From Houston to Yangon to Kingston, Daimian Hines, B.S.’99, M.Arch ’01, puts stories at the center of design
During that awkward moment at the start of a group brainstorm — when someone needs to step forward as scribe but most people uncomfortably look down to avoid being tapped to do so — Daimian Hines eagerly grabs the marker and heads to the whiteboard.
By grabbing control of the marker, he can better control the narrative, says Hines, B.S. ’99, M.Arch ’01.
As the founder of his own Houston-based architecture firm, he is similarly controlling the narrative of his practice, building it to be focused on impact-oriented projects worldwide. His biggest commission to date is the one that currently consumes him and his team spread across the globe: the Government of Jamaica’s first permanent Houses of Parliament.
Just don’t ask him how it makes him feel.
“A conversation about design and process will be tectonic and academic. But if you ask what the project means to me, I just might get choked up,” says Hines, who was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Detroit as a pre-teen. He still has numerous family members on the island, and part of the terms of the commission is that his family will have a commemorative plaque on the building.
“My parents came to the United States so that I could have more opportunities for my education,” says Hines, who was born in a rural town in the Parish of St. Mary, in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains region. “To come from where I did and then many, many years later be able to do what I’m doing back there, well, it’s a project of passion, and it’s quite rewarding.”
Jamaica gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962. The building that was meant to serve as the temporary home of the new government has remained as such ever since. With the country’s 60th birthday on the horizon, the government instituted an international design competition in 2018 to design a permanent parliament building in the capital city, Kingston.
Hines happened to be on the island at the time that the competition’s patron, Gordon Gill, a partner in Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and a native of Jamaica, made the announcement. The rules stated that teams had to be led by a Jamaican citizen who is also a registered and licensed architect in the country, and the teams also had to contain “at least 50 percent Jamaican citizens or persons of Jamaican heritage.”
Through a colleague in Houston, Hines was able to connect with Evan Williams, a celebrated Jamaican architect who agreed to serve as architect of record. Hines then assembled the rest of the team and “we worked feverishly to put forward a design that would capture the imagination of the country and respond to the brief in a way that layered design and culture.”
Each phone call with Williams “was about 45 minutes of him saying why this wasn’t the right project and why my ideas didn’t make sense,” Hines laughs about the man he now considers his mentor. “But that pushed me to be better, and when we won, he told the media that from day one he thought this was the right project.”
In March 2019, their submission, “Out of Many, One People,” won the competition, securing both the Jury’s Award and the People’s Choice Award. Among the architecture heavyweights they bested was Sir David Adjaye, whose team placed second.
“I think what caught the imagination of the public was that we adopted the Jamaican motto, “‘Out of Many, One People,’” Hines says. “And then from a design standpoint, while all the other buildings had some geometric shape, squares, boxes, or so on, ours was a singular, round form.”
The circular design was a natural response to the massive oval site, once a horse racing track, and provided a visual anchor for the broader planned developments. “I felt that the building should always present a front. There should be no sides and no back; it is always equally present no matter where you are and your point of view,” he says.
The team made intentional choices about the building materials, too — drawing on the island’s abundant concrete and cement plants as opposed to materials that would have to be imported. “The seat of the nation’s government should be built by its people with its local resources,” Hines says.
“Out of Many, One People” is being constructed in National Heroes Park as part of a 52-acre project that includes surrounding areas for sports and cultural activities. It is part of a master plan led by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture to redevelop downtown Kingston, and Hines says of collaborating with the renowned duo, “It has been cool to hold my own and gain their respect.”
Hines says the design presents an opportunity to transform downtown Kingston by implementing urban design strategies focused on enhancing walkability, revitalizing urban parks and streetscapes, introducing sustainable site innovations, and designing a public realm that focuses on community and civic functions: “The design stands as an enduring reminder of the connectivity between the government and the citizens it serves.”
The confluence of architecture and urban design blends well with Hines’s passion for high-impact projects that now drive his career. After a three-year stint doing high-end residential projects at MyefskiCook Architects in suburban Chicago, he moved to HOK’s Chicago office. One project he worked on was a dormitory for the University of Illinois–Chicago, historically a commuter campus. He loved seeing what he had helped to create become the home of a bustling student community.
When he transferred to HOK’s Houston office a few years later, he worried that the city’s reliance on cars fragmented its communities. To attract new talent from the coasts, Hines told his corporate clients that “a building and a garage won’t do it. You have to create a walkable experience. You have to think about placemaking.”
A call from a former classmate and HOK Chicago colleague, Daniel West, B.S. ’99, M.Arch ’01, gave Hines the opportunity to think about placemaking in a place that was just opening up to outsiders: Myanmar. West had joined Singapore-based SPA Design and Project Services Ltd. to manage projects in Myanmar and asked Hines to join him.
During nearly three years in the capital city, Yangon, Hines focused on what he calls “nation-building projects,” including creating communities for upwards of 50,000 people, hospitals, schools, corporate office complexes, and low-income and middle-class housing. “We were teaching local architects and engineers as we were leading projects, and we did it with full passion,” Hines says. “By the time I left, I saw that we had made a significant impact in terms of what we had built, but also in the fact that our designs and our processes were being replicated by other architects throughout Yangon.”
Based back in Houston for the past five and a half years, Hines learned lessons in Myanmar that are the heart of his firm, Hines Architecture + Design. “If I hadn’t spent time in Asia, I think my perspective would still be a bit more acute, focused on the product and pushing the process of design to produce something interesting and noteworthy,” Hines says. In a country where most architects weren’t trained in architecture but rather in civil engineering, Hines saw the absence of placemaking. As a result, “I saw how design can be transformative and influence our environment in ways that make our lives richer.” Building on the notions of placemaking that he had previously embraced at HOK, “in a more progressive and urbanist way, I began thinking about the impact of the types of spaces we create for people, what attracts them and makes them want to stay.”
While the Jamaican parliament project is the pinnacle, to date, of Hines’s global and impact-minded focus, that passion infuses his portfolio. His other endeavors include a resort in Cape Verde and the preservation of a historically Black area of Houston known as Freedmen’s Town, for which he is working to secure UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
“It’s not about doing something whimsical,” Hines says of his work. “It’s about telling a story that benefits others.”
Part of that benefit comes not from his work but from who he is and the example he is setting as a result. Hines serves on five boards, including as president of the Houston chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). As the Black Lives Matter movement reenergized in 2020, Hines counseled numerous organizations within and outside of the profession on how to boost their diversity initiatives.
Being a Black architect with a global portfolio, he hopes, will open doors for others and encourage the next generation to think big or think differently. “I want to believe that because of the experience that those large corporations had with someone who looks like me, the next person who looks like me will have a shot at succeeding,” he says of his time in Myanmar.
“At the same time, by not just focusing on local work and by securing a major commission in another country, I think I am a part of a paradigm shift for other Black architects when they think about what is possible.”
— Amy Spooner