Gisela Doug Hanson headshot

A Conversation with Doug Hanson of HansonLA (MARCH ’84)

August 18, 2021

In our Alumni series “What Are We Up To Now?”, we profile the distinguished alumni of the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture & Planning (CAP). We sat down with Doug Hanson, a notable alumnus of CAP’s Masters of Architecture program and Advisory Board member. He has worked with some of the most prestigious firms in the country including SOM, Gehry Partners, and DeStefano Partners before starting his own firm, HansonLA, in 1998.

Tell us about your background?

I was born and raised in Western North Dakota, in the heart of the upper great plains. I spent my youth romping around the Black Hills, eastern Montana, Saskatchewan, the Killdeer Mountains, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  

After completing my undergraduate degree, I moved to Denver to attend CU Denver. I applied to SOM Chicago right out of graduate school and spent the next 8-years working at SOM (Skidmore Owings and Merrill), including time in SOM’s London office, all while working for Bruce Graham. 

My significant work during that time included large-scale office buildings in central London, an apartment and hotel tower in Barcelona, which was part of a large scale master plan which was built out for the 1992 Olympics. For the Barcelona project, Vila Olimpica, Bruce Graham (SOM) brought in Frank Gehry (Gehry Partners) to design the beachfront retail part of that project and I was assigned as the liaison between SOM and Gehry and led the project through design and construction. In 1992 once the project was complete I joined Frank’s office and moved to Los Angeles where I spent the next 8-years at Gehry’s office working on domestic projects as well international projects in Bilbao, Spain and Seoul, Korea.  During that same time, my wife Donna and I raised our four children. 

One of HansonLA’s first projects was for the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco which included a collaboration with Renzo Piano.

I am currently very involved with the AIA both locally and nationally. My wife and our grown children live in Los Angeles.

Where have you lived?

Dickinson, Fargo, Denver, Chicago, London, Barcelona and Los Angeles.

Tell us about HansonLA.

HansonLA is an architecture, interior, and urban design practice located in Los Angeles. Established in 2010, it is the evolution of a firm that began in 1998; it is associated with an over 20-year record of contributions to the built environment. Its works are recognized as conscientious balances of artistry and efficiency.

HansonLA employees in an office

How will you balance your role on the Advisory Board with your practice?

I believe an important part of professional practice is to share knowledge and mentor new generations, therefore I dedicate time for activities like teaching, serving on AIA leadership committees and advisory boards including CAP.

What are you working on today? 

I am grateful to be working on various types and scales of projects with very interesting clients and sites, including multifamily towers, commercial offices, single-family residences and custom furniture.

Example of project

What drew you to CAP and its Architecture program? 

Living in Colorado, and more specifically, the campus was located in downtown Denver.

What is the most significant thing you learned while at CAP?

I was inspired by professors and classmates to continue to  grow professionally and find challenging and interesting opportunities outside of the familiar, no matter where they were.

What are some of the biggest challenges in the field today? How might this change in the future?

The top two on my list are; The lack of a disruption in the field including software that is available to the architects and the building industry. The architect must return to the role of master-builder.  At this time there are too many silos.

People collaborating to solve a problem

What advice do you have for CAP students and/or alumni?

Remain a curious person, travel, travel, travel… let your work and your life be inspired by others that are not architects, such as artists, entrepreneurs, and cowboys. 

What recommendations do you have for alumni who want to get more involved with CAP?

It’s a great resource for all alumni. Staying involved in the CAP community provides ongoing access to colleagues, staff and students to share and receive information. There will be opportunities for both collaboration and employment.

Congratulations on your role on CAP’s Advisory Board! What areas of focus have you defined in your role as an ambassador for CAP?

Outreach and recruitment. CAP is a wonderful place and we are going to work on staying connected with recent graduates and reintroduce the College to others that may not have stayed connected over the years.

Can you name a particular architect or practice that influenced you? 

I have had the opportunity to work with three of the greatest architects of our time, Bruce Graham at SOM, Frank Gehry, and Renzo Piano. Each has been extremely influential in my practice, from the design process to working with clients, to working with builders. 

Frank Gehry sitting on a chair
Frank Gehry

Where do you go to feel inspired? 

I like transiting through the streets of LA, people watching, analyzing the social dynamics, art, and artists.  I also find inspiration in travel and wide-open spaces including the mountains and the beach.

What would surprise us about you?

I have four (4) children, ALL BOYS!

What was the last meal you cooked for yourself? 

Fresh pasta with homemade bolognese sauce along with an avocado tomato salad.

What are your typical Sundays like?

Waking up early, going for a run, drawing, and drinking wine.

This interview was edited and condensed by Agency PR