Howard University East Towers

Case Study

Howard University East Towers Transformative Project Connects to a Neighborhood’s Storied Past

Washington, DC, USA

The Challenge

Howard University, a historically Black university located in Washington, D.C., has a 155-year legacy rooted in the District’s Shaw neighborhood. As it develops its portfolio of properties in the area, the University is creating a new heart of the neighborhood with vibrant and diverse mixed-use properties, housing, and public gathering spaces that connect to its historic campus and honor the history of its community.

The Design Solution

Located five blocks from the center of the Howard campus, East Towers will be a mixed-use multifamily residential building with 500 housing units and locally curated retail establishments.

HKS, its development partners at LOWE, and local minority-owned real estate firm FGLA created initial proposals for Howard University developments with thoughtful consideration of the neighborhood’s history as one of the centers of Black life in Washington. With goals of inclusion and sensitive place-making, those proposals led the University to directly award the team the East Towers project. The design approach balances sound development strategies that maximize land value with unique programming and placemaking that reinforce Howard University’s mission-oriented values and vision, along with the needs of the community.

The overall vision for the project takes its cues from the fabric of the neighborhood, beginning with a reimagining of W Street Northwest as a new neighborhood social center that promotes urban connectivity to the site. A courtyard created by the “C” shaped plan allows the building to bring the neighborhood’s energy further into the center of the site and the ground floor lobby. The courtyard’s exterior architectural identity incorporates a robust balcony expression and façade that allows for increased natural light within the residential units.

The site’s full block footprint in the heart of Shaw’s U Street Corridor also informs the architecture of the building. The project’s significant perimeter façades to the east, north and west take on an elegant yet restrained and cost-effective approach that responds to the narrow secondary streets surrounding the site. Crafted with brick and glass, the perimeter is contextually responsive and its visually calm expression contrasts with the more vibrant social heart of the courtyard.

Retail spaces on the ground floor will bring new opportunities for economic growth in the neighborhood and residential offerings include studios, one, two and three-bedroom units, many with balconies overlooking the interior courtyard.

One of the building’s signature design elements is suspended 10 stories above the main entry — the rooftop pool features skylights in its floor, allowing pedestrians below opportunities to catch rays of sunshine and a glimpse of swimmers above, while the building’s amenity-rich penthouse level will have indoor and outdoor lounges, grills, and casual seating areas to promote social interaction.

The Design Impact

East Towers is an investment in the future of the neighborhood that Howard University has called home for more than a century and a half. The development team is engaging local and minority-owned business partners throughout the project’s development. Eight percent of the building is dedicated to affordable housing and the design and construction teams will employ at least 50 Howard student interns.

The building will bring quality housing and public space to a rapidly changing neighborhood and foster connections between local residents and University students, staff and visitors. The building will support the overarching theme of “Creating Community” that drove the initial development proposal and align with Howard University’s strategic pillars to serve the community through collaborative partnerships.

The project will be transformative while also reflecting the unique history, heritage and legacies of the Shaw neighborhood through art, programming and branding. It will honor the significant and pioneering economic, cultural, social and institutional contributions of a proud and accomplished community of African Americans, many of which were associated with Howard University.

Project Features


Kristina Crawley

Jeremiah Community

Case Study

Jeremiah Community Virginia's Jeremiah Community Offers a Lifetime of Care, Security and Well-Being

Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

The Challenge

Rising population and soaring living costs will likely escalate homelessness and housing insecurity nationwide. This absence of permanent housing fuels hefty spending by localities on managing crime, public health issues, and social injustices. Micah Ecumenical Ministries, experienced in aiding Fredericksburg, VA’s homeless, proposes an intentional solution: a holistic supportive housing community. Partnering with Citizen HKS and engaging the community, the Jeremiah Community aims to offer affordable, permanent homes tailored to the unhoused. This initiative includes health care programs, access to nature and faith, fostering a cohesive community for those transitioning from homelessness to a stable, supportive environment.

The Design Solution

The Jeremiah Community focuses on lifelong healing through deliberate design choices, ensuring well-being, safety, and accessibility. Citizen HKS, contributing expertise in place analysis, master planning, and unit design, collaborates with Micah’s partnerships at the University of Mary Washington Healthcare System and Virginia Supportive Housing. They strategically position essential facilities like the health care clinic, market, maker space, chapel, community center, and gardens to create varied public, social, and personal spaces catering to community healing needs— ranging from physical to spiritual.

Citizen HKS’ holistic approach balances environmentally friendly strategies and urban design principles on the dense site. Pathways carve pocket neighborhoods, connecting diverse programming while emphasizing nature’s role in wellness. These areas, centered around shared green spaces, encourage communal immersion in nature, addressing erosion and heat island effects passively.

This sustainable urban plan showcases how integrated design strategies create healing spaces within the Jeremiah Community, supporting individual and communal well-being for all.

The Design Impact

The Jeremiah Community seeks to eliminate chronic homelessness by offering ongoing care and stable housing for more than 100 individuals. Citizen HKS’ design approach emphasizes Housing, Purpose, and Relationship principles, empowering the unhoused community in the design process. This collaboration fosters a master plan prioritizing affordability and a sustainable, healthy environment for transitioning to permanent homes. As this community pursues choice and self-determination, our design journey will continue to align with their progress as we engage in future project phases.

Project Features

“Without the [unhoused] community, I would have lost the only possession I had left [when I was on the streets] – hope.”

Peg Phillips, Micah, Servant-Leader of Neighbor Care

Textron Systems Technology Center 

Case Study

Textron Systems Technology Center  Honoring the Past While Showcasing the Future 

Arlington, Virginia, USA 

The Challenge

After touring an HKS-designed technology center at its sister company, Textron Systems tasked HKS with designing a technology center of its own. The defense, government and aerospace technology company wanted the center to convey its values and mission, immerse its customers in its current technological offerings and inspire collaboration to solve the challenges of the future. 

The Design Solution

At Textron Systems’ technology center, customers are greeted at reception and introduced to the company’s history by a 160-square-foot (14.9-square-meter) LED tile display. Through reception and into the gallery hall, touch panel displays set among metal wall panels guide users along a path through the space.  

Along the path, a technology demonstration theater and reconfigurable, multipurpose boardroom form the core of the center. The theater provides a fully immersive experience with a large LED screen controlled by a touchscreen. As the path curves, visitors are treated to views of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the Potomac River and Washington D.C. monuments.  

The ceiling of the gallery hall is adorned with curvilinear ceiling baffles meant to symbolize the organic curves of topography, ocean waves and clouds in the sky. They are a physical representation of the innovation that Textron Systems brings to its seven operational domains: land, air, sea, propulsion, weapon systems, electronic systems and test, training and simulation.  

The Design Impact

Textron Systems’ distribution center simultaneously honors the grit and hands-on collaboration of its 50-year history and invites customers to explore the cutting-edge innovations of its future.   

The technology center contributes to sustainability with energy-saving fixtures and recyclable materials. The use of daylight harvesting sensors that measure daylight and adjust controlled lighting accordingly, energy efficient appliances and manual on/auto off lighting resulted in a 28% reduction of energy use. The ceiling baffles are carbon neutral and made of 100% recyclable PET plastic. Other materials are made of recycled content and are Cradle to Cradle-certified.

Project Features

Awards


Herb Blain

Case Studies

News, Announcements and Events

Chris DeRosa

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

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

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

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

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

Designed by children, for children

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

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

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

Beacon for well-being

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

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

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

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

Evidence-based, research-informed

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

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

Interprofessional care team model

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

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

Designing for optimization and the ever-changing present

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


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

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

A true team effort

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

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

Project team

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

To Create Inclusive Spaces, LGBTQIA+ Designers Advocate for Themselves and Others

To Create Inclusive Spaces, LGBTQIA+ Designers Advocate for Themselves and Others

There isn’t a universal approach to designing for inclusion, no one size-fits-all definition for what an inclusive space looks like. Architects and interior designers often engage with individuals who will use the spaces they design — seeking to understand who they are and what they need — with the goal of creating supportive environments for people with diverse identities.

Many designers also rely on their own experiences to inform the work they do.

Reflecting on their lives and identities, LGBTQIA+ designers bring perspective that can lead to more welcoming, comfortable spaces for people with similar backgrounds and lived experiences as them, as well as a broader range of people who encounter the places they design.

A design professional and job captain working in HKS’ health practice in Washington, DC, My-Anh Nguyen (they/them), identifies as non-binary and transmasculine. They said that their queer identity, as well as their Asian American identity, helps them overcome barriers to inclusion during the design process and in the outcomes of the projects they work on.

“In design, we talk a lot about integration and how we can avoid silos. The idea of avoiding silos comes pretty naturally to me,” Nguyen said. “Being non-binary allows me to have mindset that is expansive and inclusive as a professional. I see my experience as a practice of nuance and consideration in how I incorporate different perspectives.”

Nguyen and several other LGBTQIA+ designers at HKS said their personal experiences shape how they collaborate with project team members including fellow designers, contractors and clients. Some said they have developed abilities to communicate across differences and empathize with others — often stemming from instances where they felt excluded while growing up or early in their careers — that they bring to their work.

“I go out of my way to try to not make people uncomfortable and that is related to my being out. I try to be in tune with people’s comfort levels and sensitivities and adapt. It’s ingrained in me,” said Scott Martin, a senior health project architect in the HKS Detroit office who identifies as a cisgender gay man. Martin also said that he downplays hierarchies as much as possible; he feels most comfortable on a project team where everyone is treated as equals.

Fostering Comfort and Safety Through Design

Whether or not people will feel welcome and comfortable in a space is a crucial consideration for architects and designers. But physical and psychological safety are not guaranteed for anyone in the built environment, no matter how well the spaces are designed. Marginalization or othering — including discrimination based on race, ethnicity, physical abilities, sexual orientation or gender expression — can occur in any space.

“When I think providing safe spaces, I think about providing them across all challenges,” said HKS’ Mary Hart, a Dallas-based principal who identifies as a cisgender woman and a lesbian. “Am I thinking about all the different people who can be in a space? Will they be okay, will they be safe? It’s a big thing to tackle. It’s a big responsibility.”

“When I think providing safe spaces, I think about providing them across all challenges…It’s a big responsibility.”

Although design alone can’t ensure physical and psychological safety, there are plenty of opportunities to advocate for people who will use a space and design to support them, according to multiple LGBTQIA+ designers at HKS.

“Design can give people — no matter how they self-identify — the ability to be comfortable showing up as they are,” said HKS’ Zac Rudd, who identifies as a cisgender gay man.

Rudd is a designer with the firm’s education practice, where he creates interior designs for schools and universities. While growing up, Rudd didn’t always feel like he could be his true self at school. Today, he draws on those memories to approach design challenges “with kindness and a sense of curiosity and care.”

Rudd said that because children are required to go to school, they don’t necessarily have autonomy to choose what spaces they can be in during elementary or high school. In higher education settings, challenges associated with access to transportation can limit students’ options to get around or leave campus. He strives to design places that provide students with some elements of autonomy and choice for where they can socialize, study, or retreat.  

“One of the important things to do as a designer is to normalize all the elements of being a human that change from day to day,” Rudd said. “There is power in choice. Design can provide people with the ability to know that one choice is just as okay as another and if your choice changes the next day, you’re not more or less of a person.”

Just like educational environments, hospitals and clinics contain ample opportunities to design for the different needs of a diverse range of people, according to Martin, who primarily works on interior renovations in health care settings.

“If I am space planning, I think about my own experience. I don’t like spaces that are too restricted. I like there to be space where I can get out of the mix of things and be on the periphery,” he said. Martin said that his personal preferences, in addition to his perspective as a cancer survivor, have helped him to understand what patients and staff need from health care environments.

“In waiting areas, you may not want your back to the door or passageway and be able to see people coming and going,” Martin said, noting that it’s important for designers to think about how they can provide opportunities to reduce stress, especially in hospitals.

Hart, who is a mission critical practice leader, also said that good design can make a difference in peoples’ comfort and tension levels. The data centers she designs tend to be high-stress environments for the people that work in them, so she makes room for plenty of amenity spaces, access to nature, and other design elements that support mental health.

 “If you’ve failed to think about designing for a particular slice of the community, then you haven’t really done your job to relieve their potential stress. It’s important to understand who someone is as a person, how they come to work, and how they are able to be their authentic self at work and design for all those variables,” Hart said.

Showing Up and Paying Forward

Being able to be authentic at work can be affirming for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and aids their ability to design inclusive spaces. Several LGBTQIA+ designers at HKS said that although they have experienced some challenges in their careers, they find the design field to be supportive of their identities and points of view.

“I think architecture and design, in general, is fairly accepting of the queer community,” said Charles Gatins, a Dallas-based HKS project coordinator who identities as a cisgender gay man.

Gatins said that being out at work and being open with colleagues about his life is central to who he is and how he has built his career. In addition to his role with the firm’s commercial mixed-use practice, he’s been involved with mentorship, outreach, recruitment and onboarding initiatives. He’s taken those steps to amplify the value of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the field for younger designers.

“By being myself in front of future generations and saying that I am an openly gay man who can be successful, I am communicating that the opportunity for them to be successful is there as well,” Gatins said. “I want to make sure they feel included, that they can go forward and do anything they want to do regardless of their identity.”

Nguyen also prioritizes showing up for students and younger professionals, serving as an active member of several collectives and organizations that seek to lift a diverse array of voices in the design fields. They said that they have greatly benefitted from having mentors and advocates with different identities, and that they hope to pay it forward as they take on more responsibilities in their career.

“Seeing representation in your career is important. While we are still growing our diversity as an industry, encouraging a culture of belonging will allow even more creativity and innovation to flourish throughout the design process. When someone invests in your success, regardless of shared identity or not, it can make a big difference in how you see yourself in the field,” Nguyen said.

“While we are still growing our diversity as an industry, encouraging a culture of belonging will allow even more creativity and innovation to flourish throughout the design process.”

Creating and Sharing Space

As the AEC industry continues to diversify and conversations about how the built environment can contribute to social equity and justice become more prevalent, HKS has launched Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) initiatives to uplift employees with different identities and backgrounds so they can be themselves and do their best work. HKS’s PRIDE Affinity and Inclusion Group, for example, seeks to create space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies and influence supportive company practices and policies. Nguyen, Gatins, Martin, and Hart are all part of the group, and Rudd is co-founder and chair.  

For each of these LGBTQIA+ designers and advocates, creating space that truly includes members of their community and those representing other minority groups — whether it’s space for conversation or a building like a hospital, elementary school or commercial office — has more to do with people than elaborate plans or drawings.

“Personally, I think inclusion is about people that are in spaces more so than the spaces themselves,” Gatins said. “I can use HKS as an example. I feel included in this community because I have been included in this community.”

University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center Phase 2

Case Study

University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center Phase 2 Expanding with Flexibility

Beachwood, Ohio

The Challenge

University Hospitals has worked with HKS since 2007 and developed a master plan for its Ahuja Medical Center campus with a flexible growth strategy that allows the public and service spines to expand incrementally, from 144 beds up to 600 beds. Phase 1, completed in 2010, included a 375,000-square-foot full-service hospital. However, the emergency department quickly outgrew its space, and there was a need for sports medicine and dedicated men and women’s services and surgical expansion within the community. In addition, the original master plan called for building growth to expand to the northeast of the site. However, that area had become a place of respite for staff and visitors with a retention pond and walking paths. So as the Phase 2 planning began in 2016, the HKS design team needed to adjust the original master plan from an inpatient focus to also include inpatient and outpatient services and find a new location for the buildings that would nearly double the size of the campus.

The Design Solution

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

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

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

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

The Design Impact

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

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

Project Features


New Patient Tower Signals Hope for Richmond Children and Families

New Patient Tower Signals Hope for Richmond Children and Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Integrated Team and Process from Day One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design that Promotes Well-being and Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Privacy and Comfort for Patients, a Bright Future for Richmond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Winning Design for Championship Venues

A Winning Design for Championship Venues

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

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

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

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

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

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

Championship Design Means Creating ‘a Wow Factor’

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Local and Flexible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Enhanced Fan Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessyca Henderson

HKS Global Design Fellowship Cultivates Design Excellence

HKS Global Design Fellowship Cultivates Design Excellence

Fostering conversations about great design is foundational to design excellence at HKS. One way we support these conversations is through our annual Global Design Fellowship. This program brings together HKS employees from throughout our 26 offices worldwide to explore big ideas through design. The fellowship is an opportunity for emerging talent to explore topics that are important to us as a firm and to advance the quality of design at HKS.

“We’re a global firm for a reason – we think that’s an asset,” said Jenn Carlson, an HKS designer who serves on the Global Design Fellowship committee. “We’re better when we’re pulling from all our offices. It’s about bringing the absolute best minds from across the firm together to develop the most creative ideas.”

Hannah Shultz, who is also an HKS designer and committee member, said the fellowship gives up-and-coming HKS employees a chance to spread their wings and take ownership of a design topic that interests them, which “only gives them more courage and agency in how they want to cultivate their career.”

Investing in our people through initiatives like the Global Design Fellowship helps express how highly HKS values both beauty and inspiration in design.

A New Design Language

Eight HKS employees were selected for our 2023 Global Design Fellowship class, which was divided into three teams:

During the fellowship the teams examined how, as science and technology have advanced, buildings have shifted away from designs that respond to their context and towards artificial environments that separate people from nature.

The design fellows sought to discover a new design language that supports both the natural and artificial realm in order to enhance the human experience and reinvigorate ecosystems.

They approached this issue by exploring how the built environment can promote a positive relationship with the Texas Blackland Prairies, an endangered ecosystem heavily impacted by the recent, rapid growth of Dallas and Austin.

Each team of fellows met virtually for two months to research, define the problem and present their progress to a team of advisors. The teams then participated in a week-long design charrette at the HKS Dallas office.

The week was capped off by the recent 2023 Global Design Fellowship event at HKS Dallas, where the design fellows presented their ideas in person to the firm as well as a panel of regional design and environmental experts.

Poetry and Power

The three teams took distinct approaches to the problem, but they each married the science and poetry of design to deliver beautiful, powerful presentations.

Siyang Zhang, Johnson and Ham (Team X) collaborated on the design of a community composting project featuring contoured underground chambers that artfully reveal the soil structure to help people better understand the underground ecosystem.

The group noted that every year in the U.S., more than 35 tons of food waste are sent to landfills. By encouraging and facilitating composting, the team’s project is designed to help replenish the Texas Blackland Prairie soil. And by collecting compostable material and distributing high quality soil to organic farms or city gardens, the project would also help build a circular economy within the community.

Dandi Zhang and Shastavets (Team Y) partnered on a project to preserve bird species that are vanishing from North America. Describing the project from the perspective of a bird watcher and a scissor-tailed flycatcher, they proposed a kit of parts to transform abandoned buildings in Texas ghost towns that are located along major migratory flyways into protective environments for birds.

Beyond protecting bird species, the project would provide viewing opportunities for bird watchers, who contribute $1.8 billion annually to the Texas economy, according to research cited by the team.

Marais, Martin and Dai (Team Z) devised a strategy for creating a web of prairie corridors to connect Dallas to the Texas Blackland Prairies. The team described the history of the Blackland Prairies, including indigenous practices to encourage prairie growth and the later industrialization that reduced the Blackland Prairie ecosystem to 1 percent of its original land mass.

The team told “The Legend of the Prairie Mother” from the viewpoint of the future, looking back on the year 2023 when, according to the legend, an environmentalist, gardener and chef teamed up to reawaken human relationships with the land, in order to rewild the landscape, build community and feed people.

The team said they chose the story format for their presentation as way to honor indigenous traditions they learned about in their research, many of which were passed down from generation to generation through storytelling.

Bridging the Dichotomy

Following the teams’ presentations, Heath May, Global Practice Director of HKS’ Laboratory for Intensive Exploration (LINE), moderated a panel discussion that included Lisa Casey, Associate with Dallas-based landscape architecture and urban design firm Studio Outside; Dr. Oswald Jenewein, Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington; and Brett Johnson, an Urban Biologist with the Dallas Park & Recreation Department.

The panelists discussed the presentations, shared their personal career paths and talked about how their work is, as May said, “bridging the dichotomy between architecture and landscape.”

Casey explained how her professional interests intersect with the ideas expressed by the design fellows.

“I’m looking at how we tie into the native ecoregion, bringing native plant material into projects so that there’s a sense of rootedness to the work I do,” Casey said.

She praised the design fellows for bringing visibility to topics that are “central to moving things forward” in landscape architecture and urban design.

Dr. Jenewein talked about helping cities develop comprehensive plans for future development that incorporate climate adaptation and environmental topics. “I feel like we’re making significant impact,” he said. He complimented the teams for the compelling storytelling they brought to their presentations.

Johnson described how aspects of the local ecosystem, like grasslands, are aligned with human needs, such as stormwater management or open space where children can play.

He said that because his job entails considering the broader effects of different elements of the environment, he especially appreciated the idea of revealing the soil in order to increase people’s understanding of soil’s importance.

“You’re taking something that’s been subliminal…and you’re bringing it beyond the surface, so we can actually experience it and talk through it,” Johnson said.

May noted that over the next several decades, geographies in Texas are likely to undergo a process of transformation. He said that projects like those presented by the design fellows “are so valuable in showing what the role of the architect could be in all of this, as kind of a mastermind that is allowed to invent and experiment.”

Lasting Impression

As Chief Design Officer here at HKS, one of the most exciting things about the design profession to me is the opportunity we have to make a clear and lasting impression on people’s lives.

The HKS 2023 design fellows demonstrated that design excellence requires a deep understanding of what shapes a community and place. Places don’t exist in one time, one generation, one decade. As designers, we need to consider how we create the future without losing the sense of what makes a place special.

We want our environments and spaces to inspire people. I applaud this year’s design fellows for elevating the work that we do.

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

Case Study

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

Richmond, Virginia, USA

The Challenge

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

The Design Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Design Impact

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

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

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

Project Features

Awards


Turning Design Excellence into Effective Leadership: A Conversation with HKS CEO Dan Noble

Turning Design Excellence into Effective Leadership: A Conversation with HKS CEO Dan Noble

At HKS, we believe design can change people’s lives for the better. We strive to create beautiful buildings and communities that bring people together and solve real problems.

In his 39-year career at the firm, HKS President & CEO Dan Noble has observed the parallels between extraordinary design and impactful leadership. He’s noticed that the same character, purpose and relationships that contribute to excellent design lead to successful governance.

Reflecting on HKS’ legacy – and looking towards the future – Noble recently shared his thoughts on the firm’s rich history, his personal journey as a designer and leader and how lessons he’s learned from the design process translate into effective leadership.

What key aspects of HKS’ heritage are important to you as a leader?

HKS was founded in 1939 by Harwood K. Smith and his wife, Kate Robertson Smith. Harwood was an amazing entrepreneur, architect and artist. Born in Evanston, Illinois, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to Dallas to pursue his passion for, and hone his skills in, architecture.

Harwood set the tone for informality and mentorship at HKS. He was known for walking through the office and engaging even the newest architects in discussions about what they were working on. That informality and humility, and the spirit that we are all in this together, set HKS apart today and contribute to our familial culture.  We are a large firm with a small firm culture.

For an 83-year-old enterprise, our line of succession is not very long. I am only the fifth President & CEO, building on Harwood’s legacy.

How has your journey at HKS progressed from design leader to President & CEO?

My tenure at HKS began in the fall of 1983 after I graduated from North Dakota State University and worked briefly with smaller firms in Houston. Today, HKS employs over 1,500 people across 26 offices worldwide. When I started at the firm, we were about 200 people strong, with one office in Dallas.

I was fortunate to work under the direction of past HKS presidents, Joe Buskuhl and Ralph Hawkins. With Joe’s leadership, the firm became known for our management and technical expertise. Ralph was equally interested in design excellence and geographic expansion.

I became Global Design Director of HKS in 2002. I had always worked collaboratively on projects but now I had a more active role in elevating our design firmwide and helping project teams find creative design solutions. The design problem, for me, shifted from developing solutions for individual buildings to creating more successful and creative design teams. I was still hands-on with design, participating in pinups and charrettes, but I had to transition from doing to directing.

What does Design Excellence mean to you?

Design Excellence of course encompasses aesthetic considerations, such as scale, rhythm, proportion, repetition, proper editing, delight, beauty and harmony. But it also entails building performance, enhancing the human experience and understanding the behavioral science of improving the environment.

The process of creating and executing an excellent design is more alchemic than paint-by-number.

What lessons have you learned from design that translated to your role as President & CEO of HKS?

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that Design Excellence correlates closely with leadership excellence. Qualities that are essential to the design process – collaboration, incubation, iteration, failure, empathy, connection, innovation and humor – are just as important to effective leadership.

Collaboration – Bringing diverse teams together to discover the most creative solutions is something HKS believes in highly. Best practices in Health design may inspire solutions in Education, Hospitality ideas may make Workplaces more user-friendly and understanding crowd movement for Urban Planning can inform design solutions for our Sports group. And of course, Research can be a huge differentiator for all our practices. HKS works across practices and geographies to bring our clients the best talent available worldwide.

Incubation – Part of finding great solutions is listening to multiple stakeholders – including clients, consultants, users and community leaders – and letting ideas settle in. Let the game come to you a bit. Slow down to go fast. Taking time to engage with diverse partners can help you arrive at effective design solutions quicker. Being open to new ideas is essential.

Iteration – Once you collect that feedback, you can begin exploring ways to create solutions. Here is where you must exhibit some humility. Ego needs to take a back seat. It doesn’t matter where the best ideas come from, we build off each other’s ideas. I like it when a project team leaves the room and nobody knows exactly where an idea originated, but everyone feels like it was kind of their own.

Failure – As HKS’ Design Director, I tried to create a safe space for people to experiment. Being vulnerable and open to others is essential to innovation. As a leader, you have to avoid jumping in and trying to solve other people’s challenges. Sometimes design ideas fail, but failure is an important teaching moment. I routinely engage in 360-degree reviews to receive feedback on my own performance and try to continually learn how to be a more effective leader.

Empathy – I love being an architect. I love being hands-on and in the thick of things. But as HKS’ Design Director and later as the firm’s President & CEO, I had to learn to step back and let others find solutions. Sometimes people don’t do things the way you would. But having the patience and empathy to let people find their own paths is important to developing the next generation of leaders.

Connection – Finding that synergy between place, purpose and design is what great architecture is all about. Finding essential connections between people is important to designing a successful project and to running a successful business. After all, people create the synergy that results in great design solutions.

Innovation – True innovation is hard to come by. At HKS, we strive to hire people who are constantly challenging the status quo. And then we let them experiment, fail and learn. We’ve developed an entire Innovation sector to bring focus to this type of thinking and working. Developing this sector may have been HKS’ most transformational move. Do you want to be a commoditized vendor or a trusted advisor and partner? In the end, our brains and our thoughts are the most valuable assets we can offer the world. What can be automated and commoditized will be. Let’s not compete in a race to the bottom.

Humor – As a leader, you can’t take yourself too seriously. We spend most of our waking hours working with others – we can make it fun and fulfilling or a chore and a drag. The gift of humor shouldn’t be minimized.

How can leaders design and build better teams?

Part of being an effective leader is being in touch with your people, developing friendships and learning people’s strengths and weaknesses, passions and personalities. With understanding and empathy comes trust. Our people are our differentiators. Hire the best people you can find who share your values and give them the tools, training and mentorship they need to grow and evolve. And then get out of their way. Let them figure things out.

High-performing teams are built through inspiration, transparency, a certain degree of ambiguity, and diversity and inclusion.

Inspiration – Our job as leaders is to emulate the transparent culture that we aspire to, to establish the strategic direction we want to go and to inspire others to come along. In the book, The Way of the Shepherd: Seven Secrets to Managing Productive People, Kevin Leman wrote, “If you want your people to go above and beyond, they must see your passion, your heart. If it’s greatness that you want, it’s greatness that you must give.” You can’t be afraid to show that you care and that you’re passionate and committed to your purpose.

Transparency – Two things I continue to strive for as a leader are more transparency throughout the firm and the support of an effective feedback loop that includes all our people, regardless of their rank or experience. People walk into my office all the time – I encourage it. We have an “Ask Dan” feature on the HKS intranet that goes directly to me and enables people to ask me anything they want, anonymously or not. We’ve also instituted checks and balances to make sure every member of HKS’ Executive Board, including me, is holding true to our Strategic Plan. We are all held accountable to the firm’s established values and vision.

Ambiguity – I’ve learned to accept holding opposing ideas in my head at the same time. Decisions aren’t always black and white. Embracing the messy gray is crucial – it’s where the most profound solutions come from. I like to say that I’m comfortable with ambiguity as long as we’re clear about what we want to achieve.

Diversity & Inclusion – It’s no surprise to hear that our profession has lacked diversity, especially in the leadership ranks. This is partly because people tend to hire and promote those who are most like themselves. To help break this pattern, at HKS we have created a robust Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion program with a dedicated JEDI Director who is leading community outreach, education and enrichment programs that are helping us build a more diverse team and leadership. These efforts include our recently launched partner diversity program, HKS xBE, which is designed to help disadvantaged businesses build relationships and pursue new opportunities in the architecture and design professions. Diverse teams give rise to innovative thinking and increase the value of our work in the communities we serve.

How do you view the future of leadership at HKS?

We are fortunate to have a cadre of qualified people who can step into leadership roles. What I am looking for in our future leaders is innovation, creativity, empathy, grit, honesty, humility, optimism and heart.

Maya Thornton

Stories

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.