answer, most people get Boerne as a response. We lived there for eight years until my dad moved to the corporate office, which happened to be in New Jersey. So, that was quite the transition. We spent three years in the Northeast, and then headed back to Texas for high school.  

Pen, pencil, or computer? 

Pen for sure — sometimes, the fatter the better. Black felt tip pens are smooth and gestural. To that end, most of my work is in vignettes and lends itself to quick iterative design. Big moves, a well-thought-out parti, and diagrams that tell the story. I take those series of sketches and then translate them into the computer pretty quickly after that.  


Sketch by Jim Henry – courtesy Jim Henry

What is your favorite time of year?

Christmas — the celebration of Christ's birth and the time to gather with friends and family. It feels as though life and business can go on hold for a few weeks while you just decompress in the season. I enjoy the crispness in the cold winter air, the fires, and gatherings that happen usually with lots of good food and adult beverages. I am a big Christmas movie junkie. I usually start the movie-watching the day after Thanksgiving and stretch it all the way until the first of the year. I also enjoy the decorations and transformations that homes and businesses go through to evoke the feeling of the holiday season. Creating an experience, a feeling, and the romantic ideas of Christmases past resonates with me.

What is the one building that you just had to see for yourself?  

Well, I must say that the architecture that I enjoy the most are usually the unique hidden gems that I stumble upon rather than ones I have studied or longed to visit. I find, in most cases, that popular architecture is less impressive in person than the romantic image or experience that I had expected. Not to say that they are not still good pieces of architecture, but I find the honest, raw, first impressions that you are overcome with when experiencing a building for the first time are unexpected and somehow more fulfilling. However, there are always exceptions. 

The Fay Jones-designed Thorncrown Chapel is one of the most moving spaces I have ever been in. The siting and procession to enter the space set the tone for the entire experience. The details and personal connection that you make with the building makes you appreciate the achievement even more. I also think that blurring the lines between interior and exterior space and the total integration of systems and building enclosure represents a masterful execution of how to design buildings. Two other similar experiences were at the courtyard of the Salk Institute and at Casa Barragan.

Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel via Flickr; anirban_ray

Beer, wine or cocktail — what is your drink of choice? 

I must say that I enjoy a cocktail or two, but always drink responsibly (that's for my family who may be reading this). That being said, I enjoy medium to dark lager beer. In Texas, I drink Shiner. If I am east of Texas and can get a Yuengling, then I order that. As for wine, I prefer a Napa Cabernet, an Argentinan Malbec, or a Rioja from Spain. As for cocktails, I like vodka soda with a lemon. You would be surprised that nine times out of 10, I get a lime.

Architects aren’t known for their hobbies … do you have one?  

So you have to take this with a grain of salt, because before I could answer this, I had to ask my wife, "Hey, hon!  Do I have any hobbies?" to which she responded, "Drinking and eating!" I said that those are essentials and don't count. She then reminded me of a few other things. I hunt with my brother and my dad, which is something I grew up doing. It is a great time of quiet, fresh air, and fellowship. We call it "hunting," but it's mostly time together that we enjoy. In the fall, I am a dedicated college football fan. I played football at Arkansas before starting architecture school, so I have a deep connection to the Razorbacks, even in the down years. I also enjoy grilling.


Henry enjoys throwing a steak on the grill in his free time. – courtesy Jim Henry, AIA

What type of advice would you offer to young professionals?  

One piece of advice I would give to young professionals: Get licensed early. Put in the time and invest in yourself. Time and personal obligations become more and more constricting. It becomes hard to find time, energy, or motivation later. I know too many peers that have the architectural training and education who are not professionals because they have not taken or passed their exams. Don't let that be an obstacle for your career.

In addition, I would say to be proactive in your career. As with anything in life, you get out what you put in. If you wait for someone to come along and tell you that you are good at something or direct your path for you, it may take a long time to get there. I'm not saying not to learn and take in all that there is to offer at whatever position you are at; I am saying to learn from those great mentors around you, soak it up, and then look how you can be better yourself. There is huge gap that the boomers will be leaving, and there are not enough "X"ers to fill the voids. So, leadership training and self-motivation will help propel your career.

"Architects Talking to Architects" is a column on the Texas Society of Architects blog that spotlights members from across the state at different points of development in their career. All participants are given the same set of questions with instructions to answer any six, giving them the opportunity to highlight the items they feel are most interesting. Is there someone you'd like to see featured in "Architects Talking to Architects?" Email to let us know!