Scott Lay

Amy V. Anderson


Prince Ambooken

Joy DeWitt

Brain Building Exhibit

Case Study

Brain Building Exhibit Merging Research and Design for an Interactive Experience

Dallas, Texas, USA

The Challenge

Global design firm, HKS, wanted to create a way to increase understanding of — and engagement with — our leading-edge Brain Health research. With this goal in mind, the experiential branding team envisioned a temporary exhibit that would elevate employee awareness about how the human brain interacts with the built environment. The exhibit would also empower our designers to incorporate brain healthy solutions into their current and future work. 

The Design Solution

The Brain Building exhibit, designed for initial placement at the Dallas HKS headquarters, activates an underutilized second-floor arrival area and other key spaces throughout the building. The exhibition has a pop-up format, designed with a sustainable panel system so it can be easily transported and used as a tool to share research findings and brain healthy workplace affordances with other HKS offices, clients and external partners. 

The exhibit provides a unique in-office experience that incorporates best practices for storytelling in corporate workplaces and design solutions inspired directly by the research it showcases. The logo and brand expression include handwritten and bold graphic text styles, and a variety of complementary graphics and illustrations. Informational design and digital animations include edited and prioritized research findings for easy comprehension in a physical exhibition space. The HKS experiential branding team and research team worked in tandem to ensure clarity of information and storytelling elements. 

Balancing content panels with transition spaces, the exhibit layout offers a comfortable, navigable visitor experience. The team created takeaway postcards, QR codes and a survey to extend the experience beyond the physical exhibit so people can learn more about the research and sign up for a Brain Health Experience Workshop led by HKS’ research team. 

The Design Impact

The Brain Building exhibit that is more than a physical design — it tells the story of an important research project and represents all the people who participated in the study with interactive, educational elements. Additionally, the exhibit provides access to vital information about brain health and the built environment for anyone who visits HKS and has been toured by our research collaborators from the Center for BrainHealth® at The University of Texas at Dallas, who were able to learn about the impacts of their scientific work.  

As the HKS experiential branding and research teams collect and share visitor survey results and the exhibit hits the road to other office locations, this project will play a key role in illuminating the importance of designing for brain health worldwide. 

Project Features

Expedia Group

Case Study

Expedia Group A Dynamic Design Driven by Connection and Adaptation

Springfield, Missouri, USA

The Challenge

Global online travel company Expedia Group occupied a decommissioned terminal of the Springfield-Branson National Airport for more than a decade, expanding it over the years into a workplace for nearly 1,000 employees. When the company needed a more cohesive and updated design, it partnered with longtime collaborator, HKS, to transform the building into a contemporary office environment. The design team was charged with creating a workplace that offers a frictionless experience and supports Expedia Group’s brand mission to make travel easier and more enjoyable.

The Design Solution

An integrated design process including company-wide stakeholders yielded a vision for the project that emphasizes connection and authenticity of place. Drawing inspiration from the airport as a physical connector and the company’s function as a digital connector between destinations and experiences, the design team solved navigation challenges present in the existing workplace. The design prioritizes access to natural light, improved environmental comfort, and a variety of spaces to support different work and social functions.

The new workplace honors the terminal’s history, highlighting its original features with elements that draw the eye toward them and outward to views of the surrounding airport and sky. It includes clear signage, biophilic elements, and plentiful visual references to air travel with custom experiential graphics featuring three-letter airport codes and maps.
Sustainability and performance are foundational to the project. The design remediates HVAC and building envelope issues and optimizes new systems for efficient energy use and thermal, acoustic and sensory comfort. To reduce carbon footprint, the project team minimized new construction, reused many workstation desks and chairs, and repurposed or recycled flooring and ceiling materials. New interior materials and products were carefully selective to minimize environmental impact and enhance the health of people and planet.

This project’s client is at the forefront of creating progressive, flexible work experiences to better accommodate its workforce. The design serves current and anticipated future needs with design strategies that focus on equity, accessibility and well-being.

The Design Impact

The project has garnered positive feedback from the client’s leadership and end users, who have praised the space as a dynamic, supportive environment that improves comfort and enhances social and work functions. Success stems from deeply collaborative efforts among the design team, the client’s real estate group, and company employees. The dynamic workplace honors the past, present and future of the airport terminal in which it resides and sets a new design standard for the travel company that calls it home.

Project Features

Six Ground-Breaking Designs Recognized as HKS 2023 Top Projects

Six Ground-Breaking Designs Recognized as HKS 2023 Top Projects

In 2023, HKS team members around the world celebrated big accomplishments — the firm’s exciting commitment to carbon neutrality, several industry-leading awards, and pioneering research about designing for brain health to name a few.  

These achievements demonstrate how the HKS values of relationships, character and purpose inspire transformative places and ideas that can shape a better future. But perhaps no HKS initiative better showcases how designers are collaborating to enhance peoples’ lives than the firm’s annual Top Projects program. 

Every year, design teams from each of HKS five practice sectors — Community, Innovation, Interiors, Place and Venues — create Top Projects submissions that tell stories about how they pursued design excellence in their project processes and outcomes. Now in its eighth year, the program represents how HKS teams serve clients and communities through equitable, sustainable and innovative design and how they can strive to become better designers. 

“Top Projects is our opportunity for HKS to live out our goals and become the type of firm we want to be, to be critical of our work and to engage our peers to help us evaluate gaps we may have,” said HKS Chief Design Officer, Anthony Montalto. 

From ground-up buildings to master plans and interior designs to research efforts, nearly every type of project HKS teams work on was eligible for consideration as a Top Project. HKS committee members and seven jurors from the broader AEC industry evaluated nearly 130 submissions and awarded six projects that balance beauty and performance through the power of design. 

The 2023 HKS Top Projects are: 

Top Project of the Year: Edison House 

The 2023 Top Project of the Year, Edison House, breaks the mold of traditional social clubs. Located in Salt Lake City’s Warehouse District, the building reflects its industrial surroundings and features a offers a welcoming experience for all who pass by or enter the social club’s doors. Challenged by a narrow site and complex building program, the design team created dynamic interior spaces that balance openness and intimacy for a variety of social activities. 

“One thing I truly appreciated about this project is its transparency and the way it touches the ground and invites everyone in the community to peek in. It’s a great project,” said Top Projects external juror Mandi Chapa, an urban planner at Huitt-Zollars. 

Community Sector Top Project: Moody Outpatient Center at Parkland Hospital 

The 2023 Community Sector Top Project, the Moody Outpatient Center at Parkland Hospital, features 24 multispecialty clinics that serve a daily population of 800 patients. The treatment center, which won an AIA Healthcare Design Award in 2023, offers a comfortable experience for patients, visitors, staff and clinicians with natural light streaming through a high-performance glass exterior, easy-to-navigate circulation patterns, and an abundance of welcoming waiting areas. 

“This project did an incredible job of connecting to the context and incorporating a variety of people in the process. It shows that standardization can be really beautiful,” said external juror Stephanie Travis, Program Head of Interior Architecture and Associate Professor at George Washington University. “It’s a timeless, elegant building.” 

Innovation Sector Top Project: Unearthing the Blackland Prairie 

The 2023 Innovation Sector Top Project, Unearthing the Blackland Prairie, is a special project developed for the 2024 HKS Global Design Fellowship. In response to a prompt that asked  fellows to explore how to create design solutions for the endangered Texas Blackland Prairies, the project team proposed a regenerative composting facility and program to enhance the integrity of soil, inspired by the digestive process of termites. 

“This is not only an innovative idea — it is also an important subject matter. It pushes forward thinking…and is meaningful and beautiful,” said Chapa. 

Interiors Sector Top Project: Travel Company Workplace

The 2023 Interiors Sector Top Project, a travel company workplace, is an adaptive re-use of an airport terminal. The workplace design emphasizes connection and authenticity of place, honoring the original use of the airport building as well as the client’s brand mission to provide dynamic experiences. Prioritizing holistic employee well-being, the design team created a sustainable environment with abundant access to natural light, healthy materials, and a variety of workstation options and social hubs. 

“We felt this was a really wonderful adaptive reuse project,” said juror Karen Robichaud, founder of Karen Robichaud LLC, Strategy + Communications. “It very clearly presents ‘before and after’ and the team made it really evident who this was for and how its working now.” 

Place Sector Top Project: The 2023 Asian Games Athlete Village Waterfront Mixed-Use

The 2023 Place Sector Top Project, Asian Games Athlete Village Waterfront Mixed-Use, served as a gateway for the 2023 Asian Games, which took place earlier this year. Located in Hangzhou, China, the development creates a vibrant and publicly accessible waterfront rooted in Chinese culture with a design inspired by paintings of the traditional riverside Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival. The vision for the project’s mixed-use buildings includes long-term adaptation to suit the residential, business, and entertainment needs of its community. 

“This project occupies a very current place in our discourse because of its adaptive reuse potential and future tense possibilities,” said Top Projects juror David Staczek, Principal and Senior Designer at ZGF Architects. “It’s a large project, but its successful at all scales.” 

Venues Sector Top Project: Es Con Field Hokkaido 

The 2023 Venues Sector Top Project, Es Con Field Hokkaido, is a state-of-the art arena and home to the Nippon-Ham Fighters Japanese baseball team. The design team created a venue that celebrates Eastern and Western cultures and honors the region’s history of migration and trade. The ballpark features a peaked, operable roof and diverse amenities for visitors including a food hall inspired by the traditional Japanese Yokocho, community gardens, a children’s play field, and an integrated hotel.  

“No one on the jury has ever seen a ballpark like this,” said Travis. “It really connects to history and context with such a strong concept that is executed beautifully.” 

Pushing Design Excellence Forward 

In addition to the six Top Projects winners, jurors also bestowed special honors upon several other initiatives including the HKS and AIA Resilience Design Toolkit, Living Lab Research at HKS’ Atlanta Office as well as buildings and masterplans currently in development with clients across the globe. 

The 2023 Top Projects represent HKS’ vision to positively influence the AEC industry and serve as a beacon for what’s to come in the years ahead as HKS designers help create thriving communities around the globe. 

“I’m proud of the tremendous Top Projects work and what it represents for HKS,” said Gracie Andraos, HKS Director of Design, Interiors. “It’s a fantastic culmination of what we’ve done this year and where we’re striving to go.” 

2023 Top Projects HKS Committee Members: 

Anthony Montalto – Chief Design Officer; Gracie Andraos – Director of Design, Interiors; Diana Araoz-Fraser – Senior Interior Designer; Jason Fleming – Studio Design Leader; Karl Gustafson – Architect, Rand Ekman – Chief Sustainability Officer; Yiselle Santos Rivera – Global Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion; Bernita Beikmann – Chief Process Officer; Julie Hiromoto – Director of Integration; Leah Ray – Director of Content; Upali Nanda – Global Practice Director, Research; James Frisbie – Art Director 

Mandi Chapa – Urban Planner, Huitt-Zollars; Panji Grainger – Managing Principal, Buro Happold; Ray Huff – Architect and Educator, Retired, Chris Morrison – Managing Director and Principal, Perkins & Will; Karen Robichaud – Founder, Karen Robichaud LLC, Strategy + Communications; David Staczek – Principal and Senior Designer, ZGF Architects; Stephanie Travis – Program Head of Interior Architecture and Associate Professor, George Washington University 

Part 2: How Do We Break the Workstation, and What Should We Design Instead?

Part 2: How Do We Break the Workstation, and What Should We Design Instead?

In the first installment in this series, we made a provocative, brain-based, and historically-informed argument for the need to break the concept of the open office workstation. This time, we’ll describe a case study of how we can break the workstation, and what we can remake in its place. In doing so, we’re also addressing the rule and tradition of the workstation – behaviors many workers have come to expect and accept without questioning why. 

First, take a look at Office Plan 1 below. Where do you go? Easy, right? You find your default seat amongst the banks of other workstations. Now, take a look at Office Plan 2. Where do you go?

Not as easy? If you’re like many experienced corporate employees, you’re looking at Office Plan 2 and not seeing what you’d expect. Your brain cannot predict where to go right now because you don’t see the traditionally placed bank of open office workstations. In other words, the concept of the default workstation you’re dependent on is no longer there. It has been broken. 

What you see instead are different groupings of desks and tables in varying sizes of space. A couple of the rooms look like they might be conference rooms, but what about the rest of the office?  

To Create Places that are Experiential We Need to Address Experiential Blindness

While trying to figure out what those other spaces are, and when you don’t have any contextual information from your past to try and make sense of the present, some neuroscientists might say that you’re in a state of experiential blindness

This sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not – it’s a huge design and behavioral opportunity to change how you make sense of the intent of a space, and what it offers you when you use it (i.e., what the space affords you). Once your brain has the context it needs to understand that intent, your experiential blindness is resolved, and in its place, you have a new understanding of that space.  

Let’s look at this smaller space taken from Office Plan 2 as an example. Undoubtedly, you have plenty of contextual information from your past about chairs, tables, and monitors, but you don’t yet understand what this space, as a whole, is intended to afford you and your team.  

Imagine that your company (a knowledge work professional service organization) communicates that the intent of this space is to help speed up idea formation in high-pressure situations. This highly flexible environment is in a layout right now that functions best when approaching a deadline, and it provides a media center for projecting and sharing work with team members in other parts of the world. It is reservable for weeks at a time and has dedicated pinup spaces so that teams can take advantage of the benefits of spatial memories of artifacts related to a project for extended periods of time. 

If communicated effectively, you now have contextual information for the intended affordances of this space. In other words, you’re starting to form a new concept of that space. What’s more, if that concept is to become stickier in your brain, this space needs a name – we’ll call it the Rapid Ops room. 

So now, when you enter the office and you see this room, you no longer have experiential blindness – instead, you see the Rapid Ops room, and this concept will become stronger and more focused over time if you use the space with teams in high-pressure situations when deadlines are approaching.

Time as a Building Block

In the previous installment in this series, we argued that the open office workstation was a hangover from the industrial era, and that it has become the default building block of the modern open office. We proposed that an office design should instead focus first on people’s needs before physical solutions are proposed. 

When you viewed Office Plan 2 above, we asked you to consider where you’d go. This was difficult because you didn’t have context for the intent of each space. When you gain more context for what each of the different spaces afford you and your team, the question of where you’d go becomes more intentional because there is not a default workstation. 

But when you’re considering where to go, what you’re really asking yourself is where you need to go in that moment to meet the demands of a specific activity – this is an issue of designing your time

In other words, a key building block for office effectiveness is the time that individuals and teams plan for different activities, whether in advance or ad hoc. This is critical because time is the common denominator among known challenges in open office workstations. It is at the core of multi-tasking (i.e., performing more than one task at a time), and unwanted environmental distractions (i.e., performing an activity at odds with others’ activities in your vicinity at the same time).

By designing our time, we are both focusing on the tasks that need to be completed (the work itself) and deciding when to get that work done collectively. This moves the dimension of time from a problematic common denominator to an ally in the fight for a brain healthy workplace. Work that is best done as a team, for example, needs to be designed together.  

But we first must understand what the work itself is. Who needs to participate, what kinds of technology, resources, and infrastructure are needed? Then, when we match activities with available spaces designed with specific intent, we help utilize those spaces at their highest value toward the organization’s goals. In many ways this may sound obvious, but for most organizations, this method of designing time necessitates a new and more intentional way of thinking about space allocation.

Rethinking the ‘Me’ in Me / We / Us

Throughout the past several decades of workplace design, the Me / We / Us framework has been used more and more prevalently. Used to categorize space allocation and justify programming ratios in floor plans, Me / We / Us essentially describes three high-level, somewhat abstract categories to help users understand an office environment. 

‘Me’ space – historically the foundational building block of workstations and private offices – serves as the primary square footage allocation in most office designs. ‘We’ space typically includes group work settings, including open collaboration, conference rooms, and sometimes shared workstations and offices. ‘Us’ space is typically characterized by social gathering and other shared activities not necessarily dedicated to performing typical work tasks, such as café spaces, lounges, and lobbies. 

In our new paradigm shift, however, the definition of ‘Me’ space needs to be modified. If there is no longer a dedicated, default workstation where you go to drop your bag and park for the day, then what should ‘Me’ space be? Perhaps ‘Me’ space is no longer about allocation of space but the policy and agency to design your time for individual effectiveness within the work ecosystem at large – in Huddle or Focus rooms, shared ‘We’ spaces, public coffee shops, or home workspaces depending on individual effectiveness, preference, and the task at hand.  

One danger here is that employees may equate this loss of traditional ‘Me’ space with a loss of perceived ownership and presence of their office experience. This is why communication of the designed intent of all the different space concepts within the office is critical, as ‘Me’ spaces may imply that other spaces are not mine. 

But when employees can let go of ownership over just one tiny part of the office (their overstressed workstation) and shift their sense of agency toward the entire office complete with all its tailored ‘We’ and ‘Us’ spaces, the value proposition of the office itself becomes more evident. 

If designed well, the value of utilizing the office for those intended activities showcases how a space can help you and your team accomplish different work tasks better than you could anywhere else, including your home workspace, because it was designed with specific intent.

One of those value-driven intents for the office space in many organizations will undoubtedly be social connection (consistently cited as a top reason for why people want to come to the office post-pandemic). We know that the strength of social connections at work has shifted over the past few years, with second and third level connections suffering most. It is time for us to consider how a more intentionally designed office environment can bolster those in-person connections we’ve lost while keeping our newer virtual connections alive and well. 

Up Next

By designing our collective time in accordance with intentionally designed office spaces, we highlight the shortcomings of an oversimplified ratio for programming. There is not some magical ratio of workstations to conference rooms to focus pods that we’re all just oh-so close to nailing down for organizations to be most effective. 

By planning and aligning our time with our intent and our tailored workspaces, we can see that square footage is better considered as a design outcome, and not as a design driver. In this installment, we have shown a case study where overall square footage remained similar. But depending on the available work ecosystem of spaces (both physical and digital) and organizational goals, one organization’s intentionally aligned real estate investment may become much smaller (or even vanish), while another’s may need to grow substantially. 

Now that you’ve seen an example of how we can break the workstation and reinvent the office as an intentional part of the ecosystem of workplaces, next time we’ll show you how we can get to those solutions with you as a client.  

Here’s a hint: It’s not simple, it requires investment in the right people and resources, and it’s all about accountability in relationships. 

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.”

Visioning Workshops Inspire Design Excellence at HKS

Visioning Workshops Inspire Design Excellence at HKS

HKS values limitless thinking. This expansive mindset means that on every project, of every typology, scope and scale – whether a neighborhood park or city-wide transit system, elementary school or research university, training facility or world-class sports and entertainment complex – we strive for design excellence.

To inspire excellence on every project, we begin each pursuit with a design charette, or visioning workshop. Visioning workshops bring together diverse experts from throughout HKS in a spirit of collaboration.

Before we draw a single line, researchers; inventors; sustainability professionals; strategic advisors; project managers; leaders in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion; technical specialists; engineers and designers drawn from HKS’ 28 offices around the world work together to imagine the project’s potential for beauty and performance. Every great project starts with a dream.

Integrated Design Process

HKS’ integrated design process involves teamwork between people in multiple disciplines to create buildings and environments that are functional, efficient, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. This process considers all aspects of a design, including the materials used, operations, energy consumption, user experience and community and environmental impact. The goal is to create a comprehensive solution that leverages the strengths of each team member, for more efficient and effective results.

Visioning workshops are essential to our integrated design process. The purpose of a visioning workshop is to gain input from a cross-section of stakeholders, set high-level goals and establish alignment between everyone involved with a project before making any decisions or starting to develop solutions. We want to lead with possibility, to develop hypotheses and opportunities for impact that aren’t obvious.

Visioning is most powerful at the beginning of a project. Talking and listening to each other can help overcome natural limitations established by what we might believe, already know or may have done in the past. By opening a wide-ranging dialogue from the start of a project, we can turn into reality what might have once seemed impossible.

Principles of Design

The discovery process for a visioning workshop involves gathering information, analyzing data, conducting research and identifying key design drivers – such as site analysis, program and operations requirements and sustainability goals – to inform the development of a coherent and compelling design vision that guides the project’s direction.

HKS uses the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Framework for Design Excellence as a basis for examining issues concerning the built environment. The Framework identifies 10 key principles to inspire beautiful, resilient, inclusive designs. These include “Design for Equitable Communities,” “Design for Ecosystems,” and “Design for Economy.”

The first principle is, “Design for Integration.” In describing this principle, AIA notes that, “Good design elevates any project, no matter how small, with a thoughtful process that delivers both beauty and function in balance. It is the element that binds all the principles together with a big idea.”

Visioning workshops focus on defining the “big idea,” or overriding purpose for a project. Developing a narrative for what a design is intended to achieve sets the stage for the work to follow. Storytelling is a powerful force. The act of naming or visualizing something can help bring it into being.

Visioning workshop participants collaborate to identify and document the project’s key values – the programmatic, operational and experiential needs and expectations of the client and project stakeholders. Then they create design guidelines to express those values and they define a set of measures to evaluate project performance.

The art and science of design – the immeasurable delight and measurable outcomes that comprise design excellence – are at the heart of visioning workshops.

Agreeing on a clear, inspiring vision from the outset results in projects that are beautiful and impactful. Examples include Chengdu Phoenix Hill Sports Park in China (designed by HKS and the China Southwest Architectural Design and Research Institute), which features an innovative exterior that honors a local, traditional art form; and HKS-designed Moody Outpatient Center at Parkland Hospital, a public health clinic that supports dignified, uplifting care for people in the Dallas community.

The visioning process enables HKS’ global team to deliver designs that delight the senses and support social, economic and environmental progress, what AIA terms the defining principles of good design in the 21st century.

HKS Research Accelerator Program Explores How Advancing ESG in Design Adds Client Value

HKS Research Accelerator Program Explores How Advancing ESG in Design Adds Client Value

We’re no longer interested in the simple exercise of acknowledging problems. We’re taking action. We’re moving beyond mere awareness by driving progress, alongside our clients, by enriching interactions and promoting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) measures. We’ve joined the United Nations Global Compact, embracing Sustainable Development Goals under the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. But we also have ongoing research to support the bleeding-edge innovation on how to get there.

“The greatest challenges of the 21st century are Design problems. They are not thrust upon us; they are of our making. Fortunately, the solution is also Design. What we are faced with is not a technical challenge, it is a people challenge. HKS’ holistic, integrated, research based ESG is one of our empowerment tools.”

Rand Ekman,
Chief Sustainability Office

HKS supports multiple paths to innovation through research. We offer our talent opportunities to learn and grow by instilling research and providing opportunities to explore, investigate, and evaluate. The Incubator track emphasizes the development of research capabilities, expanding our firm’s knowledge and exploring novel concepts, ultimately enhancing our innovation potential. Building upon incubated work, the Accelerator track aims to generate applicable research and insights, transforming this innovation potential into practical integration and impact for our projects and practices.

Each year we encourage diverse, inquisitive teams to think, synthesize and translate insights into impact, with a focus on new design ideas. Over the past three years, the Incubator/Accelerator research program has supported 29 projects, including 150 HKS employees from various regions. Our firm is differentiated by the scope and breadth of our evidence-based practice areas. And while we aren’t the only AED firm to support research grants, the projects we support are designed to create tools and methods that make an actionable difference in design.

“Better Design, Better Outcomes. Better Research, Better Design. It is that simple. Our research incubator and accelerator programs are designed to democratize research and make room for the limitless thinking that is vital at a time when so much is changing all at once”

Upali Nanda, PhD,
Global Practice Director, Research

Here we’ll focus on our 2022 accelerator projects which are exemplary in showing how ESG is foundational in design. The research questions and methodologies of each project varied greatly, including how to engage with diverse stakeholders and cultivate a sense of belonging, how to improve energy savings and align carbon impacts with client goals, and what to consider in mitigating climate risks and developing a framework for materials transparency. Over the last year of research, here are three key pathways that transcend each effort.

Key Pathways #1: Sustainable practices find cost savings through best practices.

From a bird-eye perspective, the construction and design industry contributes 30% of total global waste and 38% of global carbon dioxide. However, by adopting sustainable construction practices, building operations , and optimizing material selection and transportation, the industry can not only reduce waste and carbon dioxide emissions but also achieve substantial cost savings.

Construction methods vary based on location, affecting both the materials used and their transportation distances. The architecture and engineering (A/E) industry must adapt to the global shift towards carbon neutrality by designing and maintaining carbon-neutral buildings that align with client goals. To achieve this, Miguel Lopez and his team provided design teams with low-embodied-carbon material recommendations and engaged in project-specific building systems and assemblies during the early stages of design. Their assessment tool allows teams to work proactively during the design process to identify and implement carbon reduction strategies and effectively reduce embodied carbon footprints with cost savings in mind.

Adaptive reuse stands out as the most cost-effective approach to sustainable building construction, primarily because it allows for the repurposing of existing structures. This method minimizes the requirement for new materials and reduces construction expenses. By adopting principles of the circular economy, Lisa Adams suggests solutions that are not only sustainable but cost effective. Her team collected data on material usage and sustainable upgrades, utilizing Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which when applied to design, informs decision-making and more efficient resource allocation.

By creatively transforming and retrofitting buildings, adaptive reuse preserves the embodied energy within the existing structure, minimizes waste, and conserves resources. Compared to constructing entirely new buildings, this sustainable practice not only benefits the environment but also generates substantial cost savings for project developers and owners.

Adams’ team developed five key strategies to adopt in the design process—prioritizing adaptive reuse, specifying carbon sinks, designing for reuse, eliminating waste, and carefully selecting materials —to not only reduce embodied carbon but also create cost-saving opportunities and long-term value for clients.—to not only reduce embodied carbon but also create cost-saving opportunities and long-term value for clients.

Amber Wirth led a team that met with experts on MEP systems, collaborating closely to assess data related to various façade strategies employed to optimize greenhouse gas emissions reductions for all-electric buildings. The team delivered strategies that focused on financial benefits by optimizing window-to-wall ratios, improving insulation, using high-performance glazing, designing with solar panels, and combining these elements in an all-electric approach. Leveraging software that assesses the triple bottom line of these design strategies, the team quantified and attributed dollar values to their projects’ social and environmental impacts, a crucial step for clients in their decision-making process.

The research team explored solutions driven by data, such as window-to-wall ratio, to understand potential cost and energy savings. By reimagining prescriptive envelope requirements, more efficient and impactful decisions can be made.

Key Pathways #2: Client engagements are enriched by research that address equity and sustainability.

Sammy Shams and his team applied the Resilience Design Toolkit that was developed in partnership with the AIA during the Incubator program for designing more resilient buildings that reduce risk from climate change. The team studied the project work data of a large hospitality client in Marco Island, Florida, involving a renovation and expansion. Despite the area’s risk of 30-foot storm surges, site visits and design workshops helped the team comprehend and implement resilient design solutions to reduce risks and further refine the toolkit.

Building on our expertise in health design, Hannah Schultz and team created a design validation tool that combines evidence-based design and Safety Risk Assessments (SRA) to enhance existing processes. The tool aligns with client goals and selects suitable design options. When applied to mental and behavioral health projects, it will establish benchmarks, enable data-driven improvements, and leverage an evidence-based approach.

In pursuit of a more inclusive approach to design, Renae Mantooth’s team developed a guide focusing on equity in design, inspiring HKS collaborations for more equitable industry standards. The guide contains activities for project teams, stakeholder engagement, and analysis protocols, all contributing to HKS’ commitment to inclusive and equitable design.

The research team was sponsored by HKS’ education practice. Passionate about providing inclusive and supportive environments for primary, secondary and higher education, they were inspired by HKS projects like Whitefriars Community School in England (pictured above).

Key Pathways #3: across all industries, incorporating ESG throughout the design process is crucial for achieving the greatest impact.

ESG goals transcend the design process, and by embracing them, design solutions strengthen partnerships with clients, ensuring their needs are considered within the context of industry trends and conversations.

“ESG research through the J.E.D.I. lens encouraged us to consider the system with a growth mindset that impacts the choices we make in service of our communities. Research empowered our people to re-evaluate their thought process to affect the making of the built environment.”

Yiselle Santos Rivera,
Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion

Over $40 trillion in global assets under management (AUM) followed ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria, demonstrating a substantial rise in sustainable investment approaches in recent years. This figure underscores the increasing significance of ESG factors in business and investment choices. The topics we’ve addressed through last years’ Accelerators projects—from energy savings, carbon impact alignment, climate risk mitigation, and material transparency to inclusive design for health and well-being—seek to strengthen client partnerships and emphasizes equitable, client-centric projects. These projects contribute to greater social goals by promoting sustainable practices, reducing environmental impact, and fostering healthier spaces.

Team credits:

HKS Guide for Centering Equity in the Design Process​
Mantooth, Renae
Krause, Courtney
Rudd, Zac
Tang, Diana
O’Donnell, Kathleen
Jankowski, Jarod

Design + Safety Risk Assessment Tool Interface Development
Hudson, Roly
Shultz, Hannah
Howell, Nathan
Farrell, Rachael
Brugger, Cory

Resilience Design Feedback Loop Implementation
Fox, Adam
Barton, Amanda
Sorge, Caroline
Shams, Sammy

Designing Interiors for a Circular Economy
Adams, Lisa
Smith, Allison
Gilkey, Amy
Hartman, Dave

Embodied Carbon Case Study
Smith, Allison
Shams, Sammy
Funderburg, Chandler
Pina, Briana
McCann, Michael
Lopez, Miguel Angel

Building Decarbonization through Electrification & Envelope Thermal Performance
Wirth, Amber
Sorge, Caroline
Padmanabha, Shefalika
Brown, Mike
Dailey, Apryl

What Does it Take to Achieve Carbon Neutrality?

What Does it Take to Achieve Carbon Neutrality?

Navigating the carbon emissions landscape requires grappling with challenges that include comprehending value chain emissions, adopting new measurement techniques and pioneering reduction strategies. 

After years of exploration and analysis, HKS recently announced that we are now a carbon neutral business. In partnership with sustainability consultants from Omaha, Nebraska-based Verdis Group and Cloverly, a climate action platform headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, we have carefully measured the greenhouse gas emissions produced by our business practices and developed a carbon offset portfolio to help counterbalance the negative effects of our carbon footprint each year.

Carbon neutrality is an important step in our journey to net zero – reducing the net carbon emissions due to our business operations to as close to zero as possible.

Rand Ekman, HKS’ Chief Sustainability Officer; Arnaud Manas, Senior Associate, Verdis Group; and Jason Rubottom, Chief Executive Officer, Cloverly, recently shared why HKS took this path and what other firms can learn from our experience.

Rand Ekman, Chief Sustainability Officer, HKS

Why did HKS decide to become a carbon neutral firm?

To be a good global citizen.

We’re a big firm that has a carbon footprint that matters in the larger context of climate change. We’re recognizing that and being serious about what that means.

We’re shifting our thinking around sustainability in order to look more closely at our own business practices and what we do as part of our industry. We can reduce the negative impact of our carbon footprint when we pay attention to it with rigor and purpose.

What were the biggest challenges in achieving carbon neutral business operations? 

We had to cover a lot of new territory. Determining our carbon footprint was a big challenge. How do you calculate your footprint, using as much rigor as you can, given the data sources you have access to? Learning what should be measured and how to measure it was new to HKS. That was what our consultants, including Verdis Group, helped us figure out.

The other major challenge was learning how to make intelligent decisions around carbon offsets. We needed to learn which offsets we wanted to align with as a company. That’s how we ended up working with Cloverly. They approach the question of offsets with integrity, and they have a lot of data that enabled us to make judgement calls about offsets that aligned with our values and business practices.

What do you think is the most important thing that other firms might learn from HKS’ experience? 

You don’t have to have it all figured out in advance. You just need to start. There are a lot of resources out there in the world, both within architecture and outside our profession, that are ready and willing to help. Drawing on those resources and developing long-term relationships is important. This is an ongoing effort that will play out for many years. Build a strong team.

Arnaud Manas, Senior Associate, Verdis Group

What challenges do companies often face when starting to understand their carbon footprint?

Calculating the baseline footprint and collecting the initial data can be hard, especially because organizations usually don’t have resources allocated to greenhouse gas accounting.

Once we have the numbers, there are a couple issues we often run into as far as understanding them. Emissions related to leased assets and procurements can be confusing. It can be difficult for people to understand that if you lease office space or spend money with a vendor, you’re responsible for the emissions related to that activity.

In addition, companies need to commit to doing the work on an ongoing basis. It’s new work, new data to be collected every year. There are staffing and budget implications for measuring emissions and supporting efforts to reduce them. It’s important to make this work a priority and engage the entire organization.

What’s next on the horizon for greenhouse gas emissions accounting?

The European Union, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Federal Sustainability Plan are implementing or have proposed new rules that require businesses to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. Even if these regulations don’t apply to your organization directly, you may be a vendor of a firm that will need to report this information. Data transparency and determining how to purchase goods and services in a more sustainable way are increasingly important.

Start-ups are racing to develop a software platform for managing emissions data. Artificial Intelligence will likely play a role in this. That’s going to accelerate the greenhouse gas accounting movement.

While they get a better handle on their emissions data, companies are also asked to disclose targets and reduction plans that involve strategies such as more efficient building designs, retrofits of existing buildings, electrification and renewable energy.

Jason Rubottom, Chief Executive Officer, Cloverly

At HKS, we are keenly focused on the intersection of environmental and social impacts. How did you guide HKS in aligning our portfolio with our values?

We helped HKS construct a portfolio of high-quality projects that optimize for both environmental and social impacts, with the data to give the firm confidence in their decisions. These decisions can be complex. We make things easier by providing comprehensive project data and expertise, as an independent party.

The United Nations has identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals that correspond to social impacts, such as clean water and sanitation. These are often referred to as co-benefits. We helped HKS define a set of priorities for their offset portfolio that is unique to their brand, story, core values and supply chain, and we gave the firm information about offset projects with co-benefits that align with these priorities.

Not all carbon credits are created equally. What does quality mean in the offset world?

There are several factors that generally determine the quality of a project and a critical part of the customer journey with HKS, or any account is to take all factors into account in making decisions. 

One is additionality: was the carbon going to be removed from the atmosphere without HKS funding the project? Projects should represent incremental progress – that’s what we mean by additionality. This concept extends to double counting or over-crediting on the estimates of how much carbon is being removed or sequestered or avoided. Another factor is the durability of the removal. This length varies, from less than 50 years to 1,000-plus years, or permanently. Social impacts are also an intrinsic value of quality.  

What role do carbon credits play in the fight against climate change?

Research shows we have to take action now or we won’t come anywhere near the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement international treaty on climate change. There’s already too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and too many unavoidable emissions. If we don’t act now, it will be too late in the year 2050, and potentially even 2030. Decarbonization must remain the priority, but carbon credits represent a critical way to fund necessary carbon removal to help combat unavoidable emissions today.

LGBTQIA+ Designers at HKS Bring Pride to Their Work

LGBTQIA+ Designers at HKS Bring Pride to Their Work

HKS’ mission to build a better future isn’t limited to our design practice — that goal drives everything we do. Our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives allow us to look inward and effect meaningful change that makes our firm a better place to work. These initiatives include the daily celebration and inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ colleagues through the firm’s Pride Affinity and Inclusion Group and participation in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.  

HKS constantly strives to create space for, and amplify the voices of, our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, but Pride Month is a chance to honor them further. To celebrate Pride Month, three of our colleagues — Dennis Dine, Gaby Espinosa and Pablo Morales Contreras — share how their identities within the LGBTQIA+ community make them better designers.  

Dennis Dine, he/him 

Architecture Design Professional, Health Care 
HKS Chicago 
Years in the industry: 6 
Years at HKS: 2 

Since joining HKS two years ago as a health care designer, I have worked alongside a diverse, dynamic team comprised of varying intersectional identities. Together, we seek to create environments that heal and uplift by using a people-first design approach. User engagement is central to any responsive design solution and our varying identities and experiences give our team a comprehensive perspective to ask the right questions. My own identity as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community — along with our ongoing research on gender-affirming design — provides me with a lens to think critically about gendered spaces and psychological and physical safety. This lens, when compounded with those of my teammates, results in more empathetic and inclusive solutions.  

At HKS, my identity within the LGBTQIA+ community is viewed as an asset, not a liability. Our clients are demanding a built environment that reflects the communities they serve, and HKS recognizes that responsiveness does not emerge from homogeneity. It is not enough to merely hire and bring diverse voices to the table. Rather, we must ensure diverse voices are amplified to fully leverage the benefits they offer to our work. 

Pride Month provides us all with an opportunity to both celebrate progress and recognize the work we have cut out for us. The opportunities I have today are the result of those before me who fought tooth-and-nail for them. It is now my turn to lead with influence to push the needle further. 

“At HKS, my identity within the LGBTQIA+ community is viewed as an asset, not a liability.”

Gaby Espinosa, she/her

Designer, Senior Living
HKS Dallas
Years in the industry: 8
Years at HKS: 2.5

Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community encourages me to be a better designer by fostering an understanding of and appreciation for the needs of diverse communities. It has opened my eyes to the importance of inclusivity and the role of design in creating spaces that not only embrace diversity but celebrate it. Whether it’s incorporating accessible features, respecting cultural traditions or accommodating different lifestyles, I want to design environments that make everyone feel like they belong. By designing spaces that take into consideration the uniqueness of people, we can empower individuals to freely be who they are. 

Being a lesbian has cultivated my strong sense of empathy and curiosity about people’s different perspectives. This has allowed me to connect with clients and the people we design for on a deeper level. By creating an open environment with honest dialogue, I can collaborate in an effective way, which results in unique designs that reflect the identity of the communities they belong to. Celebrating diversity and incorporating elements that reflect people’s cultures and identities results in designs that make people feel at home. 

My identity encourages me to think outside the box and challenge the norm, especially when designing for the future of senior living. The LGBTQIA+ community has a history of progress and pushing boundaries that inspires me to approach design challenges with fresh eyes and seek unconventional solutions. By embracing different perspectives, cultures and ideas, I want to create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also challenge what we traditionally think of when we think of senior living design. Design should foster inclusivity and result in spaces that encourage exchanges between different generations, cultures and identities. 

“The LGBTQIA+ community has a history of progress and pushing boundaries that inspires me to approach design challenges with fresh eyes and seek unconventional solutions.”

Pablo Morales Contreras, he/him

Designer, Hospitality 
HKS Mexico City 
Years in the industry: 6.5 
Years at HKS: 1.5 

I believe creativity comes from viewing the world from a different perspective. As members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we tend to see the world differently, moving away from the way things have always been done to what should be done instead. What is innovation if not a twist or an introduction of a new thing to an established arrangement?  

From an early age, every queer person comes to terms with their identity, realizing that we aren’t like most people. This process of self-discovery is what makes us more creative. We get to create our own playbook, and because of that, we see the world as a creative place. We explore how we can make something more beautiful or more inclusive.  

As a designer, my identity has been influential in the way I think about design and how I approach each project. My background, experiences, values and beliefs all play a role in how I interpret a design brief and choose the best solution for it. I believe there’s power in bringing a diverse point of view, a different way of doing things or a different world view. From the vibrant colors of the Pride flag to the powerful messages of self-love and acceptance, I strive to bring these elements into my designs to create something that is both visually stunning and meaningful. 

“I believe there’s power in bringing a diverse point of view, a different way of doing things or a different world view.”

Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community has been a great source of inspiration and motivation for me as a designer. Being exposed to different perspectives, cultures and ways of thinking has helped me develop my creative skills and become more open-minded when it comes to design. 

It also has made me more aware of the importance of representation in design. I strive to create designs that are inclusive and representative of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This helps me create designs that are not only visually appealing but also meaningful and impactful. 

We Need to Break the Workstation

We Need to Break the Workstation

For decades, workplace headlines have abounded with doomsday depictions of the open office. “Is the open office dying?”The open-plan office is dead. Do this instead.” “The truth about open offices.” “The immortal awfulness of open plan workplaces.

Most of these stories catalogue heaps of research pointing to lower productivity, less collaboration, and higher distraction. But these arguments are not addressing the real culprit head-on. The office struggles because the physical building block of the workplace – the workstation – is trying to be all things, all the time, for everyone.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the combination of a desk, a monitor, and a chair near other desks, monitors, and chairs. The problem arises when that combination is seen as a default, affording all things from creative collaboration to individual focus to virtual connection to rest and recovery all at once.

That’s asking a lot of this one humble design feature.

It’s where we tend to spend most of our time at the office, and it’s where we often do more than one task at the same time. We have a workstation addiction. With that, our workstation is overextended, and it is multi-tasking as much as we are.

Because the open office is the standard for most contemporary office spaces, focusing first on what’s not working with the open office workstation is critical. It’s the linchpin that needs to be pulled before the rest of the workplace can be remade and revitalized for purposeful intent.

Importantly, most doomsday stories about the office confuse the distinction between the physical description of design elements with what those design elements provide for users. So instead of the workstation serving as the default physical building block of the office, what would happen if people were the focus? This design conversation would then change from being based on physical solutions first to one that considers what employees workspaces signal to them – i.e., what each space affords.

Instead of the workstation serving as the default physical building block of the office, what would happen if people were the focus?

A Lack of Evolution

The workstation is the hangover from the industrial era, where employees were interchangeable work points on a factory floor. While this factory floor work was centered on the value of employees’ production of physical goods, this model hasn’t meaningfully evolved much further for most organizations to this day.

The workplace has continued to use industrial era management techniques to define what the office should look and work like, without considering what new types of work might require. This thinking evolved from the iconic SC Johnson Administrative Building where office workers at desks in the open plan could be surveilled by management.

The design of the SC Johnson Administrative Building enabled surveillance by management. Source: Frank Lloyd Foundation

As repetitive tasks and access to information increasingly migrate toward AI, the value of humans is in knowledge work, especially creativity and innovation. So why do we continue to default to a model that was designed for mass production and surveillance? That open office was designed around space and management to contain the work; it never was designed to enhance or even enable freedom of thought.

Complicating the situation is the recent pandemic-related shift in how we approach thinking about the office. The pandemic has led us to rethink how and where we are able to get work done (essentially anywhere, thanks to technology), and for some, the purpose of the office, but it hasn’t led us to collectively rethink the workstation – that is, until now. That’s what we at HKS are doing today.

The Workstation as a Destructive Default

When most employees enter their open-plan office, they seek out their workstation first, whether assigned or unassigned. Why? Because the workstation has become default, and for many, it has always been default. In other words, we have become reliant on our workstation to do all the things we need to do when we’re in the office. It’s our home base and we’ve become dependent on it.

When we focus, ideate, connect socially, co-create, plan, virtually collaborate, rest, and reflect, among so many other things at our workstations, we also do those things around our coworkers. This means that one employee’s behavioral intent is often at odds with another’s nearby. One’s unplanned, casual collision is another’s distraction. One’s deep thinking, focused work is another’s isolation. One’s accountability is another’s surveillance, lack of agency, and lack of trust.

In our collaborative study with the Center for BrainHealth, we found that managing distractions was a key challenge for focused work in an open office environment, and that 6 out 10 employees were dissatisfied with the lack of environmental control. We also found that 71% of our total observed workplace activities at the office were happening at our workstations – including focused work, virtual collaboration, interacting in person, and even cognitive breaks.

Unsurprisingly, this all-embracing perception of what the workstation affords us enables multitasking. 43% of our employees reported frequent multi-tasking. Moreover, multitasking was related to lower ratings of effectiveness and even to increased burnout.

These findings are not revelatory in themselves. An affordance-driven, rather than a physical design-driven, perspective of the workstation helps us understand how we’ve placed too many responsibilities on one solution, and where they are at odds. It also helps us understand how our workstations are multi-tasking right alongside us.

The result is our collective concept of the ‘workstation’ that has become untenable and unfocused.

71% of our workplace activities at the office happened at workstations

The Rest of the Office

Just as the workstation can’t be all things all the time and still be effective, the office as a whole will likely not be able to be all things for all people. The office is part of a larger work ecosystem – ideally, a system of intentional and distinct parts that work together across different spaces, often globally and virtually.

Of course, where we work matters because not all environments are suitable for all tasks. If the intent of those different spaces is distinct, clearly communicated, and legible, we can envision more suitable journeys throughout a workday for employees struggling with distraction, multitasking, and agency.

And when we start to consider our work as happening in a larger ecosystem of spaces that afford different things, we might be able to add valuable nuance to the growing number of terms that fall flat due to their inherent overgeneralization (see: hybrid work, flex work, remote work, return to work, return to office, post-pandemic workplace).

A hypothetical journey over the course of an intentionally planned work day

If this discussion were happening decades ago, we might be able to get away with small nudges for what the workstation’s role was in the office. But now, the workstation concept is far too historically ingrained in our work culture, resulting in a bad habit that is challenging to fix.

One of our brain’s superpowers is the ability to learn and form concepts, and to use them to predict how our bodies will interact with our environment. The longer we keep reinforcing and using those concepts, the more powerful they become. When we see something resembling a workstation, that concept will be activated, as will our long history of associated behaviors and habits.

If we want to break the workstation addiction we have to fundamentally change the concept of the workstation – so that instead of a “station” to anchor all work activities, clear affordances are seen in the many work environments that an office provides, empowering workers to align their intent with where and when they can do their best work, depending on role, task, personality and unique sensory needs.

In the next installments, we’ll show how we’re going to break the concept of the workstation and what we can remake in its place. Here’s a hint: Think again about that time when you’re first walking into the office. Let’s say you want to settle in, orient yourself while planning your day, or maybe just crash for a moment with a coworker while checking email. Instead of heading to your default workstation, you don’t, because you do not see one. Instead, you see distinct spaces dedicated to serving your needs in that moment. What’s more, when you head to those spaces, you’ll be around coworkers engaged in activities conducive to, not at odds with, your own.

Diane Adler




News, Announcements and Events

AGI North American Headquarters

Case Study

AGI North American Headquarters A Design that Attracts and Connects Top Talent

Naperville, Illinois, USA

The Challenge

AGI is a global leader in the planning, engineering and manufacturing of agricultural systems and solutions for fertilizer, seed, grain, feed and food. For the company’s new North American headquarters, it hoped to attract top talent through great amenities and an environment that would connect employees to the firm’s mission: to supply the world’s food infrastructure while enriching the lives of AGI employees, customers, shareholders and communities.

An added challenge: AGI had seven months from hiring HKS to a move-in date. The design team had to balance an aggressive design and delivery schedule with COVID-era supply chain disruption and long-term client objectives.

The Design Solution

To deliver the project on time and on budget, the HKS design team quickly convened with our consultants and contractor to align the design process with procurement and supply chain restraints. Rather than traditional schematic design and design development presentations, the design team led weekly work sessions that prioritized decision making to align with procurement and construction schedules. This approach freed the design team to focus on aesthetic and material quality while meeting AGI’s budget and schedule goals.

The interior design connects AGI’s headquarters employees to their colleagues and clients in the field through experiential storytelling. Materials including reclaimed wood, corrugated metal, leather and suede allude to AGI’s agrarian roots. Large format, stylized black and white photography adorns the walls of the central community space, communicating AGI’s core brand and global reach in a space dedicated to building stronger corporate culture.

To attract and retain talent, AGI prioritized design for well-being. Informed by criteria included in LEED, WELL and Fitwel certifications, HKS created a design for well-being matrix. This new tool enabled the design team to advise our client on which design strategies best aligned with AGI’s goals, schedule and budget criteria. The headquarters offers plentiful views of nature, biophilic elements, and encourages walking to promote better health.

The Design Impact

Since its move, AGI reports that the office culture improved almost immediately as the company witnessed greater collaboration across multiple departments. Employee headcount showed continuous growth within the first three months of occupancy and is projected to increase, realizing the firm’s objective to recruit top talent.

Project Features


Join HKS in Designing a Better World at the AIA 2023 Conference on Architecture

Join HKS in Designing a Better World at the AIA 2023 Conference on Architecture

The American Institute of Architects will host its 2023 Conference on Architecture at the Moscone Center in San Francisco from June 7–10. The four-day, annual conference will feature an Architecture Expo for industry-wide networking and more than 400 additional events centered on designing a better world.  

This year’s Conference will debut seven education tracks aimed at streamlining the experience for conferencegoers who wish to attend sessions tailored to their interests. Five panels will feature a total of eight HKS architects and designers.

Please join HKS for the following events:  

Relationship with Technology (Practice vs. Process) Panel at the TAP Symposium at A’23 

Wednesday, June 7 — 2:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. PDT 

Speakers: Vibhuti (Vickie Patel) Harris, Firmwide BIM Leader, HKS; Matt Wheelis, Senior Vice President of Strategy, Build and Construct Division, Nemetschek Group; Sam Omans, Industry Strategy Manager, Architecture, Autodesk; Kim Dowdell, AIA, NOMAC, 2023 First Vice President, The American Institute of Architects; Brad Prestbo, FAIA, Boston Office Director, Studio NYL. 

Harris will join the TAP Symposium’s third panel to discuss the lack of software designed to meet the evolving demands of project delivery and the AEC industry’s role in collaborating with software companies to effect positive change.  

Empowering Communities Through Empathetic Listening

Wednesday, June 7 — 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. PDT 

Speakers: Erin Peavey, AIA, Health and Well-being Design Leader, Community, HKS; Jessica Roddenberry, AIA, Studio Practice Leader, Education, HKS

Peavey and Roddenberry will host a discussion on the power of empathetic design in granting communities participation and choice in the development of their everyday spaces.  

Performing Beautifully — The COTE Top Ten Awards 

Thursday, June 8 — 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. PDT 

Speakers: Michelle Amt, AIA, Director of Sustainability/Associate Principal, VMDO Architects; Katie Ackerly, AIA, Principal/Sustainability Director, David Baker Architects; Avinash Rajagopal, Editor in Chief, Metropolis; Lori Ferriss, AIA, Principal, Director of Sustainability and Climate Action, Goody Clancy. 

The COTE Top Ten Award, architecture’s most prestigious sustainability award, honors design excellence. A panel including COTE award jury members will discuss real-world implementation of design that considers climate action, equity and environmental performance. Tommy Zakrzewski, Director of Building Engineering Physics at HKS, will also briefly talk about the firm’s design of its COTE Top Ten-winning North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood. 

Please join Zakrzewski and Rand Ekman, Chief Sustainability Officer at HKS, in celebrating the firm’s 2023 COTE Top Ten Award at the AIA COTE Top Ten Toast on June 8 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. PDT, and the AIA Honors Awards Celebration on June 9 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. PDT.  

Virtual Models & the Future of Digital Delivery: SoFi Stadium 

Thursday, June 8 — 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. PDT 

Speakers: Cory Brugger, Assoc. AIA, Chief Technology Officer, HKS; Heath May, AIA, Global Practice Director of LINE, HKS; Devin Lewis, AIA, Senior Architect, Solomon Cordwell Buenz; Timothy Dufault, FAIA, Chief Revenue Officer, ConcertVDC. 

Brugger and May will discuss HKS’ award-winning SoFi Stadium and its use of virtual models throughout construction.  

Stronger Together: The Future of Latinx in Architecture 

Thursday, June 8 — 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. PDT 

Speakers: Yiselle Santos Rivera, AIA, Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, HKS; Patricia Alcaron, AIA, Principal, Ratcliff; Bayardo Selva, AIA, Architect, cre8 Architects; Ingedia Sanchez, AIA, NCARB, LEED BD + C, Sr. Technical Director/Associate, UrbanWorks, Ltd.; Patricia Centeno, AIA, Principal, BAR Architects & Interiors. 

As the Latinx population increases in the United States, Latinx architects are working to expand resources for Latinx design professionals. Rivera will join a group of architects to discuss diversity within the Latinx community and representation in the design industry.  

Leveraging Integrative Frameworks for Resilient Design 

Thursday, June 8 — 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. PDT 

Speakers: Amanda Barton, AIA, Project Designer, HKS; Sammy Shams, AIA, Sustainable Design Professional II, HKS; Ibrahim Almufti, Associate Principal, Risk & Resilience Team Leader, ARUP; Thomas Packer, Associate Principal, ARUP.  

Barton and Shams will join ARUP representatives to discuss both firms’ respective, yet complementary, frameworks that promote design resilience.  

Greening Large: Advancing Organizational Sustainability Through Regenerative Projects

Friday, June 9 — 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. PDT

Speakers: Allison Smith, Assoc. AIA, Sustainable Design Leader, Vice President, HKS; Wes Sullens, LEED Fellow, Director, LEED, U.S. Green Building Council.

The Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Boarding Area B at the San Francisco International Airport is the world’s first LEEDv4 Platinum- and WELL Platinum-certified airport terminal. Smith will join a discussion of the project’s sustainable design, as well as the potential impact of large new projects on an individual organization’s sustainability progress, certifying bodies and the AEC industry at large.

Becoming a Citizen Architect 

Friday, June 9 — 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. PDT 

Speakers: Julie Hiromoto, FAIA, Principal, Director of Integration, HKS; Kira Gould, Hon. AIA, Principal, Kira Gould CONNECT; Angela Brooks, FAIA, Principal, Brooks + Scarpa Architects, Inc.; Christian Solorio, AIA, Arizona State Representative.  

Hiromoto will join a panel of fellow award-winning architects to discuss the citizen architect’s role in government and civic engagement.  

College of Fellows Investiture Ceremony

Thursday June 8 – 3:00pm – 5:00pm PDT

HKS’ Bernita Beikmann, Chief Process Officer, Principal and Executive Vice President, will be officially elevated to the AIA College of Fellow during the annual investiture ceremony.

HKS Nurses Provide Unique Perspective to Health Care Design

HKS Nurses Provide Unique Perspective to Health Care Design

Michelle Jutt always wanted to be a nurse.

“I’m just a natural caretaker,” Jutt said. “It’s what I was born to do.”

But she never expected her career path to lead to an architecture firm.

Jutt is a Partner and Global Practice Director, Advisory Services at HKS. She is also one of seven nurses employed by the firm.

Why would a global design firm hire seven nurses? Because they provide valuable expertise as advisors, strategists, medical planners and company leaders. May is National Nurses Month and HKS is celebrating the contributions of its nurse employees.

Why would a global design firm hire seven nurses? Because they provide valuable expertise as advisors, strategists, medical planners and company leaders.

In addition to Jutt, other nurses at HKS are Principals Jennie Evans, Global Development Director of the firm’s Communities sector, and Sarah Campbell Holton, Strategic and Operations Healthcare Planner. Senior Managers Laura DiConti and Lisa Sgarlata; and Managers Ana Hutchins and Shawna Langworthy, all with the firm’s Advisory Services group, are also nurses.

The nurses at HKS have worked in specialties ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics, in diverse geographic regions, in inpatient and outpatient environments covering the entire continuum of care. Together, they bring a total of 188 years of nursing experience to the firm.

“There’s so much creativity that comes from a band of nurses working together,” said Evans.

From left to right Michelle Jutt, Jennie Evans, Sarah Campbell Holton, Laura DiConti, Lisa Sgarlata, Ana Hutchins and Shawna Langworthy

Shared Passion

The seven nurses followed different roads to the nursing and design professions, but they share a passion for caregiving.

Jutt, who is based in Orlando, made her way to HKS in 2017 after a hospital career that included bedside care; human resources; quality, risk and safety management and executive leadership roles.

“I felt like there was something missing for me after almost 20 years,” Jutt said. “I wasn’t feeling the challenge quite like I had in the beginning.”

A friend who worked at HKS told Jutt about a job opening at the firm. Jutt said that as she considered the position, she thought, “You all design hospitals, and I get to be part of that. I get to tell you what works and doesn’t work within a hospital. What a great idea!”

Michelle Jutt, recognized as a Jewish Hospital Health Network Nurse of the Year, 2002 / presenting at an HKS client meeting

Langworthy is based in the Chicago office. Like Jutt, she has wanted to be a nurse since childhood. “I never thought about anything else, ever” as a profession, Langworthy said.

She worked her way through college, beginning with an associate degree in nursing and continuing her education throughout her career as a nurse and nurse executive, culminating with a doctorate in 2020. Langworthy said that some of her most memorable accomplishments at the hospitals where she worked involved facility design and construction projects. She came to HKS to leverage her experience as a nurse and as a leader to influence health care design.

DiConti, from HKS Los Angeles, started out as a hospital employee at age 19, collecting menus from patients. “My whole career has been focused on health care,” she said. “The hospital is my second home.”

DiConti worked several years as a registered dietitian nutritionist before making the move to nursing at age 30 because she wanted to spend more time with patients. She spent nearly a decade in bedside care, earned her master’s degree in health administration and went on to serve in clinical management, care management and consulting. She was being recruited for a Director of Nursing position when she saw an online posting for a job at an architecture firm.

“Health care design sounded fascinating, and I thought I’d take a risk,” DiConti said. Nine years into her career in health care design, she jumped to HKS, where she’s now worked for eight years.

Laura DiConti with medical dispensing equipment, 1990s / on a site visit with fellow HKS nurse Ana Hutchins and HKS architect Ethan Hopkins

Evans, who is based in the HKS Dallas office, began her career as a health care assistant in Canada. In that role, she learned to provide basic hands-on patient care, such as taking blood pressure readings.

“I made a list of 10 things that I really wanted to do with my life,” said Evans. “I wanted to travel, I wanted to help people – nursing fit all of those” requirements.

Her job as a traveling nurse ultimately took her to Dallas, where she planned to stay for six months. “That’s 20-some years ago now,” Evans said with a laugh.

Evans’ responsibilities at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas included helping to usher in multiple facility design projects, including working with HKS designers as the hospital’s Clinical Liaison for Design and Construction.

Evans, who has a Master of Business Administration degree in international/global studies, now works at HKS to develop strategic relationships for the firm’s Community sector, helping create healthier and more livable communities worldwide.

Evans said that having multiple nurses on staff demonstrates that “HKS is serious about being the best health care architect.”

Jennie Evans nursing school graduation, 1987 / presenting with HKS Health Studio Practice Leader Kate Renner

“Soup to Nuts”

According to Evans, nurses possess skills that lend themselves well to design projects.

“We’re trained to observe,” she said. “We’re trained to look at the bigger picture. And we have to be efficient.”

Plus, said DiConti, “we’re really good listeners.” As a result, nurses can clearly understand what health care providers want to achieve with a project – and they can help hold the project team to that vision.

“We relate and connect (with clinicians) on a different level,” said Jutt. “We speak their language.”

“Nurses on architecture teams are translators,” said Evans. Nurses not only help translate operational needs into health care spaces, but they also help clinical and design professionals communicate with one another.

Evans described a planning session for an emergency department (ED) design project during which a hospital nurse kept saying that 80 percent of the facility’s patients were older than 80 years old. Evans said she turned to an architect at the meeting and explained, “That means their length of stay in the emergency room is longer than what we would typically plan,” because elderly patients require more time in the ED.

“We understand staffing. We understand operations. We just understand the health care environment, soup to nuts,” Evans said.

Quality Care

When Jutt joined HKS, she was initially concerned that she might miss having a hand in direct patient care. “But what I have found is that I get to make a difference in a much, much larger way,” she said.

Jutt recalled attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony at HKS-designed Emory Musculoskeletal Institute in Atlanta and thinking back on all the site tours and user interviews she’d participated in to help develop the operations plan that guided the facility’s design.

“In that moment, I just cried,” Jutt said. “I thought, ‘This started with a piece of paper and now it’s a building that’s going to take care of patients from all over.’ That’s a really proud moment that will stick with me.”

Langworthy said she hopes her work at HKS creates a legacy of improved satisfaction and safety for hospital patients and staff. “It makes a difference, the design of the projects we’re working on,” she said. “That’s incredibly important. Health care is a risky business. Patients are really sick these days.”

“At the end of the day, we’re taking care of patients,” said Jutt.

“Most Trusted Profession”

While their professional focus has shifted from direct care to design, HKS nurses maintain their nursing credentials.

Jutt, for example, keeps her nurse executive and human resources certificates up to date because “those are important to me personally and I think they continue to give credibility to what we do” at HKS, she said.

Evans maintains her nursing license to help health care professionals recognize that she understands their world. She said that being a nurse gives her work validation.

“Nursing is the most trusted profession in the world,” she said. “Why not have that on your business card?”