HKS’ Tim Logan Unlocks Exciting Possibilities Through Computational Design

Tim Logan doesn’t have a typical design firm job. He doesn’t spend his days in client meetings, creating drawings, or coordinating with contractors. Instead, he writes code and invents digital processes to bring complex design ideas to fruition.

As a computational designer and application developer with HKS’ Laboratory for INtensive Exploration (LINE) studio, Logan “helps people translate their designs into something the computer can help us make,” he said.

A Texas native, Logan started as an intern in HKS’ Dallas office in 2006 while he was taking architecture classes at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). Firm leaders brought him aboard because he was proficient at a then-emerging software — Revit — which has since become the industry standard building information modelling (BIM) platform.

“He knew the software well enough to already prove himself valuable working at a large firm on high profile projects,” said Heath May, HKS’ Global Practice Director of LINE.

Logan and his wife of 12 years, Cara Johnson, enjoying a horseback ride.

Over the next five years, Logan became a technical guide as the firm navigated using new technologies to advance its design work. In 2012, not long after he and his wife, Cara Johnson, married, they moved to Seattle and Logan took a brief hiatus from HKS.

By that time, Logan had developed a widely adopted computational plugin called Elk, which allows users to input open-source topographical data into Rhino’s Grasshopper programming so they can generate maps to use in design projects. This creation, among other achievements, elevated him to being recognized as “one of the pre-eminent computational designers in the industry,” according to May.

When Logan and Johnson decided to move back home to Dallas in 2014 to be close to their families, May hired Logan into the LINE studio, where he still works today.

As part of LINE —which seeks to elevate modes of architectural production and construction with new technologies — Logan uses programs and creates scripts that automate pieces of the design process. He helps transform complicated two-dimensional concepts into buildable, three-dimensional digital models.

Combining design thinking with computational thinking is at the heart of his day-to-day work.

“My goal is to act as the communicator between my designer colleagues and the computer to make things flow a little easier,” he said.

Logan has been a key player in many of HKS’ biggest innovations of the last decade. As just one example, Logan developed tools and processes that aided the design of SoFi Stadium’s complex roof canopy, as well as the patented methodology HKS used to validate and deliver the nation’s first 3-D Model of Record for that same structure.

“Without Tim, it would have been hard to ask the question if we could deliver the project purely digitally. We could only take that risk because of our trust in Tim and others with similar attributes and skills,” May said, underscoring that Logan’s unique abilities gave him and the HKS team who designed SoFi Stadium the confidence to blaze a previously untrodden trail.

A Longtime Interest in Computers and Design

Logan’s fascination with computers long predates his time at HKS. During the early 1980s, his father worked in electronics engineering, which meant that his family “always had some sort of computer around the house,” Logan said. This was when his parents settled in the Dallas-Fort Worth area after his father’s Marine service required them to move around Texas when Logan and his older sister, Amy, were kids.

As a kid, Logan moved around Texas with his parents and sister, Amy, who is a year older than him.

Household computers were a rarity at the time, and few, if any, resembled modern desktop and laptop computers. The “mini” computers Logan’s and his dad tinkered with were sometimes as big as a closet.

“I started building my own computers from his spare parts way back in the day and have always been around them ever since,” Logan said.

In addition to discovering how computers worked, Logan also used them to play games and engage with early internet bulletin boards, precursors to file sharing services and chatrooms. Gaming and socializing via the internet are a big part of his life to this day — he often gathers with Dallas-area friends for board game nights and spends time virtually hanging with pals who live overseas in online gaming and chat portals.

After high school, Logan pursued coursework in computer science, music recording and philosophy before studying architecture and beginning his career at HKS. He said he was initially drawn to architecture because he enjoys learning how buildings work, how they are created, and the many ways to modify them. Recently, he’s been getting first-hand experience with the latter while updating and renovating the 60-year-old East Dallas house he and Johnson purchased in 2022.

What Logan loves most about architecture, however, is the field’s inherent nature of problem solving and how that aspect of it dovetails with his own work. Just like architects must iterate and come up with various options for a building’s massing, program layout, or details, Logan often must go through trial and error as he codes scripts and connects disparate sources of data to generate digital solutions.

“There are a lot of parallels with the way architecture works and the way computer science works, and the way computer scientists try to systematically solve problems,” he said.

“There are a lot of parallels with the way architecture works and the way computer science works, and the way computer scientists try to systematically solve problems.”

Working Toward Better Outcomes

Logan and fellow LINE studio members collaborate with project teams across HKS’ many practices including Commercial Mixed-Use, Cities & Communities, and Health. May said the LINE team often refers to Logan as the firm’s “secret weapon” because he is driven by curiosity and has an innate ability to frame problems and work through them with patience.

“Through a series of questions, Tim is able to understand what a designer wants to achieve and then translate it,” May said. “He will look at something, appreciate the artistic and conceptual side and then take it into the realm of computation.”

Andrew Cortez, a Senior Designer with HKS’ Health practice first collaborated with Logan on the Texas Health Frisco Hospital, which opened in 2019. One of the team’s design goals, Cortez said, was to create a highly customized façade while adhering to cost and schedule constraints. For the project, Logan developed custom scripts to streamline the design-to-fabrication pipeline of the façade’s precast concrete panels. The scripts maximized panel sizes, concrete form re-use, and created internal documentation processes that enabled smooth, expedient collaboration with fabricators.

Logan developed Rhino and Grasshopper interfaces (top left) to aid the fabrication and construction of the façade of Texas Health Frisco Hospital.

“We were able to achieve goals beyond our original vision that had a substantial impact to the project budget and schedule,” Cortez said. “It taught me the benefit of bringing experts like Tim into the room early to help us develop our design strategy, but also look beyond our perceived limits and goals to achieve something even greater.”

His contribution to the Texas Health Frisco project is one example of how Logan has paid forward his expertise. As architecture technology grows more sophisticated with each passing month, he is helping to introduce new tools and methods to younger designers both within HKS and at UTA’s School of Architecture, where he has joined LINE colleagues to teach studio courses, give lectures, and participate in critiques.

“While he works, he teaches. He helps realize projects, but he’s also helping grow the next generation of people that can use parametric and computational thinking as part of their process,” May said.

Looking Ahead to the Future of Architecture Technology

When he’s not writing code or collaborating with designers, Logan spends time with Johnson, a medical lab technician at Childrens Medical Center in Dallas. Together, the couple sees plays and musicals produced by Broadway Dallas and take their “grumpy, old” corgi, Pippa, for walks around their neighborhood.

Logan’s dog, a charming, but grumpy corgi named Pippa, poses for a photo in Dallas.

Logan’s other hobbies coincide with his knack for experimentation. He has been known to “mash up” 3-D models to create unique geometric forms and 3-D print them. And he once pulled the original engine out of a 1987 Volvo 740 and replaced it with a Ford 302 V8 engine despite having little knowledge of the vehicles.

“Diving into the unknown and reconfiguring a car I barely knew about is kind of how I like to do things,” he said.

The spirit of diving into the unknown is integral to Logan’s work at HKS — he’s always on the leading edge of design technologies, just like when he started at the firm. During the last three years, he’s headed up HKS’ efforts on a U.S. Department of Energy-funded research project with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Lumileds. The interdisciplinary team is seeking to develop new lighting devices with the potential to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings and positively impact human circadian rhythms and well-being.

Being involved with such research and development projects showcases Logan’s ability to look ahead and see the potential benefits of ideas and technologies in their infancy. As the firm turns more toward exploring the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in architecture, Logan’s unique qualifications will make him and his skills “indispensable” to the future of practice at HKS, according to May.

And though May says Logan is “one of the smartest people,” he knows, and Cortez called him “one of the most innovative and open-minded individuals” he has worked with — Logan’s personality is grounded in humility. He simply enjoys his work and helping to improve people’s experiences in the places HKS designs.

“What excites me most, fundamentally, is trying to solve big problems,” Logan said. “That’s my main thing — that we’re progressing, not to make things easier, but to make things better.