Classic California Meets the Modern Era

Robert Hidey of Robert Hidey Architects reflects on what has allowed RHA to standout from its peers and shares his thoughts regarding the future of architecture

By Genevieve Smith

Builder and Developer magazine and Peninsula Publishing are excited to announce the winner of the 2015 Pubby Award for Architect of the Year is Robert Hidey Architects.

Always looking to reinforce the company goal of “improving communities through exceptional concepts in design, planning, and development,” RHA has added much of what has become quintessential to California design in architecture while also looking for ways to improve upon classical designs of the past. Southern California-native owner and founder of RHA, Robert Hidey noted, “The direction of the office is always changing. I’m always looking at diversifying the type of work that we do.”

In early projects like Watermark and Shady Canyon, developed by the Irvine Company, the design pulled heavily from California’s rich architectural history. With a focus on landscape and sustainability, these communities and others like them helped establish what would become a trademark for RHA. With 400 homes on one-acre lots, the 1,000-acre Shady Canyon development received praise for its public hiking trails, narrow, winding streets, landscaping incorporating the area’s rock formations, and limited street lighting to preserve the rural appearance of the idyllic setting.

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Hidey explained that Shady Canyon is a direct model of design being used to connect homeowners to the outdoors. Floor plans in Shady Canyon reduce roof span, which drives the solution of daylighting and ventilation from alternative sides, all of which benefit energy consumption. Within the climate of a sustainability-conscious public and builder community, RHA designs made more than just an aesthetic statement from early on.

Reflecting on the fact that builders targeted the traditional family demographic exclusively when he first started merchant builder work, Hidey has definitely seen a change in the market. “Now the demographics that homebuilders are pursuing are dramatically broad and the range is just phenomenally different,” he said. “So, what is really stimulating is researching a housing market that we’re targeting and then finding housing solutions that meet their needs.”

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As a modern iteration of a project like Shady Canyon, Esencia in Rancho Mission Viejo, for which RHA served as Master Architect, is a perfect example of the firm’s trademark aesthetic meeting the changing tides of architecture in California. Planning for different kinds of emerging demographics with Esencia, RHA aims to rise to the challenge of catering to multiple styles of living well.

RHA is already working on Esencia Phase two, as Phase one of the 890-acre, mixed-density, master-planned development in Southern Orange County is underway, while they also celebrate numerous accolades for other varied housing solutions.

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Asher, a much more contemporary development of luxury, three-story, high-density detached residences in Playa Vista was awarded several times in 2014, including Green Build and Residential Project of the Year – Detached.

RHA designed three modern home plans for the Asher community, developed by KB Home, where the floor plans are bent in the middle to increase natural light while also improving indoor-outdoor connectivity. “Asher set a different standard for us as a firm as it relates to an architectural aesthetic, we’re doing a lot more work that’s very contemporary,” Hidey said. Asher reflects this to the fullest, with the bright open living areas and usable outdoor space that are in line with other RHA designs, while moving more to the contemporary with its sleek, modern lines and exteriors.

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In Northern California, RHA produced one of their award winners of 2015, the multi-family design of Orchard Park in San Jose, which was one of three products for a 239-unit multi-family development tucked between suburban sprawl and a bustling business district. According to Hidey, “the future holds a more progressive attitude towards architecture that carries a higher density than what we’ve been doing in the past.” Orchard Park is an overt nod to that future, imbued with a blend of modernity in its minimalism and old world charm in the detailing.

RHA was founded in 1990 and has since added dozens of projects to their portfolio, running the gamut from single family custom designs to master-planned developments, including designing for hospitality, high-density, and multi-family environments.

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Hidey established his firm 25 years ago with the goal of bringing classical California-style, Mediterranean Revival homes, a neglected form of architecture at the time, back into the much deserved lime-light.

From the beginning, Hidey wondered why people weren’t reacting to this contextual architecture that was so rich in southern California and thought that architects should be recreating these phenomenal neighborhoods that were being overlooked.

“They held high values but nobody said let’s try to recreate those places,” he said. “I questioned that and decided that we should.” Influenced by the Olmstead-designed Palos Verdes Estates where he grew up, what Hidey calls “timeless architecture that has responded to this climate zone,” has indeed become a common thread apparent throughout RHA’s projects.

Incorporating that signature style into projects that have a more modern feel seems to be the natural progression of his work. “I came into architecture as a modernist, I became a designer that focused on generating neighborhoods that really borrowed from the past and now I’m morphing back into doing things that are more contemporary and progressive.”

When asked how this fit in to his business model, Hidey lightheartedly shared that he is more the artist than the Wall Street man. “Really, I’m not the best when it comes to business,” he said. “My focus is really on trying to do architecture. I surround myself with good architects who help me produce projects, and some great business people who keep me out of trouble.”

Perhaps the separation of the two has been the pivotal element that has allowed the artistry of RHA’s designs to shine through and will aid them as they continue to diversify and innovate into the future.

Genevieve Smith is an Editorial Assistant for Builder and Developer magazine. She may be reached at

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