HKS Moves the Needle on Design Excellence with 2021 Top Projects

At the end of each year, HKS reflects on our goal to create sustainable, beautiful and equitable designs by awarding the firm’s Top Projects. We celebrate new buildings that have opened, take a close look our in-progress work and delve back into our research to discover how we can better serve clients and communities through design.

HKS’ pursuit of design excellence in all our projects lies in the synthesis of methodology, research, innovation, performance and technical execution. Building on these pillars, we adopted the AIA Framework for Design Excellence several years ago, embedding its 10 measures into the way we work across borders and disciplines.

Guided by the tenets of Design Excellence, we turn a lens on ourselves each year with the Top Projects awards initiative.

“Top Projects has increased the amount of critical dialogue we have around our projects,” said HKS Global Director of Design Anthony Montalto about the awards, which began six years ago. “The commitment to understanding the measures for design excellence — starting with integration — is where we bring all the aspects that make HKS to the table.”

For the third year, HKS invited an external jury of industry experts to select our Top Projects from a finalist slate of work from all practice areas and global regions. Chaired by Dallas-based public architect Brent A. Brown, the 2021 external jury included Tara Green of landscape architecture firm OJB, Angelita Scott of the International WELL Building Institute and Ron Stelmarski of global architecture firm, Perkins & Will.

This esteemed group recognized nine Top Projects representing three categories — built designs, designs on the boards and research or special projects — using criteria founded on the principles of design excellence and the balance of beauty and performance.

Top Projects: Built Category

These five lauded projects exemplify the impact that architecture, sustainability and thoughtful interior design can have on people and their experiences in the built environment.

Top Project of the Year: SoFi Stadium

SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California is the world’s first truly indoor-outdoor stadium and the NFL’s largest at 3.1 million square feet. Situated under one massive roof canopy, three state-of-the-art venues including the 70,000-seat stadium, the covered outdoor American Airlines Plaza and the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater can simultaneously host different events. With 25 acres of public space, including a large lake and park with diverse regional plants, SoFi Stadium and the Hollywood Park Entertainment District are year-round community destinations and public amenities. “We have elevated the design, experiences and definition of what sports entertainment buildings can be,” said Mark Williams, HKS Principal and Global Director of Venues on SoFi Stadium.

“We have elevated the design, experiences and definition of what sports entertainment buildings can be.” 

Architecture Honor Award: UC San Diego North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood

North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) is a 1.6 million square foot mixed-use neighborhood that provides an affordable on-campus living experience with a focus on physical and mental wellbeing, a connection to the community and a commitment to the environment. Home to the university’s social sciences and arts and humanities departments, the campus features housing, classrooms, offices, dining, and extensive outdoor spaces, public art and retail. Now in its second year of operation, NTPLLN is a “living lab” where social and environmental outcomes are consistently measured, with initial reports showing improvements in satisfaction and well-being among students.

Interiors Honor Award: Travel Company Workplace 

The most recent collaboration in HKS’ long relationship with a noted travel company, this commercial interior design emphasizes workplace culture and a relationship to the surrounding mountainous region. The office’s layout, materials palette and furnishings support the client’s free address desking policies, technology goals and employee engagement efforts. Infused with a sense of adventure and discovery prized by employees, the inventive interior design provides many choices for working and socializing that promote well-being and connection.

Merit Award: Neustar

Spanning three floors of HKS-designed Reston Station mixed-use development in Reston, VA., Neustar’s new corporate headquarters is a collaborative and adaptable workplace for more than 500 employees. The design incorporates a dynamic but calming materials palette and distinct geometric shapes permeate the walls and ceilings throughout. With access to outdoor space and ample natural light and a layout that supports mobility and individual choice, Neustar is an office centered on employee well-being.

Merit Award: Texas Health Frisco

A 20-acre health care campus, Texas Health Frisco includes an eight-story acute care hospital and a four-story multidisciplinary clinic with flexibility for future expansion to serve a growing community. Focused on enhancing experiences for patients, families and caregivers, the design is founded on hospitality ideals and biophilic principles. The Texas Health Frisco campus incorporates local natural materials and is sensitive to the region’s ecology, making it a premier sustainable health care environment.

Top Projects: Research, Advisory, Theoretical, and Special Projects Category

From a field that included a diverse array of research and conceptual design work, the special project that took top honors this year demonstrates the importance of mental health as a design consideration.

Special Recognition Award: Designing for Crisis Care

A research report supported through HKS’ Health Fellowship, Designing for Crisis Care explores how the built environment can influence positive health and well-being outcomes for people experiencing mental and behavioral health crises who enter emergency departments seeking help. Through intensive reading, interviews, and analysis, the research yielded a framework for investigation into individual, social, operational and design factors that may be harmful and a checklist health care designers and clients can use to create safe and beautiful care spaces. “We can really bring energy to conversations with clients to start asking new questions about how we can make this space better for them and for patients,” said HKS Design Professional and Researcher Hannah Shultz.

“We can really bring energy to conversations with clients to start asking new questions about how we can make this space better for them and for patients.”

Top Projects: On the Boards Category

The Top Projects jury also bestowed honor and merit awards and special recognitions to several of HKS’ unbuilt projects. Ranging from competition designs for stadium and entertainment complexes in Europe and Asia to an upcoming arts hub in the U.S., the projects awarded in the On the Boards category demonstrate how architecture and design can be powerful agents of change in diverse cities around the world. The winning unbuilt projects — presently part of confidentiality agreements — are examples of how Top Projects helps designer across HKS evaluate and improve upon in-progress work.

From 2021’s Top Projects to 2022 and beyond

Top Projects is both a celebration and a learning opportunity. Every HKS employee — including those on teams who created this year’s 103 initial project submissions — has access to feedback from both internal and external juries.

“Much of this dialogue is about the evolution of the practice at HKS, centering design and being able to improve overall performance for clients, cities and individuals that come into contact with these projects,” said external jury chair Brent A. Brown, who praised HKS’ commitment to research, architecture and interior design innovations that address environmental and social needs.

HKS’s Top Projects steering committee, which includes 2021 chair Graciela Andraos along with Montalto, said that the program is a way our firm can improve and infuse design excellence more authentically into every project.

“This process and this body of work has proven, both externally and internally, that we are a true design firm,” said Andraos, a senior interior designer. “We are a diverse firm with multiple voices at the table. We must continue to push that envelope and steer that ship in the right direction.”