HKS’ Meena Krenek Brings Storytelling and Emotion to Interior Spaces

Meena Krenek’s path to her current role as a Principal and Global Practice Director for Venues Interiors at HKS, began as a child growing up in Reading, Pennsylvania.

It started with simple things: building objects and large structures from LEGOS blocks to sit under or act as a shelter. But it wasn’t until her first architectural class during her freshman year at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville that her passion for the built environment fully flourished when she discovered a class-required book entitled, “Architectural Graphics,” by Frank Ching.

“It’s when I fell in love with design and how impactful graphically representing an idea or space through visual art can be,” Krenek said.

It’s when I fell in love with design and how impactful graphically representing an idea or space through visual art can be.

Learning about one-point perspectives, line weights, hatches and architectural lettering, she immediately went to the bookstore to purchase different pen weights. Sitting in the studio, Krenek practiced and mimicked everything in Ching’s book, feeling as if these forms of visual communications were coming to life.

“I used to get every Dr. Seuss book and draw all these kinds of characters, and I felt the same way when I saw this architecture book because I was like, ‘I have to draw everything in this book and feel the spaces and characters,” she said.

Krenek has long been eager to understand the human experience in the built environment and is drawn to the way people react, identify with, and understand space and place. Her innate curiosity for the world around her stemmed from her upbringing as a child raised by immigrant parents. They taught her to have compassion for others who might be different from her, and her ability to put herself in the shoes of others to see the world through their eyes helps her to this day in developing stronger client relationships, cherish a lens of empathy, and improved user experiences.

 “One thing about my childhood that my parents gave me was a drive for success, the mental fortitude to thrive regardless of barriers and to be open-minded,” Krenek said.

And she offers similar advice to those coming along behind her: “It doesn’t matter what people look like or where they come from but be very cognizant of bringing people into your life that are different than you because everyone has a unique story you can learn from.”

Building Her Personal Brand

Using her childhood love for books with strong graphics and illustration, art is a major component of her design process, melding art and science into one. As an award-winning design director known for transforming clients’ companies, she uses experiential design to implement emotional connections with space. She has a keen ability to infuse her clients’ business and culture into branding and design that focuses on the human experience, bringing a unique and unforgettable dynamic energy to all her projects.

Krenek understands the importance of interior environments that are human-centric. She focuses on integrating architectural and interior spaces to tell a story and encourage guests to embark on a unique brand journey with every visit. By immersing herself in the client’s needs, she creates solutions that positively influence their business drivers and financial value.

As an architect and designer, she is constantly thinking of the next steps in digital and physical technology and seeking out what are innovative ways to connect the two. Truly understanding what consumers and patrons are seeking today and tomorrow allows for innovative environments that unleash participation within audiences. Her experience and insight have helped make her an industry leader and she has authored many articles for major publications such as the New York Times, Psychology Today and Monocle on Design.

According to Krenek, everyone must stand for something. She says that a point of view may align with another person or company, but it is a person’s individual brand that they bring to the table.

“If you understand your personal brand, you understand what you stand for, what you want to be known for and how you’re going to do that,” she said. “Then you can really do some significant things.”

She also strongly believes that individuals should be constantly moving towards their directive on how they want to be seen, whether that is through words, clothes, posting on social media, how one invests their time, or the work they are designing and creating.

“All our work represents ourselves, and we have to put out the point of view that we stand for something and every day, every encounter, we have to remember to make sure people see that aspect of us,” Krenek said.

Her strong sense of personal branding led her to focus her expertise on brand integration and experiential design. And she is so confident about the importance of a brand that she teaches a class on personal branding that recognizes how everyone is “uniquely different.”

The Move to HKS

A lover of large design firms, Krenek saw HKS as a place where she could continue to make a mark in the industry and flourish within the company.

“You can call anyone at any time here at HKS and someone will have the answer to something that you’re looking for, and that’s pretty fantastic to see how much intellect in deep research and reach that we have as a company,” said Krenek, who joined the firm in June.

When she began building relationships with the HKS team and learned about the Global Interiors Director of Venues opportunity, she connected how her expertise could influence the global brand of interiors to provide experiential design with a lens of understanding macro and micro trends in the industry and designing iconic spaces that build memories. She is enthusiastic about the importance of using her experience in environmental psychology, trend forecasting and providing clients, fans, visitors or eventgoers with a sensory and brand experience when they walk through venues.

Mark Williams, Global Sector Director, Venues, and Krenek see the world of interior spaces within these environments as widely untapped, allowing them to redefine what they are doing- creating a greater point of view and developing a brand with a strong narrative for the future.

“Our HKS Venues Team is excited to bring Meena into our HKS Family,” said Williams. “Her energy, influence and inventive style couldn’t align better with the impact we are currently having on sports and entertainment globally.”

Krenek understands that Venues today is more than a place for like-minded communities to come together, and HKS is designing experiences for today’s consumers. She pushes to design projects where occupants feel a connection to a relatable human centric story and values.

“Our spaces, venues in general, are going to be the types of spaces that are going to encourage a community to feel connected and like they belong to something greater than themselves,” Krenek said. “There’s a lot about the experience and the subculture behind the experiences we design for that have a much deeper meaning than just designing a kit of parts for a stadium or an airport. We are designing for an experience that has meaning, inspires, educates, brings value and has a personality.”

She sees her position as not just fulfilling a role, but an opportunity to expand the industry. In a world where people get much of their content through handheld devices, she believes interiors must design for the new ways people are seeking to participate in the interior architecture, feel an intention or purpose, and provide a future forward experience in every aspect.

“I’m looking forward to driving our design work to new and profound places with our exceptional clients that are seeking to influence their business with trailblazing design work,” Krenek said. “HKS is poised for the future for being highly relevant with an empathic lens, for empowering our clients with business success and on the frontier with design creativity. I am thrilled about positioning interiors with a strong experiential entity that will elevate our practice in unfathomable ways.”