Peter Barden

Mindful Design + Mindful People = Neuroinclusive Workplaces 

Mindful Design + Mindful People = Neuroinclusive Workplaces 

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Humans are 99.9% genetically identical – leaving 0.1% to bring out our uniqueness. That 0.1% includes diversity in physiological attributes and mental abilities, including differences in the way we think—or neurodiversity. The recognition of and advocacy for neurodiversity has increased exponentially over the past 10 years and since the term’s inception in the 1990s. By way of neuroarchitecture, or an emerging field that combines neuroscience, environmental psychology, and architecture, architects and designers are increasingly recognizing neurodiversity to create more inclusive spaces that accommodate large variations of cognitive styles and sensory sensitivities. 

Recognizing that brain health is foundational to our well-being, we examined our own workplace research on Creating a Brain Healthy Workplace with a neurodiversity lens to expand its applicability and equitability. We were interested in reviewing the framework we had introduced in the 2023 report (nine brain health strategies, five brain healthy workplace strategies and three habits for stronger brain health) to see whether it aligned with the needs from neurodivergent individuals, both scientifically and practically. To do so, we reviewed cognitive psychology and neuroscience-informed scholarly articles and integrated it with the practical, lived experiences from HKS neurodivergent employees to enrich, and evolve, our existing body of research. Although there is a growing interest in this field and more research published, we would like to acknowledge the unique needs and varying applications from this group and offer content as conversation starters in getting to know how to thrive in the workplace together.

Eric Kutche, senior medical planner and a co-founder of the HKS affinity and inclusion group (AIG), Mindful: Neurodiversity & Mental Health, put it this way: “when you meet one neurodivergent person, you’ve met one neurodivergent person.” 

Kutche’s comment highlights the diverse spectrum of our brain functions and the need to understand each person individually.

Neurodivergent Sensory and Cognitive Needs in Physical Spaces

Neurodiversity is the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits and typically includes autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Tourette’s syndrome. Neurodivergent people are more likely to be hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive to environmental stimuli, and avoiding sensory stressors can drive their continued engagement. The diagram serves as an illustrative map that links underlying sensory systems with characteristics of the external environment, which can be potential stressors for neurodivergent populations due to their unique sensory and perceptual systems. The neurodivergent conditions do not map to specific brain regions but rather impact multiple regions and circuits, which also differ across tasks and among individuals. 

Brain Health from a Neurodiversity Lens

Brain health should be applicable and accessible to all—so workplaces have some catching up to do. 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. 

“Everyone’s brain [has] different qualities of what they hyper excel at or what they’re weak at,” said  Geoff Rose, senior technical support engineer at HKS and  chair of the Mindful: Neurodiversity & Mental Health AIG. “I think awareness of diversity has come a long way – even just the past 10 years. People being aware that there are other people who are not like them, and that accommodating [other] people is a good thing.” 

However, challenges remain. 

“It’s largely an invisible disorder,” said Kutche, who has been formally diagnosed at 48 years old with autism. “It’s a mental exhaustion on the level of physical exhaustion that we have to deal with.”

We reviewed the brain health framework through the lens of neurodiversity. Our Brain Healthy Workplaces Report includes nine brain health strategies developed by the Center for BrainHealth®, five workplace affordances (i.e. how we perceive environments to meet our needs), and three habits. We explored academic research that explores each strategy, affordance, and habit through a neurodiversity lens, and we found that while most of the framework holds true for both neurotypical and neurodiverse populations, important differences exist. 

For example, taking cognitive breaks (the Center for BrainHealth recommends five minutes at least five times a day) helps not only with clarity but also creativity – disengaging and letting your mind wander can downregulate stress and give you the cognitive space for innovative thinking. For autistic people, this is especially important as intentional breaks throughout the day can help with managing sensory overload. 

Finding a space that they can privately retreat to and is quiet can help regulate overstimulation. For ADHD-ers, adding structured break times can reduce cognitive fatigue and allow for medication breaks and/or exercise. 


Activating research findings starts with an understanding of where we are in our sensory and cognitive needs. But it also extends to understanding the needs of others. A few interviewees  mentioned having an equal focus on foreground and background sound and thus, the difficulty in tuning out irrelevant information. In this situation, one could continue to compensate for the struggle for focus but be accessible to others or request a permanent private space that offers ideal focus affordances but separated from others. The answer may not be in the extremes of what others need versus what I need but rather a question of what you need that is asked from both ends.  

We translated the research findings into potential conversation starters (see the image above). Continuing the example around cognitive breaks and respite spaces, consider having a company and/or team policy for scheduling meetings five minutes after the hour (or half hour) to allow for breaks between meetings. Depending on where you are working for the day, identify in advance the available spaces that you can retreat to for those breaks. This could be accessing the wellness room, going out for a walk, taking a quick stretch break walking down the corridor, or even closing your eyes and taking a few deep intentional breaths. 

Design Implications and Actionable Steps from Research for Workplace Application

Neurodivergent people have unique sensory needs that can translate into critical design strategies to think through when designing neuroinclusive spaces. Here’s a summary of design considerations based on the brain healthy workplace affordances identified from the original research report and confirmed by neurodivergent employees. These spaces should be clearly defined and marked in the workplace with their purpose and expected behavior to align with the affordances. This empowers employees to better understand how to utilize the space effectively, which can lead to improved social interaction and reduced anxiety in the workplace.

Focus Affordance: Low to medium stimulation level with low to moderate levels of interaction that come from occasional discussions for clarification. Used for work requiring deep focus, reading, writing, coding, analysis, design, complex problem-solving, etc.

Exploration & Ideation Affordance (Breakout): Medium stimulation level with moderate level of interactions for impromptu collaboration or discussions. Used for ad-hoc meetings, quick discussions, short breaks, etc.

Collaboration & Co-Creation Affordance: Medium stimulation level with high interaction that encourages teamwork and idea sharing. Used for brainstorming sessions, team meetings, and group projects. 

Social Connection Affordance: High stimulation level with informal networking and socializing. Used for casual discussions, team bonding activities, and coffee breaks.

A neuroinclusive workplace calls for not just a mindfully designed space, but also mindful people that work to elevate one another. This starts with awareness – again, from both ends. As leaders and managers, how can we foster a creative environment for all to thrive? The beauty and power of diversity and inclusivity can be built upon understanding team members for their unique strengths and leveraging each person’s strengths to create a thriving team. But the responsibility is not just on the leader. Neurodivergent employees often are their own best advocates and need to share with their employers and coworkers about how their brains work and the workplace adjustments they need to be successful. 

A neurodivergent employee’s journey in becoming aware of their own needs to find fulfilling employment and to thrive at work is often long and arduous. Additional hurdles from historical bias have further exacerbated and complicated work experiences. To alleviate these challenges, we can work better together in building an open environment and trust that strengthens the beauty and power we can bring to the world. 

Camilla Moretti, a health care practice leader at HKS Detroit and a participant of the 2022 brain health study partnered with the Center for BrainHealth, shared her approach to neuroinclusion.

“We are all rowing the same boat. We might not be rowing the same patterns, but we’re all going in the same direction. [We just need to understand] that people work differently, and people are all very unique.”

We would like to acknowledge and share our deepest respect and gratitude to the Mindful: Neurodiversity & Mental Health AIG members and other HKS volunteers that shared their lived experiences with us. We would also like to acknowledge the broader Google XiXO community for sharing additional insights. 

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Cassidy Brown

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HKS Wins Two 2024 AIA Healthcare Design Awards

HKS Wins Two 2024 AIA Healthcare Design Awards

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced HKS has won two 2024 AIA Healthcare Design awards

AIA is honoring HKS for Emory Musculoskeletal Institute (EMSK), Brookhaven, Georgia, and the Children’s Hospital of Richmond (Virginia) at VCU Children’s Tower. This is the second year in a row that two HKS projects have merited AIA Healthcare Design awards, which recognize the best in health facility design and planning.

The awards were officially announced at AIA24, the AIA’s national conference in Washington, D.C.  

Norman Morgan, HKS Partner and Global Practice Director, Health, said this high level of excellence is due to HKS designers and researchers taking the time to listen and provide guidance to clients. 

“They aren’t coming to us just to put a building together,” Morgan said. “We’re here to make a difference in the projects we do – to change the experience of patients and staff for the better.”

Emory Musculoskeletal Institute

The EMSK project included extensive research into the design of the facility’s clinic spaces and operating rooms (ORs). 

Deborah Wingler, PhD, HKS Global Practice Leader, Applied Research, said HKS and Emory Healthcare made strategic decisions early in the project that allowed them to “lay the groundwork for being able to thoughtfully test the efficacy of design decisions following occupancy.” 

The team collected data from existing Emory Healthcare clinics to use in evaluating the design of a new clinic module implemented at EMSK. And they partnered with the Center for Health Facilities Design and Testing at Clemson University to conduct a functional performance evaluation of the new facility’s ORs.

The clinic module study demonstrated the value of co-locating clinic spaces with related specialty services, such as imaging. Staff rated the new clinic module highly in terms of visibility and travel distances, despite the module’s larger footprint. The OR design was shown to reduce surgical flow disruptions that can lead to adverse events for patients. 

Wingler said, “We’re finding that some of these design considerations are making a meaningful, measurable difference.”

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s Tower

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s Tower vertically and horizontally expands the Children’s Pavilion to create a full-service free-standing destination for pediatric healthcare.  The 16-story tower creates a visual landmark for the VCU Health campus.

Kate Renner, HKS Studio Practice Leader, Health, said the project team focused on “creating spaces that can be both an oasis for healing and a beacon for health.”

The team took a collaborative approach to designing the Children’s Tower. Project stakeholders include more than 300 health system team members and more than 125 community members – including pediatric patients and their families – who provided input over the course of the building’s design and construction.

“It’s truly an honor to be recognized at the national level for this project that really does connect intent to impact,” Renner said. “Thank you to everyone who participated and joined us on this journey.”

University of Georgia Baseball Stadium Expansion

Case Study

University of Georgia Baseball Stadium Expansion Revamped Baseball Locker Room Gives University of Georgia Bulldogs Program New Bite

Athens, GA, USA

The Challenge

The University of Georgia baseball program wanted to completely change the look of their current locker rooms, to make the space more player-centric and elevate it to one of the best, if not the best, in the highly competitive Southeastern Conference. HKS designers faced the challenge of creating the new locker room space within a limited existing footprint by eliminating deficiencies in the space plan, which will allow more capacity for the players. Comfortable and vibrant player-centric spaces are vital in supporting and exciting players, fostering team unity and attracting recruits.

The Design Solution

The HKS design team responded to the existing conditions by considering the athlete first. They spent a great deal of time analyzing how the players use the building to support the well-being, training, team building and performance, and how these components come together as part of the new strategy for this facility.

Based on that analysis, new field access points were added for frictionless movement from the locker room/mudroom to the field to increase efficiency in the facility. The design also limited demolition in these spaces, which helped to correct layout deficiencies and utilize as much of the existing footprint as possible for the required program.

The design of the locker and team meeting spaces emphasizes the importance of the athlete’s story of feeling a part of something bigger than themselves. That experience is curated by engaging the whole athlete and building a deeper connection to collegiate pride and the team. The play of red and crisp white lighting, elements of contrast, and volume of space create drama and bring layers of energy for the athletes.

The locker room layout is crafted to foster interaction between players, promoting camaraderie as they prepare to head out to the field. The integrated sound system allows for player control over playlists that can infuse the atmosphere with energy and motivation through music. HKS’s sensory design approach encompasses lighting, textures and sound to envelop the players in an immersive world. Dramatic, layered lighting can shift to match the intensity of the team, setting the stage for game day. Every aspect of the design is supported by brand elements, ensuring a cohesive and memorable environment that leaves a lasting impression on all who enter.

The Design Impact

The new design eliminated unnecessary space and all players now have the same locker room space and the same vantage points. The large central open area encourages interaction with all the players, leading to better team camaraderie and connection.

The locker and team rooms are the first phase of a larger transformation of the UGA baseball complex and a testament to the university’s commitment to the sport. When players know that the university is committed to them, they cultivate deep beliefs in themselves. As the next chapter of Georgia Bulldog baseball is written, their facility transforms along with them to gain efficiencies, provide state-of-the-art player-centric environments and support the journey of the collegiate athlete.

Project Features

“We’ve got these facilities, and it is like, WOW!”

Wes Johnson, Head Baseball Coach, University of Georgia

Matt Gilmore

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HKS’ Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship Promotes Community & Sustainability in Richmond

HKS’ Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship Promotes Community & Sustainability in Richmond

At HKS, nurturing discussions on design is fundamental to achieving design excellence. One avenue through which we cultivate these dialogues is our Design Fellowship program.

The Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship (MADF) initiative gathers collegiate students and HKS staff from our New York, Washington D.C. and Richmond offices to delve into significant design concepts. Suspended since 2020, the return of the MADF ignited inspiration and rekindled familiar feelings for many at HKS, highlighting the importance of limitless design thinking for all participants. This year’s design challenge focused on creating an engaging recreation center on an underutilized site in Richmond, Virginia.

Design Challenge

Richmond, Virginia, is a city steeped in history, serving as the former capital of the Confederate States during the Civil War. Its character is marked by historic landmarks and a vibrant arts scene, including theaters, galleries and music venues. The city’s diverse neighborhoods offer unique cultural experiences, while its culinary scene celebrates both Southern tradition and innovation, making Richmond a dynamic and engaging place to live and visit.

Richmond has also shown a commitment to environmental sustainability and community growth. Initiatives aimed at enhancing green spaces and promoting eco-friendly practices have been prioritized. The RVAgreen 2050 plan is a testament to this commitment, with goals to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, while also addressing climate-related challenges such as extreme weather and flooding.

The design challenge was to imagine a new outlook for a recreation center and its surroundings in Richmond, Virginia. Fellows were asked to prioritize the development of overarching concepts and establish objectives to shape the design approach while considering each user’s experience.

Site

The Wharf Street Tunnel Building on East Main Street, historically known as Intermediate Terminal 03, is an inactive terminal building owned by the City of Richmond Department of Public Works. Located adjacent to the highly popular James River, Intermediate Terminal #3 is an iconic landmark associated with Richmond’s vital port history. Built in 1938, it was one of the first buildings in Richmond that used reinforced concrete and remains structurally sound to this day.

Redefining Resiliency

During the fellowship, teams immersed themselves in the revitalization of a historically significant yet overlooked site in Virginia’s capital. The design fellows aimed to uncover a fresh architectural approach, seamlessly blending both natural and urban surroundings. Fostering community engagement and advancing environmental sustainability, their objective was to investigate how the constructed environment could harmonize with the James River, enhancing the area’s visual appeal and ecological vitality.

Meeting in person on March 8th, each team embarked on a collaborative journey, dedicating the weekend to crafting inventive design solutions. The weekend concluded on March 11th with an in-person presentation of their ideas to the Richmond office, sparking dynamic conversations and laying the groundwork for further exploration and refinement.

The Fellows

Three HKS employees and six students were selected for the 2024 Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship. The fellows were divided into three teams:

Team 1:  Armond Dai from HKS D.C., Maggie Williams from Virginia Tech, and Addie Merlo from James Madison University

Team 2:  Dandi Zhang from HKS D.C., Ian McCarthy from the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center, and Lewis Wightman from Cal Poly SLO

Team 3: Mary Campbell from HKS Richmond, Courtney Thomas from VCU, and Gonzalo Vazquez Vela Novoa from Cal Poly SLO

Natural and Built Environments

The three teams devised different strategies to tackle the design prompt. Nevertheless, they all recognized that climate change and rising sea levels would eventually impact the site, shaping each of their designs accordingly.

A Third Place

Team 01: Armond Dai, Maggie Williams, and Addie Merlo directed their efforts towards crafting a “third place” – a public space distinct from both work and home environments.

Describing their design vision, Dai expressed that it, “extends a warm invitation to the public, celebrates nature and confronts the challenges posed by climate change.”

Within their proposal, the existing terminal building evolves into a testament to the dynamic interplay between nature and architecture, while also fulfilling a vital role as a community hub through its diverse programmatic offerings.

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Paddle the Future

Team 02: Dandi Zhang, Lewis Wightman and Ian McCarthy studied the problems arising from the James River due to pollution. In the last three years, 38,000 pounds of trash and recyclables were removed from the James River. Through an innovative maker’s space program, Team 02 created a vessel to clean the James River, educate the public and create an accessible entry to the river.

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Northbank

Team 03: Mary Campbell, Gon Vazquez Vela and Courtney Thomas started their concept with studying adolescent social engagement after the COVID-19 pandemic. The James River is known as a public space for teens to hang out outside of home and school but is only accessible in a handful of entry points. Their design creates anchored floating pods with varying public/private atmospheres to serve the community as a social hub along the riverfront.

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Lasting Impression

The revival of the Mid-Atlantic Design Fellowship sparked an invigorating dialogue on sustainability, flexible design and community enhancement. Collaborating closely, the fellows crafted innovative concepts aimed at tackling climate change, preserving historic architecture and fostering community involvement. Rooted in a profound grasp of Richmond’s past, present and future, each concept narrative resonated with those local to Richmond. The 2024 Mid-Atlantic Fellowship showcased how weekend design charrettes nurture design prowess, driving vital discussions and positioning HKS as a leader in design innovation.

Bridgett Baker Thomas

Case Studies

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s New Tower: Space to Grow

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s New Tower: Space to Grow

This story first appeared in the 2023 July/August Edition of Medical Construction & Design. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Situated at the gateway to VCU Medical Center’s campus, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s new Children’s Tower is a landmark 16-story, 565,000-square-foot hospital. The building expands the existing Children’s Pavilion, creating a consolidated location for pediatric healthcare — an entire city block dedicated to serving the children of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the region.

Adjacent to some of Richmond’s most important and historic civic structures, the design establishes a bold, signature identity. A yellow ribbon articulated along the façade visually stitches the tower and pavilion together, while colorful fins along the building’s exterior highlight the tower’s identity as a children’s hospital. It includes 72 critical and acute care inpatient beds, a Level 01 pediatric trauma center with a rooftop helistop, surgical and imaging suites, and a full range of support services, including a Ronald McDonald House, multi-faith chapel and child-friendly cafeteria.

Designed by children, for children

Early in the project, designers and researchers interviewed members of the CHoR Family Advisory Network to understand and map their care journeys in the current hospital.

CHoR FAN members also participated in design workshops, physical and virtual mock-ups and operational planning alongside care team members. Touchpoints and priorities identified through those engagements formed the basis of design, with each key moment being crafted to define the optimal future state. A community design fair enabled over 100 children and family members to directly engage in the design process, voting on concepts, themes and color palettes.

The tower’s colorful interior architecture and design draw inspiration from local nature and the James River, intrinsically connecting the building with its location and creating an environment that can be both calming and engaging. Animal mascots selected by children and families provide unique themes for each level. An interactive shadow play zone, faceted discovery niches and colorful hanging sculptural elements engage patients and visitors along their journey through the hospital. Panoramic views, access to natural light and artwork in patient care areas and care team spaces have a calming, restorative effect to reduce anxiety and stress, and ultimately, promote healing.

Beacon for well-being

The tower creates an environment intended to provide normalcy and support the developmental needs of children and adolescent patients.

Each patient room is private and provides opportunities for personalization with color-changing lights and dedicated family zones with comfortable accommodations for overnight stays.

Teen lounges provide space for adolescent young adults to interact with one another, read, do homework and play video games; playrooms with colorful activity niches and age-appropriate toys provide play space for younger children. Custom art panels featuring animals and educational facts create ‘seek and find’ opportunities for children and provide a sightly cover to cabinets with personal protective equipment for providers.

Other areas that serve children’s growth needs include an area for hospital teachers to help patients continue learning during their stay and a developmental gym with physical therapy space. An indoor garden and elevated garden overlook offer diverse spaces for respite and activities; a performance room provides event space with live streaming capabilities so children who are not able to attend in person can watch performances from their rooms.

Evidence-based, research-informed

The team incorporated an evidence-based approach throughout the tower’s planning process, aligning design strategies with intended outcomes. Post-occupancy performance evaluations provided insights into design and operational strategies, as well as opportunities to further enhance key elements for continuous improvement. The team also conducted a literature review in collaboration with the University of Virginia to identify a range of drivers transforming pediatric healthcare.

Plan analytics and rapid prototyping helped optimize adjacencies to reduce travel distances for care team members, while maximizing visibility to patient rooms and among peers. Scenario testing in physical and virtual mock-ups enabled methodical testing of details within key spaces. The design team created a full reference guide to use during operational planning and activation that ensured care team members had a grasp of the design intent, strategies and supporting evidence.

Interprofessional care team model

Team spaces are designed to support the interprofessional care model and enhance opportunities for connection and collaboration. Open workstations, quieter team rooms and small team stations offer flexibility for focused or collaborative work. Charting alcoves between patient rooms provide workspace directly adjacent to the point of care for easy monitoring, and bedside computer stations provide immediate access to records within the patient room. Standardized clinical support cores provide adjacency between key spaces to maximize workflow efficiency and minimize distances to patient rooms.

An off-stage care team zone provides additional space for collaboration and adequate space for respite, as do interprofessional team lounges where care team members can enjoy daylight and views. Dedicated relaxation rooms with dimmable lighting, windows, biophilic art and a reclining massage chair on each unit and in the emergency department are available for care team members to step away as needed during their shifts.

Designing for optimization and the ever-changing present

Built on a tight urban site, the tower maximizes the available footprint to provide appropriately sized patient care spaces. To further increase the footprint of the upper levels, the tower is cantilevered 15 feet out from the lower levels, providing adequate space for the 24-bed units. The pediatric trauma center is located on the seventh floor to also take advantage of the larger footprint. It has a trauma bay with two care stations and flexibility to surge to four if needed, as well as 22 universal exam rooms with exceptional views. A 275-foot-long bridge elevated three stories above the ground connects the tower to the medical center, ensuring safe and convenient access to services for care team members and patients.


The tower is designed to support future growth. Patient rooms are all universally designed, enabling future conversion to critical care beds if needed. Shell space within the tower and pavilion will enable the addition of 48 more inpatient beds for a total of 120 beds, as well as the future addition of diagnostic and treatment spaces, research and administrative spaces, and amenity spaces based on future growth needs.

An additional two floors of vertical expansion capacity are included in the structural design of the space above the pavilion, providing even more vertical growth potential.

A true team effort

CHoR and VCU Health leadership, the Richmond community and patients and families served by the Children’s Hospital of Richmond demonstrated exemplary, thoughtful collaboration with the design and construction teams to realize the Children’s Tower. Working hand in hand, this unified team brought its vision of an oasis for healing to life, creating a world-class hospital where generations of children and adolescents will come to heal and grow.

Kate Renner, AIA, EDAC, LSSBG, LEED AP, WELL AP, is a senior medical planner, vice president and health studio practice leader at HKS, located in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office.

Project team

• Architect: HKS Inc.
• Program manager: JLL
• Contractor: DPR
• MEP engineer: BR+A
• Structural engineer: Dunbar
• Structural engineer, parking consultant: WSP
• Low voltage, technology, medical equipment: Introba
• Civil engineer: TRC Companies
• Landscape architect: Reichbauer Studio PLC.
• Lighting design: The Lighting Practice
• Logistics, vertical transportation: St. Onge
• Helideck design: FEC Heliports
• Acoustic engineering: Convergent Technology Design Group
• Wind engineering: RWDI
• Wayfinding, signage: Exit
• Graphic illustrations: Liz Taylor Creative
• Operational, transition planning: HTS, ClarkRN

University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center Phase 2

Case Study

University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center Phase 2 Expanding with Flexibility

Beachwood, Ohio

The Challenge

University Hospitals has worked with HKS since 2007 and developed a master plan for its Ahuja Medical Center campus with a flexible growth strategy that allows the public and service spines to expand incrementally, from 144 beds up to 600 beds. Phase 1, completed in 2010, included a 375,000-square-foot full-service hospital. However, the emergency department quickly outgrew its space, and there was a need for sports medicine and dedicated men and women’s services and surgical expansion within the community.

In addition, the original master plan called for building growth to expand to the northeast of the site. But that area had become a place of respite for staff and visitors with a retention pond and walking paths. So as planning for Phase 2 began in 2016, the HKS design team adjusted the original master plan from an inpatient focus to also include inpatient and outpatient services and find a new location for the buildings that nearly doubled the size of the campus.

The Design Solution

The design team located the Phase 2 expansion northwest of the site adjacent to the existing hospital in two new buildings. A South Pavilion is purposely located 40 feet from the existing hospital to create a healing garden and staff respite space, which also allowed the existing hospital windows to remain and the new South Pavilion to have windows as well. The programs include a new expanded emergency, surgery with central sterile processing, materials handling expansion, mother-baby and NICU services and breast health, and a second free-standing building to house a one-of-a-kind Sports Medicine Institute, totaling more than 300,000 square feet. This expansion includes services that promote same-day care, which allows patients to use a state-of-the-art Field House for rehabilitation.

The South Pavilion is located next to the existing hospital to allow adjacencies between the existing imaging and surgery departments. The new emergency department, located on the first floor, was upgraded to Level II Trauma and has an expanded capacity for complex cases. And the surgery department on the second floor added eight operating rooms large enough to accommodate current and future technology. The ambulatory surgery suite including pre- and post-op areas are universally designed so they can be used for any procedure type and flex with the timing of the day.

The Steve and Loree Potash Women & Newborn Center on the third floor provides a family-focused home for expectant mothers and newborns. The unit is designed to exceed the highest standards for quality, expert care while meeting the unique needs and delivery preferences of each patient and their family. The experience is like walking into a first-class hotel with a high touch, calming, service-oriented process. A special care nursery/Level 3 NICU and breast center are also located here.

Drusinsky Sports Medicine Institute is a clinical care and treatment destination for athletes of all ages and talent levels. It offers comprehensive orthopedic services including performance training, on-site surgical services, and physical therapy, hydrotherapy as well as education and services to keep them at the top of their game. The prominent design feature is a field house with three-story volume and glazing that contains half a football field, a partial basketball court, batting cages, track and field surfaces, ballet bars and weight training. The sports-centric design is carried throughout the facility to serve as an inspiration for recovering athletes to get back out on the field. The Cutler Center for Men on the third floor showcases a new model of care for men, offering a full range of health care services. It is designed like a men’s lounge overlooking the football field to help motivate men to prioritize their health through prevention and wellness care.

The Design Impact

The expanded Ahuja Medical Center campus allows caregivers to efficiently provide quality health care and enhance the patient experience. The hospital embraces a “community of care” philosophy, promoting the welfare of both patients and staff through improved efficiencies, safety, and medical technology. With ample natural light and materials, the hospital brings the outside in and blends with its natural surroundings.

The environmentally responsible design incorporates wetlands, bio swales and native plants, while taking maximum advantage of passive solar energy. The pavilion and sports medicine complex make access to health care services easier and place a focus on wellness.

Project Features


New Patient Tower Signals Hope for Richmond Children and Families

New Patient Tower Signals Hope for Richmond Children and Families

No matter how you approach downtown Richmond, VA, your eye will catch a glimpse of something special. Standing tall among the historic structures of the city center is a shimmering building clad with glass, a bright yellow ribbon and colorful fins: the new Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) Children’s Tower.

During the last several decades, CHoR has established itself as a premiere pediatric care provider, delivering a full range of services for children experiencing common diseases, injuries and complex health conditions. But until now, the hospital’s services and facilities were “fragmented” across the VCU Medical Center Campus.

“When care is fragmented, there are gaps and inequities that get created,” said Jeniece Roane, CHoR’s Vice President of Operations.

In 2016, the outpatient Children’s Pavilion opened and marked a big step forward in CHoR’s goal to consolidate services in a centralized, state-of-the-art environment. The Children’s Tower, which opened this spring, fully accomplishes that goal with 72 critical and acute care inpatient rooms and a Level 1 pediatric trauma center.

“Now, we’ve got a world-class facility that reflects our commitment and makes it very clear for parents and guardians where the best care for children is delivered,” said Roane, who has been a registered nurse for 30 years and has worked with CHoR for 25 years.

The Children’s Tower signifies the importance of investing in children’s health care for a rapidly growing region full of young families. HKS health studio practice leader Leslie Hanson, who served as Principal in Charge of the project, said that the building’s contemporary design also symbolizes an even broader transformation taking place in Richmond.

“This project, along with the Pavilion, is making a significant difference in how people look at the city. The design beckons to the future and sets a trajectory for Richmond as being progressive and forward-thinking,” said Hanson.

An Integrated Team and Process from Day One

To create a building that would signal a hopeful look forward, the design team searched outward and inward, relying on precedent projects, community engagement, research, and innovative thinking to guide them.

HKS, CHoR and VCU Health first began developing plans for new facilities as far back as 2006, when Hanson and health system leaders toured pediatric hospitals across the United States for inspiration. Over the next several years, the project went through multiple iterations before the idea to build the Children’s Pavilion and the Children’s Tower on a combined site emerged as the best solution.

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s Tower and Children’s Pavilion, both designed by HKS, sit on the same site and provide consolidated inpatient and outpatient services.

From the start, an integrated HKS team of architects, interior designers, and researchers sought to design a Children’s Tower that reflected the needs of everyone who would set foot in the building and create an oasis of healing for children. The team worked hand in hand with CHoR and VCU Health leadership, care team members, community partners, and the CHoR Family Advisory Network— which includes young adult and adolescent patients, as well as parents and guardians of younger patients — to accomplish these goals. Engagements included interviews, patient journey mapping, and a community design fair where more than 100 children and their family members gave input on design concepts and color palettes.

“The ability to partner with care team members as well as patients and families really helped ensure we were creating meaningful moments in the design,” said HKS’ Kate Renner, the architect, medical planner and researcher who led the project team. “We talked with them about their experiences in the current facilities and what opportunities we could leverage to create the ideal future state.”

Roane and Renner both said that the team responsible for creating the Children’s Tower felt like a unified group, where everyone worked toward the same goals.

“I felt very supported by the HKS team and that we’ve had a great partner,” Roane said. “They listened to the voices of our team, of our community, our caregivers, and patients and they’ve been able to translate that in a way that really reflects all the pent-up desire for this community to have a true children’s hospital.”

The design team leveraged almost every single health research tool HKS has in its toolbelt, according to Renner, including parametric analysis, intent and evidence documentation, shadowing, behavior mapping, benchmarking, rapid prototyping and FLEXX research. They gleaned insight from post-occupancy performance evaluations at the Children’s Pavilion and extensively studied interprofessional workflows. The team also built full scale mock-ups and tested them with care teams and stakeholders, making adjustments to the design based on feedback.

“We were able to address operational concerns at the same time we were designing the space,” said Renner, who has been working on CHoR projects for nearly a decade. “That level of collaboration resulted in spaces that are truly interprofessional throughout the clinical areas and different care team spaces that function better.”

Cara Timberlake, a registered nurse who works in the emergency department located on the Children’s Tower’s third floor has found that spaces such as an internal waiting room, private consultation rooms, and ample storage areas have all helped create more efficient workflows for cross-team professionals including nurses, physicians, social workers, child life staff members and security personnel.

Timberlake said that the new space fully supports the collaborative and collegial working dynamics she enjoys in her day-to-day work.

“The good relationships between everyone haven’t changed since we’ve moved into the new building and that’s something I really appreciate,” she said.

Care team members have ample space to complete clinical tasks, collaborate with other professionals, and connect with patients and families.

But many things have changed for care team members like Timberlake, who said the Children’s Tower’s staff amenity and support areas are a huge improvement over cramped facilities they used before. Separate locker and break rooms, as well as dedicated recharge and respite spaces called “Watson Rooms,” are conveniently located within each unit.

“I’m right down the hall from my patients and I don’t have to travel far or take travel time to get to there. Because of the location of the Watson Room, I’m able to close my eyes and truly relax a little bit more.” Timberlake said. “It’s a serenity space.”

Design that Promotes Well-being and Discovery

To promote holistic well-being of everyone at CHoR — from care team members to patients and their families — the Children’s Tower’s design includes abundant natural light and biophilic elements.

Many interior architecture and design details throughout the hospital are inspired by the James River, which winds its way through Richmond. The river itself influenced circulation patterns and colorful mascots representing animals native to river habitats bring a unique character identity to each floor.

“When you can have design features that are relatable to the community that they’re in, it softens the experience and makes it more approachable, more like home,” said HKS’ Corrine Kipp, the project’s lead interior designer who attended VCU and lives in Richmond.

The team also made design decisions influenced by the more abstract concept of “shadow play,” which is realized though unique shapes, fun colors, sculptural elements, and niches that offer exciting moments of wonder and interaction for children.

“These elements are more whimsical,” Kipp said. “They are inspired by things children really gravitate towards that adults don’t always necessarily find the beauty in.”

Colorful discovery niches throughout the building give patients and visitors exciting moments of engagement and calming places to take a deep breath

Kipp and Renner said that along with the stimulating shadow play features, elements of choice throughout the building play an important role in the design. Inside their rooms, for example, patients can control color-changing lights and TVs that offer variety of entertainment options when they need rest or treatment.

“Allowing a child to feel like they have some choice or some small amount of control, you can see stress melt away,” said Kipp, noting that being the mother of a young child helped her make informed decisions throughout the design process. “They feel trusted to do things they think are right for them, and that makes them feel safer and more at ease.”

Elements of choice also help support children’s long-term holistic development across the full duration of what can be lengthy hospital stays, Renner said. Outside of their rooms, patients have easy access to areas where they can be themselves including multiple play spaces, a teen lounge, a developmental gym, and a performance room — all of which contribute to developmental growth and provide a sense of normalcy during difficult times.

Because trying to feel “normal” can be just as hard for family members as it is for children in a hospital setting, the Children’s Tower also has numerous spaces that suit the day-to-day needs of parents and guardians. The family gym, cafeteria, Ronald McDonald House Charities support spaces and services, and personal quiet rooms where adults can take a phone call, close their eyes, or get some work done, all aid their ability to focus on taking care of their kids while not neglecting their own needs.

Further fostering a cohesive and comfortable experience, the team also created connections between the exterior and interior designs. The colorful fins on the glass façade, inspired by CHoR’s brand, take the form of playful hanging sculptures inside and influenced art and furniture selections. And the yellow ribbon that visually unifies the Pavilion and Children’s Tower outside extends indoors where the color and motif indicate touchpoints and vertical transportation, making the hospital easier to navigate.

Privacy and Comfort for Patients, a Bright Future for Richmond

Perhaps the most impactful decision the CHoR and HKS teams made when planning the Children’s Tower was making every patient room private. The hospital’s prior facilities included semi-private rooms where multiple families would have to navigate care and stressful circumstances while cohabitating — a challenge for patients, families and care teams alike.

“When care team members have to start out their care giving experience apologizing for the room and the fact that you have a roommate, it taints the experience,” said Roane, who oversees the people and teams responsible for providing care to patients.

Every patient room in the Children’s Tower is private, and comes with flexible furniture arrangements for families and customizable lighting.

Private rooms at the Children’s Tower include a single patient bed, large windows overlooking Richmond and the James River, and flexible furniture arrangements for families to comfortably socialize, eat and spend the night as needed. Timberlake, Renner, Roane and Kipp all said that the private rooms and amenities within them offer a completely different, much more positive hospital experience for patients and care team members as well as guardians, parents, and siblings.

“Private rooms help families still feel like families. They don’t have to worry about what the patients and families next to them are doing — they can be their own family unit within a space that feels safe and a little bit more familiar,” Kipp said.

Incorporating private rooms is just one of many design choices that has a hand in helping CHoR deliver on its vision to be a nationally leading children’s health care provider and education and research institution.

On a larger scale, the Children’s Tower and the Children’s Pavilion that came before it both reflect how partnerships like the one between HKS and VCU Health can positively impact peoples’ lives. Roane said the collaborative process of designing, building, and opening the Children’s Tower has galvanized CHoR’s commitment to attract and retain team members that can provide the best care for young people so Richmond will have the brightest future possible.

“I’ve been careful to make sure we don’t rest on our laurels,” Roane said. “Yes, we have the building, and now we have even more responsibility to deliver on our brand promise for children and families.”

A Winning Design for Championship Venues

A Winning Design for Championship Venues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Championship Design Means Creating ‘a Wow Factor’

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Local and Flexible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Enhanced Fan Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s Tower

Case Study

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s Tower A Hospital Tower that Offers Children and Families a Chance to Heal, Discover, and Grow

Richmond, Virginia, USA

The Challenge

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) is dedicated to improving children’s health in the Richmond community. Driven by a passion to put children first, the building expands the existing Children’s Pavilion, creating a consolidated location for pediatric healthcare — an entire city block dedicated to serving the children of Richmond, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the region. The project’s goals included establishing a destination for health and well-being for children of any age, creating a clinical care environment that enhances interprofessional team collaboration, and engaging care team members, patients, families, and the community throughout the design process.

The Design Solution

The team first studied operations at the existing Main Hospital’s seventh floor pediatric unit, shadowing staff throughout their day to understand what worked and what didn’t. An ideal future state was developed based on these findings.

Patients and family members were invited to visioning sessions to hear about their challenges when visiting the hospital. A community design fair engaged more than 100 children and family members in the design process, with an opportunity to vote on concepts, themes and color palettes.

As the building and its departments began to take shape, the project team referred to evidence-based design concepts and processes to inform decision making. The team conducted a literature review in collaboration with the University of Virginia to identify a range of drivers that are transforming pediatric healthcare. The team also created a series of physical and virtual mock-ups so staff could experience and test department and room layouts to help determine the best configuration to support future operational workflows.

Plan analytics and rapid prototyping helped designers optimize adjacencies to reduce travel distances for care team members, while maximizing visibility to patient rooms and among peers. The design team created a full reference guide to use during operational planning and activation that ensured care team members had a grasp of the design intent, strategies and supporting evidence.

Built on a tight urban site, the tower maximizes the available footprint by expanding the upper levels 15 feet wider than the lower levels in three directions. Two additional floors of vertical expansion capacity are included in the structural design of the space above the Pavilion, providing even more growth potential.

The Tower’s colorful interior architecture draw inspiration from the James River and its diverse habitats. Each level features an animal mascot native to the river along with a color theme for improved wayfinding. An interactive shadow play zone, discovery boxes and colorful local artwork add to the playful experience and help reduce the anxiety of a hospital visit.

The Design Impact

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s tower is a success story 30 years in the making. ChoR and VCU Health leadership, staff, and the patients and families they serve came together to develop an oasis for healing. Like the children it cares for, it is designed for future growth.

The building’s private, standardized universal patient rooms offer flexibility for various levels of care and staffing utilization. Rooms are larger to accommodate families and future technologies. Soft space, shell space and future vertical expansion capacity provide ChoR with the ability to grow and adapt to the ever-changing healthcare environment. Dedicated spaces for care team members, including respite rooms, off-stage breakrooms with daylight and views, and workplace choice, ensure that the health and wellbeing of those providing care is a top priority.

Since opening, the new hospital has changed how kids and adolescent young adults experience healthcare in the Richmond region. The whole building and its diverse spaces were designed to suit their needs and desires, making the experience of going to the hospital more comfortable. Post-occupancy performance evaluations will provide insights into design and operational strategies, as well as opportunities to further enhance key elements for continuous improvement, helping the ChoR team continue their legacy of providing world-class care in a place where generations of children and adolescents will come to heal and grow.

Project Features

Awards


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 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.
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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, two of our Black colleagues — Michael Pruitt, and Shantee Blain — 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.