A Family-owned Hotel Chain Explores Ways to Reposition its Portfolio

Case Study

A Family-owned Hotel Chain Explores Ways to Reposition its Portfolio

United States

The Challenge

Seeking to identify areas of improvement and determine investment priorities, a hotel chain’s management and owners commissioned HKS Advisory to complete market and site optimization studies for four of their properties across the United States. 

The unique sites — a truck stop/hotel along an isolated interstate location, two destination conference center hotels, and a city-adjacent conference resort hotel — challenged the team to find a balance between cohesive brand strategies and site-specific interventions that could elevate and differentiate the properties in a crowded branded hotel landscape. It was imperative to focus on the strong history and legacy of the company’s brand to help shape the future of the portfolio. 

The Design Solution

To guide renovation and expansion strategies, the team conducted full site assessments including staff and management interviews, on-site observation and informal user interviews, as well as an online survey with the hotels’ broader customer base. Interviews and surveys focused on feedback about the properties’ current states as well as ideal future state attributes. 

Simultaneously, the team conducted market research including informational interviews with local government entities and business organizations such as chambers of commerce, convention visitor bureaus, hotel associations, as well as national and regional booking agencies such as tour operators, meeting and event planners, and destination management companies.  

Each site study yielded a set of recommendations highlighting specific physical facility improvement opportunities with associated operational and programmatic considerations. A “now, near, far” framework for each, supports prioritization efforts and potential phasing strategies. The HKS design team also developed schematic site plans to help contextualize the placement of their facility recommendations and optimal layouts for various scenarios. 

The Design Impact

Insights from this study have the potential to impact over 450 acres of the brand’s hospitality-oriented properties and the company’s operations. Their unique spaces and experiences touch millions of guests and visitors a year — from supporting family road trips across the United States to providing accommodations for conference participants, and events and engagements in their local communities. 

HKS’ strategic recommendations will help elevate and expand existing offerings to meet the needs of new and potential user groups and have implications for the future of the brand’s business positioning, operations, and portfolio optimization. 

Through extensive outreach and engagement, the HKS Advisory team triangulated key insights and themes from varied perspectives. 
Assessing current and future target guest audiences for drop-in, overnight and extended visits helped inform programmatic recommendations for renovation plans.
Site-specific activities, offerings and partnerships help differentiate each property while still establishing a notable standard for the brand experience. 

Project Features


Jerry Merritt

Scott Baltimore

Simulation Design to Support Nursing Students’ Mental Health

Simulation Design to Support Nursing Students’ Mental Health

In response to the 2023 State of Nursing survey by nursing education and advocacy group Nurse.org, 81 percent of nurses surveyed said they have experienced burn out and that their mental health has suffered during the past year.

At HKS, we believe supporting mental health should be a primary concern of programmers, planners and designers of nursing education space. As we celebrate National Nurses Month, we are especially concerned with how design can promote mental health and wellness in the nursing and allied health professions.

Actively teaching wellness strategies in nursing schools and creating spaces that allow students to utilize these strategies will equip nurses with the skills necessary to prioritize their mental health as they enter the workforce.

Rethinking simulation center design is one way to accomplish this. By updating the simulation experience to incorporate spaces and amenities to support mental health and well-being, HKS is investing in nurses and prioritizing their overall health.

A New Model for Simulation Center Design

Simulation laboratories can be stressful environments for nursing students. In a simulation lab, students enact real-world healthcare scenarios, in order to practice skills and demonstrate proficiency in patient care.

The traditional model for a simulation center prioritizes efficiency in the simulation process. This model focuses on providing realistic patient room environments supported by control rooms, ample storage and support space and room for systems such as audio-visual and information technology equipment.

Based on our own research and a review of the literature on simulation center design and operations, HKS has developed a new simulation center sequence – one designed to create an environment of psychological safety throughout the immersive learning experience.

This enhanced simulation center environment incorporates design features and amenities to support students’ health and well-being. In addition, it augments the traditional simulation center layout and flow with non-traditional spaces designed for wellness. Moments that inspire health and wellness can be integrated into the environment without adding significant area or cost.

General Education Space

The general education space is meant to equip students with the skills they need to make the most of the simulation lab experience. Creating rooms where students can relax nearby, but outside, the simulation center allows these rooms to remain open for student use 24 hours a day. The HKS-designed Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation (OSU COMCN) in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, includes peaceful relaxation and reboot rooms in the school’s general education area that serve as restorative spaces for students. The design of the graduate medical education space at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, also by HKS, features a dining area, comfortable seating and outdoor views.

Simulation Center Entry Zone

On entering the simulation center, students may need to secure their belongings, review procedure notes, hydrate, eat a snack or use the restroom. Secure lockers; comfortable, flexible seating that allows for individual reflection or collaborative work; adjacent restrooms and a water bottle filler are design features that can help put students at ease, so they can focus on themselves and their performance in the lab.

This approach is demonstrated in HKS’ design of the entrance zone to the simulation center at a new international medical college. The design features lockers and a variety of individual and group seating areas, along with plants and a soothing color palette to enhance the nurturing environment.

Prebriefing Zone

Prebriefing is a quick (approximately 10-minute) information session meant to prepare students for a simulation lab activity.

A prebriefing zone should be considered a fundamental part of the simulation process. Creating a dedicated space to engage students prior to a simulation exercise helps establish that the simulation lab is a psychologically safe environment.

When prebriefings are conducted in a corridor, transitional space or an area designed for another activity, students can be disadvantaged. They may not be able to see, hear or focus well enough to prepare properly for the upcoming assessment.

The design of OSU COMCN includes a separate prebriefing room with comfortable seating and a distraction-free environment. The HKS-designed medical school on the Centro Medico ABC medical campus in Sante Fe, Mexico, has an area with a table and chairs where students can learn about an upcoming simulation exercise. A nearby doorway provides immediate access to an outdoor respite space.

A study published in the research journal Clinical Simulation in Nursing showed that students who engaged in a mindfulness exercise following prebriefing, immediately prior to beginning a simulation exercise, reported feeling a sense of calm that was not typical of their previous experience in the simulation center.

Meditation space should be designed to offer a variety of relaxation activities. These can include larger spaces for group meditation and individual pods for students who prefer a private meditation experience.

Simulation Labs

Because real patients are not treated in simulation labs, simulation lab environments do not typically include the design features associated with actual patient treatment spaces. Design details such as daylight, nature views and soothing color palettes can improve the simulation lab environment and create a more mindful experience for students.

Debriefing Zone

Debriefing after a simulation exercise is a critical step in the simulation process. The goal of a simulation exercise is to promote reflective thinking. To learn from a simulation, students must be able to integrate the experience with conscious consideration of the activity.

A safe debriefing environment is critical to helping facilitators observe learners’ behavior, encourage open discussion and reflective thinking, provide appropriate feedback and aid students in responding to unanticipated situations.

Dedicated rooms are a necessary and well-established standard for debriefing. Prebriefing and debriefing can occur within the same space to create a more efficient floorplan if the circulation sequence is arranged so that the prebrief/debrief zone is positioned to serve both functions well.

Creating different sizes of debriefing spaces – such as a small room for an instructor to meet with one or two students and larger rooms for various-sized groups – allows the debriefing environment to adapt according to need.

Research into best practices for simulation lab debriefing shows that this process should be conducted in an environment that allows for privacy, trust and confidentiality. Acoustical treatments and window coverings can help maintain visual and auditory privacy.

Debriefing spaces should also provide students with access to areas where they can regroup or receive support if they become distressed due to unwelcome outcomes from a simulation exercise. In terms of adjacency, this may include access to a relaxation space or restroom, a smaller debriefing room or office, or nearby faculty/staff office areas.

Debriefing rooms should be positioned such that students can exit the simulation laboratory suite without interrupting simulations in progress. HKS included multiple doorways leading in and out of the debriefing space at City University of New York Lehman College Nursing Education, Research and Practice Center, to allow students to exit the simulation center without crossing back into the simulation labs.

Commitment to Health and Wellness

Our commitment to student health and wellness extends to every environment along nursing students’ journey to graduation. The integration of these wellness interventions and moments for mindfulness can help improve students’ simulation experience, decrease their anxiety and contribute to better learning outcomes, for greater student success.

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.

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.

HKS in 2023: Projects To Get Excited About

HKS in 2023: Projects To Get Excited About

Named by Fast Company as one of the Most Innovative Companies in 2022, global design firm HKS is looking to grow our business and bring exciting, positive impact to communities around the world this year.

From improving design through innovation, research and equity-centered approaches, here’s an insightful snapshot of some projects and initiatives that we’re excited to see in 2023:

Pioneering Research and Designs that Transform Communities

1. Brain Health Research – HKS recently launched brand-new findings from the brain health study we conducted in partnership with the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth® with insights into how people and companies can work smarter, more collaboratively and healthier. The report also includes what we’ve learned about designing workplaces to enhance cognitive functions and well-being.

2. Project Connect – The Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) just announced a major partnership with an international design team led by HKS, UNStudio and Gehl to create system-wide architecture and urban design for the light rail program of Project Connect, a major expansion of Austin’s public transit system.The collaborative team is getting to work on designing a technologically advanced, human-centric transit experience true to Austin’s culture and landscape.

Stunning New Places to Work and Relax

3. HKS New York City Office – Located in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan, HKS’ new New York City Office will open this spring. With a design inspired by the city’s complex transportation system and artistic culture, the office will be a center of creativity and innovation that serves as gateway destination for HKS’ global clients. Goals for the design include adaptable collaboration, acoustic comfort, access to nature and daylight — all key elements to support the health and productivity of designers working in one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities.

4. The Ritz-Carlton, Portland – HKS crafted the vision, developed the planning and strategy, sculpted the interior architecture and designed the furniture and finishes of the Ritz-Carlton that debuts this summer in downtown Portland, Oregon. This 35-story mixed-used high rise was created in partnership with Portland-based GBD Architects and BPM Real Estate Group. The interiors of the multifaceted building’s hotel, residential, retail and office spaces celebrate the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, native culture and craft and Portland’s spirit of exploration.

Game-changing Venues for Extraordinary Entertainment Experiences

5. ES CON Field Hokkaido – ES CON Field Hokkaido ballpark is a 35,000-capacity baseball stadium scheduled to open for play this spring in Japan. Home to the Pacific League’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Baseball Club, the complex is the heart of a dynamic, master-planned mixed-used development. The stadium’s retractable roof and sliding glass outfield doors – which help grow natural turf – are among many firsts for a ballpark in the Asian market. Other highlights include a pair of 88-meter-long video boards that create an immersive digital experience, and traditional Japanese onsen natural hot spring baths that fans can enjoy while watching games.

6. Cosm — The first public venue for global experiential media company Cosm is undergoing construction throughout 2023 at Inglewood, CA’s Hollywood Park, home of HKS-designed SoFi Stadium and YouTube Theater. The venue will feature live sports, entertainment events and arts and music experiences in a future-forward immersive digital technology environment. Cosm is sure to bring even more cutting-edge entertainment value to the Los Angeles area when it opens next year.

State-of-the-art Education and Health Care Environments

7. Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center O’Quinn Medical Tower at McNair – The new O’Quinn Medical Tower, opening this spring, will house the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, outpatient radiology and endoscopy services and an ambulatory surgery center. The medical tower and an adjacent 850-car parking garage addition are part of a multi-year project to consolidate patient care on Baylor St. Luke’s McNair Campus in Houston. This campus is located next to the Texas Medical Center and new TMC Helix Park, an area under development for world-class health care and research innovation.

8. UC San Diego Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood – Opening in the fall, UC San Diego’s Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood is a mixed-use student residential community that will also serve as a major public gateway to UC San Diego’s campus. Comprised of five buildings with student housing, academic, administration, a conference center and amenities such as dining, retail, and fitness, the Neighborhood is designed to enhance well-being and minimize environmental impact.

9. Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Patient Tower – This full-service pediatric facility in Richmond, Virginia includes emergency, inpatient and outpatient care all connected to a robust academic medical center and the hospital’s award-winning CHoR Pavilion, also designed by HKS. Because children’s health care often causes significant stress on young patients, families, and care team members, the tower’s research-informed design is intended to create an oasis for children and make people feel calm and at ease. All areas feature easily navigable circulation patterns, natural light and soothing artwork and are intended to promote choice. The building will open this spring.

10. Mount Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center – Work at the Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center for Mount Sinai Beth Israel, a teaching hospital in New York City, involved the complete renovation of a six-story structure originally built in 1898. The facility, due to open this spring, is designed to support mental health care, physical health care, addiction treatment, social services and integrated outpatient care. It will be the first center for comprehensive behavioral health care in New York state.

Looking Ahead

These HKS projects, along with many others scheduled for 2023, continue to demonstrate how architecture and design can bring joy, comfort and connection anywhere in the world.

“These projects reflect our commitment to service and pursuit of excellence for our clients, partners and colleagues in the new year,” said Dan Noble, HKS President and CEO. “We appreciate the collaboration and partnership that led to these successes and look forward to the future.”

These projects reflect our commitment to service and pursuit of excellence for our clients, partners and colleagues in the new year.

Dan Noble, HKS President and CEO

HKS Launches HKS xBE to Cultivate Inclusion in Architecture & Design Industry

HKS Launches HKS xBE to Cultivate Inclusion in Architecture & Design Industry

HKS announces the launch of a new partner diversity program, HKS xBE, that gives xBE firms (a term inclusive of all disadvantaged businesses) and their members access to opportunities to build relationships, pursue new work and bolster innovation within the architecture and design professions.

The program has two primary components: a 12-week seminar, xBE Rise; and an xBE Network, which aims to increase diversity among the firm’s myriad partnerships for architecture and design projects.

“HKS is committed to building a more diverse workforce and partnership network across the AEC industry,” says HKS CEO Dan Noble. “We value a wide range of different ideas and perspectives which we believe enrich the profession of architecture, foster design innovation, and increase the community value of our work.”

“HKS is committed to building a more diverse workforce and partnership network across the AEC industry.”

HKS Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Yiselle Santos Rivera, notes: “HKS xBE is a step in opening the profession of architecture to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. We look forward to the relationships it will inspire.“

HKS invites xBE firms and their employees to participate in two ways:

  1. Firms may enroll in the HKSxBE Network, so that we better understand your culture, expertise, and business goals in hopes of fostering future collaboration. Eligible firms will hold one of the following certifications: Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses (SDVOB), Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB), Disability-owned Business Enterprise (DIS), Small Business Enterprise (SBE) or LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE).
  2. Individuals may enroll in our 12-week seminar, xBE Rise. The purpose of xBE Rise is to learn how we might partner most effectively so that we are better positioned to serve clients and deliver industry-leading work together. Topics will mirror the phases of project design and delivery, and will include subjects such as contracts & risk management, marketing, community engagement and sustainable design. In each session, participants will explore barriers to success as well as perspectives on success for diverse teams.
Learn More & sign up

Getting to a Brain Healthy Workplace

Getting to a Brain Healthy Workplace

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Why brain health? We’ve written before about the need to embrace mental health through the prism of brain health. This emerging and growing concept encompasses neural development, plasticity, functioning, and recovery over the course of our lives. In some ways, brain health is to mental illness what physical fitness is to disease. The current study focuses on employees—while we still have our eye on broader societal concerns, including isolation, anxiety, and various problems that come with balancing technologies in the digital age. In short, we found that brain health strategies work—those who engaged the BrainHealth SMARTTM Strategies experienced a marked improvement over the course of our year-long study, as measured by the Center of BrainHealth®’s BrainHealthTM Index. On a fundamental level, our work shifts the conversation about workplaces.

“It’s time to change the narrative around how we work and fully leverage our brain capital. And it starts with the actions we take internally, with our own people, to help them emotionally, socially, and cognitively thrive.”

Dan Noble, HKS President and CEO

In 2021, HKS partnered with the Center for BrainHealth for a pilot program to investigate the role of place, process/policy, and technology in creating a brain-healthy workplace. The Center for BrainHealth is a nonprofit research institute dedicated to advancing the science of brain health,” how the brain best learns, reasons and innovates; actionable ways to protect it from decline; and proactive protocols to repair and generate brain systems. The organization developed a training program for brain fitness that works just like any physical fitness regime, leveraging 9 BrainHealth SMARTTM Strategies that prime the brain to calibrate mental energy, reinforce strategic thinking, and ignite innovation.

The core of our research leveraged a representative sample of HKS employees who participated in the program by completing a brain health assessment, accessing training modules, and translating brain health strategies into their daily lives. Additionally, five HKS Living Labs participated during the summer of 2022, as employees returned to the office at a higher frequency as part of their flexible work experience. We captured data and insights through surveys, observations, and interviews. We also convened semi-structured gatherings with colleagues, as well as both virtual and in-person think tanks.

In all, we determined seven key findings from our year-long study. Some corroborate past studies—such as the growing need to address distractions and multitasking. At the same time, others contribute new elements to discussions on mental health. Here are a few key insights from our report:

1. The brain can be trained.

Our study showed a statistically significant increase in brain health index for individuals who went through the brain health training.1 Those that completed the core cognitive training had a higher average than those that did not.

2. Managing distractions is a key challenge for focused work in the office.

The office isn’t only for collaboration—workers need spaces deliberately designed for focus work. Acoustics and a lack of environmental control consistently ranked lowest in satisfaction among design elements.

3. Multitasking is related to reduced effectiveness and increased burnout.

43% of our study’s participants said they frequently multitask—a bad habit related to a host of issues, including burnout. Our workstations are also multitasking alongside us.

4. Where we work matters, and using a range of spaces helps.

Creating a range of spaces based on task type or working modality may unlock innovation. We found that when participants used a range of spaces, satisfaction with collaborative work effectiveness in the office was higher.

5. Digital and physical workplace habits need time to develop.

Our satisfaction with individual and collaborative tasks increases with the time we spend in specific locations—we need time to acclimate to our environments for optimum efficiency.

6. Being together in-person is related to improved connection to team and increased opportunities for informal knowledge sharing.

Over the course of our 10-week study, collaborative behaviors increased and perceived connections to one’s team increased.

7. Perceived connections to one’s team are strong, but connection to the community is lagging.

After months or years of remote work, we must continuously evaluate how hybrid work arrangements impact interpersonal relationships across the organization.

By creating workplace affordances, we translated our key findings into strategies for our work environments. Workplace affordances are how we perceive environments to meet our needs. Based on the research, we proposed five primary affordances: focus, exploration & ideation, collaboration & co-creation, rest & reflection, and social connection. Affordances denote the end goal of how users will engage an environment—but they also begin with a question. Consider—how does the workplace foster social connection and community building? Or, how does our workplace afford us the ability to focus?

We then identified three fundamental habits underpinning a workplace designed for brain health—these are our workplace ABCs. First, the intent of a task must be aligned with the chosen environment. Based on the work an employee must accomplish, they must leverage the unique digital and physical affordances available to them. We also identified that workers need balance throughout the workday. Balanced habits are about intentional variability: working in different modalities and accessing a diversity of spaces designed to meet those needs. Finally, connection is critical to the workplace for brain health. This means connecting with others to boost a sense of belonging and provide a sense of purpose. Relating to how we align what we do with where we work and finding balance, connection also means equipping workers with the autonomy to choose and the authority to have control over their environment.

What’s Next?

We’re embracing the experiment: building on what we’ve gathered from our Living Labs and insights that we’ve gleaned from those who participated in our year-long study. We know that we’re not done yet. Our firm’s Flex Work policy is changing based on our learnings. We’re partnering with the Center for BrainHealth to develop a brain healthy workplace certification to encourage brain health practices and build accountability. We’re also focused on how our brain health explorations support unique business needs, so we’re developing a robust business case and toolkit for brain-healthy workplaces that will extend the work from this insights report into actionable real estate tools and measured impact.

Citations: 1 Zientz, J., Spence, J., Chung, S. S. E., Nanda, U., & Chapman, S. B. (in review). Exploring how brain health strategy training informs the future of work. Frontiers in Psychology.

HKS Employees Discuss the Importance of Black Professionals in the AEC Industry

HKS Employees Discuss the Importance of Black Professionals in the AEC Industry

From the days of courageous architecture pioneers Paul Revere Williams and Norma Merrick Sklarek until today, Black professionals have long made significant contributions to the Architecture and Design industry. But for many of them, being a Black person in the field — whether as an architect, designer, engineer, or other professional — brings about unique challenges.

As part of HKS’ Black History Month celebration, three of our Black colleagues — Michael Pruitt, Shantee Blain, and Chandler Funderburg — discuss their thoughts on what it means to them to be a Black professional in the AEC industry, and why they believe that’s important.

Michael Pruitt

Design Professional in Technical Resources Group/Quality Management
Number of years in the industry: 25
Number of years at HKS: 17

It is extremely important to me to be a Black man with a career in architecture because it gives me the opportunity to show young Black boys and girls who look like me that there are many more careers that they can choose in life other than sports and entertainment. I grew up in the small Northeast Texas town of Clarksville. One disadvantage of growing up in a small town that is two hours away from the nearest major city is that I was never exposed or introduced to a lot of different career choices, and especially not architecture. Without proper resources and guidance, it has made my career journey a little harder than many of my colleagues. I sincerely feel that my purpose is to be a good example and inspiration for Black children who may have no idea what architecture is, and also let them know of the various possibilities and career opportunities that are available in our field.

A good friend of mine was a schoolteacher in a predominantly Black elementary school in Lancaster, TX, and each year she would invite me to present during the school’s career day. I participated in several of the events and they were something that I looked forward to each year. Our HKS marketing department would provide me with a projector along with a cd containing slideshows and videos of the many different projects the firm has designed over the years. It was always amazing to see the children’s faces light up as they watched those videos. The questions that they asked, and the newfound curiosity that they displayed, were priceless. Those interactions that I had with them are the exact reasons why I love what I do, and they are also the reasons why, again, it is so important to me to be a Black man with a career in architecture.

Shantee Blain, AIA

Washington, DC Office Director/Vice President
Number of years in the industry: 18+
Number of years at HKS: 18+

Being a Black Architect…

…means fulfilling a promise to my dad that I would be a great architect, one he would have wanted to collaborate with on the construction sites he managed. He told me, “I’ve worked with some bad architects, Shantee. Couldn’t answer questions. Wouldn’t collaborate. Hell, some couldn’t read their own drawings. If you’re going to be an architect, Shantee, be a great architect.”

My uncle was an architect. He taught me that a construction drawing is a work of art.

My grandfather was a master builder. He taught me to take pride in my work.

Being a Black architect means continuing a family tradition, setting an example for the next generation and taking a vested interest in another’s story and supporting them.

Being a Black architect means never thinking about being a Black architect until asked to. Or until you’re identified specifically for being Black. I wasn’t taught to be a Black architect, but to be an architect. The education I received at my HBCU, Florida A&M University, wasn’t for a future Black architect, but for a future architect.

Being a Black architect means sometimes being seen for the color of your skin before your ability or the position you hold.

Being a Black Architect means instead of measure twice, cut once, one must think twice before speaking once. Think about your tone. Think about your words. Speak calmly. Think about your audience. Think about perception. Speak safely. [Repeat]

Being a Black architect means finding your mantra; “Don’t apologize for your passion, lest you seem apologetic. Don’t apologize for correcting someone, lest you seem compliant. Don’t apologize for wanting more, lest someone forget your worth.”

Being Shantee, architect means being passionate about each project, feeling excited about the art of the drawings, and empowering the next generation of future architects.

Chandler Funderburg

Knowledge Manager with GKS and Structural Engineer
Number of years in the industry: 5
Number of years at HKS: 5

Representation has always been important, not just now. Much of America’s historic architecture exists because of the unpaid, unacknowledged labor of Black Americans, both enslaved and free. And yet we have been systematically barred from access to spaces where our ingenuity could flourish, leading to the exclusion of Black people from strategic involvement in the decisions that impact our communities. 

To change course, we must overcompensate for the lack of diversity in this profession. The myth of meritocracy and the belief that diverse populations just ‘haven’t worked their way up yet’ has contributed to the exclusion of Black professionals for far too long. Look around in your important decision-making meetings and ask yourself how many Black people are sitting at the table with you. 

Without intentionally elevating Black and other People of Color (POC) voices in architecture, we will inevitably miss the opportunity for innovation and improvement — in our design work, processes, and office cultures. Rather than asking Black people to prove or explain that their voices add value, let’s ask our leaders and non-POC colleagues how they can promote Black input in spaces where it is notoriously onerous to be heard. 

HKS has zero Black individuals on the executive committee, four Black Principals, and one Black Partner. With our emphasis on being industry leaders and influencers, we should strive to be the exception. No more obscure ideas, initiatives, or sentiments — we need zealous participation in changing the landscape of the profession, and only then can we attain the level of unparalleled design that we are capable of reaching.

HCA Live Oak Mental Health and Wellness

Case Study

HCA Live Oak Mental Health and Wellness New Live Oak Wellness Center Stands Tall for South Carolina Patients

Ladson, SC, USA

The Challenge

With an extreme shortage of mental/behavioral health beds in the region, HCA sought to quickly and efficiently build facilities to accommodate the needs of Lowcountry, South Carolina. HKS was tasked with designing a prototype facility that can be replicated on other sites.

The Design Solution

Named after the oak tree for its strength and adaptability, Live Oak Mental Health and Wellness is a space where patients and visitors can feel safe and comfortable. Special care was taken to make the design feel less like a mental health facility.

It is designed around two central courtyards to remove the need for fencing in outdoor spaces. This also maximizes the natural light in the interior. Large rooms provide space for group therapy and socialization. The walls feature warm wood tones and soothing nature imagery.

The hospital combines short stay inpatient and outpatient services for adolescent, adult and geriatric patients. The spacious private patient rooms can be converted into semi-private rooms as needed.

The Design Impact

Live Oak Mental Health & Wellness, located near HCA’s Trident Medical Center campus, is the first mental health facility built in South Carolina in over 30 years. The facility more than doubled the number of mental/behavioral health beds that HCA offers the region. And it is designed to expand with an additional patient wing in the future.

Project Features


HKS Celebrates Outstanding Team Members with Annual Awards

HKS Celebrates Outstanding Team Members with Annual Awards

Each year, HKS recognizes its people and projects during the firm’s annual Year-End Celebration Event. This festive event is attended virtually by employees in all 26 HKS offices worldwide. With “office shout-out” videos, contests, and cash prizes, the culmination of the Celebration is the individual and team awards.

These awards — seven individual and three team — represent different aspects of our firm, from architecture and interior design to sustainability and justice, equity, and inclusion. The awards are also peer-nominated, so anyone in the 1,600-person firm can be recognized regardless of tenure or location. Each category’s submissions are then reviewed by a jury that reviews, debates, and selects the winner, who is announced to the firm during the Celebration event.

Congratulations to HKS’ 2022 Annual Award winners:

Individual Awards

Excellence in Interiors: The Excellence in Interior Design award honors an individual who has contributed to the growth and prominence of the Interior Design practice at HKS. This person is not only a gifted designer but also a trusted advisor to clients, mentor to staff and recognized industry leader.

Sarah Clair, Sr. Interior Designer in Richmond, advanced and developed Interiors’ Revit families and libraries to maximize the team’s efficiency, reduce errors, and elevate the quality of design and drawings. In addition to managing the onboarding of our interior designers, she is the Interiors Sector liaison between Practice Technology and Quality Control. Additionally, she leads the All Interiors monthly meetings, which celebrate our design successes and promote sustainability within the firm.

Fierce Advocate: The Fierce Advocate promotes and encourages justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in all they do. Leading with empathy, vulnerability and authenticity, this person fosters belonging within our firm and beyond.

Courtney Krause, Architect in Detroit, continuously looks for ways to engage multiple unique viewpoints and encourages her colleagues to do the same. As an office J.E.D.I. champion, Courtney is a key member of her studio and contributes to its culture of psychological safety and trust. Courtney initiated a Month of Service partnership with Living and Learning Enrichment in Detroit, which helps participants with disabilities achieve their goals through therapeutic, work-based, community engagement. Advocating for her community is part of her character, and her impact is present at HKS and beyond.

Ashli Hall, Sr. Communications Project Manager in Dallas, has worked tirelessly to support and advocate for others through the J.E.D.I. program since its inception. She manages the execution of the Limitless Panel Series and also coordinates the xBE Partnership Program. She also helped lead the J.E.D.I. Council and engaged with the K-12 Outreach Chairs to support programs like Girls, Inc. Her selflessness and dedication are often behind-the-scenes, but the impact of her work speaks for itself. 

Fire in the Belly: With guts and grit, the Fire in the Belly has the inner drive and determination to fulfill our strategic pillars. This person is emotionally invested in our business and ardently dedicated to leading with knowledge, advising with influence and designing for outcomes.

Manzer Mirkar, Sr. Project Architect in Los Angeles, fulfills HKS’ strategic pillars through his dedication to his projects, initiatives, and mentorship. An invaluable member of the Venues group, his ability to take design to fabrication has infused his projects with innovative elements. He advises with influence by mentoring individuals, his team, VPEC, multiple students at local universities, and staff in the L.A. Office. He designs for outcomes, infusing his Research Champions knowledge throughout his projects and initiatives. He has dedicated countless hours to leading his office, and his drive to improve the firm and to mentor others does not go unnoticed. Manzer demonstrates his passion by putting the project above himself, but more importantly, places his peers and the junior staff above all else.

Insatiable Innovator: If creativity is thinking of new ways to solve old problems, innovation is putting those ideas into real action. The Insatiable Innovator challenges the status quo by fostering a safe place for discovering breakthrough solutions that will solve the problems of tomorrow.

A Sustainable Design Professional in Orlando working with the Design Green team, Sammy Shams consistently searches for new opportunities to incorporate sustainable design principles into projects across the firm. His work with influential clients such as Cleveland Clinic and Baptist South Florida strengthened those relationships and led to more sustainable solutions. He was instrumental in developing the HKS Resiliency+ toolkit, adopted by clients and AIA National as a primer on combating climate change and focusing on resiliency planning. The AIA adoption of the toolkit will allow firms worldwide to benefit from his team’s thought leadership and expertise.

Masterful Mentor: First and foremost, the Masterful Mentor is driven by its passion for helping others achieve their professional goals. A trusted confidant, supportive coach and enthusiastic advocate, the Masterful Mentor guides their colleagues, as well as the next generation of leaders, to succeed along their career paths. ​​​​​​​

Aimee Middleton, Sr. Project Architect in Atlanta, creates space to share knowledge, ask questions, and grow as an office, regardless of where team members are in their tenure within the profession. Her ability to define and create avenues for mentorship and learning in the day-to- day make her an exemplar for our firm. She is always willing to share her time, attention, and experience and has a genuine gift for engaging and exciting others with new learning opportunities. As one nominee wrote: “I’ve heard her called the best PA in all of HKS. Not only does she excel at her job in the role of serving clients, but she’s also an incredible mentor to those around her at HKS.”

Whole Architect: The Whole Architect takes ownership of the entire project to lead all stakeholders to success. A well-rounded thinker, this person owns the project from start to finish, collaborates with clients and partners to overcome challenges, leads with knowledge and delivers results. 

Kerry Bennett, Sr. Project Architect in Raleigh, is the epitome of The Whole Architect. She is committed to the entire project, client, and design excellence through meaningful collaboration as a devoted colleague. Her attention to detail, project organization, passion for success, and empathetic leadership makes her a trusted advisor for our clients. Kerry knows how to manage diverse project teams with various needs and experience levels and is always accessible, approachable, and helpful. Amidst the chaos, challenges, and opportunities, she always finds common ground and solutions to deliver an exceptional product to our clients and end-users.

Unsung Hero: Valuing their purpose, the Unsung Hero makes it happen behind the scenes. The person is the consummate team player, embraces accountability, and can be counted on to deliver under circumstances.

Oscar Angulo, Project Coordinator in Dallas, is known within the firm for his grounded knowledge and insight which help maximize creativity and deliver projects of the highest quality. He leads with humility, provides mentorship organically, and is a joy to have on a project team. Oscar is the consummate professional and every project is improved by his involvement. Even under tight deadlines, he provides a listening ear, a willingness to help others, and still manages to get the job done. Most importantly, he teaches the “why” behind things- why details are constructed a particular way, why sheets are set up the way they are, and why something works or doesn’t work. He promotes learning as a process rather than just the end result, setting up those less experienced for success.

Team Awards

Integrator Extraordinaire: This team’s superpower is its ability to connect the dots across our firm. The Integrator Extraordinaire leverages all of HKS to extract value for our practice, our clients and our communities. To the Integrator Extraordinaire, 1+1=3.

Federal Government Team

Bree Beal

Brent Wilson

Gene Corrigan

Jay Waters

Jim Whitaker

Kevin Sparks

Sarah Gray

This team of seven individuals lives and breathes the vision set forth by HKS with Limitless Thinking and our mission to support our federal government agencies with design excellence, committed leadership, and superior project management. ​By connecting the dots with the right personnel for the type of work, the Government Team crosses all sectors, service lines, and global offices to deliver outstanding and award-winning projects for our clients. ​From P3 to Design-Build to Integrated Delivery, the Government Team serves as advisers from the pursuit, start, concept to completion, working together with our HKS sectors and teaming partners.

Light Footprint:The Light Footprint team considers the impact of their work on people and the environment. This team’s unwavering pursuit of environmental sustainability inspires all of us to design a greener and more resilient world. 

Chicago Health, University of Wisconsin Eastpark Medical Center Team

Alina Chelaidite

Amber Wirth

Amy Kerkman

Arek Mazurek

Briana Pina

Carlos Barillas

Clint Nash

Colby Dearman 

Courtney Kraus

Craig Rader

Deborah Wingler

Gabby Pearson

Janhvi Jakkal

Josh Boggs

Joyce Sanchez

Kendra Price

Neetika Wahi

Nick Savage

Parsa Aghaei

Rupert Brown

Sandra Christian

Sarah Kleber

Scott Martin

Steve Jacobson

Steve Stroman

Tommy Zakrzewski

Tyrone Loper

Victor Valadez Gonzalez

As an academic institution, University of Wisconsin maintains progressive sustainability commitments and goals. ​At the beginning of this large, 365,000 square foot complex project, the team conducted a visioning session and nature of place process to set goals and align with the client. In all cases, the team has been able to advocate for and deliver upon the promised goals, as well as significantly reducing the project’s carbon footprint.

Starship Enterprise: The Starship Enterprise celebrates an Enterprise team that supports our vision through its limitless thinking. A valued advisor to leadership, this team helps to pioneer a course for us to boldly go where no firm has gone before. ​

Marketing Communications Team

Abby Fine

Amy Eagle

Ann Franks

Ann McGonigle Kifer

Annabeth Mohon

Apryl Dailey

Ashli Hall

Benjamin Robinson

Brenda Vizcarra

Caroline Casper

Chasa Toliver-Leger

Chelsea Watkins

Christie Ehrhart

Claire Sun

Danielle Celmer

Daryl Shields

Ellen Gao

Ellen Giles 

Francesca Rossi

Haley Ellis

Hannah Jaggers

James Frisbie 

Jamie Seessel

Jeanette Dvorak

Jennifer Stewart

Julie Obiala

Karen Funke Ganshirt

Kathleen O’Donnell

Kathryn Ward

Katie Carnival

Katy Dabbert

Kevin Sparks

Krista Corson

Lauren Marshall

Lauri Wilkins

Leah Ray

Leanne Doore

Louis Adams 

Maggie Dingwell

Mandy Flynn

Mary Catherine Smith

Mary Potter

Megan Finn

Megan Quain

Mekenzie McIntire

Michael Weekley 

Molly Mueller

Rachel Benavides

Selwyn Crawford

Shalmir Johnston

Shannon Simon

Shawn Sunderland

Shelley Shaffer

Sriraksha Ragunathan

Stephanie Butzke

​The members of the HKS MarCom studio meld their collective skills to provide unique storytelling opportunities for our people, projects, and firm. ​Through external and internal communications, client outreach, and pursuit development that brings in new work, they innovate, advise and integrate with each practice, region, service line, and enterprise group to support and communicate the firm’s key messages. 

“We could not accomplish our impactful, world-changing work without the brilliance and innovation of our people, and these award winners are leading that charge,” HKS President and CEO Dan Noble said. “I look forward to a bright future for our firm with this next generation of leaders at the helm.”

HKS is so thankful for each of its team members and the impact they have on our colleagues, our clients, and our firm. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, and here’s to an outstanding 2023.

HKS Celebrates Innovative and Impactful Design With 2022 Top Projects

HKS Celebrates Innovative and Impactful Design With 2022 Top Projects

A former dump site for roofing shingles. An Arizona hospital geared to serve its surrounding Native American population. A sports stadium inspired by a traditional Chinese art form.

Those are among the winners of the 2022 HKS Top Projects Awards. The awards — now in their seventh year — celebrate some of the global design firm’s most innovative and impactful work.

Only HKS projects that opened in 2022, are works in progress, or are current research initiatives are eligible for the Top Projects honors, which recognize projects for exhibiting the highest integration of beauty and performance, pushing the boundaries of innovation and changing the world for the better.

Top Projects are judged for their beauty, proportion, materiality and overall expression, as well as their adherence to the principles for sustainable, resilient and inclusive design supported by the American Institute of Architects’ AIA Framework for Design Excellence.

The AIA Framework is aligned with the values of HKS, said Tony Montalto, Chief Design Officer and a Principal at the firm. Basing the Top Projects program on the principles expressed by that framework helps HKS designers communicate those values and “helps us better focus on what matters most to us,” he said. “We want our projects to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”

“We want our projects to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”

This year’s Top Projects demonstrate a variety of scales, sectors and locales. The four designs selected for honor awards include a neighborhood park to help residents of Dallas’ Floral Farms neighborhood reclaim their community after years of environmental injustice; a medical campus meant to express the culture, spirit and Navajo heritage of Flagstaff, Arizona; and a state-of-the-art venue for international sporting events in Chengdu, China, that references an indigenous artform throughout its design. The fourth winning design is for a major U.S. sporting venue that cannot be publicly identified now because of a confidentiality agreement.

An external jury selected the winning projects from a group of 20 finalists representing each of HKS’ practice areas. A diverse panel of seven distinguished guests with expertise in a range of design and construction fields served as jurists: Amanda Kaleps, Managing Principal, Wolcott Architecture; David Staczek​​​​​​​, ​​​​​​​Principal and Senior Designer, ZGF Architects; Joey Shimoda, Co-founder, Shimoda Design Group; Karen Robichaud, ​​​​​​​Founder, Karen Robichaud Strategy + Communications; Nicholas Holt, Founder, Holt Architects; Thór Jónsson, Global Director of Design and Construction, Warner Bros. Entertainment; and Tonya Bonczak, Director, Strategic Sourcing – Construction, Henry Ford Health.

The judges commended all 20 finalists on the compelling narratives and videos they submitted about their projects. “The videos were extremely helpful” in expressing project goals and outcomes, said Kaleps.

What set the winners apart was “detailed information across the board” that helped judges “connect better with these projects,” Jónsson said. “Specific measures, specific outcomes, specific aspirations” put these projects a step above and made them worth recognition, Holt added.

Presenting work for judging by outside experts “results in more meaningful projects” throughout the firm, throughout the year, Montalto said. “Every time we have a conversation around our work and appreciate other peoples’ opinions, it will lead to better understanding.”

HKS’ Top Projects 2022:

Park for Floral Farms

The Floral Farms neighborhood was founded in South Dallas around the 1950s. The neighborhood is home to some of Dallas’s most important flower nurseries and the origins of the Black Rodeo. Many of the Black and Latino families living in Floral Farms have been there for generations.

Through self-advocacy and partnerships with area nonprofits, the neighbors united to fight successfully for the removal from their neighborhood of Shingle Mountain – an illegal dumping ground of shingles that grew to be over six stories tall. HKS designers partnered with the neighborhood team through the firm’s Citizen HKS public-interest design initiative to help bring life to the neighbors’ dream of having a communal park to heal, gather and play.

The park design honors the neighbors’ vision with safe walking trails and sports fields where people can decompress, a playground and splash pad for children to play and a community garden. A symbolic hill of soft green grass rises to create a reminder of the Floral Farm residents’ slogan: Together, we can move mountains.

Northern Arizona Healthcare Flagstaff, Arizona, Campus

This tertiary medical center and ambulatory care clinic, in design for Northern Arizona Healthcare Medical Group, will anchor a mixed-use development and is intended to serve as a health and wellness destination in Flagstaff. The design team is creating a Health Village that expresses the culture and spirit of the community, including the local Navajo population.

The project considers characteristics of the site – a relatively untouched greenfield of mature Ponderosa Pine trees – in order to connect authentically to both the natural setting and the history and community of Flagstaff.

Health care staffing is a major driver for the building design and operational planning. The proposed service lines and departmental planning are designed to create an environment of excellence that will help attract and retain top talent.

Chengdu Phoenix Hill Sports Park

Chengdu Phoenix Hill Sports Park was recognized as an HKS Top Project in 2018, when the project was in design. Opened in 2022, the sports park is a state-of-the art venue for major global sporting events and a public place where the local community can gather throughout the year.

The design includes a comprehensive master plan to create a sports-centered district with public spaces focused on diverse experiences, a 60,000-seat soccer stadium and a 18,000-seat basketball arena. To give depth and meaning to the work, the design is inspired by Imperial Embroidery, an art form that originated in Chengdu. Nature and the existing river are woven into the design to create a sports park and urban forest that enhance the connection to the surrounding community.

The project is designed with sports as the driver, with a diverse mix of uses (office, hotel, retail, residential, recreation) to create a sustainable community and balance the investment.

HKS wins ASID Outcome of Design Award for North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood

HKS wins ASID Outcome of Design Award for North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood

The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has awarded HKS with a 2022 ASID Outcome of Design Award for North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego. The campus is also named among the award program’s highest achieving projects of the year, receiving the additional honor of ASID Outcome of Design Optimizer.

Each year, the Outcome of Design Awards recognize projects, designers and organizations that “focus on the quantifiable effect of projects on people in the built environment,” according to ASID. The awards celebrate human-centered, socially responsible designs with exemplary research and data on occupant experience.

HKS Global Practice Director for Education Interiors Adelia Schleusz, RID, said the award sheds important light on the value of designing for outcomes and the vital role interior design plays in shaping peoples’ well-being.

“The ASID believes design impacts lives. At HKS, we could not agree more, and we deeply believe in the power of meaningful and measurable design. It is an incredible opportunity to be acknowledged by an organization whose purpose is to elevate the value interior design and recognize what an integrated approach can bring to the human experience,” Schleusz said.

The ASID believes design impacts lives. At HKS, we could not agree more, and we deeply believe in the power of meaningful and measurable design.

The North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) has become a vibrant center of activity for UC San Diego students, faculty, staff and residents of La Jolla, CA since it opened in 2020. Outcomes honored by ASID encompass HKS’ interior design strategies for NTPLLN and their impact on people, place, and planet.

NTPLLN’s people-centered outcomes include findings from a longitudinal research study — conducted by a research coalition including UC San Diego, the Center for Advanced Design Research (CADRE) and HKS — where students reported lower depression scores and significantly increased satisfaction with the new campus’ residential and community spaces. The project’s numerous environmental and place-related outcomes reflect UC San Diego and HKS’ shared commitment to sustainability, creating spaces that promote wellness and student and community interactions.

The ASID honor reflects HKS’ commitment to improving design processes and outcomes through research. HKS Senior Design Researcher Renae Mantooth, Ph.D., who contributed to the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood study, said that by implementing an evidence-based and outcome-driven process, designers are better positioned to ensure design strategies provide the intended impacts.

“At North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, we have seen how student well-being, social connection, and environmental health have been positively influenced by the design of the new neighborhood. We’ve also learned lessons along the way that will inform future decision making on similar projects that prioritize the student experience,” Mantooth said.

Schleusz and Mantooth will attend GATHER 2022 – The National Conference by ASID, taking place September 21-24, 2022 in Miami. There, they will participate in the Outcome of Design award ceremony, presenting about North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood’s interior design strategies and impact.

Attending GATHER 2022?

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U.S. Southeast’s Growing Economy Spurs New Design and Development Trends

U.S. Southeast’s Growing Economy Spurs New Design and Development Trends

For the past 50 years, population growth in the Southeastern United States has outpaced the country’s overall growth rate by nearly 40%. The region is now home to more than a quarter of the nation’s residents and a slew of major employers, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

Even more people and businesses flocked to the Southeast from Northeast and West Coast cities during the pandemic as Americans looked for temperate, less-dense living environments and were able to work remotely.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth particularly in the Southeast related to peoples’ shifting priorities for what they want out of life and what they want out of work,” said HKS Regional Director Shannon Kraus.

The exploding Southeast population has led to a flourishing regional economy that grew over 10 percent in 2021 alone. HKS is working with clients and communities to understand the impact these shifts are having on the region’s built environment — and expanding our design services for a resilient future.

We’re seeing a lot of growth particularly in the Southeast related to peoples’ shifting priorities for what they want out of life and what they want out of work.

Commercial Real Estate Re-evaluation

In Raleigh and Atlanta, an influx of companies re-locating to or opening regional headquarters has caused a surging need for commercial office space.

Lynn Dunn, Office Director of HKS’s new Raleigh location, said that companies in industries ranging from finance to pharmaceuticals are keen to set up shop in fast-growing North Carolina as employees and corporations “seek the tremendous benefit of quality of life” that can be obtained there.

“It’s fairly inexpensive for corporations to come to this area from an investment standpoint. For years, we’ve had companies consistently moving here from across the country,” Dunn said, noting the top recognition North Carolina recently received in CNBC’s “Top States for Business” survey and Raleigh-Durham area’s repeat inclusion in national “best places to live” reports.

Dunn and HKS Atlanta Office Director Julie Volosin said that building owners, property managers, brokers and developers are collaborating to keep up with evolving desires of employers and employees. Companies moving into their cities are interested in building new high-performance offices as well as repurposing existing spaces.

“Atlanta is a broker-driven market and we’re seeing brokers courting corporations around the country to relocate here. There is also an increased interest among brokers and building owners to reposition buildings with more robust amenities and technology-rich infrastructure,” Volosin said

As organizations determine new policies for employees’ in-office and hybrid working models, they are evaluating real estate changes and how to best utilize the spaces they invest in. HKS is designing corporate workplaces to optimize versatility.

“We really focus on creating the most flexible kind of space that will support their work and business plans. We consider the flexibility within the footprint of the real estate as well as the external ecosystem that surrounds it,” Volosin said, noting that offices located near ancillary spaces for working or conducting meetings, such as parks or coffee shops, are increasingly popular.

Designers and researchers across HKS offices are exploring workplace habits and environmental conditions in “living labs.” Along with improvements in technology and policy shifts, HKS is investing in spaces that will entice employees, clients, and the community to use offices with intention and purpose. 

This year, HKS’ Atlanta office is leading the firm in how workplaces can best accommodate and support a hybrid workforce. The design for the new Atlanta office, located in the Buckhead business district, is the result of a multidisciplinary process that combined research, place performance advisory, and commercial interiors teams. No longer a sea of workstations, the Atlanta office has design havens, idea exchange centers, agile team pods, and a communal hospitality plaza — all of which offer abundant choices for where to work, interact with clients and serve the community.

“We’re in a state of transformational discovery right now. It’s a journey as we continue to learn and leverage a truly hybrid workplace,” Volosin said.

We’re in a state of transformational discovery right now. It’s a journey as we continue to learn and leverage a truly hybrid workplace. 

Changing Job Markets Prompt New Design Needs

Among the Southeast’s most attractive relocation destinations, Florida has a job market in the throes of major transformation due to its growing population.

In Central Florida — which has a historically tourism-driven economy — incoming science, technology and health companies have begun to diversify the job market, according to HKS Orlando Office Director Nathan Butler.

“Our area’s legacy is deeply rooted in the service industry with a transient population that far outweighed the permanent population. Resources have historically supported tourism disproportionately,” Butler said. New emphasis on non-hospitality industries, he added, has created better balance in the local economy and provides exciting opportunities to design new health, commercial and mixed-use developments.

HKS designers in Central Florida are also answering the call to work on public sector projects as local governments invest in building places that support the area’s expanding permanent population. New community venues for sports and the performing arts, transit system facilities and civic buildings are among the types of design projects rising in number, particularly in Orlando, Butler said.

Another of Florida’s major cities, Miami, is also experiencing rapid population growth and a diversifying job market as many people from the Northeast moved there during the pandemic.

“Miami is growing to the point where you can’t build quick enough for the people who are moving here,” HKS Miami Office Director Jonathan Borrell.

Although Miami is a tourist destination like other Florida locales, it has the unique quality of being an international business hub with large financial institutions and deep connections to the global hospitality industry. Borrell said that the inflow of new residents, combined with big business interests, is driving a wave of mixed-use developments.

“There’s a big market here for commercial mixed-use,” Borrell said, adding that the HKS team there is building relationships with local clients who want to provide more connected and vibrant 24/7 destinations throughout Miami.

What “Mixed-Use” Means Moving Forward

HKS leaders from the region said a strong desire for mixed-use properties permeates most cities in the U.S. Southeast. What “mixed use” means, however, is evolving in light of population and economic growth, expanding to include more types of properties than a traditional blend of residential and commercial.

“In middle markets, developers are very interested in multi-modal transportation and mixed-use developments,” Kraus said. “And the mix of uses can be a broad range.”

In Raleigh and the North Carolina Research Triangle, science and technology companies, research organizations and the area’s many higher education institutions are driving demand for life science centers, and innovation-based workplaces and learning environments. Dunn said that design teams there are working with clients to create mixed-use hubs with these — and many other — types of buildings at the heart.

“Creating depth with different uses is what makes a space dynamic and attractive to people. We look at amenities like retail, parks, entertainment and how they connect to the community,” Dunn said.

In middle markets, developers are very interested in multi-modal transportation and mixed-use developments.

As the city grows, Dunn says Raleigh is becoming an attractive destination for conferences and sporting events, which require diverse venues, hotels, dining, and retail located in close proximity.

“We have a great need for hotels that developers and investors are looking into. The city has lost opportunities to host national events due to the lack of hotel rooms to support them,” said Dunn. Building on the success of the firm’s hospitality work in the Southeast on major projects for clients including Four Seasons, Marriott, and the Biltmore, HKS is deepening local relationships to support Raleigh’s goal to accommodate large-scale events.

Integrated Design Approaches for Stronger Outcomes

Regional Director Kraus and all four HKS Office Directors located in the Southeast said the firm is committed to diversifying design service offerings and enhancing the built environment during this period of change — and they’re working together to do so.

“We are one firm and one profit center globally. We work well at leveraging our different sectors and services in all our work, and I think that will continue,” said Volosin. She shared the example that firm-wide strategic advisors, designers and planners are collaborating with non-profit organizations and city agencies for more equitable public environments in the Atlanta metro area.

Borrell and Butler said HKS’ Florida offices are expanding upon the firm’s long legacy of working on health and hospitality projects by sharing the talents of designers from those sectors with local commercial, education and senior living clients.

“The more we find ways to blur lines between practices, the better position we’ll be in to deliver better projects for our clients and have stronger, more collaborative teams across offices,” Butler said.

The more we find ways to blur lines between practices, the better position we’ll be in to deliver better projects for our clients and have stronger, more collaborative teams across offices.

Architects are working with colleges and universities in all parts of the Southeast — including the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and Florida International University — on a wide spectrum of building types including residential, education, sports, life science and health facilities. By distributing talent across practice areas, HKS designers are creating learning, working, and leisure spaces for a rising generation of business, research and medical professionals.

“There are synergies between all these different practice areas. Our individual practice areas are working together to determine the best opportunities and offer a depth of expertise,” Dunn said.

As the Southeast’s economy and population both continue to shift and grow, HKS is seeking to strengthen its partnerships with communities, helping to ensure a bright future through innovation and collaboration.

“We want to be seen as the go-to firm for creative solutions to complex problems, where we can have an impact at the project level, neighborhood level and city level,” Kraus said.

Sources:

What is Brain Health and Why Does it Matter?

What is Brain Health and Why Does it Matter?

As a society, when it comes to our mental health, no matter which way we look at it and regardless of how much we spend on it, WE ARE NOT WELL. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) is clear about the increasing importance mental health plays in achieving global development goals, and one of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals calls it out as a specific target. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability, further highlighting the inseparable link between the mental and physical components of our lives. Suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. People with severe mental health conditions die prematurely—as much as two decades early—due to preventable physical conditions.

Well, our brain needs our attention now – not just in terms of mindfulness and stress reduction, but also in terms of playfulness, purposeful engagement and creativity. Design can also help alleviate the problem by giving us agency and control over our environments.

In our society we often invest in physical fitness through a healthy diet and exercise to ward off chronic diseases. Similarly, cognitive fitness and brain healthy practices can block mental health challenges, depression, and dementia. Moreover, new research is emerging that says that there is a close link between our brain health and our cardiovascular health. Our bodies and our brains are connected, but our brain—that physical, pulsating, powerful organ—has been ignored.

We don’t prioritize our mental health and well-being because stigma stands squarely in our way. But that is beginning to change, starting with the phrase, “Brain Health” itself. Numerous campaigns have increasingly started to use the term. For example, in 2021, the Yale School of Medicine started the Brain Health Bootcamp focused on “replacing the term ‘mental health’ with ‘brain health’ to empathize how physical and treatable these conditions are and to destigmatize mental health.”

In some ways, brain health is to mental illness, as physical fitness is to disease. As we struggle to address societal concerns around isolation, loneliness, depression, addiction etc., we have to think hard about keeping our brain healthy, active, and fit. WHO now has an entire section dedicated to brain health described as follows: 

Brain Health is an emerging and growing concept that encompasses neural development, plasticity, functioning, and recovery across the life course. Good brain health is a state in which every individual can realize their own abilities and optimize their cognitive, emotional, psychological, and behavioral functioning to cope with life situations. Numerous interconnected social and biological determinants (incl. genetics) play a role in brain development and brain health from pre-conception through the end of life. These determinants influence the way our brains develop, adapt and respond to stress and adversity, giving way to strategies for both promotion and prevention across the life course.

Our brain needs our attention now in terms of mindfulness and stress reduction, but also in terms of playfulness, purposeful engagement and creativity. How can design help?

Research shows that creativity and play directly help neuroplasticity, as do positive associations. Reframing the stressors in our life to opportunities to problem solve is a simple example of how you can take a mental health challenge and turn it into a brain health enabler.

Can design help with this? Can design give us more agency and control over our environments, so we are not passive receivers of stimuli but active transformers? What is the role of place, process, and technology in exercising brain health? In this new age of computational design and digital/ physical convergence, what if we did not see the digital world as the hotch-potch of distractions that it is, but rather an opportunity to create responsive environments that enrich our lives?

Our work with the Center for Brain Health is teaching us a lot about going back to this ultimate Lego block of the human experience – the human brain. We’re taking this as an opportunity to go through brain health training and exercise brain health strategies in our own practice with the goal to explore how this impacts our experience, creativity, and burnout. Using the talent of our built environment professionals, we’ve also translated these brain health strategies into our own place, process/policy, and technology and started to pilot test some of these spaces and applications with the intention to learn, evolve, and ultimately share with clients. Environments that support brain health have to be enriched environments that meet our physical, sensory, social, and cognitive needs.

Think about why we feel good at a kitchen table, or at a playground, or on a hike. All of these environments have a strong sensory component that give us something to do physically, something to creatively engage with, and something to connect with others socially. One of our living lab offices is creating a haven space, social and collegial hubs, and an intellectual playground and idea theater—some concepts developed from our future of work research—to activate brain health in the workplace. The pilot study will give us greater insight on what design affordances promote and impact brain health.

Building upon the foundation of the human brain, we’re designing eco-systems that help the brain thrive. Because when the brain thrives, so does the body — and so does society.

HKS Expands Experiential Branding Practice Led by Industry Veteran Tony LaPorte

HKS Expands Experiential Branding Practice Led by Industry Veteran Tony LaPorte

Global design leader HKS is expanding the firm’s Experiential Branding practice, led by industry veteran Tony LaPorte.

In a career that has spanned more than 20 years, LaPorte has worked with organizations such as Capital One, Grant Thornton and Kellogg’s to help strengthen their brands.

Experiential Branding uses the built environment to convey a brand’s culture and values.

“Experiential Branding is the intersection of Place and Brand. We’re enabling brands to leverage critical spaces to strategic advantage,” LaPorte said. “This can improve talent recruitment, drive greater sales and elevate employee engagement. It’s all about creating a sense of identity and connection.”  

By layering architectural and interior design elements, organizations can allow the story of their brand to unfold throughout office environments, sales centers, hospitals and universities; this practice can reinforce the brand and improve the experience of workers, guests, patients, students or others who inhabit a space, LaPorte said.

“(Experiential Branding) projects are co-created by architects and interior designers, with the client as a partner throughout the design process,” said Kate Davis, Global Practice Director, Commercial Interiors, HKS. “We’re cultivating a deeper expression of their brand, allowing clients to be more connected to their brand and its value.”

HKS’ Experiential Branding practice can also help place-makers communicate their brands. Real estate developers, restauranteurs and start-up companies are among those who will benefit from brand strategy, brand identity and brand design services.

We’re cultivating a deeper expression of their brand, allowing clients to be more connected to their brand and its value.

HKS’ Experiential Branding service offerings will comprise Environmental Branding, such as experience centers, feature sculptures and wall murals; Branding research and strategy, brand identity, marketing collateral and website design; Signage and Wayfinding interior programs, exterior campus programs and donor walls; and Digital Environments, including interactive experiences and digital content.

Enlarging the HKS Experiential Branding practice augments work initiated by HKS Creative Director of Branding Services, Beau Eaton, for the firm’s Interiors practice. Previous projects include Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, Baton Rouge; Whole Foods Market South Regional Office, Atlanta; and SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California.

The move to expand the Experiential Branding practice “complements and completes our services,” said Ana Pinto-Alexander, Global Sector Director, Interiors, HKS.

Why Health Equity in the Built Environment Matters

Why Health Equity in the Built Environment Matters

Inequitable access to health care costs the U.S. $135 billion each year. This is in addition to the nearly unfathomable loss of 3.5 million life years associated with premature deaths. Michael Crawford of Howard University shared that W.K. Kellogg Foundation data during a recent HKS webinar on Health Equity & Access that explored the high price of health inequity.

The webinar was part of the firm’s quarterly Limitless panel series, conversations between HKS leaders and experts in other industries about ideas that influence design, examined through the lens of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

For the most recent installment, HKS convened research, nonprofit and health care professionals to discuss equitable access to health care, and the intersection between health equity and the built environment.

Data to Address Health Disparities

Crawford, Associate Dean for Strategy, Outreach & Innovation at Howard’s College of Medicine, opened the webinar with a keynote address on the roles of digital technology and the built environment in addressing health disparities.

He presented information on life expectancy gaps for residents of major U.S. cities. Referencing data for Washington, D.C. zip codes, he said, “Two kids grow up in the same city, five miles apart. One has an expectation to live 27.5 years longer than the other child. How does that instill hope?”

Crawford described efforts by Howard University’s 1867 Health Innovations Project to improve health equity and access through digital health solutions and non-tech solutions for medically underserved communities. A pilot project involving the use of mobile phones to connect with people who have sickle cell disease has shown promising results for medication adherence but has also revealed limiting factors such as insufficient Internet access, he said.

This research, and the experience of dense urban populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, have identified needs for spaces where people can receive care, isolate to reduce disease transmission or access health information on the Internet using mobile technology. Transportation, green space and adequate housing are additional assets for creating health equity.

“These are items we are focusing on…as we think about the architecture community and what role you can play in terms of being able to facilitate greater access to tech solutions, or to build solutions that promote a community health and wellness mindset,” Crawford said.

He emphasized that the most valuable asset is the community itself.

Crawford said that listening to diverse community voices “leads to an equitable health design that can facilitate and promote health and well-being. I think it’s critically important in terms of how we design facilities.”

Understanding Community Needs

HKS Design Researcher and Senior Medical Planner Kate Renner moderated a panel discussion that followed Crawford’s keynote. The panel featured Ginneh P. Baugh, Vice President of Impact & Innovation for Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based nonprofit community development organization; Robert Goodspeed, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the Taubman College of Architecture & Planning, University of Michigan; and Kate Sommerfeld, President of the Social Determinants of Health Institute and Vice President of Community Relations and Social Investments for Midwest health system ProMedica.

Like Crawford, the panelists highlighted the importance of community involvement in projects to tackle health equity and access.

Forming a deep history with individuals and listening closely to what they have to say can take time, but provides “incredibly rich data,” said Baugh.

One thing to keep in mind, she said, is, “Who are we designing for?”

Health care spaces, for example, should be sized based on the number of anticipated patients plus the expected support network for people in the community.

“Who’s waiting with you for dialysis, or how many people need to be with that new mom?” Baugh asked.

Other community norms can come into play. Baugh recalled a clinic designed with a small waiting room that had people lined up down the block—but not people from the neighborhood. A community health worker knocking on doors learned local residents did not want to be seen waiting for an appointment outside the clinic.

Sommerfeld said that to design the best community health solutions, public and clinical data should be balanced with “voice and lived experience.”

While cross-sector partnerships with hospitals, universities, government and financial institutions can supplement insights from community members, she said, “make sure that residents are at the forefront.”

Working in partnership with the community can help identify evaluation metrics, strategies and uncertainties for urban planning projects, Goodspeed said.

He described a multi-year collaborative project on mobility that showed the importance of public transit to reaching places like the dialysis clinic or other medical clinics. By interviewing stakeholders and holding public workshops, researchers were able to pinpoint specific locations in the region, which they used to draw new transit maps to serve health care destinations.

Make sure that residents are at the forefront.

Health and the Built Environment

Panelists agreed the built environment provides rich opportunities for innovation in addressing health inequity and access.

“Housing is a health issue,” said Sommerfeld. “We’re seeing more and more payers start to invest in things like affordable housing across the country.”

If a child is in the emergency department many times a month struggling with breathing issues, paying to replace moldy carpet to improve the air quality of the family home is both cost effective and best for the child; evidence is mounting across the country for these types of interventions, Sommerfeld said.

Goodspeed noted the documented relationship between eviction and a host of mental and physical health outcomes. Housing stability is “a fundamental driver to health,” he said.

Families who live at the same address for three years benefit from a ripple of positive health outcomes related to children’s consistent school attendance and family members’ ongoing connections with neighborhood health providers, said Baugh.

Panelists also described how the built environment can improve food access, a key contributor to health equity.

To eliminate a food desert in Toledo, ProMedica’s Social Determinants of Health Institute “took a very bold leap to go ahead and open and operate a grocery store,” said Sommerfeld. The system has now helped five other health care organizations and nonprofits launch grocery stores to provide more equitable access to healthy food.

Baugh mentioned a neighborhood in South Atlanta that has been looking into accessory dwelling units (ADUs), small homes that can be installed in a backyard to provide additional income for residents. Local families can build wealth by owning or renting an ADU; the units also help increase the neighborhood population to the point it can support a grocery store.

Institutional changes, such as zoning codes that allow ADUs, can drive change for neighborhoods and individuals, Goodspeed said.

At the conclusion to the panel, Yiselle Santos Rivera, HKS Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, remarked that the discussion had underscored the overall importance of innovation, collaboration and trust.

“We have to pay attention and we have to be intentional,” Santos Rivera said. “These, to me, are at the core of how we create a more equitable, just and inclusive world.”