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

Case Study

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

United States

The Challenge

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

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

The Design Solution

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

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

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

The Design Impact

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

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

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

Project Features


Confidential FinTech Regional Office

Case Study

Confidential FinTech Regional Office Culture through Community

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

The Challenge

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

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

The Design Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Design Impact

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

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

Project Features


CMNTY Culture Campus

Case Study

CMNTY Culture Campus A Love Song for Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California, USA

The Challenge

CMNTY Culture Group (CMNTY pronounced as community), a new independent music and media company, seeks to improve access and equity in the entertainment industry for aspiring musicians, recording engineers and creative artists. To support this important mission, CMNTY Culture envisions a mixed-use campus with creative offices, studios, performance venues, and public event spaces — right in the heart of Hollywood.

The Design Solution

Every aspect of the CMNTY Culture Campus design is inspired by music and community connectivity. A high-performance façade wraps around the building, mapping a composition like a music notation staff. A grand exterior staircase invites the public to ascend through an atrium with native plants and fresh air, leading people to an outdoor rooftop amphitheater. At the building’s northeast corner, the façade dips, orienting the building around the amphitheater and framing views of the Hollywood sign in the hills beyond.

At over 460,000 square feet, CMNTY Culture Campus will nurture a thriving music industry scene with engaging venues, state-of-the art studios, and offices that foster collaboration among new talent and established music artists, students and teachers, and producers and creators.

The recording studio program is foundational to the CMNTY Culture Campus program. It includes world-class music production facilities and a hospitality component offering artists the opportunity to live on site during the recording process. The recording studio lobby provides access to six professional studios, a flexible production space and an artist lounge. Recording studios are strategically organized along ‘the hallway,’ a circulation route inspired by the historic instances of serendipitous hallway collisions between artists who partner to push the boundaries of music.

CMNTY Culture Campus offers an attractive co-location experience for creatives adjacent to the center of the music and entertainment industry. A variety of office floor configurations provide options for office tenants to flex and grow their teams while being a part of the campus culture with direct access to recording musicians, students and patrons. HKS partnered with landscape architecture office Hood Design Studio to create dynamic outdoor spaces on every office level that promote healthy working and nature-based restoration. The Highland office lobby, visible from the building’s exterior, also allows passersby to catch a glimpse through a recording studio window so they can feel as though they are a part of the creative process.

The building is designed to be an exciting and accessible place that engages its surrounding community to participate in activities on site. A covered plaza situated across the street from Hollywood High School — a historic regional magnet school — welcomes students to the campus. The plaza connects to a community auditorium that will host educational lectures by top recording artists, local entrepreneur and venture capital events, performances by professional musicians and students, and serve as an important “third place” for the neighborhood. The plaza, a café, and retail space provide amenities for building users and neighborhood residents as well as pre-show and post-show gathering places for patrons of performances.

The Design Impact

CMNTY Culture Campus bridges the history of Hollywood with the future of entertainment, offering the industry a creative home while creating a new paradigm for the design of office buildings, event venues and creative production facilities. The project is a love song for Los Angeles that pushes the envelope of what a creative campus can be and how it can give back to its community.

Project Features


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

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

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

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

Please join HKS for the following events:  

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

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

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

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

Empowering Communities Through Empathetic Listening

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

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

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

Performing Beautifully — The COTE Top Ten Awards 

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

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

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

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

Virtual Models & the Future of Digital Delivery: SoFi Stadium 

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

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

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

Stronger Together: The Future of Latinx in Architecture 

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

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

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

Leveraging Integrative Frameworks for Resilient Design 

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

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

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

Greening Large: Advancing Organizational Sustainability Through Regenerative Projects

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

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

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

Becoming a Citizen Architect 

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

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

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

College of Fellows Investiture Ceremony

Thursday June 8 – 3:00pm – 5:00pm PDT

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

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.

Astra Tower

Case Study

Astra Tower A Towering Model of Sustainable Urban Living

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

The Challenge

In the era of urban renaissance, rapid population growth, and climate change, residential high-rise buildings are not only expected to provide high-density urban lifestyle living, but minimize their impact on the environment and be resilient to the changing climatic conditions. The Astra Tower seeks to take this challenge to the next level by developing a unique urban community focused on health and wellness that will tackle one of the region’s most imminent environmental threats, air quality.

The Design Solution

Poised to promote wellness and resiliency at a variety of scales, the HKS design team will focus on the physical and cognitive well-being of Astra Tower residents through an extensive amenity program in connection with natural surroundings and biophilic design to encourage an active, healthy and restorative lifestyle.

At the building level, Astra Tower will minimize its carbon footprint, energy consumption and the use of natural resources through an efficient vertical organization and performance-based design for all major building systems. The structural system followed performance-based design rather than code prescriptive requirements and was engineered to withstand an earthquake that happens once every 2,000 years.

At the macro level, the project will filter the polluted outdoor air and improve its quality before releasing it back into the atmosphere, acting as an air purifier for the city.

The Design Impact

As the new tallest building in Utah, Astra Tower aspires to become a model of sustainable urban living with a focus on resilience, sustainability and wellness that will make an impact on a variety of scales. The project will maximize the indoor air quality for the residents , raise community awareness of outdoor air quality and set a unique example of environmental stewardship.

Project Features


Skyiera Mixed-Use Master Plan

Case Study

Skyiera Mixed-Use Master Plan Creating a Cultural Destination within New Cairo

New Cairo, Egypt

The Challenge

The client noticed a lack of connectivity and community-focused destinations within the sporadically developed New Cairo. HKS was tasked with designing a masterplan that supported the creation of inviting and functional public spaces with the right amenities and cultural attractions. The well-being of residents and the success of a region was dependent on the development of vibrant and livable communities.

The Design Solution

In response, HKS designed a new 1 million square meter (11.7 million sf) masterplan that incorporated a variety of uses such as a business hub, world-class retail center and two hotels with branded residences to attract a diverse range of visitors.

One of the most important elements of the masterplan is Nile Park, with plenty of green space, seating areas, playgrounds and recreational facilities. It serves as a vital community resource, providing a place for people to gather, relax and enjoy the outdoors. Within the park, a 2,000-seat performing arts theatre serves as a cultural destination and hosts a wide variety of performances and events throughout the year, becoming a key anchor for the community.

The Design Impact

Skyiera creates a vibrant and livable community that includes the infrastructure, amenities and attractions necessary to support a diverse range of residents and visitors. Providing spaces for work, play and cultural enrichment, the masterplan would be a major step towards building a sustainable and successful community in New Cairo.

Project Features


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.

Tipalti Headquarters

Case Study

Tipalti Headquarters Designing an Office Culture for Success, Growth & Limitless Flexibility

Foster City, California, USA

The Challenge

Nascent fintech start-up Tipalti was in mid-stride when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, making remote work its new reality. Tipalti – whose Hebrew mantra translates to “I handled it” – knew it needed to prepare for an inevitable future when its employees would return to the office. The HKS commercial interiors team in San Francisco helped Tipalti visualize what that office return might look like: a place that celebrates and prioritizes human capital by fostering social connection and supporting work/life equilibrium.

The Design Solution

HKS began designing Tipalti’s new 53,000 square-foot Bay Area headquarters during the pandemic in 2021. Anticipating that it would need to help its clients – and HKS itself – rethink how companies could best support a healthy return to the workplace, the firm conducted research using its own workforce, publishing reports on designing brain-healthy workspaces and effective work ecosystems for its Future of Work series.

HKS’s findings helped guide Tipalti’s HQ design, establishing a new brand standard for the design of the company’s other U.S. and international locations. The design team sought to augment the newly developed brand by uncovering the company’s ideal workflow and space planning goals to determine future space planning/furniture standards.

Concepts from HKS’ year-long brain health study and Future of Work outcomes are incorporated into the design while expressing Tipalti’s brand and youthful, energetic culture. Another key design driver was the concept of “Hygge,” a defining characteristic of Danish culture whose essences connote coziness and comfort, creating feelings of contentment and well-being – which are also the defining qualities of work-from-home safety and comfort. The space is designed with warm, rich Scandinavian-styled environments to reflect the idea of intimately scaled groupings within neighborhoods that offer the company flexibility and amenities to enhance brain health and workflow for a variety of individual work modes, whether collaborative or focused.

Just as our brains are comprised of different regions that are responsible for diverse functions, HKS designed Tipalti’s varied workspaces to engage with our brains’ zones that regulate and stimulate our daily lives.We designed for perception, memory, reasoning, imagination, language, information processing, learning, movement, visual and auditory functions as well as the brains’ involuntary functions such as the heartbeat and breathing – and more.

Drawing on HKS’ research, we crafted versatile spaces to promote freedom of choice, combat fatigue and foster connection. Work is not exclusive to the workstation. These spaces include an “idea theater,” game room, library, focus rooms, speakeasy and more. The coffee bar at Tipalti’s entrance replaces a traditional reception, exuding energy and community vibes, adaptable for various uses including all-hands and client-facing activated space.

Adaptable furniture meets changing needs and program evolution throughout the day. An all-gender restroom promotes inclusivity. The wellness room, equipped with a sink and refrigerator, has amenities for nursing mothers, relaxation, contemplation or prayer. Workstations are ergonomic and height-adjustable to fit each individual.

Connection to nature is critical to brain health. Designed to maximize the site’s natural light and views of beautiful San Francisco Bay, cityscape and a mountain range, all occupants have access to natural daylight from their workspace, social zones, and conference rooms regardless of their status within the company.Having confidence in the air quality was an important factor in bringing employees back to a healthy shared office environment. In collaboration with the project’s mechanical consultant, indoor air filtration systems were incorporated into enclosed gathering spaces.

HKS minimized the project’s carbon footprint by sourcing mindful materials – especially local materials that would help the company achieve carbon neutral status by the end of the lease. The team reused architectural elements, materials, and features that were part of the existing conditions.

The Design Impact

Tipalti moved into its new headquarters in January 2023 and is well positioned to support its current and future workforce with individual and communal spaces designed for maximum flexibility through architecture, programming, and furniture solutions. Tipalti’s headquarters have become a branded template for its current and future office locations around the globe, reflecting one of the company’s strategic priorities: investing in the health and well-being of its people.

HKS’ research-driven design offers a variety of spaces based on task type or working modality to counter stagnation and boost brain power, unlock innovation and enhance social connectivity. Research demonstrates enhanced worker satisfaction, a key component of employee health and retention.

“I value the partnership and friendship forged with the HKS team through this project. I don’t take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to work with such genuinely good human beings.”

Robert McCormick, Director, Global Real Estate and Workplace

Project Features


HKS Celebrates Outstanding Team Members with Annual Awards

HKS Celebrates Outstanding Team Members with Annual Awards

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

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

Congratulations to HKS’ 2022 Annual Award winners:

Individual Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Awards

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

Federal Government Team

Bree Beal

Brent Wilson

Gene Corrigan

Jay Waters

Jim Whitaker

Kevin Sparks

Sarah Gray

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

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

Chicago Health, University of Wisconsin Eastpark Medical Center Team

Alina Chelaidite

Amber Wirth

Amy Kerkman

Arek Mazurek

Briana Pina

Carlos Barillas

Clint Nash

Colby Dearman 

Courtney Kraus

Craig Rader

Deborah Wingler

Gabby Pearson

Janhvi Jakkal

Josh Boggs

Joyce Sanchez

Kendra Price

Neetika Wahi

Nick Savage

Parsa Aghaei

Rupert Brown

Sandra Christian

Sarah Kleber

Scott Martin

Steve Jacobson

Steve Stroman

Tommy Zakrzewski

Tyrone Loper

Victor Valadez Gonzalez

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

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

Marketing Communications Team

Abby Fine

Amy Eagle

Ann Franks

Ann McGonigle Kifer

Annabeth Mohon

Apryl Dailey

Ashli Hall

Benjamin Robinson

Brenda Vizcarra

Caroline Casper

Chasa Toliver-Leger

Chelsea Watkins

Christie Ehrhart

Claire Sun

Danielle Celmer

Daryl Shields

Ellen Gao

Ellen Giles 

Francesca Rossi

Haley Ellis

Hannah Jaggers

James Frisbie 

Jamie Seessel

Jeanette Dvorak

Jennifer Stewart

Julie Obiala

Karen Funke Ganshirt

Kathleen O’Donnell

Kathryn Ward

Katie Carnival

Katy Dabbert

Kevin Sparks

Krista Corson

Lauren Marshall

Lauri Wilkins

Leah Ray

Leanne Doore

Louis Adams 

Maggie Dingwell

Mandy Flynn

Mary Catherine Smith

Mary Potter

Megan Finn

Megan Quain

Mekenzie McIntire

Michael Weekley 

Molly Mueller

Rachel Benavides

Selwyn Crawford

Shalmir Johnston

Shannon Simon

Shawn Sunderland

Shelley Shaffer

Sriraksha Ragunathan

Stephanie Butzke

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

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

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

Bringing Luxury Hospitality to the Great Outdoors with AutoCamp Joshua Tree

Bringing Luxury Hospitality to the Great Outdoors with AutoCamp Joshua Tree

Now that the lockdowns and restrictions brought on by the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have eased, many people find themselves looking for safe getaways. In many cases, post-pandemic travelers want nearby destinations that offer access to lots of fresh air — beaches, National and State parks — while still providing some level of the luxury accommodations to which they are accustomed.

AutoCamp Joshua Tree is one such spot. The so-called Glamping destination, luxury connected to the outdoors, exudes intimacy, privacy and community. Hospitality Design magazine named Joshua Tree AutoCamp as a 2022 Gold Key Finalist for Specialty Design, recognizing the project’s influential and innovative design, inside and out.

Located just outside Joshua Tree National Park, about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, the 25-acre resort features modernized vintage Airstream trailers. Easily recognizable by their round shape and polished aluminum coat, the American-designed campers have regained the popularity they once enjoyed in a bygone era.

“An Airstream has the nostalgic feeling of a rose-tinted moment when life was good, back in the day,” said Ben Martin, HKS Economics Practice Director, Advisory. “You’re going back to the 60s and the 70s.”

But HKS-designed AutoCamp presents a more modern advantage as well — sustainability. The luxury campsite aligns with the firm’s goal to be a leader in sustainability and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

“It’s a light touch on the environment in terms of development, which means that it is more acceptable in the sense of natural environment,” Martin said.

Inside these Airstream suites are a fully functioning kitchenette, queen bed and a modern bathroom equipped with a walk-in rain shower. Along with a flatscreen television, AutoCamp provides each guest with a private patio and their own fire pit.

During the project’s development, standalone buildings were brought on the back of trucks to be easily towed away if needed, using structures made from plug-ins rather than foundations. Around the site, low-use water, native plantings, xeriscaping, subtle rock formations and an on-site water treatment system is integrated within to dramatically reduce the property’s environmental impact as well.

“Anything we can do to reduce the impact on nature and the site that we’re building on is always valuable,” said Michael Strohmer, HKS Regional Practice Director, Hospitality.

‘A Sense of Nostalgia’

AutoCamp Joshua Tree is designed to provide guests with the option to stay private and intimate or be around a community while enjoying the fresh air of the great outdoors.

“Intimate moments and privacy are encouraged at the Airstream campsites, but guests can also opt for shared spaces,” said Mark O’Dell, a Principal and Architect at HKS. Guests can participate in activities such as “fireside chats, movie nights under the stars, yoga and sound healing sessions outdoors,” he added.

The extreme climate and aestheticism of Joshua Tree, with its Joshua trees and mountain ranges, set the stage for its design.

The HKS design team used elements of passive design to give each guest a deeper connection with the environment. For example, the building’s placement helps shelter guests from the winter winds while taking advantage of the summer breezes, utilizing shading elements on all facades.

In addition, the design of the 55-key boutique resort focused on creating memories for visitors while staying grounded in nature. The architecture nods to the eclectic character of the town where it is located, using materials meant to weather in place and improve with age as they blend into the natural landscape.

“The intentional use of raw and native materials provides texture and rustication, bringing a sense of nostalgia to the camping experience,” O’Dell said.

Investing in Experience-Focused Travel for Wellness

HKS research shows that most people spend approximately 80-90% of their time indoors, yet access to nature is known to help relieve stress and mental fatigue, support focus and encourage overall mental well-being.

“When we get ourselves out of or away from nature, we somewhat unsurprisingly feel increasingly stressed,” Martin said.

Future Market Insights, a market research organization, shows a major increased interest in health, wellness and well-being-oriented hotels, brands and destinations. Their research indicates that the business and leisure tourism industry is projected to reach $497.5 billion in valuation in 2022.

And according to Martin, Glamping has a market projected annual growth of 12 percent, surpassing $5 billion by 2025.

AutoCamp Joshua Tree represents perhaps the best of both worlds, promoting luxury guest experiences with an indoor-outdoor design.

“COVID has made us more aware of our environment and having that experience where you can be indoors or outdoors is important,” Strohmer said. “The landscape and the outdoor amenities are just as important as the guest rooms, the restaurants and everything else.”

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.

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.