HKS at 80

By Dan Noble

As any octogenarian can attest, remaining vital and relevant at 80 involves a combination of luck and grit. The same is true of companies. As HKS faces its 80th year, I could not be prouder of the work we have done together, or more excited for the opportunities that lie ahead.

Our firm is fortunate to have had a visionary founder, Harwood K. Smith. He laid the groundwork for the firm we are today. We have had a succession of great leaders: Ron Brame, Ron Skaggs, Joe Buskuhl and Ralph Hawkins. They were responsible for sowing the seeds of the great culture we have built. A culture that values fairness, honesty, equality, curiosity, humor, caring and humility.

I still rely on their wisdom and guidance as we forge our way into an uncertain future. I also rely on the candor and energy of the youngest members of our firm. One of my greatest joys is walking through our studios and seeing people of all ages, all ethnicities and all genders working shoulder-to-shoulder sharing ideas and delivering great work. We’ve built a wonderful collaborative culture.

Over the past year we’ve spent a great deal of time exploring how we can improve the way we work as well as the quality of our many offerings. The result of that investigation is that we’re finding new and better ways to learn from and to support one another. We are truly one firm delivering world-class work in communities across the globe. To every assignment we bring knowledge we have gained over years of experience as well as a thirst for adapting what we’ve learned while applying fresh thinking and new technologies. Every year, we invest a significant amount into research and development to keep us relevant and of value to our clients and our communities. We think this is imperative if we are going to continue to evolve and emerge as a leader in our industry.

Leadership for us isn’t defined by building the biggest or the most profitable firm. Our mission is to improve our clients’ value proposition by sharing what we’ve learned to make our world more beautiful, more equitable and more sustainable. We want to be a catalyst for positive change. Profits and growth will follow.

We are celebrating our 80th year with a series of conversations in cities we serve bringing together great minds from different disciplines and different parts of the world to discuss how we can make healthier communities through design. While design has always had a charge to shelter and protect us, our research into how design impacts experience shows that it can do more. Design can improve our collective health, well-being, and productivity.

I am a fan of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which states that people are motivated by things like safety, love, esteem, belonging, etc. The goal in his study is for individuals to achieve self-actualization by getting these needs met. We have applied this to the practice of architecture. Focusing not just on what architecture has always done, but also what it could do. By convening panels of experts ranging from eSports to health, luxury travel to commercial interiors, we will explore how design can create a meaningful, measurable difference.

I am truly humbled and proud to lead HKS. I look forward to every day spent sharing ideas and creating places that will stand the test of time. Thank you to all the men and women of HKS who have made our work so meaningful and fun. And, thank you to all our wonderful clients and partners who continually put their trust in us. The future looks bright and we can’t wait to get to it.

I look forward to the road ahead with each and every one of you.

Dan Noble

Dan Noble is President and CEO at HKS. An architect, Dan leads the strategy and development of a global design firm. Under his leadership, the firm has won numerous design awards from organizations such as the World Architecture Festival and Fast Company. Dan values character, purpose and relationships, and instills these values into the firm’s culture.