As Daniel Avchen retires at the end of December 2021, he leaves a legacy that has shaped and defined Minneapolis-based architecture firm HGA during his 49-year career with the firm.
An advocate for design excellence, the arts and client service, Avchen provided collaborative leadership that inspired colleagues across all levels of their career—from student interns to seasoned board members.
Throughout his career, he served as a design architect, practice group leader, Chief Executive Officer and mentor. Avchen helped steer HGA from a regional practice to a national, interdisciplinary design firm with 11 offices throughout the Midwest, East Coast and West Coast.
Originally from New Jersey, Avchen joined HGA fresh out of the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1972. The imprint of the three namesake founders—Richard Hammel, Curt Green and Bruce Abrahamson—provided a formative foundation for his design sensibility and leadership style. He nurtured the philosophy that success is achieved through a creatively charged, client-centered environment that supports collaboration and innovation.
As a young architect, he worked on various projects across client markets—from healthcare, to corporate, to higher education—but soon gravitated toward the arts. He formed the firm’s Arts, Community, and Higher Education (ACE) practice group, growing HGA’s national profile and—personally—fulfilling his passion for the arts and education. He moved into the CEO position in 1996, overseeing one of the firm’s largest growth trajectories.
While the new leadership position took him from the drafting board to the board room, he still stayed involved in the design process, serving as principal for key projects and always pushing HGA as a design-forward firm. He envisioned HGA as the go-to office for architects, designers, and engineers through all phases of their careers—establishing a platform for the best designers to build long-term careers.
“Dan has an amazing ability to identify talent and give people the resources to grow in their profession,” said Rebecca Celis, Market Sector Leader for Arts and Community. “I am grateful for his mentorship and for all that I have learned from him, including the importance of establishing client relationships and always taking time to connect with team members. Dan’s focus on instilling design excellence as a primary value at HGA is a large part of what attracted me to the firm, and it continues to shape our strategy and culture today.”
Since transitioning from CEO in 2015, Avchen has served as a strategic growth advisor to the firm, leading several diversification efforts, including Interim Office Director for HGA’s Los Angeles office and returning to his much-loved ACE practice group as national market sector leader before handing future direction to Leila Kamal and Rebecca Celis.
His imprint extends beyond HGA, as well. He served on boards and advisory roles with the National AIA Committee on Design, Trust for Public Land, College of Design at the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Architectural Foundation, Northern Clay Center, and Minnesota Dance Theater, among other organizations.