A Connecticut architecture firm that designed Atlanta's 1180 Peachtree Tower and Four Seasons Place, a 3.1 million-square-foot complex in Malaysia, is set to “make a new heart of Oklahoma City” with a Devon Energy skyscraper. Larry Nichols, chief executive officer of Devon, said Friday Pickard Chilton was hired from among seven internationally-accomplished architecture firms the company has interviewed the past several months. How the team was chosen “We started with the whole list of people who build high rises,” Nichols said. “We then came up with a list of six firms, and then had three finalists. They were all world class.” The hiring process, he said, included repeated visits to the firms' home offices and trips by the architects to Oklahoma City. Devon Energy hopes to build a corporate headquarters on Urban Renewal land along Sheridan Avenue, across from the Myriad Gardens. “Our goal was not to get the firm with the best name, but to get the one with the most interest in the project, the most engaged, one that would come up with the most interesting ideas for the opportunities this site gives us,” Nichols said. Nichols announced selection of Houston-based Hines as developer last month. Hines and Pickard Chilton have collaborated previously on towers including 1180 Peachtree and the upcoming Riverpoint tower project in Chicago. But Nichols said Pickard Chilton was chosen first, though the contract was completed after Hines was hired. “The Hines organization and Pickard Chilton understand each other, have worked together in the past, and to have that is always helpful,” Nichols said. Devon Tower represents a homecoming for William Chilton, who lived in Tulsa until he was 9 and then returned after college as a building designer for ConocoPhillips in Ponca City and as an architect with Olsen-Coffey Architects in Tulsa. Chilton first befriended partner Jon Pickard while attending architecture school in Iowa in 1976. By the time the pair decided to form Pickard Chilton a decade ago, Pickard had completed an 18-year stint working with architect Cesar Pelli on projects including the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. What's Devon looking for? Nichols, who has said he is more interested in a building that is iconic rather than one that is the tallest in the state, said the tower will “probably be more than 37 stories” and added “it's not going to get smaller.” Nichols said his favorite tower design in the Pickard Chilton portfolio is the planned 50-story Riverpoint in Chicago — a detail that caught Pickard and Chilton by surprise on Friday. Pickard said Riverpoint is a unique project where the design was somewhat dictated by its riverfront location. “It's an unusual site with strange geometric problems and an Amtrak line that runs through the site,” Pickard said. “There was only one way — a very sculptured item, like minimalist art — to fit into the site.” Chilton said their task is to create a design that not only meets Nichols' desire for an iconic tower, but one that will also meet his expectations for making a statement on behalf of employees, the community and Devon Energy shareholders. Pickard said Nichols has told them he wants a tower that also will be “civic minded.” “We've had the good fortune to be involved in projects that came to symbolize cities and countries,” Chilton said. “It's a road we've been down before. This project raises all that to a new level for us.” Pickard and Chilton echoed interest by Nichols in creating a special “winter garden” or “town hall” that will be a central focal point. Pickard said the only winter garden he thinks highly of is the 10-story glass-vaulted pavilion at New York City's World Financial Center designed by Pelli and built in 1988. “Devon, and more specifically Larry Nichols, cares as much about the public space as he does about it being an iconic building,” Chilton said. “We've had the opportunity to tour projects with Larry looking at what makes a great public space. This will be a building that will engage the public realm.” Pickard said Nichols' approach to the tower, as evidenced by his desire to somehow connect it to the Myriad Gardens and improve it as well, is unique. “Devon Energy was born in Oklahoma City, grew there, prospered there, and there is a commitment to the city that is nearly unparalleled in our careers,” Pickard said. “We're not just creating a home for Devon Energy, we're creating a new heart for the city.”
The Facts Parking: Larry Nichols, chief executive officer of Devon Energy, isn't ruling out the possibility of buying the west City Center Garage as part of construction of an adjoining corporate tower. Nichols said the company will need the entire garage, along with a substantial expansion, to accommodate employees. He noted the city's Santa Fe garage, more central to the business district, is full and likely will remain in demand after his company's move. A March parking report indicates the City Center garage had 322 monthly spaces vacant, compared to just three at the Santa Fe garage. Timetable: The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority has yet to issue a request for development proposals for the proposed Devon Tower site. Nichols said Friday he hopes designs will be ready to present at the Urban Renewal board meeting in August. What's Next: Nichols hopes to hire a landscape architect within the next couple weeks. Pickard Chilton is interviewing Oklahoma City-based architecture firms as it looks for a local partner.