After Developing Resorts, Hotels And Airports Across The World, Gensler Co-Manager Hunter Clayton Lands Back In Houston
Hunter Clayton is a man who does not back down from a challenge and hasn't stayed in one place for very long. In 2010, MGM Resorts International, the global hospitality and entertainment behemoth, offered Clayton a role as executive vice president for its resort development arm.
“The only reason I decided to leave Gensler for these projects was the challenge of delivering three large projects in completely different environments,” said Clayton, who had previously worked for the architecture firm for a decade. “I wanted to try it.”
MGM was slated to build three large-scale resorts: the MGM National Harbor Resort, a 2.5M SF casino-resort right outside of Washington, D.C.; the MGM Springfield, a 1.8M SF integrated gaming resort in Springfield, Massachusetts; and the MGM Cotai, a 4M SF integrated casino-resort in Macau, China.
Clayton spent eight years flying across the world to make the projects a reality.
When the projects delivered, he returned to Gensler July 30 equipped with new knowledge to co-lead the Houston office as a co-managing director alongside Stephanie Burritt, a 30-year vet with the company and one of Houston's most prominent female architects.
It is a return home for the Houston native in many ways.
The MGM project was intense. Each hotel's location offered a different perspective in terms of the design and delivery, Clayton said. Capping a brutal travel schedule, he had to fight the political nature of D.C., nurture a rebounding economic market in Springfield and account for Chinese design traditions.
“We had to come up with ways of solving problems in distinguishably different ways in each market,” he said.
While at MGM, Clayton observed the operational side of the business and learned how to make informed design decisions based on how the building will function once its open.
For 10 years, Clayton, who earned degrees from the University of Houston and Texas A&M University for architecture and construction management, respectively, worked at Bechtel Corp., a San Francisco-based international project management company, and was responsible for various developments with a focus on airports, theme parks and hotels.
He oversaw the first phase development of the Dubai International Airport, which included the concourse terminal, control tower and runways. He went to nearby countries like Russia, India and Pakistan to supervise the development of other projects.
“My whole career has been about working with people, collaborating and finding the best ways to motivate our teams to do their best work,” he said.
After wrapping up in the Middle East, Clayton joined Gensler and was stationed in Santa Monica, California, where he led a team to design the $1.3B Mineta San Jose International airport, and Las Vegas, where he completed CityCenter, a 13M SF mixed-used entertainment hub on The Strip.
Returning To Houston
Establishing permanent roots in Houston will be new for Clayton, who has spent almost three decades zipping around the world developing airports, integrated resorts, gaming, theaters, convention centers, retail and restaurants. Only a few places remain on his list to visit, including Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand.
In the past, Clayton, a Houston native, delivered projects and once they were finished he moved on to the next place. He rarely was able to live and experience the space he created.
Since Houston is rapidly emerging as a live/work environment — spurred by more residents moving closer to the Inner Loop — Clayton will see many major developments materialize.
One of Gensler's major projects underway is Capitol Tower, the 35-story, 754K SF downtown skyscraper by developer Skanska. Gensler designed a two-level, open-air lobby that redefines the underground tunnel system and connects to the ground-level retail and dining offerings.
Gensler is also designing Midway's East River urban redevelopment property, 150 acres of multiphase, mixed-use development and 1 mile of waterfront at the former KBR site. Similar projects east of downtown, which offer remarkable city views and quick access into downtown, will transform and expand the city's core, he said.
“This becomes my community,” said Clayton, who currently resides in Downtown. “To be able to participate in how this city grows and how we create new public spaces, to work or live. It is [as] much my community and home as anyone else … I look for ways to enhance the quality of life, not just yours but mine. We are in it together."