He's a softspoken man who can change a city's skyline. Colleagues call him the "ultimate developer." His credo is quality.

Gerald D. Hines started his real estate career here in 1957. An old wood-frame house renovated with $16,000 became the foundation for one of the nation's largest and most prestigious development companies.

His firm, Gerald D. Hines Interests, has stamped the Hines name on 243 projects -- 33.3 million square feet -- in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Some of the nation's premier office and industrial buildings are among them.

In Houston, Hines reshaped the downtown skyline with the famous twin trapezoidal Pennzoil Place office towers, the 50-story One Shell Plaza and the 55-story First International Plaza. The 75-story Texas Commerce Bank building, which will be the nation's tallest skyscraper outside of New York and Chicago, is now under construction.

Hines is moving into new markets such as Miami and is exploring integrated community developments that would include industrial, shopping and residential facilities.

"Society is constantly changing," Hines says, "And the development business is changing with society. If society can't come to us to do this, it will go to somebody who can."

E. Charles Bassett, the San Francisco architect who has designed the 55-story Southeast Financial Center than Hines will build in downtown Miami says he is a developer who always wants to do a good job.

"When you deal with a guy like Hines, you know he is a professional," Bassett said. "He knows all the facts of the business. He is knowledgeable about all the processes of building."

Long-time friend Ben Love, chairman and chief executive officer of Texas Commerce Bancshares of Houston, says Hines "is paradoxically an architectural innovator coupled with the discipline that is characteristic of an engineer . . . His sense of quality is outstanding."

The grand-scale Texas developer bent on taming the landscape is, in fact, a small soft-spoken man with glasses and slicked-back hair. But despite his mild-mannered nature, friends and associates describe him as a hard-driving, highly competitive businessman who prefers to talk less about himself and more about his company.

"We don't use a cookie-cutter approach," Hines says, sitting in a conference room that adjoins his office in Houston's Galleria, a Hines-built 33-acre office, shopping and hotel complex. "We build very large projects that are quality-oriented."

Customers and competitors agree that Hines' projects are the Rolls-Royces of buildings. Hines, who speaks of architects like a boy trading baseball cards, employs a self-imposed building code that requires features such as stone walls and floors in lobbies and public hallways, wall-high doors and elevator cars and high quality carpet.

Many developers would consider these to be luxury items and would argue with the philosophy that quality makes a profit. But Hines maintains that his company takes on high quality projects not just because they bring him satisfaction, but because they make money.

"Every person likes to identify with his business," says Hines. "If your buildings are well done, you will be paid even though they cost more than our competitors'. We fill up faster, especially during a recession."

Hines, 55, graduated from Purdue University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He works a long day, usually 10 to 12 hours, and eats a diet lunch in his 10-by-10 office. That schedule still allows him to jog four to six miles a day, an activity that keeps him drinking water during the day from a frosty flower-vase-sized tumbler.

He broke out of the "cookie-cutter" league in 1966 with the $35 million to $40 million Shell Plaza, Shell Oil's national headquarters. Until then, his tallest building had been a 16-story apartment building and although the company lacked anyone with experience in high-rise construction, he personally guaranteed all the construction costs.