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Q&A with Cultural & Non-Profit Expert Eric Hahn

Eric Hahn shares insights on working with cultural institutions, the joy of preserving historic buildings, and the importance of passion and adaptability in the industry.

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Q&A with Cultural & Non-Profit Expert Eric Hahn

Eric Hahn is a Geographic Discipline Leader with Colliers Project Leaders and has more than 30 years of experience in the construction industry. He is an expert in the non-profit and cultural sector and has worked with many cultural institutions throughout New York City. His experience includes overseeing capital improvement projects for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, such as the iconic redesign of the outdoor plaza that extends from 80th Street to 84th Street along Fifth Avenue.

We sat down with him to discuss his career and advice for people interested in getting into the industry.

How did you get started working with cultural institutions?

I graduated from Manhattan College with a degree in engineering. I spent the first ten years of my career as a design engineer, going out to construction sites and evaluating the work. Early on I worked for a firm that didn’t want to do speculative construction projects or work with developers, they wanted to work with museums, universities, libraries. So, I was exposed to that type of client early on and I really enjoyed working with them.

Cultural institutions are very passionate about their collections and buildings. Everything is thoughtfully done, and every space is unique. When you walk through a museum from gallery to gallery, each space is unique unto itself, unlike an apartment building or something like that, where it's repetitive from floor-to-floor and sort of cookie cutter.

I also really like working on old buildings. Most of the buildings that I work in are landmarks. They're beautiful buildings built by craftsmen more than 100 years ago. The people that I work with try to carefully expand on those buildings or renovate them in a way that keeps the historic context of the building in place. So, it's very special. I’ve worked, in one capacity or another, for all the museums up and down Fifth Avenue.

How did you make the change from design engineer to owner’s project manager?

After nine years as a design engineer I became interested in construction management and started working for a firm handling a massive project at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I learned more in two years working as a construction manager than I did in nine years working as a designer. After two years, The Met hired me as a direct employee, and I spent the next 14 years managing their construction department.

Once I reached what I felt was the top of what was possible for me there, I was ready for a new challenge. I was drawn to owner’s project management and made the move to Colliers Project Leaders about ten years ago.

It’s been a great move. I've worked on a lot of exciting projects for really terrific people, again, mainly in the cultural and not-for-profit world. It’s an area I'm completely comfortable in. The projects typically have a long development stage. Some clients plan their projects for 10 years or more. They're incredibly dedicated to their projects and care deeply about what they're doing.

What’s your favorite thing about being an owner’s project manager?

I love being exposed to a lot of different projects. I've worked on school projects, a lot of museum projects, and each one is unique. They each have their own set of challenges. I'm very much on the technical side and I consider myself to be a really good problem solver. My job is to determine what the client wants to achieve and basically knock away all the hurdles to get that done.

I make very strong personal connections with all of our clients. Even when our project ends, it's not unusual for me to get together with the client from time to time, regardless of whether we're doing work with them or not.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on the historic renovation and expansion of The Frick Collection. I started on this project around 8 years ago. We were brought on in the early stages and there was a long period of time where The Frick was going through city approvals. The building predated current zoning laws and much of it was not in compliance with existing zoning, so to do anything they have to get a zoning approval first. We’re finally in the construction stage and the renovations will hopefully be completed by the end of this year.

I’m also working on a project with The Brearley School. We previously worked with them on a brand-new building that was completed in 2019. This new project is an existing, riverfront property on 83rd Street that was built in the 1930s. They're looking to keep the fabric of the building the same, but they want to upgrade it in terms of the layout of the space, improved technology, energy efficiency, etc. So we are in a major construction campaign, it’s more than ten years’ worth of projects, doing one project a summer. We plan for 10 months out of the year and in two months we just do a ton of work.

What’s it like visiting a project after it’s been completed?

It’s really exciting for me to go in and look at these spaces when they're done. I love working in an industry where I can bring my family and show them the finished product. I also love seeing the public in there enjoying the spaces, while also thinking about some of the challenges that we overcame as we built them.

What advice do you have for people considering work in the construction industry?

I’m reaching the backside of my career at this point, but I love seeing the younger generations coming in. My son just graduated from Manhattan College, where I went to school, and he’s also starting off as a design engineer like I did. I’m so incredibly proud that he picked this as his career path. We’re going full circle.

My advice to him, as well as other people interested in working in this industry, is to stay passionate about what you do. It's an incredible field and there's a lot of leeway to move laterally within the field. It's ever evolving with technology. When I started, there were no computers. We did everything by hand and now we're building buildings using an iPad, it's amazing. I wish I could be here in 40 years to see what comes about in the next cycle.


Click here to learn how Eric and the Colliers Project Leaders team can help with your next cultural or non-profit project.