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.

HKS Wins 2023 COTE Top Ten Award for UC San Diego Living and Learning Neighborhood

HKS Wins 2023 COTE Top Ten Award for UC San Diego Living and Learning Neighborhood

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced that HKS has won a 2023 COTE Top Ten Award for the design of the University of California (UC) at San Diego North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood. The design-build project team members included HKS, Clark Construction, Safdie Rabines Architects and OJB Landscape Architecture. HKS also worked with UC San Diego and the Center for Advanced Design Research (CADRE) to form a research coalition for the project.

Established in 1997 by the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE), the annual award celebrates 10 projects that exemplify the integration of design excellence and environmental performance. Entrants to the COTE Top Ten Awards are evaluated against AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence, which comprises 10 principles to help architects achieve projects that are zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy.

“This honor is more important to us than I can say,” says Dan Noble, President and CEO of HKS. “For years we have worked with our clients and partners to put into practice the principles we hold as fundamental and foundational in our pursuit to merge performance with beauty. This project is the realization of how through purpose, knowledge and relationships we can create places that are good for the people who use them and good for the planet.”

“This project is the realization of how through purpose, knowledge and relationships we can create places that are good for the people who use them and good for the planet.”

Dan Noble, President and CEO
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This landmark construction project at UC San Diego, the largest in the university’s 62-year history, includes eight general assignment classrooms, three residence halls, two academic buildings,  administration offices, underground parking and public amenities.

While expanding their facilities within the context of a state-wide housing crisis, increasingly extreme heat and rising sea levels, UC San Diego chose to prioritize sustainability and well-being. Today, the North Torrey Pines Living Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) is the largest higher education project in California to achieve LEED Platinum certification.

“North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood is a shining example of UC San Diego’s commitment to sustainable design in the built environment,” said UC San Diego Senior Director of Project Quality Management Walt Kanzler. “This spectacular LEED Platinum project is the new home for Sixth College and the School of Social Sciences and the School of Arts and Humanities. With open spaces, art, dining, the new Craft Center and residential space for 2,000 undergraduate students, it embodies our values and welcomes everyone to live, learn and play in an exceptional, inspiring environment.  Many thanks to the amazing team that developed this once-in-a-lifetime project!”

Data from the first year of occupancy show that NTPLLN has reduced its measured EUI by a whopping 81% while realizing an 8.2% reduction in students’ self-reported depression rates. This decrease occurred at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when mental health was in crisis.

Data from the first year of occupancy show that NTPLLN has reduced its measured EUI by a whopping 81% while realizing an 8.2% reduction in students’ self-reported depression rates.

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 Launches HKS xBE to Cultivate Inclusion in Architecture & Design Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HKS Celebrates Outstanding Team Members with Annual Awards

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

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

Congratulations to HKS’ 2022 Annual Award winners:

Individual Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Awards

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

Federal Government Team

Bree Beal

Brent Wilson

Gene Corrigan

Jay Waters

Jim Whitaker

Kevin Sparks

Sarah Gray

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

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

Chicago Health, University of Wisconsin Eastpark Medical Center Team

Alina Chelaidite

Amber Wirth

Amy Kerkman

Arek Mazurek

Briana Pina

Carlos Barillas

Clint Nash

Colby Dearman 

Courtney Kraus

Craig Rader

Deborah Wingler

Gabby Pearson

Janhvi Jakkal

Josh Boggs

Joyce Sanchez

Kendra Price

Neetika Wahi

Nick Savage

Parsa Aghaei

Rupert Brown

Sandra Christian

Sarah Kleber

Scott Martin

Steve Jacobson

Steve Stroman

Tommy Zakrzewski

Tyrone Loper

Victor Valadez Gonzalez

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

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

Marketing Communications Team

Abby Fine

Amy Eagle

Ann Franks

Ann McGonigle Kifer

Annabeth Mohon

Apryl Dailey

Ashli Hall

Benjamin Robinson

Brenda Vizcarra

Caroline Casper

Chasa Toliver-Leger

Chelsea Watkins

Christie Ehrhart

Claire Sun

Danielle Celmer

Daryl Shields

Ellen Gao

Ellen Giles 

Francesca Rossi

Haley Ellis

Hannah Jaggers

James Frisbie 

Jamie Seessel

Jeanette Dvorak

Jennifer Stewart

Julie Obiala

Karen Funke Ganshirt

Kathleen O’Donnell

Kathryn Ward

Katie Carnival

Katy Dabbert

Kevin Sparks

Krista Corson

Lauren Marshall

Lauri Wilkins

Leah Ray

Leanne Doore

Louis Adams 

Maggie Dingwell

Mandy Flynn

Mary Catherine Smith

Mary Potter

Megan Finn

Megan Quain

Mekenzie McIntire

Michael Weekley 

Molly Mueller

Rachel Benavides

Selwyn Crawford

Shalmir Johnston

Shannon Simon

Shawn Sunderland

Shelley Shaffer

Sriraksha Ragunathan

Stephanie Butzke

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

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

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

Michael Anderson

Case Studies

TÜV SÜD BioChem Laboratory Expansion

Case Study

TÜV SÜD BioChem Laboratory Expansion A Space-Efficient Laboratory Expansion to Increase Global Testing Capacity

New Brighton, Minnesota, USA

The Challenge

TÜV SÜV — a German testing, inspection, and certification company — enlisted HKS to design a 20,000-square-foot (1,858 square meter) laboratory expansion due to an overwhelming need for additional medical device testing in its Minnesota lab. Space for lab expansion was limited to the east side of the site, leaving a small area to add required additional parking and a mechanical equipment yard.

The Design Solution

Designers positioned the expansion on the east side of the original building, running parallel to First Avenue. Additional parking is located on the south side of the expansion and on the west side of the original building. The mechanical yard is nestled between the added parking and the expansion on the south side.  

The expansion houses a variety of features that enable additional testing, including instruments for biocompatibility testing in compliance with the International Organization for Standardization’s standards for the biological evaluation of medical devices, as well as sterile packaging and transportation simulation services. These capabilities add to the existing electromagnetic compatibility testing and electrical safety testing capacity of the original facility. 

In addition to the increased testing capacity, the expansion features an office space and staff respite areas on the opposite side of the expansion from the lab areas. The office space includes a conference room and a phone room in addition to an open work area. The employee break room and locker room are located across from the office space.

The Design Impact

The New Brighton lab expansion functions as a hub for testing service delivery in the United States, allowing TÜV SÜD to provide a greater testing capacity for its American clients. By utilizing laboratory modular design, the HKS design team was able to efficiently use the site’s limited square footage. The state-of-the-art laboratory helps to reduce the impact of technological risks and protects people, assets and the environment. 

Project Features


Why Mass Timber Makes Sense – and Saves Dollars

Why Mass Timber Makes Sense – and Saves Dollars

HKS is a firm committed to exploring new building methods and materials, community health, design excellence and sustainability. That’s why we are a major proponent of the advantages of mass timber construction. Even though mass timber buildings represent only a fraction — less than .000189 percent — of the country’s commercial buildings, there are many reasons why this building type is a smart choice.

While some claim mass timber can be as much as 5 percent less expensive than steel and concrete construction, additional cost savings are possible through shorter construction time of prefabricated panels, less labor required for installation and in lower foundation costs due to less structural weight than in the material itself, which can cost as much or slightly more than concrete per square foot.

Mass timber also sequesters CO2 and its manufacture is far less carbon intensive than either concrete or steel. In addition, mass timber has a high strength-to-weight ratio that allows it to perform well during seismic activity, and its fire resistance properties meet or exceed most code requirements.

Mass Timber Buildings Have Health Benefits

There are also considerable health and aesthetic benefits of mass timber construction.

Research shows a link between exposed wood structural elements and greater workplace satisfaction and productivity. Studies also point to a growing body of evidence that natural materials, plants, natural light and access to nature relieve stress, the underlying cause of many forms of physical and mental illness. Variations in color and texture of wood and its tactile qualities can be both healthful and beautiful.

There are also considerable health and aesthetic benefits of mass timber construction.

Health facilities have been wary of mass timber due to the need for infection control. Because mass timber is engineered, its surface is smooth, free from cracks and knots seen in raw wood. It can also be coated creating a surface that can withstand industrial cleaning agents. Unlike other building materials, it also has reduced off-gassing, which translates into better air quality.

HKS Principal Kirk Teske notes the advantages of bundling underfloor air distribution (UFAD) with mass timber.

“Because UFAD doesn’t mix the air in the occupied zones like traditional forced air systems, it’s healthier,” Teske said. “UFAD also allows you to keep the HVAC ducts, electrical conduits, and data cables under the floor leaving the wood structure exposed. Done correctly, you feature the biophilic aspects of the wood structure with only the sprinkler piping and lighting systems remaining as a part of the ceiling structure.”

Considering the post-pandemic state of the commercial office market, Teske believes this combination would provide that sector with a unique niche offering that is especially attractive to corporate users that value environmental sustainability and healthy alternatives for their employees.

The HKS-designed Colorado Research Exchange will feature a 15,960 sf amenity center constructed with mass timber.

The Flexibility of Wood

Our practice spans a multitude of building types from senior living to commercial mixed use, education to hospitality, health to sports and more. Regardless of the building type, our clients are interested in creating spaces that are highly functional, adaptable, affordable and celebrated by users and the community-at-large.

Mass timber products, which come in a variety of sizes and forms, can help fill the bill. Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), is a wood panel system that uses wood stacked crosswise at a 90-degree angle and glued into place. Its strength, dimensional stability and rigidity make it suitable for use in mid-and high-rise construction. Nail-Laminated Timber (NLT), is dimensional lumber placed on edge with individual laminations fastened with nails or screws.

Dowel-Laminated Timber (DLT), panels are stacked like NLT and friction-fit together with hardwood dowels. Its strength comes from friction of the dowels, so it doesn’t use adhesives, nails or screws making it more sustainable, easier to mill and attractive for exposed structures. Glued-Laminated Timber (Glulam), is a structural engineered wood product commonly used for beams and columns. It allows for long spans of exposed framing as well as curvature.

So, Why Aren’t There More Mass Timber Buildings?

While hailing the energy-saving features of mass timber, some skeptics have expressed concern for deforestation due to wood’s increasing popularity.

“Most of the wood used in mass timber comes from trees that can be sustainably managed through responsible forestry practices,” explained Teske. “With smart design and planning and collaboration with knowledgeable manufacturers and contractors, we can mitigate any possible downside to using wood. A 2014 study stated that using wood as a building-material substitute could save 14%-31% of global CO2 emissions and 12%-19% of global fossil fuel consumption. The positives greatly outweigh any negatives.”

“Most of the wood used in mass timber comes from trees that can be sustainably managed through responsible forestry practices,” explained Teske.

Another reason cited for not using mass timber is that it is not as cost effective as its purported to be. According to Ryan Ganey, HKS Structural Engineer who has worked on several mass timber buildings in the states of Washington and Texas, selecting consultants with experience in mass timber construction can help alleviate cost concerns.

“It’s important to work with a contractor who has had some experience in mass timber to recognize the full benefits,” Ganey said. “Some contractors price mass timber higher because they have not had as much experience with it and they want to cover themselves. But as it becomes more popular, contractors better understand the cost of materials and labor and can price more accurately.”

Another possible reason for not using timber is building codes. But in 2019, the International Code Council (ICC) approved a set of proposals that would allow tall wood buildings as part of the 2021 International Building Code (IBC). If design meets these code requirements, buildings can be built up to 18 stories.

But what about fire safety?

In a fire, heavy timber chars on the outside while retaining strength. That slows combustion and allows occupants to evacuate the building. According to David Barber of Arup, in recent fire testing, a seven-inch wall of CLT lasted three hours and six minutes — one hour longer than code requirements.

A few years ago, the only mass timber manufacturers were in Canada or Europe. Today there are about a dozen scattered across the United States making sourcing easier and further reducing the carbon footprint of the material by eliminating importing and shipping. In addition, mass timber can be beautiful and might make a significant difference in the speed of leasing or sales of commercial, mixed-use and residential space.

As of December 2020, 1,060 commercial mass timber projects had been constructed or were in the design phase across the U.S., according to Woodworks — Wood Products Council. Developers, investors and corporations are embracing the idea that mass timber may give them an edge in the leasing or sale of real estate and in recruiting and retaining top talent. We can’t wait to help them achieve their goals.

North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood Honored by Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards

North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood Honored by Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards

Fast Company named UC San Diego’s North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) as a finalist in the 2022 Innovation by Design Awards. Designed by HKS, NTPLLN is honored in the Spaces and Places category, which celebrates the most innovative architecture of the year.

In its 11th year, the Innovation by Design Awards competition commends “designers and businesses solving the most crucial problems of today and anticipating the pressing issues of tomorrow,” according to Fast Company. Judges evaluate submissions based on Fast Company’s key ingredients of innovation: functionality, originality, beauty, sustainability, user insight, cultural impact, and business impact.

HKS’ Global Practice Director for Education, Leonardo Gonzalez Sangri said the honor acknowledges the firm’s commitment to design and research innovations that yield positive impact.

“Being recognized by Fast Company is an affirmation of the investments and efforts HKS makes towards leading with purpose and delivering measurable benefits to our communities through our work,” Gonzalez Sangri said.

NTPLLN is a “campus within a campus” at UC San Diego designed by HKS using sustainable and evidence-based strategies proven to promote environmental, physical, mental, and social well-being. Led by UC San Diego and the University’s vision for a socially connected, sustainable residential and learning environment, the project’s design-build team also included Clark Construction, Safdie Rabines Architects and OJB Landscape Architecture.

The Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards recognize NTPLLN for its outcome-driven, sustainable design and industry-leading longitudinal research study. A coalition of researchers from HKS, UC San Diego, and the Center for Advanced Research and Design (CADRE) assessed the design’s impact on student mental and physical health, capturing metrics related to depression, diet and environmental satisfaction compared with prior spaces. Students reported an 8.2% reduction in depression scores and a 27.96% increase in satisfaction with residential spaces, among other significant results.

Dr. Upali Nanda, HKS’ Global Practice Director of Research said that linking design intent to outcomes is at the heart of HKS’ investment in research and the Fast Company honor recognizes — and signals to a global audience — that good design goes beyond just aesthetics.

“This is about meaningful impact that we as a design community hold ourselves accountable to,” Nanda said. “We appreciate Fast Company’s recognition of innovation as something that is reflected in the lived outcomes of the people and societies we design for.”

UC San Diego is using the innovative design, research and operational methods of NTPLLN to inform new approaches to services and future campus developments. Gonzalez Sangri said that the project itself, along with honors presented by organizations like Fast Company, powerfully demonstrate positive progress in higher education design and development.

“My hope is that projects like North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Community mark a shift in the way higher education institutions plan and develop capital improvements,” said Gonzalez Sangri, “where they seize opportunities to deliver beyond physical space and program needs and define outcomes that improve environmental conditions for better human health and well-being.”

What is Brain Health and Why Does it Matter?

What is Brain Health and Why Does it Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HKS Expands Experiential Branding Practice Led by Industry Veteran Tony LaPorte

HKS Expands Experiential Branding Practice Led by Industry Veteran Tony LaPorte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Health Equity in the Built Environment Matters

Why Health Equity in the Built Environment Matters

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

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

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

Data to Address Health Disparities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding Community Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make sure that residents are at the forefront.

Health and the Built Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UC San Diego Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood

Case Study

UC San Diego Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood UC San Diego Theatre District Provides Welcoming Mixed-Use Community

La Jolla, California, USA

The Challenge

Because of its location adjacent to the University’s Theatre District, UC San Diego leaders wanted this project to build a neighboring mixed-use student residential community that would serve as a welcoming major public gateway to the campus. In addition, the project also needed to enhance the theatre patron and student experience through engagement with nature and the La Jolla community.

The Design Solution

The design-build project team members included HKS, design builder Kitchell, associate architect EYRC, and landscape architect SWA. The HKS design team led a series of stakeholder sessions to develop a project program by employing primary and secondary research. Design strategies to achieve these outcomes were identified and design solutions influenced by the strategies were developed.

The design team coined the phrase “exponential ecology” for the project, which captures the notion that for every design decision, at every scale, the project will embody a connection to nature and place in ways that promote human wellness and responsibility to the planet.

“Ecological legibility” drove the site design concepts. Understanding the movement of water across the site, which existed as a paved surface parking lot, the design team determined that a natural, ecological corridor called “The Ramble” would read as the primary gesture weaving through the new neighborhood, creating opportunities for program location and massing to celebrate and integrate nature in such a manner that it would promote healthy living through physical, mental, and social well-being.

Using computational fluid dynamic modeling, the location, shape and height of the buildings were studied to maximize the benefit of natural ocean breezes, natural daylighting and views as well as reduce solar heat gain while increasing human comfort at the ground plane. Further, the facades of the residential towers were serrated to increase airflow into the units which are to be naturally ventilated.

Addressing the two signature outcomes, parking was located completely below grade but accessed from terraced parking gardens, one of which connects directly to a plaza adjacent to the Theatre District with its new drop-off area. This plaza is surrounded by a restaurant, retail shops and a market hall as well as a conference center on top of the gateway building to benefit community, faculty/staff, and student interactions.

To enhance the student experience, each residential building entrance is oriented to the Ramble to reinforce pedestrian connection to nature, and to provide both security and wayfinding. To support mental health and wellness, a meditation pavilion and a tea house enliven the landscape environment which also includes a fitness center, a commuter lounge and various other shared student amenities.

Student residences are designed to address the designated outcomes in multiple ways. Multi-story great rooms are located at every elevator lobby which students pass through on the way to their rooms, giving them opportunities for chance social connections as well as places to study, cook and play. Using the concept of “functional inconvenience”, the design team has gathered program elements together at the ground floor to focus social activity and thereby increase sense of belonging.

The Design Impact

This project promotes the idea that opportunities for restoration and social network building, quality sleep, and physical attributes associated with homeyness, can enhance students’ psychological and social well-being. Adaptability, physical attributes and spatial qualities to choose from for various needs, clustered amenities, and abundant social interaction opportunities with clear demarcation between private and public spaces facilitate social connections and contribute to the living and learning neighborhood environment.

Restoration of the site from a surface parking lot back to its historic ecological role as a watershed that balances between its coastal and canyon ecosystems is not only responsible to the campus and planet, but also benefits the health and well-being of many future generations of students.

HKS has created a meaningful relationship with the University as a research partner that started with our work on the first living and learning neighborhood, North Torrey Pines. That research informed the design process of the Theatre District Living and Learning neighborhood and we plan to extend the Living Lab concept to this project so that UC San Diego and HKS can use this as a study for benchmarking design intent that can inform future projects.

Project Features

Awards

In fall 2023, the first phase of project delivery allowed students to move into their new 16-story “Podemos” residence hall community. The residence hall is named in support of the Eighth College theme of Community & Engagement in the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood. 

What to Consider When Planning a Speculative Laboratory Conversion

What to Consider When Planning a Speculative Laboratory Conversion

Across the United States, architects are retrofitting existing buildings to meet an increasing demand for life science and technology facilities. Savvy developers are turning towards re-using structures originally designed as offices, warehouses, and even shopping malls, particularly in dense cities and areas where sustainable building policies are gaining traction.

It’s an inspiring time for designer and developer collaborations, ripe with potential for creativity and customization. But while the opportunities abound, there are also many challenges to consider when converting an existing building into highly specialized spaces like laboratories.

With many years of experience working across sectors and locations to proactively plan and execute laboratory conversions for companies, universities, and health organizations, HKS’ life science and technology designers can answer the call to help speculative laboratory developers. These are the key things we help our clients understand as they embark on new projects.

Does the Location Fit the Need?

Before selecting a building for conversion, the first step is to choose the right location. There is a good reason many laboratories and research facilities are located near universities, hospitals and science and technology company offices — proximity creates an opportunity for institutions to share centralized resources, information and talent. Choosing a region where these types of organizations already have roots is a good practice for developers seeking to get into the science and technology space.

Once the general location for a lab is determined, designers can assess existing buildings with keen attention to detail, helping developers evaluate feasibility and risk for lab conversions.

Part of a major re-development project, an innovation lab at the University of Chicago includes dedicated spaces for research in the biosciences, chemistry, physical sciences and computational work.

Is the Site Functional?

The space outside of a building’s footprint is as important as the building itself when determining the right place for a lab. Knowing what type of research and experimentation will occur in a facility greatly helps designers properly consider a building site. We look at whether the site has space to accommodate the flow of deliveries and extraction of waste and if a loading dock for several truck sizes will be necessary. Ideally, loading zones will be located away from the main employee entrance as they can be messy, noisy, and operate at all hours. Another major site-based need is space for emergency back-up generators, bulk tank storage, chillers and other specialized mechanical and storage needs specific to the work being carried out inside the building.

Is the Conversion Cost-effective?

Whether a former office, warehouse or shopping center, a building or group of buildings can be modified as much as necessary to suit lab requirements, but certain structures will require more cost-intensive design measures. Budgets may be significantly impacted if certain design elements are overlooked.

One of the first building specific items we look at is the structural floor-to-floor height. Though requirements will vary depending on the prospective science to be performed, a general rule of thumb we recommend is a 14-16 foot minimum, which allows for larger mechanical duct runs to be constructed above the ceilings. Larger floor-to-floor heights also accommodate larger pieces of equipment more easily and provide greater flexibility for future renovations.

Another building design element to review is column spacing. While we can work within the constraints of many different types of structural and spatial arrangements, it’s important to choose a building that can provide the most efficient, flexible floor plans for laboratories to be programmed. This allows for efficient use of the space by utilizing standard benching depths and appropriate aisle space in between, minimizing waste.

Occupancy surveys with HKS science and technology clients have revealed a common request: flexibility for renovations. With needs and opportunities for lab developments changing as rapidly as they are, clients want to be able to adapt and modify their spaces as quickly and easily as possible and reduce the amount of downtime in their research activities. To make a building work for clients now and into the future, we can design spaces that accommodate features like plug-and-play ceiling mounted panels and mobile benching with casters. 

Can the Structure Support the Science?

Laboratories require robust infrastructure and any building selected for conversion needs to be able to accommodate appropriate power and mechanical systems. To adequately support the flow of water, waste, air and vertical exhaust, a detailed evaluation of capacity will be required.

Chemistry laboratories require heavy HVAC and exhaust systems, and many air handling units and exhaust fans will be located on the roof. If a roof’s structural integrity and load capacities cannot receive those systems, additional structural support will be required, which could drive up costs and expand design and construction timelines. Some jurisdictions also require screening of rooftop equipment, which affects space allocation and weight of additional construction on the roof.

850 Phoenix Bioscience Core (850 PBC) includes open labs and support spaces that are flexible and inviting.

We also examine live loads of every floor of a building. Many sciences require heavy equipment, storage units, refrigeration units and other items that weigh significantly more than systems used in a general office building. Again, structural reinforcement can always be added, but a cost analysis for how much might be required is important and relevant.

Sensitive equipment such as electron microscopes, imaging equipment and incubators can be negatively affected by intense vibrations within or outside a facility. Though it’s difficult to know in advance exactly what equipment might be used in a speculative lab facility, we recommend evaluating floors and reinforcing them with stringent structural vibration criteria in mind, so more potential labs can be accommodated.

Successful Spec Labs Can Benefit Everyone

Our flexible design methodology extends also to buildings that can house single tenant or multi-tenants, depending upon the developer’s preference or prospective clients.

No matter what research and development endeavors are carried out in a converted lab, it’s important to understand that properly investing in site evaluation, its structures and potential future needs will lead to the most positive outcomes.

When developers build relationships with designers and engage them early in their building and site selection process, they have a stronger chance at long-term success for their properties.

If you would like to learn how designers and developers can leverage these insights, please contact Rich Smith or Nancie Constandse.

Designing for an Ever-Changing Present: Clinic 20XX Refresh Study Amidst (and Beyond) COVID-19

Designing for an Ever-Changing Present: Clinic 20XX Refresh Study Amidst (and Beyond) COVID-19

The Challenge

Health care has been long due for systemic and system-wide reform, bringing an urgency for health care organizations, patient advocates, and policy makers to lead this effort. The U.S., compared to 10 other developed countries, is rated the highest in health care spending, yet lowest in quality of care (Commonwealth report: 2014 and 2021). The lived experiment of the COVID-19 pandemic, including challenges from the rise in health worker burnout, and fundamental issues with public health has once again reinforced the need for change-ready facilities. With plans to refresh the 2015 Clinic 20XX report, the Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation (CADRE) and HKS team examined the changes in primary care, in large part due to the pandemic, with a focus on:

What We Found in our Research

The research team commissioned a third-party independent vendor to survey both U.S. patients and physicians to capture their experiences:

Here are some key findings from the survey and report:

New drivers of change reflect what we need to live a quality life.
In addition to the drivers from 2015 (system reform, technology, the new patient, the provider, and the field), Climate Change (respiratory diseases, catastrophic events), Infectious Diseases (global outbreaks), Health Equity (access to care, treatment availability, outcome), and Burnout (staff burnout and retention, mental health) emerged in 2021. New players in the market, wellness, and home health are new trends identified in response to the drivers of change.

Process, patient-provider relationship, and place are the trifecta in creating the ideal in-person primary care clinic experience.
Streamlined process (44%), empathetic and knowledgeable providers (27%), and amenity-rich, safe, and clean environment (21%) were the top three components of the patient’s ideal experience. Physicians identified streamlined patient check-in and registration process (4.58 out of 5) and availability of exam room when needed (4.56 rating out of 5) as top facility features to run a successful practice, with patient relationships (4.57 out of 5) being key.

 

Experience vs. Service

Physical and digital preferences differ by generation.
Baby boomers (70%) and Gen Xers (55%) preferred in-person visits over virtual visits, whereas Millennials preferred virtual (58%) over in-person.

Primary Care Experience

The smartphone has increasingly become the lifeline for patients to access health care services, with a 17-percentage point shift from 2015. While excited about telehealth, especially in terms of access and convenience, physicians are still skeptical about the regulatory reform needed to make it successful.

Phone vs. Portal

Convenience is still key, but now with a digital layer.
Closely following cleanliness and hygiene in the perception of clinic appeal, convenience had typically been manifested through same day appointments and walk-in appointments (with less than 30-min. wait time) in 2015 and are still at the top for Baby Boomers in 2021; however, online registration and mobile apps to track health entered the top three for Millennials in 2021.

Physicians want workspaces that allow privacy, efficiency, convenience, and flexibility.
Closely following cleanliness and hygiene in the perception of clinic appeal, convenience had typically been manifested through same day appointments and walk-in appointments (with less than 30-min. wait time) in 2015 and are still at the top for Baby Boomers in 2021; however, online registration and mobile apps to track health entered the top three for Millennials in 2021.

What the Findings Mean

Patient and provider perspectives, layered on the key drivers and emerging trends, suggest key principles to design primary care clinics that are change-ready. For example,

Seven Key Principles:

Here are some key takeaways from the report findings:

Humanize the Experience.

The Clinic Is More Than a Building.

Build Relationship and Trust.

What’s Next

With increasing primary care provider shortages and health care worker burnout at peak levels, it is essential to consider how these drivers will collectively impact emerging care models and care team members, preferences and expectations moving forward.

This study concluded what has been a six-year exploration of how to design for change in the face of an ever-changing present. It is our hope that others will take the insights from this report (and others in the series), continue to ask questions, and use it as a starting point for meaningful innovation.

Two Years After COVID, Here’s What We’ve Learned as Designers

Two Years After COVID, Here’s What We’ve Learned as Designers

COVID-19 has officially been in the world for more than two years. During that time it has changed the way all of us live, work, play and think.

Tragically, it has also killed more than 6 million people worldwide. Health experts and scientists agree that many of those deaths could have been avoided. As the life continues in a world in which COVID will likely be a permanent companion, architects, designers and engineers have acquired many lessons in the past two years about what steps our industry can take — now and in the future — to make our lives safer and more comfortable. Here are a few things we learned at HKS:

1- Use What You’ve Got

It’s too costly to build new hospitals for the next pandemic, so converting existing spaces quickly is key for architects and designers. HKS-designed Orlando Regional Medical Center in Florida offers one blueprint how such blueprints can be done successfully. 

2 – Prepare for the Surge

In a pandemic, every available space – from lobbies to hallways – may become emergency treatment areas. That means that certain medically necessary infrastructure components – oxygen, medical gasses, pipes and wiring should be close at all times, even if generally hidden from view. And water, electricity and medical hookups should be available to quickly convert parking lots or nearby structures into field hospitals.

3 – Staff Needs Love, Too

The pandemic has clearly shown us that health care workers are a treasure and must be treated as such. They need ample space to unwind and relieve the stress that comes with their jobs. Designing spaces that give them plenty of room to relax and recharge, away from the hustle and bustle of patient care, is necessary. For example, spaces that allow privacy and allow staffers to control sound and lighting would be helpful, along with rooms with windows that overlook gardens or other serene settings.

4 – There’s No Place Like Home 

The pandemic has forever changed how we work, or more to the point, where we work. COVID forced employees to shift to working from home – or places other than their main offices – and many of them discovered that they not only liked the flexibility of doing so, but they were also more productive. One finding from HKS’ extensive internal research bolsters this point. The findings revealed that work satisfactions jumped 12% for employees who have control over their home conditions, such as the ability to close a door to block out noise. HKS used this internal research to develop a flexible work from home policy for its employees that became a model for the AEC industry. Firms will likely need to maintain this flexibility going forward to retain, obtain and reward its workforce.

5. Office Work isn’t Dead Yet

While it’s true that working from home is more acceptable than ever, many companies will still need employees in the office for a variety of reasons. And when those workers are there, they will need to feel healthy and safe. Again, HKS research helped provide insights into designing for a safe office space. Recommendations include having teams work in their own “neighborhoods,” creating work “shifts,” so that certain amount of people are in the office at a given time, mobile infrastructure and seamless technology so that processes are consistent at home and remotely, holding meetings outside when possible and adequate spacing of desks. But even with working in the office, flexibility will remain the key component.

6. Safe at Home

Because more work will continue to be done at home, residential spaces will have to adapt. Single family homes will obviously have more options and leeway to do this. But multifamily residential spaces will face unique challenges, in large part due to size and affordability limitations. During the height of the COVID pandemic, HKS worked on possible solutions for future apartment construction. Among the many considerations: flexible workspaces adjustable surfaces, adequate access to light and air in all the spaces, finding a way to “hide” workspaces when they aren’t being used so that employees won’t always feel “on the clock.”

7. Air is Not Rare

No matter who you are or where you go, you’ll need air. The pandemic often put that basic need in jeopardy. Designers have figure out ways to funnel breathable air into any space from office buildings to shopping areas to airports to sports arenas. Our HKS office in downtown Chicago uses displacement air distribution ventilation technology to help keep the air clean. At the open-air HKS-designed SoFi Stadium, designers minimized air pollutants there by maximizing natural ventilation through operable panels, using the building skin to increase occupant comfort and creating “grand canyons” – large, landscaped pathways, gardens and patios. Airports can use a scaled approach to ventilation to help remove airplane exhaust fumes that historically contribute to poor air quality.

HKS Partners With Center for BrainHealth to Help Employees Thrive

HKS Partners With Center for BrainHealth to Help Employees Thrive

HKS is partnering with The University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth® on a study to improve the way the firm’s employees work, collaborate and innovate, both individually and as an organization.

The ongoing COVID pandemic has contributed to high levels of worker burnout, even though efficiency and productivity in many industries remain high in this era of hybrid work.

The center’s BrainHealthy Workplace™ program is a three-year, longitudinal study with multiple organizations that will assess participants’ current brain health, share strategies and tools to improve their individual cognitive function over time, and measure change over time.

Nearly 200 employees from HKS are participating in the Center for BrainHealth’s BrainHealthy Workplace program, which offers online trainings, think tanks and daily brain exercises over a six-month span to optimize their brain health. The program is completely confidential; the firm will have no access to individual participants’ data.

“It’s no question that our people have been under enormous amounts of pressure over the last two years of the pandemic, and we do not want work to be an additional stressor,” said Dan Noble, President and CEO of HKS. “Our partnership with the Center for BrainHealth is empowering our people to learn new strategies to improve their resilience while also supporting them in becoming more focused and innovative, to help make the most of their time at work and in their personal lives. This is a critical piece of how we’re investing in our teams’ well-being and mental health as we collectively recover from the last two years.”

This is a critical piece of how we’re investing in our teams’ well-being and mental health as we collectively recover from the last two years.

Cognitive wellness is a big focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, which takes place in May. This year’s theme, “Back to Basics,” provides foundational knowledge about mental health and addresses the effects on people’s well-being due to stress, isolation and uncertainty from pandemic living, according to Mental Health America.

Dr. Upali Nanda, HKS Global Director of Research, said HKS’ partnership with the Center for BrainHealth could be a critical tool in mapping the firm’s future, with worker wellness at the forefront.

“It is particularly timely right now when we are in this era of experimentation around the workplace, and are battling high levels of burnout,” Nanda said. “Understanding the tenets of brain health allows us to reframe the role of the workplace, leverage the potential of flex work experience and focus on peak performance of our most valuable asset- our people and their ability to think, create and innovate.”

Understanding the tenets of brain health allows us to reframe the role of the workplace.

The Center for BrainHealth is one of the country’s leading centers for pioneering cognitive neuroscience research and translation into scalable tools that enhance brain health and performance. The BrainHealth team of clinicians and coaches has worked with corporations, first responders, every branch of the military, and schools on similar trainings over the past two decades.

“We are proud to partner with HKS to incorporate the science of brain health and performance into the workplace,” said Jennifer Zientz, deputy director of programs at Center for BrainHealth. “Our practical, science-backed strategies have been shown to support improved productivity, engagement and innovation at work – all of which enhance people’s ability to thrive in their lives. Together, we are discovering how to shape the optimal workplace of the future.”

HKS’ latest collaboration with the Dallas-based Center for BrainHealth emerges from a longstanding partnership. The firm designed the center in 2007, including state-of-the-art research space and leading-edge technologies dedicated to studying the brain and strengthening its function. The project won a 2010 Design Award from the Dallas chapter of The American Institute of Architects.