IMPACT Atlanta – Studying the Intersections of Culture, Access, and Place

The HKS Southeast Fellowship (SDF) is a design charrette that seeks to cultivate emerging talent, simulate innovative design approaches and provide service to nearby communities. Each year, the SDF rotates between the HKS Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando offices to offer regional design thinking for local design challenges. The SDF pairs HKS design professionals with university students selected from some of the region’s top design programs for architecture, interior design, urban design, and other related programs.

In Fall of 2024, the Fellowship will focus on the intersections of culture, mobility, and place along Buford Highway in Atlanta. HKS is collaborating with the City of Brookhaven and local organizations to understand the places and people around Buford Highway, to develop a hypothetical design prompt for a cross-disciplinary response providing real IMPACT.

Lens of Investigation


The city of Atlanta is well-known for its diversity. Residents and visitors alike can experience a blend of cultures and traditions that have developed in the city’s built environment, culinary destinations, and social interactions. The epitome of this cultural melting pot can be experienced along Buford Highway, a road extending northeast out from Atlanta that is specifically renowned for its ethnic diversity.

Although coined as the “Cultural Corridor” of the city, the street and its surrounding areas often lack elements that celebrate the rich tapestry of cultures defined in the area, not to mention issues regarding safety, accessibility, and connectivity. In response, this year’s fellowship seeks transformative and impactful proposals that not only address the built environment but also celebrate the multi-cultural heritage and diversity of the communities served by the roadway. Creativity, empathy, and a deep understanding of the cultural and social dynamics of the Buford Highway community will be essential for addressing the complex problems presented in the design challenges.

How do you evolve a multi-cultural vehicle-centric corridor to better serve its community, i.e to celebrate the community’s sense of place yet maintain and amplify its character?

Design Challenges

One site, multiple challenges. Once accepted into the fellowship, teams will be asked by the end of the research phase to propose a way forward through either: 1) respond to one of the following prompts; 2) respond to a strategic combination of two or more; or 3) suggest their own based upon their findings. The Fellowship will adapt to the interests and disciplines of the selected attendees.


The Northeast Plaza is currently a cultural center for the surrounding community hosting annual events and festivals. However, the expansive surface parking contributes to a large urban heat island and lacks a sense of place reflective of the rich communities that visit. How can this lot be reimagined to better serve the events and people that it hosts? How can urban, architectural, and interior design signal that this space is of and for the community it serves? Consider the history and culture of the surrounding community, inclusive and universal design, and precedents in effective public space.

2. GATEWAY | Intersection of Buford Highway and Briarwood Road

The irregular intersection of Buford Highway and Briarwood Road creates inefficient land parcels and contributes to safety issues for both vehicles and pedestrians. What adjustments to Briarwood Rd NE could improve this intersection, and how can buildings and open space respond to this adjustment to create a new gateway into Buford Highway? How can an intersection function as more than just the point where two roads meet? What else could happen here? Consider vehicular and pedestrian circulation, the greater context of Brookhaven, and precedents in prominent architectural and urban interventions.

3. CONNECTIVITY | Peachtree Creek Greenway

The Peachtree Creek Greenway along the North Fork Peachtree Creek is creating new opportunities for respite, mobility, and access to nature. Nevertheless, many existing buildings still turn their back to the greenway, and surrounding neighborhoods may lack easy access to the trail. Where are opportunities for businesses, communities, and public spaces to better integrate with the Greenway? Consider innovative designs with topography and nature, and precedents in greenway and ‘rails-to-trails’ development.

4. AFFORDABLE HOUSING | North Cliff Valley

The neighborhood community west of North Cliff Valley Way NE provides affordable housing to many inhabitants. However, it is currently located within a flood plain, which poses future threats to safety and stable housing. How could this area be repurposed as public space, while creating and relocating current inhabitants to safe and affordable housing options? How can affordable housing be elevated through finishes and user experience that may otherwise be lost? Consider resilient design, phasing strategies, precedents in stormwater parks, and interior residential design.


In recognition that the population in the area consists of mostly immigrants, access to healthcare and affordable health insurance face challenges that may not exist for other populations. How can the district promote preventative and holistic health and well-being throughout the built environment and all that it influences to elevate the mental and physical health of its served populations? What could community-scale wellness look like in an area with such a diverse population? Consider universal access, healthy materials, walkability, enhanced landscapes, access to education and resources, and biophilic design principles.”

Design Values

The below design values transcend through each challenge and should be considered as teams formulate their final responses.

  1. Cultural Celebration | Incorporate elements that reflect and celebrate the diverse cultures present in the area to ensure the final design reflects the needs and aspirations of the community.
  2. Wellness Minded / Universal Access | Ensure that the design promotes individual and community well-being and prioritizes accessibility and safety for all users.”
  3. Placemaking and Activation | Create a vibrant and inviting public space that encourages social interaction, recreation, and cultural exchange.
  4. Environmental Sustainability | Integrate sustainable design principles that minimize environmental impact and enhance the area’s resiliency to climate change.
  5. Uniqueness | There exists a specific uniqueness to this area’s identity, design character, and sense of place. A strong proposal should embrace and expand this uniqueness by learning from its site.

Location and Schedule:

During three days of collaboration, SE-DF participants will investigate, iterate, and propose solutions, based on a design prompt. The workshop will begin on Friday, August 30th and culminate on Sunday, September 1st. A final review and exhibition will be held Monday, September 2nd in the HKS Atlanta office. Specific 2024 SE-DF design challenge information will be presented to students selected to participate in the fellowship during the alignment sessions before the in-person collaboration.

HKS Atlanta Address: 3280 Peachtree Road NE, #900, Atlanta, GA 30305

Fellows will receive lodging and meals during the fellowship. HKS will provide transportation to the project site. Students are responsible for their travel to and from Atlanta.

Southeast Design Fellowship – Application

The 2024 application period closes on June 21st , 2024.

The application consists of three parts: 1 – Work Sample, 2 – Design Approach, and 3 – Thesis Response.

*No photos of yourself or name on the submission; please keep all submitted materials anonymous.

To apply, please email the following information to [email protected]
Subject Line – “Application submission for HKS SE-DF 2024”

1 | Work Sample

A single, one-sided 11×17 page or brief video/reel (no longer than 4 minutes) highlighting any work that reflects who you are as a designer. This can be academic, professional, or personal work and can range from a single image to a sampling of work from multiple projects.

2 | Design Approach

A brief description of your design approach and how collaboration factors into your thinking. Responses can include discussion about your process, tools/software utilized, and/or specific skills you bring to the table which aid in your thinking. *Responses for this section are limited to 300 words.

3 | Thesis Response

Listed below are 5 key design values that will all play a critical role in diverse ways within our fellowship’s exploration. Please select 2 or more of the below values you are most passionate about and write a brief response to how you could address each through design, being sure to note any connections you may draw between your chosen topics. *Responses for this section are limited to 500 words.

  1. Cultural Celebration / Preservation
  2. Wellness Minded / Universal Access
  3. Placemaking and Activation
  4. Environmental Sustainability
  5. Uniqueness of Place