HKS’ New Atlanta Office: What the Future Office Could Be

BayCare Wesley Chapel Hospital

Case Study

BayCare Wesley Chapel Hospital Prototyping to Lead the Market

Wesley Chapel, Florida, USA

The Challenge

BayCare is one of the largest health care providers in the fast-growing Tampa Bay/Central Florida region. The health system was formed 23 years ago when several area hospitals joined together to offer high-quality, compassionate care in a community setting. BayCare needed a design partner to develop a prototype hospital that could be built quickly and create an architectural representation of the BayCare brand, and asked global design firm, HKS, to lead that effort.

As part of BayCare’s larger growth strategy, BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel is the first prototype hospital to be built in the heart of Pasco County, recognized as one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. The program includes a 235,000-square-foot (21,832-square-meter), 50-bed acute care hospital with all required support services and an attached 85,000-square-foot (7,896-square-meter) medical office building.

The Design Solution

Drawing inspiration from the wind, water, and earth pervasive to the Florida landscape, the design utilizes soothing colors, vibrant textures, and flowing patterns to create healing spaces. Great attention was given to the connection between the interior and exterior.

The BayCare brand is visually represented in architectural elements both inside and out. The open architectural framing on the exterior signifies openness and welcoming. This open framing is repeated throughout the interior with wood cladding over registration desks, conference spaces, patient room doors, headwalls, and elevator lobbies representing thresholds and anchoring community spaces. The varied wooden shapes are reflected in the tile patterns on the floor.

The interior palette focused on hues and textures of Florida’s coastal environment including sand, water, and earth tones to bring warmth to the spaces. This palette is seen throughout the hospital, enhanced in different ways throughout each space.

Each patient floor was carefully choreographed with soothing colors in paint, big graphics, and accent tiles that gently remind us of the coastal breeze and waves to bring a sense of soothing calmness as our patients receive care.

The Design Impact

By analyzing BayCare’s existing facilities and HKS benchmarks, the prototype design has a more efficient and compact footprint and can adapt to different locations and growth avenues. The hospital’s branded look is repeated both inside and outside to give patients and visitors a unique BayCare experience.

BayCare Wesley Chapel Hospital provides full diagnostic, treatment, and inpatient services to the expanding communities in the Wesley Chapel area. The hospital is fitted with the latest technology, including SmartRooms that give patients and families control over their own environment and data. Patients can open shades, change lighting and temperature, view charts, or page the nurse using voice commands.

The campus connects to the surrounding communities and parks through a recreational path. A 38,000-square-foot YMCA with an aquatic center and soccer fields is currently under construction just south of the hospital, adding healthy lifestyle options to the campus. This prototype hospital design was so successful, an additional campus is currently under construction in Plant City, and is scheduled to open in 2024.

Project Features

Awards


Jeremiah Community

Case Study

Jeremiah Community Virginia's Jeremiah Community Offers a Lifetime of Care, Security and Well-Being

Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

The Challenge

Rising population and soaring living costs will likely escalate homelessness and housing insecurity nationwide. This absence of permanent housing fuels hefty spending by localities on managing crime, public health issues, and social injustices. Micah Ecumenical Ministries, experienced in aiding Fredericksburg, VA’s homeless, proposes an intentional solution: a holistic supportive housing community. Partnering with Citizen HKS and engaging the community, the Jeremiah Community aims to offer affordable, permanent homes tailored to the unhoused. This initiative includes health care programs, access to nature and faith, fostering a cohesive community for those transitioning from homelessness to a stable, supportive environment.

The Design Solution

The Jeremiah Community focuses on lifelong healing through deliberate design choices, ensuring well-being, safety, and accessibility. Citizen HKS, contributing expertise in place analysis, master planning, and unit design, collaborates with Micah’s partnerships at the University of Mary Washington Healthcare System and Virginia Supportive Housing. They strategically position essential facilities like the health care clinic, market, maker space, chapel, community center, and gardens to create varied public, social, and personal spaces catering to community healing needs— ranging from physical to spiritual.

Citizen HKS’ holistic approach balances environmentally friendly strategies and urban design principles on the dense site. Pathways carve pocket neighborhoods, connecting diverse programming while emphasizing nature’s role in wellness. These areas, centered around shared green spaces, encourage communal immersion in nature, addressing erosion and heat island effects passively.

This sustainable urban plan showcases how integrated design strategies create healing spaces within the Jeremiah Community, supporting individual and communal well-being for all.

The Design Impact

The Jeremiah Community seeks to eliminate chronic homelessness by offering ongoing care and stable housing for more than 100 individuals. Citizen HKS’ design approach emphasizes Housing, Purpose, and Relationship principles, empowering the unhoused community in the design process. This collaboration fosters a master plan prioritizing affordability and a sustainable, healthy environment for transitioning to permanent homes. As this community pursues choice and self-determination, our design journey will continue to align with their progress as we engage in future project phases.

Project Features

“Without the [unhoused] community, I would have lost the only possession I had left [when I was on the streets] – hope.”

Peg Phillips, Micah, Servant-Leader of Neighbor Care

StationSoccer

Case Study

StationSoccer Building Social Infrastructure with the Power of Play

Atlanta, Georgia, USA 

The Challenge

Like in many large American cities, neighborhoods in Atlanta are divided by a variety of factors such as race and income, and low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color have historically had less access to resources than wealthy and white neighborhoods. This includes less access to sports facilities and green spaces, as well as less access to pay-to-play sports leagues.  

Global design firm HKS collaborated with public and private interests through its pro bono practice, Citizen HKS, to help bridge this gap with an unlikely pairing: transit stations and soccer.   

The Design Solution

HKS joined the partnership of Soccer in the Streets, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the city of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning and the Atlanta United Foundation to help develop a cohesive vision for StationSoccer: a multi-site master plan to integrate youth soccer fields into underutilized land in and near 10 MARTA stations around the city. The soccer fields host the “League of Stations,” a free youth soccer league.  

The HKS project team used extensive geographic information system (GIS) data to identify distinctions in factors such as demographics, walkability, land use and per capita income, but also engaged with each community to gain a wholistic understanding of the character of each neighborhood.  

Based on the research, HKS developed a unique program for each station that honors and serves the identity and culture of the community. For example, the neighborhood around Kensington Station has a large number of immigrants, so artist Kevin Bongang was commissioned to design a mural on the asphalt around the soccer field to represent the mosaic of cultures in the area. At East Lake Station, bike racks are also sculptural objects to highlight the prominence of biking in the community.  

StationSoccer also offers educational and community programming at its fields. Stations may feature a community garden, a learning center inside a decommissioned MARTA rail car, a mobile health truck or event space, all of which are included in a “kit of parts” that allows each station to be customized for each neighborhood’s unique needs. Each station also features benches made of Golden Spikes that pay homage to Atlanta United as a benefactor and Atlanta’s history as a railroad hub.  

The Design Impact

The League of Stations is the world’s first transit soccer league and now impacts 5,000 children in Atlanta. Because StationSoccer fields are built into transit itself, they’re accessible to not only those whole live near a particular station, but those who have access to MARTA’s entire service area. 

Soccer in the Streets has partnered with schools for years, but the new StationSoccer fields allow students from nearby schools to join a recreational league to play soccer outside of school. According to Soccer in the Streets’ annual impact reports, parents are thankful for the opportunity for their children to spend time outside and be active, especially as the world emerges from the COVD-19 pandemic.  

Once neglected greyfield land, StationSoccer fields are now vibrant community spaces that promote healthy lifestyles and amplify the identities of the neighborhoods they serve. StationSoccer is healthier for the environment, too. The heat island effect and runoff are reduced by replacing impervious pavement with pervious surfaces and with the infusion of nature and shade.  

StationSoccer has gained national attention with a visit from Pete Buttigieg, U.S. secretary of transportation. StationSoccer is now featured on the U.S. Department of Transportation website as an example of a successful transit-oriented development that combines transit, wellness and sport while cultivating healthy communities. The StationSoccer masterplan and design process are also featured in the AIA Equitable Communities Resource as a premier example of how architects can help create equitable communities.   

Draw+Play Engagement Session

Project Features

Awards

East Lake Station
Lindbergh Station
Kensington Station
Kensington Station

Brandi Kmoch

Danish Insights for Shaping the Future of Mental and Behavioral Health Design

Danish Insights for Shaping the Future of Mental and Behavioral Health Design

Each year Mental Illness Awareness Week, recognized during the first full week of October, reminds us to observe and support each other’s needs and identify opportunities to improve conditions and policies related to emotional, psychological and social well-being. At HKS, our Mental and Behavioral Health Practice is dedicated to advocating for equitable access to quality mental and behavioral health services for all.  

While mental illness continues to increase globally, affordability, stigma and barriers to access persistently hinder individuals from obtaining necessary treatment. Recently, I traveled to Denmark to observe six newly constructed psychiatric inpatient hospitals to draw inspiration from effective design trends and outcomes implemented abroad.  

Scandinavia consistently ranks among the happiest countries globally, according to the United Nation’s World Happiness Report, and in recent years, the region has made significant investments in modern and progressive psychiatric health care environments. Supported by the AIA Academy of Architecture for Health through the Foundation for Health Environments Research, I meticulously documented practical and scalable design strategies during my time in Denmark. These strategies included the adoption of lockable single-patient rooms to ensure privacy, the incorporation of generally regulated personal storage within patient rooms to cultivate a sense of belonging and the provision of personal outdoor amenities to integrate nature into the healing process. 

Medical planner Madilyn DuBois (pictured right) poses with a tour guide at Ballerup Psychiatric Center near Copenhagen.

Trust, Choice and Belonging

A common theme across all six facilities was the emphasis on giving patients agency through design by fostering trust, choice and belonging. Since its transformation in 2014 from a highly secure facility to an inviting, hospitality-focused institution, staff members at Esbjerg Psychiatric Hospital in South Jutland reported a 60% decrease in medication use and a 70% reduction in the use of force during patient treatment. 

While I noted similarities between modern American psychiatric institutions and those in Denmark, I also discovered unique design and operational standards not as prevalent in the United States, such as the incorporation of alternatives to traditional seclusion rooms. In Denmark, seclusion rooms are prohibited by the Danish Building Regulations and Building Act that regulate all building design and construction in the country. This has led to the creation of innovative substitutes for de-escalating and stabilizing patients. 

I observed sensory rooms, a massage therapy room and an aromatherapeutic sunroom as alternatives to seclusion rooms. And in cases of extreme patient distress, certain bed units included a “safe room” resembling a typical patient room but equipped with camera monitoring and fixtures designed to prevent self-harm. Consistency is important for a successful patient care plan, including consistency in environmental factors and surroundings. The “safe room” ensures environmental consistency by maintaining patients’ proximity to their usual bed unit, fellow patients and nursing staff. 

Another noteworthy aspect was the heightened level of trust bestowed upon patients. At Copenhagen’s newest psychiatric hospital, patients receive a key to lock their assigned patient room doors upon admission. This operational approach instills a sense of ownership during patients’ stays and grants patients control over the security of their property, akin to the experience of a college student locking their dorm room before leaving for classes. Emphasis on security should not be any less critical for psychiatric patients. In a mental health restoration setting, promoting self-security is arguably equally as important.  

Further, five of the six institutions deliberately employed the building envelope to establish outdoor courtyards. This strategy integrates accessible outdoor spaces within the building footprint. Another advantage of wrapping courtyard perimeters with interior program is enhanced staff supervision and visibility from vantage points. Patients are encouraged to spend time outdoors throughout the day, stimulated by the trust placed in them by clinicians and the increased accessibility of interior courtyards. 

Learning as We Go

Instead of integrating expensive surveillance systems, metal detectors and ligature-resistant fixtures, Danish clients heavily invest in operational and clinical benefits centered on a hospitality-driven approach. The focus is of Danish psychiatric design is on creating calming spaces, encouraging patients to self-soothe outdoors and maximizing visibility through ample interior glazing instead of continuous patient supervision.  

Although specific design considerations vary depending on geographic location, trends, data and building codes, research consistently demonstrates that the built environment influences human behavior and operational outcomes. The reduction in applied force observed at Esbjerg Psychiatric Hospital following its transition and renovation highlights the positive impact of design. By prioritizing patient exploration and biophilic experiences over reliance on pharmacological treatment, sedation and mechanical restraint, we are witnessing a shift in the approach to safety. Instead of lockdown units and enclosed nurse stations, the focus has moved toward comfort and expanding options for nutritional, recreational and personal experiences.  

While recognizing and addressing zones of risk remain essential, we are learning from our counterparts in Scandinavia that overly restrictive approaches appear to uphold the stigma that mental health patients are inherently dangerous, potentially compromising their dignity and motivation to get well. Shifting from “high-risk” design standards to a hospitality-driven, salutogenic clinical model has proven to reduce traumatic patient escalation and retaliation in Denmark. HKS endeavors to distill these insights and adapt them to other countries’ building codes and design standards. 

Madilyn DuBois

Stories

Office-to-Residential Adaptive Reuse Can Help Build Sustainable, Vibrant Communities

Office-to-Residential Adaptive Reuse Can Help Build Sustainable, Vibrant Communities

The evolution of office work is creating fresh opportunities to reimagine workspace. To attract today’s knowledge-economy workers and provide environments that help them perform at their best, businesses are adopting hybrid work strategies and new designs for creative, collaborative workplaces. Outmoded office buildings are ripe for reinvention as residential space.

Converting offices to residences may seem ironic in the era of work-from-home. But as Brad Wilkins, Principal and Studio Design Leader for the Austin office of global design firm HKS, noted, many older office spaces “are no longer at their highest and best use as office buildings anymore. They are now better suited for other types of uses – in particular, residential.”

HKS has an extensive history of repurposing, retrofitting and reimagining the built environment. The firm’s adaptive reuse work includes ProMedica’s corporate headquarters in Toledo, Ohio. That project gave new life to an historic, 1895 Daniel Burnham steam plant and a 1970s bank building. Also, ParkwayHealth Gleneagles Chengdu Hospital in China, a tertiary care facility created from a former shopping center.

HKS is leveraging its adaptive-reuse experience to explore ideas for transforming office space into residential space. Office-to-residential conversions expand the possibilities for how – and where – people live and work around the world.

Environmental and Economic Benefits

Sustainability is one of the chief benefits of adaptive reuse. “The first step when it comes to dealing with climate change is to reuse existing buildings,” said HKS Sustainable Design Leader Ramana Koti.

Repurposing existing buildings lessens demand for virgin material and can greatly decrease the amount of material discarded in landfills. Adaptive reuse can also significantly reduce embodied carbon – the CO2 emitted in the production of a building (this includes raw material extraction, the manufacture and transportation of building materials, and building construction).

Reducing embodied carbon is critically important as the global community approaches a key climate action deadline. The Paris Agreement international treaty on climate change calls for dramatic reductions in carbon emissions by 2030.

Architecture 2030, a New Mexico-based sustainable design think tank, offers a tool to help people compare the total carbon impacts of renovating an existing building versus constructing a new one. The calculator, called the CARE (Carbon Avoided: Retrofit Estimator) Tool, is free to use online.

Commercial-to-residential adaptive reuse projects also present financial investment opportunities. “From an economic perspective, you’re taking a building that probably has a pretty low basis and you’re redeploying it to be more valuable in the future,” said Doug Demers, Principal and Office Director of HKS Seattle.

Because these projects typically require less ground preparation, foundation work and structural construction than new building projects, adaptive reuse can hold a speed-to-market advantage over creating a building from the ground up.

Office-to-residential conversions can help meet market and community needs by matching the supply and demand for certain building types. As the market for older office space with fewer modern amenities drops, the need for housing is rising in cities around the world.

HKS’ design for the Benefield Building, a community center in Richmond, Virginia, includes 13,500 square feet of mixed-income co-housing, studio and 1- and 2-bedroom residential units. The pro-bono adaptive reuse project preserves a 1920s Spanish Art Deco structure as the front door to the center.

Revitalizing Communities, Retaining Character

Converting office space to residential space can rejuvenate a community. Office space “doesn’t really give you a community on its own, whereas residential does,” said Wilkins.  

When residential life is introduced into a business district, Wilkins said, restaurants that were open only at lunchtime can host dinner service. Children can play in plazas previously crossed only by people in business suits.

“There can be a whole different life to these places,” he said.

Adaptive reuse can energize a community while retaining the character of a building that is part of the local culture, said Jadenn Kelley, HKS Project Architect.

“The community already has ownership of the building. We’re just revitalizing it,” Kelley said.

And HKS Project Architect Taylor Odell added that with historic building conversion “not only are you maintaining the character of a neighborhood, but you’re getting a character in your (residential) unit that you’re not going to have” otherwise. “We can design great buildings, but we can’t design history.”  

HKS’ concept design for 1770 Crystal Drive, a 320-unit office-to-residential conversion in Crystal City, Virginia, transforms the existing height and set-back constraints of the site into a stepped vertical expansion that maximizes the unit count. The concept design showcases the adjacent park and unobstructed views of Washington, D.C. It includes wrap-around retail and building amenities to activate the public realm.

Challenges and Considerations

When it comes to repurposing a building as residential space, “the benefit of an office building is that it’s typically a clean floor plate, so structurally, it’s easier to divide up the floor plate into different units,” said Kelley.

Older office buildings tend to have smaller floor plates, which can more easily meet residential requirements for natural light and fresh air.

The deeper internal spaces of buildings with larger floor plates can serve as locations for amenities that are increasingly valuable in the residential sector, such as co-working spaces. “With these building conversions, the amenity package becomes incredibly important” to support flexible work experiences, said Kate Davis, HKS Partner and Global Practice Director, Commercial Interiors.

For the adaptive reuse of One Dallas Center, a modernist skyscraper originally designed by I.M. Pei & Partners in 1979, HKS incorporated 16 levels of residential units on the top floors of the 30-story building. The residential amenities include a lounge, fitness center and outdoor pool.

The firm renovated the building’s lower levels to serve commercial tenants, including HKS’ Dallas office. HKS redesigned the ground floor to function as a dual-purpose lobby for the residential and commercial spaces.

The typical column spacing for both office and residential buildings is 30 feet, which Odell said can simplify structural issues. Because centralized heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are typical for office spaces, additional ductwork must be installed to support individual HVAC systems for residential units. Electrical systems generally require little in the way of adaptation, as long as the loads remain similar. Plumbing systems require upgrades to manage an increase on the supply side and the amount of waste produced. Life safety systems, such as sprinklers, fire alarms, stairways and egress points, need to meet residential code requirements.

On a building’s façade, incorporating balconies and more open glazing spans can create a less commercial, more residential look and feel.

Overcoming Challenges for a ‘Beautiful Future’

Zoning and financing can be concerns for office-to-residential conversions, especially in areas where projects of this type are considered novel. In their 2023 report, Behind the Façade: The Feasibility of Converting Commercial Real Estate to Multifamily, the Urban Land Institute and the National Multifamily Housing Council reported that “conversions can be financially feasible in a broad range of markets, original uses, building conditions and circumstances.” Tax incentives and special planning districts may help address funding challenges for these projects.

Demers said that standard solutions to common structural, planning, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life safety issues related to office-to-residential conversions could be developed to lower the cost of these projects. This could be especially valuable for mixed-use developments of suburban office buildings in locations with parking and transit advantages, he added.

Converting office space to residential space can be a sustainable solution for enlivening neighborhoods and making the most of existing building stock.

“How do we keep reusing and reinventing?” Wilkins asked. “We have beautiful old buildings that may not be in their perfect state right now, for whatever reason, but can have a beautiful future.”

Demand for Healthier Spaces Inspires Innovation in the Built Environment

Demand for Healthier Spaces Inspires Innovation in the Built Environment

Well-being certifications have steadily risen in prominence and popularity since they were first introduced to the design and building industries about a decade ago. Spaces using WELL and Fitwel frameworks, for example, skyrocketed from fewer than 20 to more than 700 between 2016 and 2020, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

Setting standards for environmental quality factors such as air, light, water and mobility, these certifications are granted to spaces that incorporate building systems, materials, furnishings and operational methods that measurably support occupant health.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic accelerated interest in well-being certifications among building owners and operators. In August 2022, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) reported that the amount space using WELL increased fourfold in the prior 18 months, contributing to more than four billion total square feet (371,612,160 square meters) globally.

“We are seeing more clients express interest in and proceed with pursuing certification. It’s hard to deny that COVID-19 and some of its results are driving factors. People are much more aware of their health as well as the impact buildings have on their health,” said HKS Sustainable Design Leader Allison Smith, who leads the firm’s efforts on pursuing well-being certifications for design projects.

Another catalyst is that real estate investors, developers, and managers — and their design industry collaborators — are committing to Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) frameworks, weaving environmental, economic and human sustainability measures into their business practices.

“When we talk about ESG, most people in the architecture, engineering and construction industry think about environmental outcomes and health outcomes related to physical products. The harder pieces to unravel are the social and governance aspects,” said Yiselle Santos Rivera, HKS’ Global Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Santos Rivera said that to achieve holistic sustainability and meet ESG goals, organizations can make efforts to embed well-being and social equity within their structures and operations in addition to the external work in which they are engaged. When it comes to design outcomes that support social and health equity, she believes sustainability certifications, emerging social justice toolkits, and well-being standards are carving an important path forward.

“I very much value these certifications as a designer, and I believe they are great baselines for best practice that we should all be aware of. They help us build consistency in terms of what we deliver and the metrics we align with so we can certify project outcomes in a more equitable way,” she said.

Designing for Well-being Across Sectors

HKS’ growing network of designers equipped with well-being credentials currently includes more than 100 WELL Accredited Professionals and 10 Fitwel Ambassadors. And the firm’s project portfolio includes several WELL and Fitwel registered and certified buildings in a variety of market sectors. Earlier this year, Downtown Dallas’ HALL Arts Residences became the first WELL Gold-certified multifamily building in Texas. And last year, Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Boarding Area B at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) became the first WELL-certified airport facility in the world, achieving Platinum certification (the highest level).

Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Boarding Area B is the first WELL-certified airport facility in the world. It achieved LEED Platinum certification in 2022.

Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Boarding Area B features exemplary air quality with an efficient outdoor air filtration system and complementary radiant heating and cooling. It supports occupant comfort, circadian rhythms, and overall well-being with dynamic glazing, ample natural light, acoustic management strategies, and healthy materials.               

With daily management practices including green cleaning practices and consistent tracking of environmental quality, the SFO project demonstrates that — even in the most heavily trafficked, operationally intensive environments — designing for wellness is possible. And that is good news for the industry currently showing the most interest in certifying buildings for well-being: health care.

As hospital design grows more complex, health systems continue to consolidate services in central locations, and public health crises like the pandemic occur, designing for the general well-being of patients, families, staff and administrators is critical.

“We’re seeing the biggest uptick in the sector because for health care clients, it’s an extension of their mission to create an environment that supports the health of occupants and staff. That’s a pretty clear connection,” Smith said, noting that HKS is working with several health clients interested in pursuing well-being certification on their upcoming projects.

Creating Healthier Offices

To date, well-being certifications have been most prevalent in office environments, according to Smith and Casey Lindberg, HKS Senior Design Researcher. Lindberg conducts research that influences design decisions and measures environmental quality and occupant experience outcomes in HKS commercial and commercial interiors projects.

In addition to the positive health outcomes for employees and tenants, these types of certifications are noticeably good for clients’ bottom lines, according to Lindberg. He said that commercial clients have begun to understand that when their spaces are designed for well-being, they can see higher long term property values and better retention rates.

“We are working with clients who are willing to be at the tipping point…those who will invest a small amount of money in research on design decisions or features that support well-being with the idea that the return will be way more than they put in,” Lindberg said.

HKS’ new Atlanta office features a design that emphasizes holistic well-being and brain health with social hubs, a wellness haven and idea theater.

As companies and organizations continue to adjust return-to-work policies and redevelop or reconfigure their real estate portfolios since the pandemic eased, they can rely on designers to help go beyond the minimum criteria or baseline certification levels.

“As a design firm, we’re interested in creating spaces that have beauty and meaning and also hit the checklists,” Lindberg said. “We’re here to make sure we’re at the intersection of art and science of supporting humans in the built environment. If it’s just a checklist, you’re missing something. We can help elevate the design.”

HKS is testing well-being design and research strategies within our own real estate portfolio. The firm has designed three WELL-certified buildings to date and is pursuing WELL certification for four of its own newly designed offices across the United States. Building upon living lab research launched at the HKS Chicago office and well-being and brain healthy workplace tactics deployed at the HKS Atlanta office, HKS is also bringing diverse design strategies to create workplaces that support the firm’s culture of design rigor and innovation.

“We want to have transparency available throughout the firm about how different offices are performing on metrics that we value…from environmental condition satisfaction to productivity and how well the space supports their work,” Lindberg said.

Collaborating for Positive Outcomes

Despite the value and positive outcomes that can come from using well-being standards in design, it’s important to note they do not guarantee success from a health, equity or human experience standpoint, HKS experts said.

“All of these certifications that look at wellness and health cannot alone recognize that when you develop great spaces and places, the system overall may still create negative outcomes for people,” Santos Rivera said.

Whether a space can achieve certification and enhance the wellness of people who inhabit it is ultimately based on successful operations and measurable results. Certifications require intensive collaboration between designers and building owner representatives throughout the design process, and then well after a project is finished because most certifications are only granted after occupancy. Plus, buildings or spaces that do achieve certification must be recertified every few years to maintain good standing, which requires consistent tracking and reporting of metrics over time.

“Industry-wide, designers are used to talking with their team as well as some of the design and construction team on the owners’ side, but we really have to expand the team and coordinate with Human Resources, facility management, and help set in place policies and procedures for them to be able to achieve the certification,” Smith said.

Smith, Santos Rivera, and Lindberg also said that certifications can be used as tools to have conversations and drive design and building operations to be more holistically sustainable. As the impacts of climate change and social inequities increasingly affect human health and well-being, the built environment has a big part to play. HKS designers and researchers are rising to the challenge, creating places that help people thrive.

 “The only point of a physical environment solution is to help humans do things better, collectively or individually,” Lindberg said. “Spaces that support well-being help people become the best version of themselves.”

Confidential FinTech Regional Office

Case Study

Confidential FinTech Regional Office Culture through Community

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

The Challenge

In the dynamic world of financial technology, maintaining a competitive edge demands relentless innovation. Our client recognized the impact its real estate strategy could make and determined diverse talent would be critical to its ongoing success. By entering the Atlanta market, it could capture the emerging tech talent in the region.  

However, this endeavor went beyond just finding a space; it was about cultivating community, culture and connections. The client wanted to create a workspace centered on the employee experience in a holistic way that prioritized physical and mental well-being and supported individuals as well as the collective community.  

The Design Solution

Working carefully with the client and its stakeholders, HKS aimed to promote the client as a beacon of high-tech innovation while fostering inclusivity in the design and cultivating community internally and with the city of Atlanta.  

To support these outcomes, we identified opportunities within the programming to push the boundaries of their future home, creating flexible spaces that accommodate a variety of users on demand. We leveraged our in-house Advisory and Research teams to bring the best hybrid work outcomes to the table to craft an informed, authentic and innovative approach. 

The client connected to its community not only through physical spaces that can support guests but made a positive impact on the local economy through art integration and sourcing from a range of local artists. Each floor boasts bespoke programming to encourage users to move throughout the space and find the right fit for the right activity. Open collaborative social moments are balanced by moments for reprieve in focus rooms, a quiet banquette or wellness room. Inclusivity and neurodiversity and are honored with gender-neutral bathrooms, residential-inspired settings featuring indirect light, lighting controls and cozy focus rooms easily accessible throughout. 

In the reception area users are greeted by music, while a large, high-resolution LED screen is a mechanism for full brand immersion. A staffed coffee bar and private booths with custom Neka King murals further invite people into the space. A corridor leading to co-create rooms showcases fine art. There’s a space for everyone, backdropped by the panoramic views of Atlanta’s historic Piedmont Park that bridges the gap between the indoors and nature. 

Past the reception area is a unifying staircase that leads down to the rest of the office floors where the stairs are nestled among built-in seating and live plants. At the top of the stairs, a large AV system creates a space for casual entertainment or company announcements, but also serves as a quiet oasis when needed. Beyond the stairs, a casual tech bar adjacent to a hand-painted mural by Corey Barksdale anchors the floor, and communal pantries act as social hubs and unofficial meeting places. On the opposite side of the floor, a game room offers a space for teams to challenge each other and bond. 

The project’s workspaces have intentional contrast to the warm atmosphere of the communal spaces, relating back to the grit of the city. Paying homage to Atlanta’s character, the workplace neighborhoods are anchored by large graphics connecting back to a specific area in the city. Tech-enabled huddle and project rooms can flex into larger meeting rooms and support hybrid attendance with digital scribe tools.  

The Design Impact

The carefully crafted project has helped the occupants thrive within a space that prioritizes people through an inclusive experience. Our design established new ways of integrating technology for hybrid teams that have only been speculated and thoughtfully deployed at scale to support teams.  

The design transcends aesthetics and embodies qualitative design measures with biophilic elements, healthy material selections, mechanical interventions, daylighting controls and smart building features that help achieve LEED Gold status. 

Project Features


Trevor Walker

HKS Atlanta

Case Study

HKS Atlanta Connecting Real Estate to Business Strategy

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

The Challenge

As a design firm with a thriving commercial interiors practice, HKS wanted our Atlanta office to reflect our point of view on the future of work. To that end, we designed to put people first, focusing on how and where our teams want to work, and supporting their health and well-being through design. To attract more diverse employees, we prioritized inclusive design. Finally, we sought to reduce expenses by right-sizing the office for a modern, hybrid workforce.

The Design Solution

Our design team began by asking our Atlanta team questions such as: what future do we want to realize? What legacy do we want to leave through design?  Our employees indicated that what they most needed from in-person time was space to focus, to co-create, to learn from our own design and to cultivate a culture of learning.  

To design spaces we would use more, we analyzed workplace data and devoted a greater amount of space to seating for teams and collaboration, less to private workstations. Our new workplace features an “idea theater” near the entrance, for events and learning; a “rapid ops rooms war room” for teams on deadline; and a variety of lounge and table seating where colleagues can work or even take breaks, which our research on brain health shows are critical to health and performance.

To align with our point-of-view on the future of work, we designed our workplace policy and our physical space centered on trust in our teams. Together, teammates determine where and how they will work to achieve our business goals. Digital equity is key to our objective to attract a more diverse workforce, so we designed that into our new work ecosystem, too.  We host client meetings in the open studio so our clients can experience the creative atmosphere, and see how designing policy and place together realize a vibrant, healthy work culture.

The Design Impact

As we navigate through our first year of occupancy, we are constantly researching our space to learn how it performs and how it benefits our firm, our clients and even our landlord, to help future tenants. We are currently targeting LEED and WELL Gold certifications, as well as pursuing the firm’s first office Brain Health Certification.

We will continue to analyze performance data and make necessary adjustments as we move forward.

Project Features


HKS’ Southeast Design Fellowship Promotes Equity & Resiliency in Orlando

HKS’ Southeast Design Fellowship Promotes Equity & Resiliency in Orlando

Orlando, Florida, often referred to as “The City Beautiful” and synonymous with the happiest place on earth, is a vibrant metropolis in the heart of the Sunshine State. However, like many growing cities, there is a marked disparity in socioeconomics among some Orlando communities. One such area is the historic Parramore neighborhood near downtown.

Developed in the 1880s, Parramore was an economic and cultural hub for African Americans in Central Florida until the 1960s, when Interstate 4 was built between Parramore and Orlando’s affluent central business district. The raised expressway displaced more than 500 properties and created a distinct divide in downtown Orlando.

HKS engaged with the City of Orlando and the city’s Future-Ready Initiative to create designs for addressing inequities and deploying resilience hubs within Parramore. The HKS Orlando office recently hosted our 2023 Southeast Design Fellowship (SEDF), an incubator for young designers with a passion for solving complicated challenges in their communities.

The SEDF design charrette occurred in two phases, a month-long research phase and a four-day design phase during which five teams of HKS Southeast Design Fellows met with Orlando city leaders, toured the community and presented their design concepts and solutions.

The Southeast Design Fellows were tasked with using the American Institute of Architects Framework for Design Excellence to investigate Parramore, develop an understanding of the community’s history, culture and environment and develop design solutions that mitigate and adapt to hazards, so the people of Parramore can thrive.

Below are descriptions of each team’s design and guiding principles.

Parramore Farmline

Designed by Brian Lachnicht, Fernando Arana and Mahnoor Faheem

Urban interventions introduced into a historically disenfranchised community empower healthy, positive interactions, engaging change through activation, celebration, connection and education.

Activate: Repurpose abandoned lots into wetlands, green spaces and urban farms.

Celebrate: Soft scape spaces to reduce surface run-off, build a bioswale to filter run-off before it drains into lakes and sell fresh produce at a local street market.

Connect: Connect various sections of Parramore’s urban fabric through bike lanes, continuous sidewalks and green belts.

Educate: Educate residents of Orlando and Parramore through didactic measures that include developing bike routes that pass through historic sites of Parramore, providing farming classes to enable residents to grow, eat and sell food and providing access to Wi-Fi and electricity for charging devices through resilience hubs.

Learn more

Circular Economy

Designed by Maria Guruceaga, Zeid Omeish and Karla Orellana

This group evaluated three options through the eyes of a child, to create a network of security for children based on playing, learning and creating. Designing a circular economy through an interconnected network of varying scales promotes children’s safety, education and ownership.

Community Center: Main providers for resources, learning and civic involvement.

Resilient Pod: Creating a safe space for networking, production and learning.

Mobile Unit: Providing distribution, refill programs, collection and community outreach.

Learn more

Resilience Avenue

Designed by: Carlos Rivas, Danna Bermudez and Elizabeth Chew

Reclaiming the underused sectors of Parramore Avenue introduces a resilient “public canvas” to engage and celebrate the community while providing a platform to showcase innovation and progression.

The “public canvas” introduces a flexible community-focused space tailored for gathering and sociological analysis. This typology is meant to encourage innovative solutions in the pursuit of community well-being and catalyze the large-scale implementation of successful case strategies. A community space that provides access to first aid, clean water, Wi-Fi/electricity, food and prep space and public facilities promotes resiliency.

Learn more

Bodega in Parramore

Designed by Hossein Mirzajani, Luiza Heleno and Ja’Nai Ferguson

Community cornerstones increase engagement, bridge the generational gap and empower the community through resilience.

Drawing inspiration from a typical bodega, this group evaluated locations to provide modular, prefabricated community cornerstones. Four sites throughout the community will provide unique resiliency features including restrooms and showers, clean drinking water, book exchanges, art and educational spaces, internet and charging stations, areas for food exchange and waste disposal, fitness areas and historic preservation honoring the community heritage.

Learn more

The Parramore Collection

Designed by Chris Tromp, Claudia Reyes and Shantanu Parikh

This team proposed a two-fold approach for children to cement ownership of their community’s future.

First, the team created an illustrative platform that represents children’s potential and allows them to author their own stories.

In conjunction with this platform, the team proposed a series of architectural interventions to support the spread of vital information and meet community needs.

Graphic novels portray the possibilities in an approachable way that allows kids to envision their future and create a sense of pride about where they came from and where they are going. Community parks create engagement and provide kids with a safe space to explore.

Learn more

2023 HKS SEDF Fellows

Sponsors

HKS would like to thank GATE, Armstrong, dri-design, Sherwin Williams, KONE, Steris, NOVUM and ASSA ABLOY, the sponsors of the 2023 Southeast Design Fellowship. 

A Winning Design for Championship Venues

A Winning Design for Championship Venues

For decades, Wheaties cereal has carried the tagline, “The Breakfast of Champions.” But HKS has had its own high-level championship run over the years. 

Since 2010, HKS-designed buildings have hosted Super Bowls, the World Series, NCAA Final Fours and the College Football Playoffs National Championships. The streak continued in 2021 when Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis hosted the NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament for the third time. That was followed in June by the U. S. Gymnastics Championships, highlighted by Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Biles, which were held at Fort Worth’s Dickies Arena, yet another world-class venue that involved HKS designers. 

In February 2022, Super Bowl LVI was held at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. In August of that year, the Chengdu Phoenix Mountain Sports Center in China — which has one of the world’s largest curved, open cable domes — was the site of the World University Games. The Games were postponed from 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns. 

The pace hasn’t slowed down, either. The American Airlines Center in Dallas hosted the 2023 NCAA Women’s Final Four this spring, and the College Football Playoffs National Championship was held at SoFi Stadium in January. The stadium will be in the spotlight again when it hosts the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2028 Olympic Games. In 2026, it will be a host site for the World Cup, along with HKS-designed AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

Also upcoming are the 2026 NCAA Men’s and 2028 Women’s Final Fours at Lucas Oil Stadium, and in July of this year, SoFi Stadium will hold the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final. Arlington’s Globe Life Field will host the MLB All-Star Game in 2024.  

While the participants in championship contests are unknown at the start of their respective seasons — with the final determinations all decided on the field or court — the buildings that host them are years in the making, with the opportunity to hold championship events a major focal point of the planning and design. 

Championship Design Means Creating ‘a Wow Factor’

Although AT&T Stadium (Dallas Cowboys), U.S. Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings), Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts) and SoFi Stadium (Los Angeles Rams and Chargers) were all designed to meet the specific desires of the home teams that play in them, the team owners also had bolder ideas for their facilities. They wanted their new sports homes to be big enough and grand enough to host Super Bowls and other high-profile events. 

As Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones put it in a 2009 Wall Street Journal article about his team’s then-new home, “we wanted this stadium to have a wow factor.”

The owners of the Texas Rangers also anticipated big things for its new HKS-designed Globe Life Field before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shut down those plans on the eve of Opening Day in 2020. At the time, there was no way to know it would welcome the World Series later that year, but the retractable roof stadium, with its ample concourses, swanky clubhouses and climate-controlled seating area became the perfect home after the pandemic prompted Major League Baseball to use a single site for its Fall Classic.

Those who attended Super Bowl LVI were exposed to a variety of digital upgrades. Like his Colts, Cowboys and Vikings contemporaries, Los Angeles Rams Owner and Chairman, E. Stanley Kroenke, asked HKS designers to develop plans for SoFi that would allow it to host global entertainment events and turn them into ultimate experiences for a live and television audience.

The scoreboard displays a Congratulations message to the Los Angeles Dodgers after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in Game Six to win the 2020 MLB World Series at Globe Life Field on October 27, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images)

Staying Local and Flexible

To deliver on those requests, HKS designers approach stadium designing with some clear thoughts in mind. One design element that is a hallmark of HKS-designed stadiums are clarity of structural expression and transparency, which heightens the fan experience. So fans who walk into AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Field or SoFi Stadium will immediately recognize the ability to sort of “see through” the structures to the outside even though the stadiums themselves are enclosed or covered.

There are other important factors as well. Even though the stadiums will be showcased to the world, designers look at them as a vital and visible part of the local community. The owners of the Colts, for example, wanted the look of Lucas Oil Stadium to pay homage to the fieldhouses found throughout Indiana, while the shape of U.S. Bank Stadium reminds of Northern European design.

In addition to leaning into those roots, U.S. Bank Stadium also had to satisfy another requirement to reach championship status; designers had to figure out a way to make it withstand Minnesota’s harsh climate. They designed the first ETFE roof in an American stadium, which allows lots of natural light while blocking the brutal cold. This design element was put to the test in February 2018 during Super Bowl LII, the coldest Super Bowl on record with temperatures in Minneapolis reaching a high of 9°F on game day. 

And at SoFi Stadium, architects had to embed it 100 feet into the ground so that it wouldn’t interfere with flights in and out of Los Angeles International Airport, which sits just three miles away. But the deep dig and the stadium’s proximity to LAX also provided designers with a unique opportunity to use the stadium’s roof — which contains LED lights — as a sort of real-time projection screen for passengers flying overhead.

In the case of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, he wanted AT&T Stadium to maintain a tangible link back to the team’s iconic former home, Texas Stadium. So, the design for the new stadium’s signature retractable roof includes a “hole” in it when the roof is open that exactly matches the shape of the hole at the old stadium, including its rounded corners.

In addition, the stadiums all are designed to have a high degree of flexibility. Designers created AT&T Stadium with not only the ability to host championship football contests from high school to pros, but ones for college basketball or even professional Motocross. 

And the ability to quickly and seamlessly provide multiple uses isn’t limited to the world of traditional sporting events. With Major League Baseball shut down at the time, the first events at Globe Life Field in 2020 were local high school graduations. The inaugural event at SoFi Stadium was scheduled to be a two-day Taylor Swift concert before COVID-19 disrupted those plans.

An Enhanced Fan Experience

To offer those various events, though, requires that designers and their clients team up to create a greatly enhanced fan experience. For the past decade or so, team owners have realized that simply making a trip to a stadium to see their favorite player is not enough for most fans. Their guests want to know what they are going to see — and do — once they get there. If it’s not glitzy enough, many patrons will opt to stay home and watch games from the less-expensive comfort of their own TV rooms.

For most stadiums designed recently, that enhanced fan experience begins with upgraded technology features, particularly a large, high-tech videoboard.  When AT&T Stadium opened in 2009, it held what was then the largest LED videoboard in the world, stretching from one 20-yard line to the other. The high-definition Mitsubishi picture gave fans seated at the highest points of the stadium, the ability to watch a game as if they were watching at home on their own big-screen televisions. And that was the point.

But SoFi Stadium, which opened without fans in 2020, is the newest king of championship stadium design. It’s 2.2-million-pound, dual-sided, center-hung, circular scoreboard is largest ever built and will provide practically every fan who visits, no matter where inside SoFi they sit or stand, with a simultaneous view of the information on the screen.

The videoboard is the only 4K end-to-end production in sports and features the largest LED content playback system in history. The board also provides fans with unique programming including live content, statistics and animated content — important data for aficionados of the increasingly popular fantasy sports leagues.

“For us, it was how would we go about thinking about reconnecting fans with media in a different way,” said Lance Evans, AIA, a principal at HKS and one of the primary SoFi architects. “If I was going to watch a game at home, I’d have my iPad, I’d have my phone. How could we do that at an NFL game, at the same size, across the entire field?”

So, what will the design of the next Super Bowl or World Series stadium look like? HKS designers already have some ideas that Evans describes as both “exciting and endless.” Among them, pushing the concept of the “stadium” beyond its limited physical footprint into the limitless virtual realm.

“The integration of technology in physical environments extends venue access exponentially,” said Mark A. Williams, FAIA, HKS Principal in Charge of the SoFi Stadium project. “Imagine a venue that sells 70,000 physical tickets to an event and leveraging technology to reach previously untapped audiences and markets around the globe.”

And that means that perhaps one day soon, a championship venue will exist at anytime and anywhere.

Colby Dearman

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HKS Global Design Fellowship Cultivates Design Excellence

HKS Global Design Fellowship Cultivates Design Excellence

Fostering conversations about great design is foundational to design excellence at HKS. One way we support these conversations is through our annual Global Design Fellowship. This program brings together HKS employees from throughout our 26 offices worldwide to explore big ideas through design. The fellowship is an opportunity for emerging talent to explore topics that are important to us as a firm and to advance the quality of design at HKS.

“We’re a global firm for a reason – we think that’s an asset,” said Jenn Carlson, an HKS designer who serves on the Global Design Fellowship committee. “We’re better when we’re pulling from all our offices. It’s about bringing the absolute best minds from across the firm together to develop the most creative ideas.”

Hannah Shultz, who is also an HKS designer and committee member, said the fellowship gives up-and-coming HKS employees a chance to spread their wings and take ownership of a design topic that interests them, which “only gives them more courage and agency in how they want to cultivate their career.”

Investing in our people through initiatives like the Global Design Fellowship helps express how highly HKS values both beauty and inspiration in design.

A New Design Language

Eight HKS employees were selected for our 2023 Global Design Fellowship class, which was divided into three teams:

During the fellowship the teams examined how, as science and technology have advanced, buildings have shifted away from designs that respond to their context and towards artificial environments that separate people from nature.

The design fellows sought to discover a new design language that supports both the natural and artificial realm in order to enhance the human experience and reinvigorate ecosystems.

They approached this issue by exploring how the built environment can promote a positive relationship with the Texas Blackland Prairies, an endangered ecosystem heavily impacted by the recent, rapid growth of Dallas and Austin.

Each team of fellows met virtually for two months to research, define the problem and present their progress to a team of advisors. The teams then participated in a week-long design charrette at the HKS Dallas office.

The week was capped off by the recent 2023 Global Design Fellowship event at HKS Dallas, where the design fellows presented their ideas in person to the firm as well as a panel of regional design and environmental experts.

Poetry and Power

The three teams took distinct approaches to the problem, but they each married the science and poetry of design to deliver beautiful, powerful presentations.

Siyang Zhang, Johnson and Ham (Team X) collaborated on the design of a community composting project featuring contoured underground chambers that artfully reveal the soil structure to help people better understand the underground ecosystem.

The group noted that every year in the U.S., more than 35 tons of food waste are sent to landfills. By encouraging and facilitating composting, the team’s project is designed to help replenish the Texas Blackland Prairie soil. And by collecting compostable material and distributing high quality soil to organic farms or city gardens, the project would also help build a circular economy within the community.

Dandi Zhang and Shastavets (Team Y) partnered on a project to preserve bird species that are vanishing from North America. Describing the project from the perspective of a bird watcher and a scissor-tailed flycatcher, they proposed a kit of parts to transform abandoned buildings in Texas ghost towns that are located along major migratory flyways into protective environments for birds.

Beyond protecting bird species, the project would provide viewing opportunities for bird watchers, who contribute $1.8 billion annually to the Texas economy, according to research cited by the team.

Marais, Martin and Dai (Team Z) devised a strategy for creating a web of prairie corridors to connect Dallas to the Texas Blackland Prairies. The team described the history of the Blackland Prairies, including indigenous practices to encourage prairie growth and the later industrialization that reduced the Blackland Prairie ecosystem to 1 percent of its original land mass.

The team told “The Legend of the Prairie Mother” from the viewpoint of the future, looking back on the year 2023 when, according to the legend, an environmentalist, gardener and chef teamed up to reawaken human relationships with the land, in order to rewild the landscape, build community and feed people.

The team said they chose the story format for their presentation as way to honor indigenous traditions they learned about in their research, many of which were passed down from generation to generation through storytelling.

Bridging the Dichotomy

Following the teams’ presentations, Heath May, Global Practice Director of HKS’ Laboratory for Intensive Exploration (LINE), moderated a panel discussion that included Lisa Casey, Associate with Dallas-based landscape architecture and urban design firm Studio Outside; Dr. Oswald Jenewein, Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington; and Brett Johnson, an Urban Biologist with the Dallas Park & Recreation Department.

The panelists discussed the presentations, shared their personal career paths and talked about how their work is, as May said, “bridging the dichotomy between architecture and landscape.”

Casey explained how her professional interests intersect with the ideas expressed by the design fellows.

“I’m looking at how we tie into the native ecoregion, bringing native plant material into projects so that there’s a sense of rootedness to the work I do,” Casey said.

She praised the design fellows for bringing visibility to topics that are “central to moving things forward” in landscape architecture and urban design.

Dr. Jenewein talked about helping cities develop comprehensive plans for future development that incorporate climate adaptation and environmental topics. “I feel like we’re making significant impact,” he said. He complimented the teams for the compelling storytelling they brought to their presentations.

Johnson described how aspects of the local ecosystem, like grasslands, are aligned with human needs, such as stormwater management or open space where children can play.

He said that because his job entails considering the broader effects of different elements of the environment, he especially appreciated the idea of revealing the soil in order to increase people’s understanding of soil’s importance.

“You’re taking something that’s been subliminal…and you’re bringing it beyond the surface, so we can actually experience it and talk through it,” Johnson said.

May noted that over the next several decades, geographies in Texas are likely to undergo a process of transformation. He said that projects like those presented by the design fellows “are so valuable in showing what the role of the architect could be in all of this, as kind of a mastermind that is allowed to invent and experiment.”

Lasting Impression

As Chief Design Officer here at HKS, one of the most exciting things about the design profession to me is the opportunity we have to make a clear and lasting impression on people’s lives.

The HKS 2023 design fellows demonstrated that design excellence requires a deep understanding of what shapes a community and place. Places don’t exist in one time, one generation, one decade. As designers, we need to consider how we create the future without losing the sense of what makes a place special.

We want our environments and spaces to inspire people. I applaud this year’s design fellows for elevating the work that we do.

Piedmont Atlanta Hospital Marcus Tower Wins 2023 Vista Award

Turning Design Excellence into Effective Leadership: A Conversation with HKS CEO Dan Noble

Turning Design Excellence into Effective Leadership: A Conversation with HKS CEO Dan Noble

At HKS, we believe design can change people’s lives for the better. We strive to create beautiful buildings and communities that bring people together and solve real problems.

In his 39-year career at the firm, HKS President & CEO Dan Noble has observed the parallels between extraordinary design and impactful leadership. He’s noticed that the same character, purpose and relationships that contribute to excellent design lead to successful governance.

Reflecting on HKS’ legacy – and looking towards the future – Noble recently shared his thoughts on the firm’s rich history, his personal journey as a designer and leader and how lessons he’s learned from the design process translate into effective leadership.

What key aspects of HKS’ heritage are important to you as a leader?

HKS was founded in 1939 by Harwood K. Smith and his wife, Kate Robertson Smith. Harwood was an amazing entrepreneur, architect and artist. Born in Evanston, Illinois, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to Dallas to pursue his passion for, and hone his skills in, architecture.

Harwood set the tone for informality and mentorship at HKS. He was known for walking through the office and engaging even the newest architects in discussions about what they were working on. That informality and humility, and the spirit that we are all in this together, set HKS apart today and contribute to our familial culture.  We are a large firm with a small firm culture.

For an 83-year-old enterprise, our line of succession is not very long. I am only the fifth President & CEO, building on Harwood’s legacy.

How has your journey at HKS progressed from design leader to President & CEO?

My tenure at HKS began in the fall of 1983 after I graduated from North Dakota State University and worked briefly with smaller firms in Houston. Today, HKS employs over 1,500 people across 26 offices worldwide. When I started at the firm, we were about 200 people strong, with one office in Dallas.

I was fortunate to work under the direction of past HKS presidents, Joe Buskuhl and Ralph Hawkins. With Joe’s leadership, the firm became known for our management and technical expertise. Ralph was equally interested in design excellence and geographic expansion.

I became Global Design Director of HKS in 2002. I had always worked collaboratively on projects but now I had a more active role in elevating our design firmwide and helping project teams find creative design solutions. The design problem, for me, shifted from developing solutions for individual buildings to creating more successful and creative design teams. I was still hands-on with design, participating in pinups and charrettes, but I had to transition from doing to directing.

What does Design Excellence mean to you?

Design Excellence of course encompasses aesthetic considerations, such as scale, rhythm, proportion, repetition, proper editing, delight, beauty and harmony. But it also entails building performance, enhancing the human experience and understanding the behavioral science of improving the environment.

The process of creating and executing an excellent design is more alchemic than paint-by-number.

What lessons have you learned from design that translated to your role as President & CEO of HKS?

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that Design Excellence correlates closely with leadership excellence. Qualities that are essential to the design process – collaboration, incubation, iteration, failure, empathy, connection, innovation and humor – are just as important to effective leadership.

Collaboration – Bringing diverse teams together to discover the most creative solutions is something HKS believes in highly. Best practices in Health design may inspire solutions in Education, Hospitality ideas may make Workplaces more user-friendly and understanding crowd movement for Urban Planning can inform design solutions for our Sports group. And of course, Research can be a huge differentiator for all our practices. HKS works across practices and geographies to bring our clients the best talent available worldwide.

Incubation – Part of finding great solutions is listening to multiple stakeholders – including clients, consultants, users and community leaders – and letting ideas settle in. Let the game come to you a bit. Slow down to go fast. Taking time to engage with diverse partners can help you arrive at effective design solutions quicker. Being open to new ideas is essential.

Iteration – Once you collect that feedback, you can begin exploring ways to create solutions. Here is where you must exhibit some humility. Ego needs to take a back seat. It doesn’t matter where the best ideas come from, we build off each other’s ideas. I like it when a project team leaves the room and nobody knows exactly where an idea originated, but everyone feels like it was kind of their own.

Failure – As HKS’ Design Director, I tried to create a safe space for people to experiment. Being vulnerable and open to others is essential to innovation. As a leader, you have to avoid jumping in and trying to solve other people’s challenges. Sometimes design ideas fail, but failure is an important teaching moment. I routinely engage in 360-degree reviews to receive feedback on my own performance and try to continually learn how to be a more effective leader.

Empathy – I love being an architect. I love being hands-on and in the thick of things. But as HKS’ Design Director and later as the firm’s President & CEO, I had to learn to step back and let others find solutions. Sometimes people don’t do things the way you would. But having the patience and empathy to let people find their own paths is important to developing the next generation of leaders.

Connection – Finding that synergy between place, purpose and design is what great architecture is all about. Finding essential connections between people is important to designing a successful project and to running a successful business. After all, people create the synergy that results in great design solutions.

Innovation – True innovation is hard to come by. At HKS, we strive to hire people who are constantly challenging the status quo. And then we let them experiment, fail and learn. We’ve developed an entire Innovation sector to bring focus to this type of thinking and working. Developing this sector may have been HKS’ most transformational move. Do you want to be a commoditized vendor or a trusted advisor and partner? In the end, our brains and our thoughts are the most valuable assets we can offer the world. What can be automated and commoditized will be. Let’s not compete in a race to the bottom.

Humor – As a leader, you can’t take yourself too seriously. We spend most of our waking hours working with others – we can make it fun and fulfilling or a chore and a drag. The gift of humor shouldn’t be minimized.

How can leaders design and build better teams?

Part of being an effective leader is being in touch with your people, developing friendships and learning people’s strengths and weaknesses, passions and personalities. With understanding and empathy comes trust. Our people are our differentiators. Hire the best people you can find who share your values and give them the tools, training and mentorship they need to grow and evolve. And then get out of their way. Let them figure things out.

High-performing teams are built through inspiration, transparency, a certain degree of ambiguity, and diversity and inclusion.

Inspiration – Our job as leaders is to emulate the transparent culture that we aspire to, to establish the strategic direction we want to go and to inspire others to come along. In the book, The Way of the Shepherd: Seven Secrets to Managing Productive People, Kevin Leman wrote, “If you want your people to go above and beyond, they must see your passion, your heart. If it’s greatness that you want, it’s greatness that you must give.” You can’t be afraid to show that you care and that you’re passionate and committed to your purpose.

Transparency – Two things I continue to strive for as a leader are more transparency throughout the firm and the support of an effective feedback loop that includes all our people, regardless of their rank or experience. People walk into my office all the time – I encourage it. We have an “Ask Dan” feature on the HKS intranet that goes directly to me and enables people to ask me anything they want, anonymously or not. We’ve also instituted checks and balances to make sure every member of HKS’ Executive Board, including me, is holding true to our Strategic Plan. We are all held accountable to the firm’s established values and vision.

Ambiguity – I’ve learned to accept holding opposing ideas in my head at the same time. Decisions aren’t always black and white. Embracing the messy gray is crucial – it’s where the most profound solutions come from. I like to say that I’m comfortable with ambiguity as long as we’re clear about what we want to achieve.

Diversity & Inclusion – It’s no surprise to hear that our profession has lacked diversity, especially in the leadership ranks. This is partly because people tend to hire and promote those who are most like themselves. To help break this pattern, at HKS we have created a robust Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion program with a dedicated JEDI Director who is leading community outreach, education and enrichment programs that are helping us build a more diverse team and leadership. These efforts include our recently launched partner diversity program, HKS xBE, which is designed to help disadvantaged businesses build relationships and pursue new opportunities in the architecture and design professions. Diverse teams give rise to innovative thinking and increase the value of our work in the communities we serve.

How do you view the future of leadership at HKS?

We are fortunate to have a cadre of qualified people who can step into leadership roles. What I am looking for in our future leaders is innovation, creativity, empathy, grit, honesty, humility, optimism and heart.