Celebrating 10 Years of Community Impact with Citizen HKS

A decade ago, HKS launched Citizen HKS, an impact initiative dedicated to uplifting people through public interest design and community service. 

Fueled by the passion HKS employees have for taking local action and using their design skills to positively influence lives, Citizen HKS has grown into a global change agent during the last ten years. 

Our teams have provided pro bono design services for nearly 50 projects worldwide. We have volunteered almost 33,000 hours during annual Month of Service events in our home cities and raised $570,000 to support neighbors in need. Altogether, Citizen HKS has aided more than 870 community organizations including social services non-profits, health clinics, educational and recreational centers, and food banks. 

As we face urgent climate and social challenges across the globe, HKS believes that creating, connecting and contributing through Citizen HKS is foundational to our Environmental, Social and Governance approaches. Through this work, we have been able to build relationships with clients that empower our business to benefit more people and create lasting change in the architecture, design and construction industries. 

HKS is proud to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Citizen HKS by highlighting five themes of impact that provide a snapshot of how our teams have been helping solve pressing public health and social equity challenges. 

Food Access

The United Nations estimates that a quarter of the world’s population doesn’t know where their next meal will come from, and that food insecurity is worsening globally with each passing year. Citizen HKS teams have worked to broaden food access for people experiencing hunger and nutritional challenges in cities across the United States and beyond.  

A key project that exemplifies our impact is the Urban Food Studio at Capital Area Food Bank, which opened in 2015. A flexible, all-season space and learning environment for gardening, cooking and nutrition workshops, the structure supports the food bank’s mission to combat hunger and food insecurity in the Washington, D.C. region. In addition to this vital project, Citizen HKS has also provided design services for North Texas Food Bank in Balch Springs, Texas and TNC Food Bank in Orlando, Florida, among others. 

Currently, a Citizen HKS team is designing a new home for Hunger Busters, a nonprofit committed to mitigating food insecurity among Dallas Independent School District students. The vibrant, sustainable food preparation facility is also a Design for Freedom pilot program project — the team is researching and selecting building materials manufactured without forced labor. The building will serve as a beacon of change supporting those who are food insecure in the Dallas region as well as a global symbol of how designers can alleviate human rights abuses in architecture and construction. 

Hunger Busters in Dallas, TX

Expanding beyond design efforts, HKS staff members have participated in annual Month of Service food drives and meal packaging and distribution events across the U.S., working with organizations including Atlanta Community Food Bank, Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Phoenix’s St. Vincent de Paul, and Houston’s Trinity Gardens Food Pantry to disseminate meals to people in need. 

Women’s Health

The UN estimates that a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth every two minutes worldwide and in recent years, maternal mortality rates increased or stagnated globally. These alarming statistics are compelling HKS designers to take action to enhance women’s and family health. We have taken on this challenge by engaging in Month of Service activities and pro-bono pro bono design work with local health services organizations and non-profits such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities and Texas-based LifeSavers Foundation, where a Citizen HKS team is currently designing a mobile clinic that will travel so providers can give direct care to women and children in disadvantaged communities. 

Citizen HKS’s most transformational work supporting women’s health has occurred with two hospital designs in Uganda. First, Kachumbala Maternity Unit opened in 2017. The unit houses two delivery suites and a seven-bed postnatal ward significantly increases access to maternal care in a rural area, including a 29% increase in deliveries monthly. Constructed by a local workforce, the building is made of local materials and HKS teams raised $50,000 for its design and construction. The highly sustainable design has led to a 96% reduction in predicted energy usage intensity compared to a typical U.S. clinic in a similar climate, and the project is a meaningful example of how design can benefit both people and the planet. 

Kachumbala Maternity Unit in Kachumbala, Uganda

We are also moving forward with a design for a neonatal unit at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital, located approximately 17 kilometers away from Kachumbala. This project will increase health care access for local families and mothers, support the hospital’s limited staff to provide better care and also limit impact on the environment with locally sourced materials and high-performance strategies. 

Inclusion + Neurodiversity 

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in 36 children in the United Sates are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. And globally, there are more than 55 million people living with dementia globally according to the World Health Organization, including 5.8 million in the United States per the CDC. As HKS continues its research and leadership working at the intersection of brain health and design, supporting inclusion and neurodiversity for people of all ages is central to Citizen HKS’ efforts. 

The first of many projects HKS has embarked on to aid neurodiverse youth, the Sensory Well-being Hub at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago was a collaborative effort by Citizen HKS and the firm’s research team. We also raised $50,000 for the project’s design and construction as a firm. Built in 2017, the award-winning hub design helps students recover from sensory stressors and improves well-being, and our many research findings include that diverse approaches are necessary for sensory well-being environments.  

Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago, IL

Citizen HKS and the HKS research team have also done extensive work to understand what seniors living with dementia need from their living environments to lead healthy, happy lives. We have created designs for two sensory rooms for dementia care at senior living communities in Michigan. Completed in 2023, the first installation is designed to relieve dementia-related anxiety. 95% of staff have reported the room’s positive impact on residents’ emotional wellbeing. 

In our communities across the world, Citizen HKS teams have volunteered personal time to assist children with neurodiverse identities and older adults, providing direct support with organizations such as the Living Learning Enrichment Center in Northville, Michigan and Un Granito De Arena Community Center in Mexico City. 

Social Justice 

One in six people worldwide experiences discrimination based on grounds such as race, ethnicity, age, religion, disability, and health status, according to the UN. United States Census Bureau data shows that underemployment and a lack of financial and housing security are significantly prevalent among people of color, indicating that systematic discrimination prevents marginalized communities from thriving. Advancing social justice and building a more equitable built environment is a shared responsibility for designers, our collaborators, and our communities. 

In Dallas, where HKS was founded 85 years ago, Citizen HKS has designed spaces that help underserved people thrive. Opened in 2018, a new building for Dallas 24 Hour Club’s includes 14,000 square feet dedicated to providing safe, sober transitional living for people experiencing homelessness and substance abuse issues. The project includes living spaces, community meeting rooms, a commercial kitchen and dining area that help the 24 Hour Club offer diverse resources and support to those in need. 

Dallas 24 Hour Club in Dallas, TX

We are also currently working to adapt a former school in the historically African American Joppa area of South Dallas— one of the last remaining freedmen’s towns — where community members are isolated from necessary resources and infrastructure. The community-informed and sustainable Citizen HKS design for The Place at Honey Springs envisions a vibrant multipurpose center that reflects local history and serves residents of today and tomorrow. It will include gathering spaces, a recording studio, and classrooms for after-school programs and continued education that encourage creativity and lifelong learning. ​ 

Our teams have also dedicated their time to aiding people experiencing homelessness. In Singapore, Shanghai, and throughout the United States we have volunteered with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity in multiple cities, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Lotus House and Camillus House in Miami. A Citizen HKS team also designed a masterplan to alleviate homelessness for Jeremiah Community in Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

Education + Play 

In recent years, Citizen HKS has partnered with schools and community organizations to foster education and play to improve development and well-being among children and teens. Teams in nearly every HKS office have partnered with the HKS K-12 Outreach Program on an annual book drive and mentorship programs to engage young people in learning about architecture and design. Citizen HKS design teams have also worked to broaden access to educational opportunities through design projects at a high school in Zirak, Afghanistan as well as CityLab South Oak Cliff Entrepreneurship Center in Dallas. 

Since 2021, Citizen HKS has been working on StationSoccer’s multi-site master plan to create youth soccer fields near underutilized land at MARTA transit stations around Atlanta. Partnerships with local government and nonprofits and a Citizen HKS fundraiser amounting to $40,000 have made this work possible. Several design projects are complete, and others are in progress — all of them enhancing play equity for youth throughout the city. Our Atlanta team has also participated in service events with StationSoccer, including a “draw and play day” and school supplies drive for the organization’s soccer tournament. 

StationSoccer in Atlanta, GA

One of Citizen HKS’ most exciting projects in development touches on several of the themes highlighted for the 10-year anniversary, including education and play: The Park at Floral Farms. Developed in partnership with South Dallas residents and community organizations, the park will replace an area known as “shingle mountain” — a waste dumping site that has affected locals’ health and well-being for years. The project reflects the possibilities of environmental justice and how public health awareness can be a catalyst for transformation. Ultimately, the park design proposes much needed greenspaces, playgrounds, and recreational facilities where all members of the community can play and enjoy the outdoors together. 

10 Years in and a Bright Future Ahead 

By celebrating 10 years of Citizen HKS, we look back at the progress our firm and industry have made in using design as a tool for progress. But we recognize that to create the future we all want — a future with sustainable, equitable, and thriving communities — we must continue to push forward new ideas and collaborate with intention. Through limitless thinking, we will tackle the challenges of today and create a brighter tomorrow.