Siobhan Farvardin: From Legos and Violin to HKS Senior Living Leader

Siobhan Farvardin: From Legos and Violin to HKS Senior Living Leader

Siobhan Farvardin (Shiv-awn Far-vaar-deen) could have studied music or engineering in college. She played violin throughout her childhood and was quite good at math.

But she chose architecture, instead, drawn to the allure of creating something more tangible for people to enjoy.

She was also fortunate to have the support of her immigrant parents. They left behind their own creative passions — her mother also wanted to pursue architecture while her father wanted to become a musician — to pursue careers that their parents felt were more practical for raising a family.

Farvardin is now stretching her mother’s dreams even further into reality by taking on a new role as Co-Leader of HKS’ Senior Living practice.

“We have a big responsibility,” Farvadin said. “Our industry lost a lot of talent in the 2008 recession. We have a wealth of knowledge on the HKS Senior Living team. It would be wonderful to develop this next group of leaders and pay it forward.”

Living Her Childhood Dreams

People usually describe the United States as a melting pot because of its cultural diversity. For Farvardin, that metaphor extends to her family, too.

Her mother, a retired teacher, is Northern Irish. Her father, a retired software engineer, is Persian. Farvardin was born in England but only lived there until age 5, when her family moved to the U.S. to determine whether they could have a future in the country.

“We came to the States for one year and then we ended up liking it so much, we stayed,” Farvardin said.

Growing up in South Florida, Farvardin could never have enough Legos. She would spend hours building colorful structures that she proudly displayed in her room.

Farvardin's love of sports and adventure began at a young age.
Farvardin's love of sports and adventure began at a young age.

The Legos were her introduction into the design world. But the violin introduced her to the world of senior living.

Farvardin started playing the instrument as a young girl but had immense stage fright, so her mother encouraged her to perform for seniors at a local retirement community to overcome her fear of performing in front of people.

That’s where she first noticed the wide spectrum of seniors who live in these communities, with different needs, different interests, and different backgrounds.

“There were people who were engaged and knew the songs, and then there were the ones that were just not present,” she said. ” I had grandparents, but they hadn’t gone through ailments like Alzheimer’s, so this was my first exposure to that world.”

While she was still in high school, her mother began to encourage her to consider studying architecture when she went off to college, advice that Farvardin followed when she enrolled at the University of Florida in 1995. Several years, and jobs, would pass before Farvardin realized her calling was in senior living design.

A New Focus

By the time Farvardin graduated in 2000, her parents had moved to Texas and settled in the Dallas area. She had always been close with her parents and decided to start her career near them.

She designed office buildings for five years before deciding in 2006 to try residential design and take on a new type of challenge. That’s where her history with David Dillard began.

Dillard was president at Baltimore-based CSD Architects and Farvardin joined its senior living team. When CSD folded after 60 years in business due to the 2008 recession, Dillard launched Dallas-based D2 Architecture, which specialized in senior living design.

Farvardin, who did a brief stint with another firm as an education designer, joined D2 in 2013 and eventually became a principal and part-owner of the firm. D2 merged with HKS in 2020, and Dillard became the HKS Senior Living Practice’s leader.

The HKS Senior Living practice grew to nearly a dozen people in a two-year span, leaving Dillard to weigh who could partner with him to lead the growing practice. Farvardin was the perfect match for the role because of her ability to simultaneously juggle multiple projects while ensuring each client is happy, Dillard said.

But Farvardin had been a leader within D2 and HKS long before she got the title of co-leader.

“She pleases people, but she isn’t a people pleaser,” Dillard said. “She is a very good communicator and that becomes evident in the first five minutes you meet her. She doesn’t just gush like someone who’s intent on making an impression. She listens, she thinks, and she’s very articulate.”

While designing Legacy Midtown Park in Dallas, the design team was hyper-focused on ensuring each apartment was unique and felt like a home. They also included shared amenity spaces – such as an active graffiti wall featuring local artists – to make the community more desirable.

After the community opened, a woman living in one of the smallest apartments approached the architects to share how much she loved her new home.

“It was really refreshing to see residents making this their home – seeing them walking throughout the space and seeing them in the dining room and the cafe,” said Farvardin, who led the project.

Paying it Forward

Farvardin considers herself fortunate to have the constant support of family and mentors throughout her career. It’s on her to pay it forward, she says.

So, she regularly organizes meetings with less experienced designers to see how they are doing and never fails to ask what she can do to support their growth. Farvardin has been a longtime mentor to Gaby Espinosa, who started her design career at D2 and shifted to HKS in 2020 after the firms merged.

“Siobhan looks for how each of us can shine and pushes us towards that. She motivates each one of us to grow and gives credit where credit is due,” Espinosa said. “It just seems like she wants us all to do better and be better and learn more.”

Farvardin’s new role in the Senior Living practice will mean more responsibilities — and even more people to mentor — but Espinosa said she’s thrilled to see her role model expand her wings.

“Seeing how she’s grown, taken on more responsibility, and how she commands a room and handles uncomfortable situations just shows me that I can do it too,” Espinosa said. “That’s who I want to be in 10-15 years.”

Farvardin (far right) and her friends have taken many trips across the U.S. to run marathons together.
Farvardin (far right) and her friends have taken many trips across the U.S. to run marathons together.

Farvardin says her team-oriented mindset actually comes from her love of sports. She grew up playing volleyball and has spent many of her adult years traveling to different U.S. cities to run marathons with her closest girlfriends. Her beloved Dallas Mavericks have also helped her grow as a leader.

“I don’t care for a team that’s just about one individual,” Farvardin said. “The best teams are like the Dallas Mavericks, where so many people are good. They work together, and they play off each other’s strengths. That’s what I hope for our group at HKS.”