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

As a child, Siobhan Farvardin (Shiv-awn Far-vaar-deen) was an excellent violin player and was so good at math that she could have studied music or engineering in college. But when it came time to decide on a major, Farvardin chose architecture. Her decision started her along the path of fulfilling her mother’s own dream of becoming an architect, although it meant giving up the passion of her father, who at one point had wanted to be a professional musician.

As a Principal at HKS, she’s still living out her mother’s dream. In fact Farvardin, now Global Director of the firm’s Senior Living practice, has given her mother an even more tangible role in her career, routinely discussing design concepts and plans with her.

Farvardin said she values her mother’s eye for “what looks good and what’s sophisticated and timeless” and has talked with her about projects since she started her career more than 20 years ago.

“Her opinion counts,” Farvardin added.  “She has good design tastes.”

Mary Farvardin loves being an integral part of her daughter’s career and is excited about all that she has accomplished.

“Few get to have a career that matches their passion for art and engineering,” Mary Farvardin said. “We couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Living Her Childhood Dreams

People often 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, Anoosh Farvardin, is a retired software engineer and is Persian. The couple sacrificed their own creative passions of architecture and music to pursue careers they believed were more practical for raising a family.

Siobhan 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,” she said.

Farvardin grew up in South Florida where she never seemed to have enough LEGO bricks. She spent hours building colorful structures that she proudly displayed in her room.

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

And while the LEGO building toys were her introduction into the design world, it was the violin that introduced her to the world of senior living.

Farvardin started playing the instrument as a youngster 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 encouraged her to consider studying architecture when she went off to college. It was advice that Farvardin followed when she enrolled at the University of Florida in 1995.

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.

But it would take several years and jobs — from designing office buildings to residences to education spaces — before Farvardin realized that her calling was in senior living design. She began that journey in 2006.

Farvardin worked with David Dillard at his Dallas-based firm, D2 Architecture, which specialized in senior living design. She eventually became a principal and part owner of the firm. When D2 merged with HKS in 2020, Dillard was named head of HKS’ Senior Living practice. As the practice quickly grew, Dillard selected Farvardin to co-lead the group with him.

“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.”

Farvardin demonstrated those skills on projects like Legacy Midtown Park in Dallas. The Legacy Midtown Park 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.

Looking Ahead

When Dillard retired in December 2022, Farvardin took over as sole Director of the HKS Senior Living practice.

She said she is looking forward to the future of senior living design, especially as more developers begin to embrace features that appeal to multiple generations, such as the bowling alley planned for a current project. An amenity like this “brings grandkids to the community,” she said. “That’s really exciting.”

Farvardin said she also expects to see more developments for aging in place. She described this model as “more expensive upfront, but better in the long run,” given how difficult it can be for seniors to pick up and move. “I think if we can help them age in place, that would be better,” she said.

Farvardin is happy senior living communities are incorporating mixed-use elements, such as retail, on the ground floor.

“I would love to see more intergenerational housing and lot more mixed-use components,” she said.

She enjoys collaborating with partner firms, such as landscape architects, on complex projects that engage an entire community. And she said that enthusiastic spirit of collaboration carries over to her HKS Senior Living practice colleagues.

“I think we’ve got a really robust team here that likes problem solving,” she said. “It’s exciting, leveraging the talent across the globe that HKS has.”

Paying it Forward

Farvardin considers herself fortunate to have had the constant support of family and mentors throughout her career.

But now it’s time for Farvardin to pay all of that backing and encouragement forward.

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, a designer in Senior Living who started her design career at D2 in 2016 and shifted to HKS in 2020 when 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 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.”