Visioning Workshops Inspire Design Excellence at HKS

HKS values limitless thinking. This expansive mindset means that on every project, of every typology, scope and scale – whether a neighborhood park or city-wide transit system, elementary school or research university, training facility or world-class sports and entertainment complex – we strive for design excellence.

To inspire excellence on every project, we begin each pursuit with a design charette, or visioning workshop. Visioning workshops bring together diverse experts from throughout HKS in a spirit of collaboration.

Before we draw a single line, researchers; inventors; sustainability professionals; strategic advisors; project managers; leaders in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion; technical specialists; engineers and designers drawn from HKS’ 28 offices around the world work together to imagine the project’s potential for beauty and performance. Every great project starts with a dream.

Integrated Design Process

HKS’ integrated design process involves teamwork between people in multiple disciplines to create buildings and environments that are functional, efficient, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. This process considers all aspects of a design, including the materials used, operations, energy consumption, user experience and community and environmental impact. The goal is to create a comprehensive solution that leverages the strengths of each team member, for more efficient and effective results.

Visioning workshops are essential to our integrated design process. The purpose of a visioning workshop is to gain input from a cross-section of stakeholders, set high-level goals and establish alignment between everyone involved with a project before making any decisions or starting to develop solutions. We want to lead with possibility, to develop hypotheses and opportunities for impact that aren’t obvious.

Visioning is most powerful at the beginning of a project. Talking and listening to each other can help overcome natural limitations established by what we might believe, already know or may have done in the past. By opening a wide-ranging dialogue from the start of a project, we can turn into reality what might have once seemed impossible.

Principles of Design

The discovery process for a visioning workshop involves gathering information, analyzing data, conducting research and identifying key design drivers – such as site analysis, program and operations requirements and sustainability goals – to inform the development of a coherent and compelling design vision that guides the project’s direction.

HKS uses the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Framework for Design Excellence as a basis for examining issues concerning the built environment. The Framework identifies 10 key principles to inspire beautiful, resilient, inclusive designs. These include “Design for Equitable Communities,” “Design for Ecosystems,” and “Design for Economy.”

The first principle is, “Design for Integration.” In describing this principle, AIA notes that, “Good design elevates any project, no matter how small, with a thoughtful process that delivers both beauty and function in balance. It is the element that binds all the principles together with a big idea.”

Visioning workshops focus on defining the “big idea,” or overriding purpose for a project. Developing a narrative for what a design is intended to achieve sets the stage for the work to follow. Storytelling is a powerful force. The act of naming or visualizing something can help bring it into being.

Visioning workshop participants collaborate to identify and document the project’s key values – the programmatic, operational and experiential needs and expectations of the client and project stakeholders. Then they create design guidelines to express those values and they define a set of measures to evaluate project performance.

The art and science of design – the immeasurable delight and measurable outcomes that comprise design excellence – are at the heart of visioning workshops.

Agreeing on a clear, inspiring vision from the outset results in projects that are beautiful and impactful. Examples include Chengdu Phoenix Hill Sports Park in China (designed by HKS and the China Southwest Architectural Design and Research Institute), which features an innovative exterior that honors a local, traditional art form; and HKS-designed Moody Outpatient Center at Parkland Hospital, a public health clinic that supports dignified, uplifting care for people in the Dallas community.

The visioning process enables HKS’ global team to deliver designs that delight the senses and support social, economic and environmental progress, what AIA terms the defining principles of good design in the 21st century.