Leslie Morison

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Pacific Northwest’s Thriving Economy Fosters Sustainable Design Innovation

Pacific Northwest’s Thriving Economy Fosters Sustainable Design Innovation

The Pacific Northwest has been a hot location for new construction and development during the past decade due to a growing population and the influence of major tech companies in the region.

Despite some slowdowns during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, that booming trend continues. According to Rider Levell Bucknall’s crane index Seattle had 51 cranes in operation in the first quarter of 2023. During the same period, Portland tied the (much larger) city of Chicago with 14 operating cranes.

HKS recently opened a Seattle office to expand the firm’s services throughout the Pacific Northwest during this exciting time for design and development in the region. Scott Hunter, HKS Regional Director for Americas West, said that architecture and design clients in the Puget Sound area expect excellence and social responsibility in the services provided to them. He said that “aligns beautifully with HKS’ core values and mission.”

“We’ve worked in the region for a long time and have a roster of successful projects in the area, so to now have an actual office sets a very positive trajectory for us in this market,” said Hunter.

HKS Seattle Office Director Doug Demers said that across sectors, local clients are looking at repositioning, retrofitting and new construction in nearly equal measure. Despite recent fluctuations in the commercial sector, opportunities abound with corporate clients as well as those in the health, education, residential and mixed-use development markets.

“Right now, like most cities in the U.S., Seattle is in a cycle where there’s an excess of office space, but there are other sectors that are very active because the population is still growing,” said Demers. “Basically, you’re always catching up on infrastructure.”

Housing, Healing, and Educating a Growing Population

In 2023, several cities in Washington and Oregon made Forbes’ list of 50 fastest growing U.S. cities and The Seattle Times reported that Seattle is the fastest growing “big” city in the country, based on U.S. Census data.

The steadily rising population is driving a need for housing, especially in the large cities of Portland and Seattle where development space is constrained by waterways. Demers said that the residential market is highly active in Seattle and its surrounding smaller cities; an increasing number of high-rise multifamily properties are being built to house people in denser settings.

With more people continuing to move to the area, additional pressure is placed on local health and education systems, according to Demers and HKS Regional Design Director Carl Hampson. As HKS expands its health care and higher education practices in the region to serve residents, Hampson is paying special attention to how designers can respond to the on-going mental health crisis, in particular.

 “In health care, there’s been a huge push in the Northwest on mental health,” Hampson said, noting that Washington and Oregon state governments have recently prioritized access to care and developing modern facilities to provide mental and behavioral health services.

“The behavioral health system is very complex, and I’m really interested in looking at all the different pieces of it holistically. You can’t just solve problems in one area, you have to think about the entire continuum,” Hampson said, adding that in addition to policy and financing, architecture can “certainly play a role” in helping solve mental health challenges.

Colleges and university systems in the Pacific Northwest are also taking mental health seriously. Hampson said schools are seeking to provide student spaces that enhance health and well-being and that he looks forward to bringing HKS’ research and design expertise in higher education and mental and behavioral health to clients throughout the region.

Tech and Commercial are Bouncing Back

Regardless of the slight pause in new commercial sector projects and construction in recent years, the Pacific Northwest’s legacy as a destination for some of the world’s most influential tech companies — including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon — is secure.

“Growth in the tech industry isn’t dead, it’s just slowed to a normal pace,” said Demers. He also noted that the next few years are shaping up to present new real estate and design opportunities as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes a larger business driver for the tech companies rooted in the Pacific Northwest.

HKS Studio Design Leader Christa Jansen said that as the tech sector has evolved in the region, clients have influenced each other when it comes to interior design, adopting best practices for healthy and inclusive workplaces so they can remain competitive as employers.

“Their standards and way of looking at design has definitely evolved over time and become more sophisticated,” Jansen said.

Beyond tech, many leading corporate brands are headquartered in the Seattle area including Nordstrom, REI, Starbucks, and Costco. As companies like these — and the hundreds of others in the region — solidify in-office work policies and employee desires and behaviors change in the coming years, Jansen said she expects an uptick in commercial design opportunities.

“Commercial clients are giving up a lot of space,” Jansen said. “They’re shrinking down. We’ve been conducting studies about how to use space more efficiently and what kinds of spaces are most important.”

Jansen added that HKS’ workplace design research, including the firm’s recent study illuminating affordances for better brain health, is a helpful differentiator for her team.

Experiences in Hospitality and Mixed-Use Destinations

Because of its national parks, dynamic cities and proximity to popular cruise ship destinations, the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for travel and tourism. Current travel trends indicate that people want to be immersed in nature and take part in socially conscious experiences, and hospitality brands with locations in the region are working with design firms to keep up with these trends, among others.

“So many people are traveling. Owners and operators are trying to differentiate themselves. They’re constantly thinking about reinventing themselves and keeping up on things more rapidly than they used to,” Jansen said.

An emphasis on how to provide exciting experiences to people has also made its way into conversations about new mixed-use developments. Unlike pre-pandemic developments where anchor buildings tended to be commercial offices, a shift toward anchor entertainment venues is occurring, according to Demers.

“They might be sports related, music-related, but they are experience-driven,” said Demers, who is actively working on strengthening client relationships and pursuing large mixed-use strategy and planning projects in the Seattle area.

Creating dynamic centers of activity and economic growth is going to be a key way designers contribute to resilience as the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m looking forward to opportunities around mixed-use development… how we can create better communities through that avenue and tap into what it means to be in the Northwest,” Hampson said.

Emphasizing Sustainability and the Natural World Through Design

To borrow Hampson’s phrase, a big part of “what it means to be in the Northwest” is to experience life surrounded by some of the country’s tallest mountains, most verdant forests and breathtaking water vistas. Local architecture and design tend to reflect these local natural wonders, Hunter, Hampson, Demers and Jansen all said.

Building materials such as wood and mass timber, stonework, and green roofs can be found in contemporary buildings throughout the region — from civic structures and schools to corporate offices and residential properties. Hampson said clients and designers also often focus on incorporating thoughtful outdoor space because when the weather is nice, “everyone wants to be outside.”

“There’s an authenticity in the architecture here that you don’t see in other places,” said Hampson. Architects, designers and their clients, he said, tend to draw inspiration from natural history rather than “importing something from another time and place.”

HKS designers working in the region indicated that this design trend corresponds with a local commitment to sustainability — proximity to robust natural resources means that clients are more conscientious about conservation and environmental impacts of design and construction.

“Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland are all pretty progressive cities around sustainability. They’ve spawned architecture that responds to that,” Demers said.

Jansen said that the interior design clients she works with desire spaces with natural and resource-conscious materials and are always keeping an eye on evolving sustainability and well-being certification guidelines.

“Ever since LEED was introduced, sustainability has been a big thing…designing to those standards is embedded into all projects here,” Jansen said.

What the Future Holds

Jansen noted that HKS’ expansion in the Pacific Northwest brings new opportunities for the firm as well as for the companies and organizations it partners with to create spaces and places where people can thrive.

“I’m excited to bring the HKS ethos to this region and give our clients another option,” she said.

HKS intends to serve the growing region with diverse needs with its robust design and project delivery talents. Hunter said that the Pacific Northwest’s dynamic economy, forward-looking sustainability approaches and engagement with natural beauty will help foster innovative design solutions where architects, designers, and researchers can excel.

“We think HKS presents something new to the PNW market,” Hunter said. “Our ability to tackle complexity and to synthesize integrated solutions regardless of the project type gives us a unique perspective that can help us guide our clients into the unexpected.”

Bryan Berg

Balmiki Bhattacharya

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5th & John Life Science Building

Case Study

5th & John Life Science Building 5th & John Brings Delight to Seattle Uptown Neighborhood

Seattle, WA

The Challenge

Lincoln Property Company selected HKS and local Seattle firm Compton Design Office to design a core & shell building to house biological lab and office functions that would also provide a future hub of neighborhood activity and reflect the eclectic nature of its surrounding context. The project site is adjacent to the Seattle Center, home of the famed Space Needle and origin point for the city’s monorail, which runs parallel to the property. The building massing and façade design respond to both the kineticism of the train’s movement and are emblematic of the progressive optimism embodied by the Seattle Center.

The Design Solution

Observing the train’s elevated path as an implied boundary extending through the district, the concept of the “Datum of Delight” was developed to describe this virtual line between the space of the ground-level experience and space of the contextual built environment above. The Datum introduces elements of surprise, excitement, and inspiration to the site by differentiating the types of experiences that occur both above and below. Through the medium of the Datum, the project responds to the rich culture of spectacle and arts in Uptown and enhances the pedestrian experience along 5th Avenue and John Street.

From this, the project’s primary design focus is the creation of delight; the development of unique and memorable experiential conditions for both the pedestrian who engages with the site directly and the observer who interacts visually from a distance. At ground level, the design responds to the rich culture and eclectic nature of the Uptown neighborhood, providing active open space with opportunities for neighborhood residents and visitors to connect, enhancing the pedestrian experience along 5th Avenue and John Street and celebrating an exceptional site tree within an expansive public space. Above the datum, the façade responds to the context of the site through a distinct massing and curtain wall design that expresses the vibrancy of the neighborhood and responds to the activity and speed of the adjacent monorail line. The façade further illustrates an active response to the monorail’s presence through a kinetic light installation to create an enduring phenomenon in the district and a natural extension of the progressive spirit of the Seattle Center.

The façade design is also an integral part of the project’s strategy to reduce energy loads while maximizing user comfort and views relative to solar orientation through strategic shading, fenestration depth and density. This aids in minimizing the load on the existing power grid in concert with other choices such as using renewable energy sources, eliminating the use of natural gas fuel and specification of an energy-saving mechanical system.

The Design Impact

The decision to provide a 3,000 sf (278 sm) outdoor amenity space at grade allowed the design team to add an additional 0.5 FAR (13,500 sf, or 1,254 sm) to the building area while also providing the neighborhood with a new community focal point and space for engagement and activity.

The project is being submitted for LEED Gold certification and was designed as an all-electric powered facility to minimize its carbon footprint on day one, providing a solar-ready infrastructure at the roof to transition a portion of its energy supply to solar panels in the future. The inclusion of a Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) mechanical system provides additional savings on energy use.

Project Features


Office-to-Residential Adaptive Reuse Can Help Build Sustainable, Vibrant Communities

Office-to-Residential Adaptive Reuse Can Help Build Sustainable, Vibrant Communities

The evolution of office work is creating fresh opportunities to reimagine workspace. To attract today’s knowledge-economy workers and provide environments that help them perform at their best, businesses are adopting hybrid work strategies and new designs for creative, collaborative workplaces. Outmoded office buildings are ripe for reinvention as residential space.

Converting offices to residences may seem ironic in the era of work-from-home. But as Brad Wilkins, Principal and Studio Design Leader for the Austin office of global design firm HKS, noted, many older office spaces “are no longer at their highest and best use as office buildings anymore. They are now better suited for other types of uses – in particular, residential.”

HKS has an extensive history of repurposing, retrofitting and reimagining the built environment. The firm’s adaptive reuse work includes ProMedica’s corporate headquarters in Toledo, Ohio. That project gave new life to an historic, 1895 Daniel Burnham steam plant and a 1970s bank building. Also, ParkwayHealth Gleneagles Chengdu Hospital in China, a tertiary care facility created from a former shopping center.

HKS is leveraging its adaptive-reuse experience to explore ideas for transforming office space into residential space. Office-to-residential conversions expand the possibilities for how – and where – people live and work around the world.

Environmental and Economic Benefits

Sustainability is one of the chief benefits of adaptive reuse. “The first step when it comes to dealing with climate change is to reuse existing buildings,” said HKS Sustainable Design Leader Ramana Koti.

Repurposing existing buildings lessens demand for virgin material and can greatly decrease the amount of material discarded in landfills. Adaptive reuse can also significantly reduce embodied carbon – the CO2 emitted in the production of a building (this includes raw material extraction, the manufacture and transportation of building materials, and building construction).

Reducing embodied carbon is critically important as the global community approaches a key climate action deadline. The Paris Agreement international treaty on climate change calls for dramatic reductions in carbon emissions by 2030.

Architecture 2030, a New Mexico-based sustainable design think tank, offers a tool to help people compare the total carbon impacts of renovating an existing building versus constructing a new one. The calculator, called the CARE (Carbon Avoided: Retrofit Estimator) Tool, is free to use online.

Commercial-to-residential adaptive reuse projects also present financial investment opportunities. “From an economic perspective, you’re taking a building that probably has a pretty low basis and you’re redeploying it to be more valuable in the future,” said Doug Demers, Principal and Office Director of HKS Seattle.

Because these projects typically require less ground preparation, foundation work and structural construction than new building projects, adaptive reuse can hold a speed-to-market advantage over creating a building from the ground up.

Office-to-residential conversions can help meet market and community needs by matching the supply and demand for certain building types. As the market for older office space with fewer modern amenities drops, the need for housing is rising in cities around the world.

HKS’ design for the Benefield Building, a community center in Richmond, Virginia, includes 13,500 square feet of mixed-income co-housing, studio and 1- and 2-bedroom residential units. The pro-bono adaptive reuse project preserves a 1920s Spanish Art Deco structure as the front door to the center.

Revitalizing Communities, Retaining Character

Converting office space to residential space can rejuvenate a community. Office space “doesn’t really give you a community on its own, whereas residential does,” said Wilkins.  

When residential life is introduced into a business district, Wilkins said, restaurants that were open only at lunchtime can host dinner service. Children can play in plazas previously crossed only by people in business suits.

“There can be a whole different life to these places,” he said.

Adaptive reuse can energize a community while retaining the character of a building that is part of the local culture, said Jadenn Kelley, HKS Project Architect.

“The community already has ownership of the building. We’re just revitalizing it,” Kelley said.

And HKS Project Architect Taylor Odell added that with historic building conversion “not only are you maintaining the character of a neighborhood, but you’re getting a character in your (residential) unit that you’re not going to have” otherwise. “We can design great buildings, but we can’t design history.”  

HKS’ concept design for 1770 Crystal Drive, a 320-unit office-to-residential conversion in Crystal City, Virginia, transforms the existing height and set-back constraints of the site into a stepped vertical expansion that maximizes the unit count. The concept design showcases the adjacent park and unobstructed views of Washington, D.C. It includes wrap-around retail and building amenities to activate the public realm.

Challenges and Considerations

When it comes to repurposing a building as residential space, “the benefit of an office building is that it’s typically a clean floor plate, so structurally, it’s easier to divide up the floor plate into different units,” said Kelley.

Older office buildings tend to have smaller floor plates, which can more easily meet residential requirements for natural light and fresh air.

The deeper internal spaces of buildings with larger floor plates can serve as locations for amenities that are increasingly valuable in the residential sector, such as co-working spaces. “With these building conversions, the amenity package becomes incredibly important” to support flexible work experiences, said Kate Davis, HKS Partner and Global Practice Director, Commercial Interiors.

For the adaptive reuse of One Dallas Center, a modernist skyscraper originally designed by I.M. Pei & Partners in 1979, HKS incorporated 16 levels of residential units on the top floors of the 30-story building. The residential amenities include a lounge, fitness center and outdoor pool.

The firm renovated the building’s lower levels to serve commercial tenants, including HKS’ Dallas office. HKS redesigned the ground floor to function as a dual-purpose lobby for the residential and commercial spaces.

The typical column spacing for both office and residential buildings is 30 feet, which Odell said can simplify structural issues. Because centralized heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are typical for office spaces, additional ductwork must be installed to support individual HVAC systems for residential units. Electrical systems generally require little in the way of adaptation, as long as the loads remain similar. Plumbing systems require upgrades to manage an increase on the supply side and the amount of waste produced. Life safety systems, such as sprinklers, fire alarms, stairways and egress points, need to meet residential code requirements.

On a building’s façade, incorporating balconies and more open glazing spans can create a less commercial, more residential look and feel.

Overcoming Challenges for a ‘Beautiful Future’

Zoning and financing can be concerns for office-to-residential conversions, especially in areas where projects of this type are considered novel. In their 2023 report, Behind the Façade: The Feasibility of Converting Commercial Real Estate to Multifamily, the Urban Land Institute and the National Multifamily Housing Council reported that “conversions can be financially feasible in a broad range of markets, original uses, building conditions and circumstances.” Tax incentives and special planning districts may help address funding challenges for these projects.

Demers said that standard solutions to common structural, planning, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life safety issues related to office-to-residential conversions could be developed to lower the cost of these projects. This could be especially valuable for mixed-use developments of suburban office buildings in locations with parking and transit advantages, he added.

Converting office space to residential space can be a sustainable solution for enlivening neighborhoods and making the most of existing building stock.

“How do we keep reusing and reinventing?” Wilkins asked. “We have beautiful old buildings that may not be in their perfect state right now, for whatever reason, but can have a beautiful future.”

Carl Hampson

Stories

HKS Opens First Pacific Northwest Office in Seattle

HKS Opens First Pacific Northwest Office in Seattle

HKS, a global design firm, announces the opening of a new office in Seattle, expanding HKS’ network of 27 global locations. A leader among international architecture and design firms, HKS is known for its innovative ability to create and deliver environments of distinction through award-winning architecture, planning, interior design, research and commitment to ESG (environmental, social and governance) in design.

The Seattle office will be the firm’s first in the Pacific Northwest, but HKS has delivered projects in the market since 1994, including work for Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“HKS has long considered the Pacific Northwest as a strategic location for its global enterprise,” said Dan Noble, President and Chief Executive Officer of HKS. “Now is a great time to plant a flag in Seattle. The right opportunity presented itself and we simply couldn’t pass it up. We’re bringing on a talented team with an outstanding reputation and great relationships in the Northwest and beyond.”

A multi-talented team of architects, designers and strategists, all with strong local ties and experience, will lead the Seattle office.

“We have deep connections with this leadership team and look forward to bringing their innovative thinking into the fold,” Noble added. “This team will significantly expand our offering in planning, advisory, workplace strategy and design capability.”

Doug Demers will serve as the HKS Seattle office director. Demers was previously the managing principal at Perkins + Will, studio director at Callison and managing partner at Colliers International in Seattle. A business strategist, real estate professional and architect, Doug has experience in education, hospitality and workplace, as well as development planning and portfolio optimization. Demers began his career at HKS headquarters in Dallas during the early 1980s, so his return to the firm is a homecoming of sorts.

Christa Jansen, Principal, Interiors; and Joslyn Balzarini, Principal, Interiors; will be among those joining Demers in the HKS Seattle office. Jansen and Balzarini have more than 40 years combined of interior design experience in the Seattle area, and the two will lead the expansion of the new office’s interior practice even further into the Pacific Northwest.

“Our focus in Seattle will be growing the practice, collaborating to leverage our local presence with HKS’ robust sector platform and continuing to excel in the non-traditional practice areas that allow us to serve clients as trusted counsel,” Demers said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to explore how to collaborate and deliver new kinds of projects in the Pacific Northwest.”

The new HKS office will be located in Seattle’s Central Business District, where the core team will continue working on a major hotel renovation in Bellevue, Washington, and a life science building in Seattle.

Doug Demers

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Christa Jansen

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Joslyn Balzarini

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Designing a Better Future: Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

W Hotel Bellevue

Case Study

W Hotel Bellevue A Virtual Lakehouse Escape where High Tech, Nature and Nostalgia Merge

Bellevue, Washington, USA

The Challenge

Create a unique identity for a new W Hotel in Bellevue, which sits just across Lake Washington from Seattle. Bellevue, the home of Microsoft, is often seen as a community living in the shadow of its more famous and celebrated neighbor.

To create an experience unique to Bellevue, the design team had to seek out the threads of local history as well as contemporary influences to weave together the narrative that became the backbone and driver for all design decisions.

The Design Solution

The design narrative is drawn from the multifaceted history of Bellevue. The hotel’s location on Lake Washington was the genesis, beginning with the concept of a “virtual lake house”; a modernist’s club house for a creative culture filled with music, fashion and design.

Designed by HKS with interior design by ROAM, the hotel design artfully knits the region’s past with its current tech innovation renown. Each guest’s journey is a slow reveal of discovery, like tales told around the campfire, and memories captured in old family photos.

Within the lake house archetype framework, the Bellevue narrative is found in vivid visual and textural references to the wilderness, rugged individualists, Japanese strawberry farms, summer vacations at the lake, and suburbia.

The Design Impact

The interior is a high/low extravaganza of color and pattern, like the lake house repository of a family’s cast-off treasures or the garage band’s flop house, all with a technical, modern twist.

The W Hotel is part of the 1.5 million square-foot (139,354 sm) mixed-use Lincoln Square Expansion project in Bellevue’s Eastside community. The 14-story, 245-room hotel sits atop four floors of upscale retail, and 231 luxury residences rise above the W Hotel in a single 42-story tower.

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