Of all the skills a leader can exhibit, listening is often noted as the most valuable—and for Nathan Peak, his career as one of the industry’s emerging architectural design leaders has been sharply focused on learning by listening.
“This might sound strange coming from an architect, but designing for the gaming industry is not all about architecture,” says Peak. “It’s about stepping back and listening to what an owner believes are the biggest issues faced every day in operating a casino. It’s about what market conditions and competition tell you; and most importantly, what casino customers say they want in their entertainment experience.
“You have to remove yourself from the possible solutions and literally become immersed in understanding casino operations and customer expectations from a variety of perspectives to truly grasp the real issues and opportunities—then you can start designing.”
It’s a philosophy that’s clearly working for him, his clients and his firm, Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG), where Peak is a senior associate and shareholder. Peak has been the lead designer on three of HBG’s four recent GGB Casino Design Award-winning projects, winning the latest two in consecutive years.
Early in his design career at HBG, Peak was challenged by how complex the gaming industry was. Every operator ran their facilities differently, trends and technologies were constantly evolving, and gaming customers were always looking for “what’s new and what’s next.”
“At first, gaming really tested me; there was so much depth in understanding the business—from elements like surveillance and security, slot and table game layouts, to cage operations and food and beverage design,” recalls Peak. “I credit the clients from across the country who let me inside their operations to give me such an incredible education on the business of gaming.”
One such client was Matt Harkness, chief operating officer of Four Winds Casinos in Michigan. Peak and Harkness have built a trusted relationship over the past three years.
“Having frank and open dialogue with Matt about what works and what doesn’t in the casino environment has had a significant impact on my career,” says Peak. “When you have that kind of real-time information from gaming operations at your fingertips, it makes the design process very collaborative, and a lot of original, forward-thinking ideas emerge from it.”
Today, Peak is having an impact on both young designers and veteran staff within his firm as a leader in HBG’s “Design+” program.
“Listening to multiple perspectives contributes to better outcomes,” says Peak. “Design+ is a program centered around the idea of bringing every person connected to the project process together to talk about how people interact and engage with built space—and how we each contribute to making that experience better.”
As he describes it, the program opens up a constructive, open dialogue on design among everyone from junior designer to the most senior documentation architect.
“We get a 360-degree critique that generates a lot of great discussion on what’s possible—from concept to execution—in the creation of customer-centered solutions. It’s an excellent tool to help mentor and involve every member of the team.”