International Developers: Meet Gabriel Barbier-Mueller From Geneva, Switzerland

Barbier-Mueller’s Harwood International currently has roughly 2 million square feet of space, and is known for building with unique, innovative, award-winning designs.

Harwood Barbier-Mueller

In 1979, Gabriel Barbier-Mueller moved to Dallas, just out of college and seeking a real estate career.

He joined the big Henry S. Miller brokerage company before setting out on his own, developing small facilities in the suburbs.

It was less than satisfying, but then he had the kind of idea that a 26–year-old comes up with: Why not approach Swiss watch giant Rolex and propose building a Dallas office to service its Central America business? And why not put it in the decidedly down-market land across the Woodall Rogers Freeway from Dallas’ central business district? Brilliant!

In 1984, the seven-story Rolex building opened at 2651 N. Harwood St., the first office tower in Uptown. Overshadowed now, and renamed Harwood One, it’s still Barbier-Mueller’s favorite building “because it was the start of it all.”

But right behind is the new Rolex Building, a distinctive, twisting structure “built with my two sons, Alexis and Oliver, and their team, designed by Tokyo-based Kengo Kuma and Dallas-based HDF,” Harwood’s in-house design group.

The two buildings are now part of the 19-block Harwood District, which Barbier-Mueller says includes ten pocket parks covering 8.5 acres, “eight restaurants, a lobby art program in ten buildings, and a museum free of charge and open to the public.” That’s The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection, which Harwood says has seen more than 1.5 million visitors. Its traveling exhibition has visited  11 cities, including Paris, Quebec City, Santiago, and recently the Kunsthalle Museum in Munich. The museum in Dallas has about 80 pieces on display.

Rolex Building Harwood

The Rolex Building in the Harwood District has a unique twister tower appearance, setting it apart from other office buildings in Dallas. [Photo: Harwood International]

Overall, Harwood District has about 2 million square feet of office space and a million square feet of residential and retail. The latest addition was Harwood No. 10, a 235,000-square-foot, 22-story building with retail below and Class AA office space above. In July, Harwood bought the 11-story Citymark office building at 3100 McKinnon St., just outside the existing Harwood District.

“We currently have nearly 2 million square feet under development, including a boutique hotel,” Barbier-Mueller says. “Our mixed-use masterplan will grow to include over 11 million square feet.”

Kourtny Garrett says Harwood District has been a leader in the community.

“Anytime you see forward-thinking development, it reinforces the trajectory we’re on,” she says. Downtown Dallas has “created these successful nodes of development, but we’ve been slow to fill in between them. Harwood District does that. Their wider sidewalks, their retail and restaurants and architecture, is very important.”

“One of my first deals was the 1530 Main St. Building, now known as the Joule Hotel. I noticed that Dallas was a car city, and I wanted to change that,” Barbier-Mueller says. “Coming from Switzerland where walkability and greenery are important, I applied the principles learned in Switzerland to each development we have in Dallas.”

He says Harwood District has a Walk Score of 92. One week in October, “we greeted more than 40,000 customers to our restaurants, and 20,000 of those came to work in our office buildings.”

The public transit-oriented sponsor of Walk Score says its algorithm combines walking routes with the proximity of restaurants, retail, and other amenities for 2,500 U.S. cities. Dallas overall rates a 46 Walk Score and is judged “car dependent.”

“When I come back from Paris, Geneva, Vancouver, or Zurich, I want Dallas people to enjoy the same environments and amenities found in those places,” Barbier-Mueller says. “For our family, giving back to the community is very important to us, and we wanted to give our tenants, residents, and visitors something to do and discover.”

This story was originally published in the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

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