Lenise Lyons

Historic Forest Theater Plans Exciting Encore with Massive Restoration Project

Historic Forest Theater Plans Exciting Encore with Massive Restoration Project

To a stranger, the Forest Theater and its eye-catching green marquee sign that simply reads, “FOREST,” may appear to be a decaying blip alongside Interstate 45 as the highway snakes out of South Dallas toward Houston.

But for those who live around the theater, this off-white building is a charming relic of history.

The Forest opened in 1949 in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood that evolved into a primarily Black neighborhood. Historical photos from 1956 show a swarm of people lined up outside the box office to catch the entertainment of the night. The space has been a movie theater, a ballroom, a nightclub, and the venue of live shows hosted by Dallas native, and R&B singer, Erykah Badu.

These days, though, the theater sits idle. It hasn’t hosted a show since 2008.

But that’s about to change. Leaders of HKS, the city of Dallas, and the community organization, Forest Forward, are working together to bring the Forest back to life. Their much-anticipated plans call for a major renovation of the historic venue that will turn it into a multi-use community space that revitalizes South Dallas and showcases the neighborhood’s artistic talents.

“HKS is honored to work with Forest Forward in realizing their vision to revitalize the theater and have it serve as a community focal point that knits once separated neighborhoods back together,” said Mike Vela, a Principal and Senior Project Manager at HKS.

A Piece of Dallas History

When it opened in 1949, the Forest only served White patrons. The construction of Interstate 45 in the early 1950s divided the community, both literally and figuratively, creating persistent poverty and disinvestment in the area surrounding the theater. By the time the expressway was completed, the neighborhood had evolved into a predominantly Black community as Jewish residents moved out of South Dallas. Despite the neighborhood’s changing demographics, it wasn’t until 1956 that the first Black patrons were allowed into the Forest.

Declining ticket sales forced the theater to close in 1965, but it continued to host special events for many years, including shows organized by Badu that brought artists such as Tina Turner, Sidney Poitier, Prince and the Roots to South Dallas.

The Forest Theater was up for sale for several years before Jon Halbert, a longtime board member of the Dallas nonprofit, CitySquare, and his wife, Linda, noticed a “for sale” sign on the marquee during a drive to Fair Park in early 2017.

For years, the couple had toyed with the possibility of turning an existing performance venue into an educational space for youth in Dallas to explore the arts. Their family had a long history with dyslexia, including two of their three children who found their voice in the arts and went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Halberts recognized their privilege in being able to help their son and daughter build their portfolio in their childhood years to earn admission to arts programs; they recognized that many families couldn’t afford classes.

To the Halberts, the Forest Theater was an opportunity to build on ongoing work in Dallas to educate and inspire future artists, performers and behind-the-scenes arts professionals. And to them, South Dallas seemed like a good place to start, given its history with redlining and inequity.

“It isn’t about a lack of talent in South Dallas – it’s about a lack of opportunity, historically, compared to the rest of Dallas,” Linda Halbert said.

The Halberts purchased the Forest Theater in May 2017.

“Art is often considered a luxury, and I don’t think it has to be,” Linda Halbert added. “It takes a minute to break through that systemic belief that art is a luxury. Early on, we would have people say, ‘Why don’t you do something practical like a mechanic shop?’ But they don’t understand that art is everywhere – there are so many benefits that art brings to the human spirit.”

Balancing History with Potential

South Dallas resident Elizabeth Wattley often rode by the Forest Theater when she was growing up. Now, as head of the community nonprofit, Forest Forward, she has the opportunity to help shape the future of the legendary landmark.

She initially got involved in the project while working as a Director of Strategic Initiatives for CitySquare, offering to oversee the Forest Theater project as a way to give back to the neighborhood where she was raised and to ensure its residents had a say in the process.

After speaking to nearby residents and other stakeholders, the team decided that a revitalization project with a multi-use gathering space would add the most value to the community, reestablishing it as a glorious neighborhood anchor and arts center.

In 2018, the project received an honorable mention in the Greater Dallas Planning Council’s Urban Design Awards, under the Dream Study category.

Wattley said she appreciates the robustness of HKS’ services and the design team’s ability to solve problems.

“While the theater is the focus, there’s a lot more community impact,” Wattley said. “HKS is able to see the ripple effect of what can happen and start repairing down the line for what a master plan should really start working toward.”

‘For the Culture’

Renderings from the Forest Theater project line an exterior wall along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for those passing by to imagine the long-term and widespread impact that the theater’s new chapter will have.

“For the Culture,” the wrapping along the wall reads.

The completed theater complex will be 66,000 square feet (5,574 square meters) with a 13,000-square-foot (1,207-square-meters) arts education hub, a performance hall with more than 1,000 seats, a multi-use 200-seat studio theater, a recording studio, and a restaurant.

In addition, the updated theater will have lower, mezzanine and upper-balcony seating with a large stage and orchestra pit. There will also be concession areas, a luxurious lobby and box offices. The building will also contain classrooms for students from the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy, which community leaders hope will one day become a pipeline to successful arts careers for youth in South Dallas.

Wattley said she looks forward to the day when the iconic “FOREST” marquee lights up again for the first time in decades. With the groundbreaking for the project happening in April 2024, she knows that day will come soon enough. The renovations are expected to be completed late next year.

“I want that tower to shine and that big red ball at the top to just – boom – be there,” Wattley said. “There’s nothing more symbolic to demonstrate change: turning on the light and igniting the beacon of South Dallas.”

Hunger Busters

Case Study

Hunger Busters Sowing Resilience: A Journey to Cultivate Change

Dallas, TX, USA

The Challenge

Nearly two-thirds of the Dallas Independent School District’s (DISD) 150,000 students face the prospect of food insecurity each day. To help reduce that challenge Hunger Busters, a non-profit meal provider program founded in 2012, serves freshly prepared dinners to 4,500 DISD students each school day. But with the continued urgency to feed hungry children in Dallas, Hunger Busters leaders recognized the need to expand their facilities overlooking the Trinity River.

After a break-in that resulted in the loss of equipment and food supplies, Hunger Busters used the temporary setback to launch a capital campaign to propel their ambitious expansion project forward. It trained its focus on the La Bahara neighborhood, one of the five vibrant Hispanic communities in West Dallas. Confronted by challenges posed by large-scale development and escalating housing costs, La Bahara became the inspiration for a facility deeply entwined with its community. Global design firm, HKS, working through its Citizen HKS philanthropic arm, volunteered to help bring that vision to life.

The Design Solution

Inspired by the symbolism of a planted seed that is nurtured and grown, the HKS team worked with Hunger Busters to create a vibrant, sustainable food preparation facility that will eventually help nurture, grow and sustain thousands of Dallas youngsters.  

The facility has three core sections: Hunger Busters’ operations, the commissary kitchen, and the rentable entrepreneurial section. Underground parking has been strategically implemented to optimize kitchen and collaboration spaces on the upper floors and address the site’s specific geological challenges.

The first level of the 17,000-square-foot building boasts expanded prep space, tripled production capacity, and a 1,400-square-foot (130 sm) revenue-generating commissary kitchen. Emphasizing sustainability, the site incorporates a chef’s garden for locally sourced produce.

The project incorporates a 1,500-gallon rainwater collection system, capitalizing on Dallas’s average rainfall to support the facility sustainably. With an annual collection capacity of approximately 636 gallons, this system plays a crucial role in irrigating the landscape and providing water for the plants in the chef’s garden. 

The second floor of the two-floor facility will offer a rentable shared workplace that local nonprofits can use to foster collaboration and resource-sharing. Another highlight of the second floor is the outdoor terrace, which boasts spectacular views of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, an iconic structure that acts as a scenic connector from the La Bahara neighborhood to downtown Dallas.

A vibrant artwork piece, chosen through a local high school art contest, will provide a fitting final touch, anchoring the facility’s high-profile corner. Hunger Busters’ journey, like a seed growing from a simple connection with roots to a thriving community project, exemplifies the transformative power of collective effort in shaping positive change.

The Design Impact

The project’s sustainable strategies included an anaerobic digester that can transform food and garden waste into bio-fertilizer and energy that can power all exterior site lighting; a rainwater capture system; and CLT as a structural system.

Also, a roof solar panel with 60% coverage, is anticipated to offset 46% of the building’s baseline energy usage, holding out promise for achieving a net positive project by 2030.

The use of Mass Timber construction, specifically through the incorporation of pre-fabricated Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) panels, aligns with Texas Regionalism and plays a pivotal role in drastically reducing the building’s carbon footprint. The efficiency of CLT not only accelerates the construction timeline but also minimizes labor costs and offers enhanced fire safety advantages. 

Throughout the design and construction phases, HKS and Hunger Busters remain steadfast in their commitment to ethical decarbonization. The overarching objective is to cultivate a building materials supply chain that is deeply environmentally conscious and actively advocates for a future free from forced labor. 

This new facility, overlooking the Trinity River, is a beacon of circularity. By utilizing excess food from local restaurants and businesses, transforming it into nutritious third meals for students, and then converting any remaining waste into energy, this innovative approach addresses food insecurity and exemplifies sustainable practices championing a circular and regenerative system that benefits both people and the planet. With this new infrastructure in place, Hunger Busters will be able to increase meal production to an impressive 14,500 meals per day, significantly widening their impact within the city of Dallas. 

Project Features

Five Design Trends Shaping Communities in 2024

Five Design Trends Shaping Communities in 2024

Advances in artificial intelligence, modular construction and other methodologies will bring renewed energy to the architecture, engineering and construction industry in 2024 despite economic and environmental challenges.  

In response to — and at the forefront of — current real estate and design trends, global design firm HKS is striving to revive and strengthen communities worldwide. In 2024, HKS will continue to create healthy, resilient, dynamic places that support peak performance and bring people joy. 

1 – Spaces for Healthy Living and Learning 

HKS is leveraging the firm’s research and health design expertise to help people navigate ongoing and emerging crises in health care, student health and well-being, and senior living. 

The Sanford Health Virtual Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is one of several exciting HKS health care projects opening in 2024. The telehealth center will improve access to care for rural patients, a medically underserved population.  

Clinical workforce shortages will be a continuing challenge for health systems in the year ahead, according to McKinsey & Company. HKS is designing facilities to address the health care staffing crisis. To further this work, the firm is partnering with design brand MillerKnoll on a study to identify factors that contribute to nurse burnout and to learn how these factors relate to the built environment. The study findings will be published this year. 

This year HKS will also participate in an impact study to gauge how the design of Uplift Luna Preparatory School, which is scheduled to open in Dallas in January, affects student outcomes. HKS’ design of the school was informed by research into how design can support social and emotional learning.  

At the 2024 Environments for Aging conference, HKS and industry partners will present a case study of Elevate Senior Living’s Clearwater, Florida community. HKS’ design for Elevate Clearwater is intended to help address the senior living affordability crisis. The number of middle-income older adults in need of affordable care and housing options is swiftly rising, as demonstrated by a study into the “forgotten middle” senior cohort, by research group NORC at the University of Chicago

2 – Commercial Office Reinvention 

It’s clear by now that hybrid and remote work are here to stay. Changes to work habits over the last four years caused major fluctuations in corporate real estate portfolios, leading to increased vacancy rates and diminishing valuations worldwide. But according to Deloitte’s 2024 commercial real estate outlook, newer, higher quality assets are outperforming older spaces and new construction projects designed to accommodate hybrid work strategies are on the rise.  

HKS commercial interior designers are creating offices with hybrid-ready technologies and attractive amenities for companies like Textron Systems in Arlington, Virginia and AGI in Naperville, Illinois. HKS’ advisory groups have also teamed with influential companies, including CoreLogic, to develop strategies and design concepts for their robust asset portfolios that help them keep up with the evolving real estate landscape. 

The firm’s industry-leading research on brain healthy workplaces has yielded exciting discoveries about how offices that prioritize employee well-being can be designed, delivered and operated. Piloting strategies in the firm’s own real estate portfolio and advocating for “breaking the workstation,” HKS researchers and designers are setting new standards for inclusive, productive office environments. In 2024, HKS will present these ideas to a global audience at South by Southwest® (SXSW®) and continue to design workplaces for new modes of working. 

3 – New Mixed-Use and Planning Match Ups

Fluctuations in the commercial office sector and retail are providing new opportunities in mixed-use development. PwC and ULI’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2024 report indicates that real estate investors are increasingly diversifying or pivoting their portfolios to counteract disuse of downtown offices and regional malls.  

A shift toward developments with a variety of localized services and amenities is occurring — and HKS designers and planners are at the forefront of creating exciting new projects with unique anchors. In Hangzhou, China, the 2023 Asian Games Athlete Village Waterfront Mixed-Use is becoming a prime destination for retail and entertainment, not unlike HKS-designed SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park in Los Angeles with its newest attraction, Cosm. Beyond these new mixes, HKS designers are creating dynamic properties such as NoMaCNTR in Washington, DC, to join hotel and residential uses — a combination on the rise in many major cities. 

In 2024, HKS is expanding its ability to serve communities with mixed-use planning and design, fostering sustainable growth for cities in the years to come. The Austin Light Rail team — consisting of Austin Transit Partnership, HKS, UNStudio and Gehl — is set to finalize design guidelines for proposed station locations that will provide opportunities for Austin residents to live in more affordable locations and promote urban expansion into less dense areas. As the transit network expands, it will unlock real estate opportunities and give rise to a variety of diverse and exciting mixed-use properties. This work complements the Transit Oriented Developments projects HKS is working on to elevate the health and well-being of our communities nationwide.  

HKS designers are also set to craft a new master plan for the Georgia World Congress Center’s 220-acre campus in downtown Atlanta this year. The cohesive, sustainability-driven master plan will create a legible pedestrian-friendly environment that maximizes economic potential of the convention center campus. This will integrate the campus’ global canvas with surrounding historic neighborhoods using a comprehensive framework. 

4 – Adaptive Reuse Rising 

In their report on 2024 real estate trends, PwC and ULI write that that “the movement to convert existing buildings from office to multifamily (or any other asset class, really), offers a meaningful achievement in saving carbon emissions.”  

As part of HKS’ efforts towards sustainable and resilient design, the firm is igniting adaptive reuse for a variety of building types, such as ParkwayHealth Gleneagles Chengdu Hospital in China, a tertiary care facility created from a former shopping center. HKS’ design for Mount Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center in New York City reinvigorated a structure built in 1898 to create a new destination for behavioral health. HKS designers in London renovated a 19th-century office building into a 21st-century clinic. And for an expansion of Rusk State Hospital in Texas, HKS reinvented the hospital campus, which opened in 1883 to house a penitentiary, into a therapeutic and dignified behavioral health care setting. 

In a highly poetic adaptive reuse project, HKS reimagined a defunct airport terminal, which dated to the 1940s, as a creative, contemporary workspace for online travel company Expedia Group. 

In 2024, HKS will continue to advance adaptive reuse design across different markets and geographies. 

5 – Creating a Better World through ESG

Balancing holistic sustainability — including decarbonization, climate resilience, and equitable design practices — with business goals is imperative for commercial real estate investors according to 2024 outlooks by both Deloitte and PwC. Leading the architecture and design industries to a brighter future, HKS is committed to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). 

HKS leaders recently demonstrated the depth of the firm’s ESG efforts through thought leadership — speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the United Nations Science Summit on Brain Capital, and at the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference, where HKS was also a Diamond Sponsor. 

Driven by ESG goals, HKS designers strive to enhance human and environmental well-being through the places they create day in and day out. The firm’s growing portfolio of high-performing projects includes the world’s first WELL-certified airport facility, a COTE Top-Ten Award-winning campus in California and a IIDA Global Excellence Award finalist hospital in Saudi Arabia to name a few. In 2024, HKS architects, sustainable design leaders and advisors will continue developing building portfolio sustainability guidelines and high-performance designs for major tech companies and educational institutions.  

HKS will also align with the Science Based Targets Initiative, which recently established building sector guidelines, to ensure the firm’s carbon neutrality goals are science-backed and can be properly benchmarked. The firm will provide voluntary disclosures about its offsets portfolio to meet regulatory requirements, enhance transparency and improve accountability. 

Most excitingly, 2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of Citizen HKS, a firmwide initiative that impacts lives and drives change through design, community service and financial philanthropy. HKS designers around the world will celebrate the pro-bono design work and service projects they have contributed to through Citizen HKS and re-commit to enhancing their communities for years to come. 

Jeremiah Community

Case Study

Jeremiah Community Virginia's Jeremiah Community Offers a Lifetime of Care, Security and Well-Being

Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

The Challenge

Rising population and soaring living costs will likely escalate homelessness and housing insecurity nationwide. This absence of permanent housing fuels hefty spending by localities on managing crime, public health issues, and social injustices. Micah Ecumenical Ministries, experienced in aiding Fredericksburg, VA’s homeless, proposes an intentional solution: a holistic supportive housing community. Partnering with Citizen HKS and engaging the community, the Jeremiah Community aims to offer affordable, permanent homes tailored to the unhoused. This initiative includes health care programs, access to nature and faith, fostering a cohesive community for those transitioning from homelessness to a stable, supportive environment.

The Design Solution

The Jeremiah Community focuses on lifelong healing through deliberate design choices, ensuring well-being, safety, and accessibility. Citizen HKS, contributing expertise in place analysis, master planning, and unit design, collaborates with Micah’s partnerships at the University of Mary Washington Healthcare System and Virginia Supportive Housing. They strategically position essential facilities like the health care clinic, market, maker space, chapel, community center, and gardens to create varied public, social, and personal spaces catering to community healing needs— ranging from physical to spiritual.

Citizen HKS’ holistic approach balances environmentally friendly strategies and urban design principles on the dense site. Pathways carve pocket neighborhoods, connecting diverse programming while emphasizing nature’s role in wellness. These areas, centered around shared green spaces, encourage communal immersion in nature, addressing erosion and heat island effects passively.

This sustainable urban plan showcases how integrated design strategies create healing spaces within the Jeremiah Community, supporting individual and communal well-being for all.

The Design Impact

The Jeremiah Community seeks to eliminate chronic homelessness by offering ongoing care and stable housing for more than 100 individuals. Citizen HKS’ design approach emphasizes Housing, Purpose, and Relationship principles, empowering the unhoused community in the design process. This collaboration fosters a master plan prioritizing affordability and a sustainable, healthy environment for transitioning to permanent homes. As this community pursues choice and self-determination, our design journey will continue to align with their progress as we engage in future project phases.

Project Features

“Without the [unhoused] community, I would have lost the only possession I had left [when I was on the streets] – hope.”

Peg Phillips, Micah, Servant-Leader of Neighbor Care

Patrick Kennedy


Case Study

StationSoccer Building Social Infrastructure with the Power of Play

Atlanta, Georgia, USA 

The Challenge

Like in many large American cities, neighborhoods in Atlanta are divided by a variety of factors such as race and income, and low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color have historically had less access to resources than wealthy and white neighborhoods. This includes less access to sports facilities and green spaces, as well as less access to pay-to-play sports leagues.  

Global design firm HKS collaborated with public and private interests through its pro bono practice, Citizen HKS, to help bridge this gap with an unlikely pairing: transit stations and soccer.   

The Design Solution

HKS joined the partnership of Soccer in the Streets, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the city of Atlanta’s Department of City Planning and the Atlanta United Foundation to help develop a cohesive vision for StationSoccer: a multi-site master plan to integrate youth soccer fields into underutilized land in and near 10 MARTA stations around the city. The soccer fields host the “League of Stations,” a free youth soccer league.  

The HKS project team used extensive geographic information system (GIS) data to identify distinctions in factors such as demographics, walkability, land use and per capita income, but also engaged with each community to gain a wholistic understanding of the character of each neighborhood.  

Based on the research, HKS developed a unique program for each station that honors and serves the identity and culture of the community. For example, the neighborhood around Kensington Station has a large number of immigrants, so artist Kevin Bongang was commissioned to design a mural on the asphalt around the soccer field to represent the mosaic of cultures in the area. At East Lake Station, bike racks are also sculptural objects to highlight the prominence of biking in the community.  

StationSoccer also offers educational and community programming at its fields. Stations may feature a community garden, a learning center inside a decommissioned MARTA rail car, a mobile health truck or event space, all of which are included in a “kit of parts” that allows each station to be customized for each neighborhood’s unique needs. Each station also features benches made of Golden Spikes that pay homage to Atlanta United as a benefactor and Atlanta’s history as a railroad hub.  

The Design Impact

The League of Stations is the world’s first transit soccer league and now impacts 5,000 children in Atlanta. Because StationSoccer fields are built into transit itself, they’re accessible to not only those whole live near a particular station, but those who have access to MARTA’s entire service area. 

Soccer in the Streets has partnered with schools for years, but the new StationSoccer fields allow students from nearby schools to join a recreational league to play soccer outside of school. According to Soccer in the Streets’ annual impact reports, parents are thankful for the opportunity for their children to spend time outside and be active, especially as the world emerges from the COVD-19 pandemic.  

Once neglected greyfield land, StationSoccer fields are now vibrant community spaces that promote healthy lifestyles and amplify the identities of the neighborhoods they serve. StationSoccer is healthier for the environment, too. The heat island effect and runoff are reduced by replacing impervious pavement with pervious surfaces and with the infusion of nature and shade.  

StationSoccer has gained national attention with a visit from Pete Buttigieg, U.S. secretary of transportation. StationSoccer is now featured on the U.S. Department of Transportation website as an example of a successful transit-oriented development that combines transit, wellness and sport while cultivating healthy communities. The StationSoccer masterplan and design process are also featured in the AIA Equitable Communities Resource as a premier example of how architects can help create equitable communities.   

Draw+Play Engagement Session

Project Features


East Lake Station
Lindbergh Station
Kensington Station
Kensington Station

Wuxi Golden Bay Industrial Park Southern Starting Zone

Case Study

Wuxi Golden Bay Industrial Park Southern Starting Zone Ancient Cultural Heritage and Future Intelligence Find a Way to Coexist

Wuxi, China

The Challenge

The challenge faced in the design of the Golden Bay Industrial Park in Wuxi is to create a modern and vibrant urban industrial complex that attracts high-tech enterprises while preserving the city’s cultural heritage and emphasizing green and sustainable development. The goal is to integrate the old city with the new development, promote the fusion of industry and urban life, and explore innovative office spaces that foster collaboration and interaction.

The Design Solution

There are three key trends in the modern workplace: smart office, iconic office, and green office. The campus is divided into three main blocks, each with its own pleasant courtyard space, seamlessly linked by bridges and walkways. The centerpiece of the HKS-led design is a 120-meter iconic tower on Block A, facing the Jin Kui Park and serving as a gateway to the city. The park incorporates greenery and waterfront landscapes into the courtyards, creating a harmonious blend of nature and industry.

The concept of “金匮云盒” (Golden Treasury Cloud Box) is inspired by the city’s cultural heritage and envisioned a future with intelligent technology, green ecology, and cultural display. The design aims to provide diverse office spaces catering to different types of businesses and encourage interaction through public open spaces. The rooftop “City Living Room” offered a panoramic view of the Jin Kui Park, becoming a landmark space for the community.

The Design Impact

The design of the project is expected to have significant impacts on the development of the Wuxi Economic Development District. By promoting a mix of smart, iconic, and green workplace, the campus can attract a wide range of enterprises, from large corporations to innovative startups, fostering a dynamic and vibrant business environment. The integration of the old city with the new development and the emphasis on low-carbon principles demonstrate a commitment to sustainable urban growth. The project’ focus on energy-efficient technologies, green materials, and shared resources contributes to reducing carbon emissions and promoting environmental responsibility.

Project Features

Making Urban Spaces Equitable Places for All

Making Urban Spaces Equitable Places for All

Inequity is often viewed through the wide lens of socioeconomic and racial disparity, but it manifests itself in more places than one might expect. It’s built into every aspect of a person’s daily environment — even, for example, in something as mundane as the amount of time it takes to get to the grocery store. 

As a part of its quarterly Limitless series, global design firm HKS recently hosted a panel to discuss inequity in the built environment and the cooperative effort necessary to improve it.  

Dan Noble, HKS President and CEO, gave opening remarks. Erin Peavey, Health and Well-being Design Leader at HKS, moderated the panel, which examined the city of Dallas as a setting for the creation of healthier and more equitable development and redevelopment. Panelists were Dr. Maria Martinez-Cosio, Dr. Christopher J. Dowdy, Dallas City Council Member Jaynie Schultz and Murphy D. Cheathum II. Dr. Lorin Carter, founder and CEO of C Suite Equity Consulting, was the keynote speaker.  

“A lot of people don’t intuitively understand the relationship between health, well-being and the built environment,” Peavey said. “They don’t understand that the way our cities are designed is this constant underlying influence.” 

Inequity Manifests Itself in More Ways Than You Might Expect

As the Dallas area experiences a population boom that could earn it the title of the third-largest metropolitan area in the country in the next decade, its southern half hasn’t experienced the same rapid development as the northern half. Much of that area was labeled as “hazardous” by the now-defunct Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a federal agency founded in the 1930s that is often viewed as the creator of the practice of redlining. Redlining is a discriminatory practice of withholding loans or other financial resources from neighborhoods based on residents’ race or ethnicity, marking them with redlines that show their status. 

The inequity that oppressive systems like redlining have created is, in many ways, limitless. In her keynote speech, Carter expanded on the concept of social determinants of health.  

“This is not high blood pressure or whether or not you have asthma,” Carter said. “These are all things (like) … where you’re born, how you grow, you work, you live and age, and all the wider sets of forces, systems and constructs that we live within … that impact our overall quality of life.”   

Carter presented a series of maps that illustrated a variety of social determinants of health in the Dallas metroplex. The maps closely resembled the ‘30s-era redlining map, with the most negatively affected areas in present-day Dallas having been marked as undesirable for development nearly 100 years ago.  

For example, according to a 2010 map by the city’s Office of Economic Development, almost all prominent business headquarters are located on Dallas’ north side, with many located in areas that are difficult for residents of South Dallas to reach without personal transportation. A job proximity index map showed that residents of South Dallas and parts of East Dallas live near significantly fewer job opportunities than residents of North Dallas, and another map showed that most racially/ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (R/ECAPS) are in South Dallas.  

Carter also highlighted a study by University of Texas health systems that revealed major differences in life expectancies by ZIP code in Dallas and demonstrated an interactive map with color-coded sections of average life expectancy.  

Dowdy, Vice President of Strategy and Larry James Fellow at Forest Forward, also noted the study’s findings.  

“Depending on where you’re born here in Dallas, that can take five or 10 years off your life, which is arbitrary and horrific,” Dowdy said.  

Cooperative Solutions for Building Equity in Urban Environments

The panel agreed that extensive collaboration during the design process with the communities a development plans to serve is vital to building equity in those communities.  

“Sometimes we forget that communities and residents that live and will live with the changes are also experts in what they need,” said Martinez-Cosio, interim dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.  

Martinez-Cosio also noted that although efforts to include community stakeholders in the development process are well-intentioned, some burden residents more than they give them a voice.  

“We’re all billing for our time (to attend these community meetings), but we expect residents to sit and attend these night meetings without daycare, without getting time off work,” Martinez-Cosio said. “We expect them to do all this to rectify part of what we’ve created.” 

Dowdy noted that marginalized communities may not trust developers or local government after being let down and “de-resourced” in the past, so it may take years to cultivate the relationships necessary for true collaborative and equitable development.  

“We need to think about all the things people need, not just drop in a shiny project and say we’re done,” Dowdy said. “We need to think about how to, over years and years, develop trust and struggle alongside and think through different strategies so that we can develop the cultural and economic enterprises that are going to make the most sense for that neighborhood to give them power over the things they’re going to enjoy.” 

Cheathum, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager for the Americas at global commercial real estate services firm CBRE, noted the power of the private sector in helping to effect change. 

“Private business, private equity and private investment are always going to lead the way,” Cheathum said. “Government policy is great. Nonprofit is great, but we all know private dollars lead government policy.”  

The Dallas City Council is contributing to addressing inequity in the built environment through its Racial Equity Plan adopted in 2022, said Schultz, City Council member for District 11 and chair of the City Council’s Workforce, Education and Equity committee.  

The plan’s “racial equity indicators were our checkup. Now we know the prognosis, and we are beginning to have conversations that, for years, we avoided as a city,” Schultz said. 

What Individuals Can Do to Help

While the panel explored the need for a well-rounded, collaborative effort among city leaders to build equity in underserved communities, individuals — especially young people — can still make an impact on their own.  

Dowdy highlighted how easy it can be for passionate designers to unintentionally lose their spark for meaningful work when faced with the potential to earn large sums of money. He called on designers to keep in touch with the desire to make a difference.  

“A life in solidarity with the people who really deserve your attention is a life repairing the damage we’ve done to these communities,” Dowdy said. “It’s up to us to learn our trades but also to keep our character.”  

Cheathum, who now works for one of the world’s largest real estate services and investment firms, said he didn’t know real estate development was an industry until he was 27 years old. He believes professionals can help bring sustainable wealth to low-income communities by exposing people to professions they wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. 

“What you all can do individually is show people — who look like you or don’t look like you — your profession, the skills it takes to do what you do and put them on a path to go generate that revenue and income, and then reinvest that income wherever they choose to live.”  

View the full panel discussion below.

Watch Recording

HKS and AIA Publish Resilience Design Toolkit

HKS and AIA Publish Resilience Design Toolkit

Download the Toolkit

Billion-dollar disasters are becoming more frequent, threatening the health, infrastructure and social, financial and environmental well-being of communities worldwide.

In response to these pressing issues, global design firm HKS and the American Institute of Architects announce the publication of the Resilience Design Toolkit. HKS and AIA created this new resource to help architects anticipate hazards that may arise throughout a building’s life and provide features to reduce risk and vulnerability.

Rand Ekman, Chief Sustainability Officer and a Partner at HKS, said the firm is gratified “to help advance the industry in partnership with the AIA” through this publication.

The Resilience Design Toolkit is a guide to designing for resilience, or what architect Sammy Shams, a Sustainable Design Professional at HKS and one of the authors of the Toolkit, described as the capacity to “adapt, withstand and bounce back faster” after a catastrophe.

“In the face of uncertainty and the imperative for future-proofing, architects encounter significant hurdles. Yet, armed with the Resilience Design Toolkit, we hold the potential to revolutionize resilience, making it accessible and fair. By leveraging this toolkit, architects can serve as catalysts, fostering the development of remarkable, resilient and sustainable communities,” said Luz Toro, AIA Manager, Resilience & Climate Adaptation.

The Resilience Design Toolkit originated from the work of a taskforce HKS assembled in 2019 to better understand the effects of sea level rise on coastal projects. This led to subsequent research the firm conducted in 2021 and 2022 to explore resilience design and develop a tool to help architects on all types of projects assess potential hazards objectively and mitigate the effects of these hazards through design.

The Toolkit details five steps for integrating resilience thinking into a project, beginning with architects’ initial interactions with client and community stakeholders and continuing through post-occupancy. These steps are intended to serve as a framework for evaluating and implementing resilience design strategies.

The Toolkit also provides an overview of resilience design; a glossary of relevant terms and acronyms; and descriptions of other tools, processes, ratings and certifications that make up the resilience landscape.

In addition to the Resilience Design Toolkit, HKS is announcing a new service the firm is offering to advise clients in making resilience design decisions.

“We want to help our clients position their real estate assets to be successful for years,” said Ekman. “The underlying purpose of doing this kind of work is to help our communities and help our clients.”

Download the Toolkit

Skyiera Mixed-Use Master Plan

Case Study

Skyiera Mixed-Use Master Plan Creating a Cultural Destination within New Cairo

New Cairo, Egypt

The Challenge

The client noticed a lack of connectivity and community-focused destinations within the sporadically developed New Cairo. HKS was tasked with designing a masterplan that supported the creation of inviting and functional public spaces with the right amenities and cultural attractions. The well-being of residents and the success of a region was dependent on the development of vibrant and livable communities.

The Design Solution

In response, HKS designed a new 1 million square meter (11.7 million sf) masterplan that incorporated a variety of uses such as a business hub, world-class retail center and two hotels with branded residences to attract a diverse range of visitors.

One of the most important elements of the masterplan is Nile Park, with plenty of green space, seating areas, playgrounds and recreational facilities. It serves as a vital community resource, providing a place for people to gather, relax and enjoy the outdoors. Within the park, a 2,000-seat performing arts theatre serves as a cultural destination and hosts a wide variety of performances and events throughout the year, becoming a key anchor for the community.

The Design Impact

Skyiera creates a vibrant and livable community that includes the infrastructure, amenities and attractions necessary to support a diverse range of residents and visitors. Providing spaces for work, play and cultural enrichment, the masterplan would be a major step towards building a sustainable and successful community in New Cairo.

Project Features

The Architect’s Newspaper: Austin Transit Partnership Announce Team Making Improvements to Transit Network

HKS in 2023: Projects To Get Excited About

HKS in 2023: Projects To Get Excited About

Named by Fast Company as one of the Most Innovative Companies in 2022, global design firm HKS is looking to grow our business and bring exciting, positive impact to communities around the world this year.

From improving design through innovation, research and equity-centered approaches, here’s an insightful snapshot of some projects and initiatives that we’re excited to see in 2023:

Pioneering Research and Designs that Transform Communities

1. Brain Health Research – HKS recently launched brand-new findings from the brain health study we conducted in partnership with the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth® with insights into how people and companies can work smarter, more collaboratively and healthier. The report also includes what we’ve learned about designing workplaces to enhance cognitive functions and well-being.

2. Project Connect – The Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) just announced a major partnership with an international design team led by HKS, UNStudio and Gehl to create system-wide architecture and urban design for the light rail program of Project Connect, a major expansion of Austin’s public transit system.The collaborative team is getting to work on designing a technologically advanced, human-centric transit experience true to Austin’s culture and landscape.

Stunning New Places to Work and Relax

3. HKS New York City Office – Located in the NoMad neighborhood of Manhattan, HKS’ new New York City Office will open this spring. With a design inspired by the city’s complex transportation system and artistic culture, the office will be a center of creativity and innovation that serves as gateway destination for HKS’ global clients. Goals for the design include adaptable collaboration, acoustic comfort, access to nature and daylight — all key elements to support the health and productivity of designers working in one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities.

4. The Ritz-Carlton, Portland – HKS crafted the vision, developed the planning and strategy, sculpted the interior architecture and designed the furniture and finishes of the Ritz-Carlton that debuts this summer in downtown Portland, Oregon. This 35-story mixed-used high rise was created in partnership with Portland-based GBD Architects and BPM Real Estate Group. The interiors of the multifaceted building’s hotel, residential, retail and office spaces celebrate the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, native culture and craft and Portland’s spirit of exploration.

Game-changing Venues for Extraordinary Entertainment Experiences

5. ES CON Field Hokkaido – ES CON Field Hokkaido ballpark is a 35,000-capacity baseball stadium scheduled to open for play this spring in Japan. Home to the Pacific League’s Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Baseball Club, the complex is the heart of a dynamic, master-planned mixed-used development. The stadium’s retractable roof and sliding glass outfield doors – which help grow natural turf – are among many firsts for a ballpark in the Asian market. Other highlights include a pair of 88-meter-long video boards that create an immersive digital experience, and traditional Japanese onsen natural hot spring baths that fans can enjoy while watching games.

6. Cosm — The first public venue for global experiential media company Cosm is undergoing construction throughout 2023 at Inglewood, CA’s Hollywood Park, home of HKS-designed SoFi Stadium and YouTube Theater. The venue will feature live sports, entertainment events and arts and music experiences in a future-forward immersive digital technology environment. Cosm is sure to bring even more cutting-edge entertainment value to the Los Angeles area when it opens next year.

State-of-the-art Education and Health Care Environments

7. Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center O’Quinn Medical Tower at McNair – The new O’Quinn Medical Tower, opening this spring, will house the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, outpatient radiology and endoscopy services and an ambulatory surgery center. The medical tower and an adjacent 850-car parking garage addition are part of a multi-year project to consolidate patient care on Baylor St. Luke’s McNair Campus in Houston. This campus is located next to the Texas Medical Center and new TMC Helix Park, an area under development for world-class health care and research innovation.

8. UC San Diego Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood – Opening in the fall, UC San Diego’s Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood is a mixed-use student residential community that will also serve as a major public gateway to UC San Diego’s campus. Comprised of five buildings with student housing, academic, administration, a conference center and amenities such as dining, retail, and fitness, the Neighborhood is designed to enhance well-being and minimize environmental impact.

9. Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Patient Tower – This full-service pediatric facility in Richmond, Virginia includes emergency, inpatient and outpatient care all connected to a robust academic medical center and the hospital’s award-winning CHoR Pavilion, also designed by HKS. Because children’s health care often causes significant stress on young patients, families, and care team members, the tower’s research-informed design is intended to create an oasis for children and make people feel calm and at ease. All areas feature easily navigable circulation patterns, natural light and soothing artwork and are intended to promote choice. The building will open this spring.

10. Mount Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center – Work at the Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center for Mount Sinai Beth Israel, a teaching hospital in New York City, involved the complete renovation of a six-story structure originally built in 1898. The facility, due to open this spring, is designed to support mental health care, physical health care, addiction treatment, social services and integrated outpatient care. It will be the first center for comprehensive behavioral health care in New York state.

Looking Ahead

These HKS projects, along with many others scheduled for 2023, continue to demonstrate how architecture and design can bring joy, comfort and connection anywhere in the world.

“These projects reflect our commitment to service and pursuit of excellence for our clients, partners and colleagues in the new year,” said Dan Noble, HKS President and CEO. “We appreciate the collaboration and partnership that led to these successes and look forward to the future.”

These projects reflect our commitment to service and pursuit of excellence for our clients, partners and colleagues in the new year.

Dan Noble, HKS President and CEO

Austin Transit Partnership Announces Collaboration with HKS, UNStudio and Gehl to Lead Architecture and Urban Design for Project Connect

Austin Transit Partnership Announces Collaboration with HKS, UNStudio and Gehl to Lead Architecture and Urban Design for Project Connect

Team to Emphasize Human-Centered Design in Transformative Expansion of Austin Transit 

The Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) announced a partnership with an international design team led by HKS, UNStudio and Gehl to create system-wide architecture and urban design for the light rail program of Project Connect, a major expansion of Austin’s public transit system. Project Connect is a transformative, voter-approved investment that includes light rail, expanded bus routes, and more services across the city.

HKS, UNStudio and Gehl will design a technologically advanced, human-centric transit experience true to Austin’s culture and landscape. The team comprises architects and planners with collaborative mindsets and local knowledge. Their global infrastructure expertise includes similar award-winning projects in Los Angeles, Melbourne, The Netherlands, Doha, and Beijing.

“We are thrilled to work with this visionary, interdisciplinary design team” says Peter Mullan, ATP Executive Vice President for Architecture and Urban Design. “The design team brings both broad international expertise delivering transit and public realm projects at the highest level of design and an acute sensitivity to Austin’s specific culture and heritage.  Project Connect gives us the opportunity to stitch our community together more closely and to adapt our core values to our continued growth and our increasingly urban future.  To deliver on that promise, we need to bring a human-centered approach to the center of our design process, and this team brings that focus to our collective work. ”In November 2020, Austin voters approved Project Connect and the creation of the independent entity Austin Transit Partnership to implement this landmark investment in transit. In partnership with the City of Austin, CapMetro and the community, ATP will deliver on the community’s vision for transit in a way that embeds equity, sustainability and transparency as overarching priorities.

Design research and visioning will begin in March 2023, and will continue through the Project Development phase. ATP will share an updated light rail implementation plan in spring 2023.

HKS is a global architecture, design and planning firm with offices in Austin. Chi Lee, HKS Principal and Austin Office Director, says: “We are humbled by this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate people-first design that prioritizes equity, well-being and resilience as we design stations for the future light rail program. Project Connect will transform Austin by making more neighborhoods accessible and affordable while promoting sustainable growth and development.” 

“Project Connect will transform Austin by making more neighborhoods accessible and affordable while promoting sustainable growth and development.”

Ben van Berkel, Founder and Principal Architect of global architecture design network UNStudio, adds: “Project Connect will be transformational for the City of Austin. Austin is a city experiencing rapid change as more and more people are drawn to its high quality of life and vibrant cultural scene. Project Connect will advance this by creating a human-centric transit system that celebrates Austin’s culture, history and diversity, while making the city more accessible for all of its citizens through an efficient and sustainable transportation system. We are thrilled to contribute to the city of Austin in such a meaningful way alongside our partners HKS and Gehl.”

Gehl is an urban strategy and design firm that centers public life and the human experience in the city transformation process. Anna Muessig, Director at Gehl, concludes: “Mobility systems work when they center people’s needs in the design process and when mobility infrastructure is an integrated part of a high quality public realm. We are honored to be part of this fantastic team and to work with ATP and the people of Austin to design a station system that celebrates the city’s culture and invites people to choose transit to get around.”

Project Connect is designed to improve access to essential jobs, health care, education, entertainment and more—making our communities more livable, equitable and sustainable. This transformative investment includes $300 million in funding to prevent the displacement of people and creating more affordable places to live.

Citizens of Austin who would like to get involved in Project Connect are invited to do so.

Learn more

HKS Launches HKS xBE to Cultivate Inclusion in Architecture & Design Industry

HKS Launches HKS xBE to Cultivate Inclusion in Architecture & Design Industry

HKS announces the launch of a new partner diversity program, HKS xBE, that gives xBE firms (a term inclusive of all disadvantaged businesses) and their members access to opportunities to build relationships, pursue new work and bolster innovation within the architecture and design professions.

The program has two primary components: a 12-week seminar, xBE Rise; and an xBE Network, which aims to increase diversity among the firm’s myriad partnerships for architecture and design projects.

“HKS is committed to building a more diverse workforce and partnership network across the AEC industry,” says HKS CEO Dan Noble. “We value a wide range of different ideas and perspectives which we believe enrich the profession of architecture, foster design innovation, and increase the community value of our work.”

“HKS is committed to building a more diverse workforce and partnership network across the AEC industry.”

HKS Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Yiselle Santos Rivera, notes: “HKS xBE is a step in opening the profession of architecture to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive. We look forward to the relationships it will inspire.“

HKS invites xBE firms and their employees to participate in two ways:

  1. Firms may enroll in the HKSxBE Network, so that we better understand your culture, expertise, and business goals in hopes of fostering future collaboration. Eligible firms will hold one of the following certifications: Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses (SDVOB), Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB), Disability-owned Business Enterprise (DIS), Small Business Enterprise (SBE) or LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE).
  2. Individuals may enroll in our 12-week seminar, xBE Rise. The purpose of xBE Rise is to learn how we might partner most effectively so that we are better positioned to serve clients and deliver industry-leading work together. Topics will mirror the phases of project design and delivery, and will include subjects such as contracts & risk management, marketing, community engagement and sustainable design. In each session, participants will explore barriers to success as well as perspectives on success for diverse teams.
Learn More & sign up

Towards Wellness in Design: A Framework for Evaluating the Urban Built Environment

Towards Wellness in Design: A Framework for Evaluating the Urban Built Environment

Download Full Report

Why Is This Important?

How can the built environment foster positive health outcomes long before any patient steps foot into a hospital? According to the United Nations, approximately 68% of the world’s population will be living in cities or other urban centers by 2050. Urban design has the potential to be at the forefront of improving overall population and community health in the years to come. For this reason, it is vital for communities to identify, evaluate and prioritize designing for wellness in the urban built environment.

Figure above | Original graphic. Derived from Statista using data from the UN Population Division, World Economic Forum.

This study examines two main points. First, the study examines urban design strategies for wellness, such as designing for increased physical activity or better nutrition, and these strategies’ role in impacting the health and well-being of an urban population. Second, the study seeks to create an observational methodology for measuring how existing urban design in the built environment negatively or positively impacts population wellness, with the outcome being a new tool that can be leveraged for informed decision-making. In addition, this study explores insights into the variety of built environment metrics that influence human behavior towards wellness. By delving into the field of urban design and wellness, we help increase understanding into how urban design can contribute to a broader spectrum of care.

Figure above | Original graphic. Derived from Heinle Wischer Und Partner

What We Did

This study utilizes two reviews of the literature, the creation of an observational tool to test existing environments, and pilot studies of the tool to examine how communities can benefit from understanding design for wellness in their own urban built environment.

An initial literature review was conducted to understand how urban design and planning influence health and wellness broadly. Thirty-two urban design metrics, divided into five categories, were identified from the literature as influencing either psychological or physiological aspects of human health. From there, a second literature review was conducted to understand the characteristics of existing observational tools for health and wellness.

Based on the findings from the second literature review, a novel tool was developed that analyzes urban design characteristics for positive wellness outcomes. The tool, called WellMap, was created using descriptors and diagrams that allow one to score a specified study area. WellMap is designed to lend insight and prioritization to what a community or project site could do to contribute to overall healthier decision making. The WellMap tool is complemented by a design guideline matrix that offers urban design strategies dependent on the resultant rating, an Excel scorecard that automatically visualizes comparative results, and a client template for project teams to create a one-pager that summarizes all information.

What We Found

Literature review #1:

Literature review #2:

Five Factors Were Identified From the Literature Review That Influence Physiological and/or Psychological Wellness in the Built Environment:

Design Factors

Designing communities with provisions for physical activity (namely, walkability) has a sizeable impact on wellness. This impact is felt both through formal massing that affects human physical activity and through influencing external factors, such as vehicular speed, which are linked to vehicular and pedestrian fatalities.

Diversity Factors

A mix of land use and accessible destinations, such as shops within neighborhoods and communities, influences whether people choose to commute via walking, connect multiple walking trips or participate in leisurely walking.

Density Factors

As density tends to encourage mixed-use facilities, sufficient densities alongside other built environment factors increase the probability of individuals walking for transport and creating local businesses that attract people and support a local community.

Distance Factors

Access to facilities such as public parks, green spaces, health care facilities, grocery stores, third places, etc., support positive healthy lifestyle choices by allowing people to be active or practice other healthy behaviors.

Destination Factors

Major anchor institutions that spur economic development by helping to create mixed-use destinations increase the probability that residents and visitors will decide to participate in physical activity.

These five factors formed the foundation of the WellMap tool, which was piloted in three distinct areas within Atlanta.

Pilot Study Analyses

Figure above | Original graphic. Wellness + the built environment as a system of systems that interact with each other in the built environment, rather than singular variables.

Findings and insights from the literature reviews, WellMap tool creation and pilot studies led to the development of key considerations, design goals and a design considerations matrix for urban design and wellness. These are compiled into a comprehensive report of the study and a full PDF, Excel spreadsheet and one-page template of WellMap that is available for use and distribution to project teams.

What the Findings Mean

A decentralized, holistic approach to health and wellness in our communities is trending, and urban design for health affirms this through consideration of how buildings, streets, public spaces and communities foster health and wellness for all. WellMap seeks to make stakeholders aware of the larger context in which they are operating and how their project can tie into an existing network of wellness fluidly and efficiently by identifying inequities in the built environment. What we have learned is that although urban design by itself does not ensure wellness, designing for networks of wellness can positively influence healthy human behavior. Efforts toward understanding how the built environment can foster wellness should be focused on identifying applicable study areas for project sites, evaluating what components within the study area are most important and prioritizing concrete metrics to determine how best to intervene.

There are several directions that future research could lead, many of which involve testing and evaluating the efficacy of the WellMap tool, as well as its connections to wellness and health care at large. Viable options for exploration include improving user observational methodology through testing for inter-rater reliability, recommending ideal study area sizes and cross referencing WellMap scores with contextual health data to determine associations between urban design and health outcomes.

As the rise in population in urbanized areas worldwide increases, so should our efforts in designing our cities and communities to support health and wellness. This is our call as designers to respond with knowledge through designs and strategies that maintain positive health long before anyone steps foot in a hospital. The built environment and the design of the everyday will become a first line of defense and a major influencer of population health at large.

Figure above | original graphic. Health care delivery models in communities.

HKS Celebrates Innovative and Impactful Design With 2022 Top Projects

HKS Celebrates Innovative and Impactful Design With 2022 Top Projects

A former dump site for roofing shingles. An Arizona hospital geared to serve its surrounding Native American population. A sports stadium inspired by a traditional Chinese art form.

Those are among the winners of the 2022 HKS Top Projects Awards. The awards — now in their seventh year — celebrate some of the global design firm’s most innovative and impactful work.

Only HKS projects that opened in 2022, are works in progress, or are current research initiatives are eligible for the Top Projects honors, which recognize projects for exhibiting the highest integration of beauty and performance, pushing the boundaries of innovation and changing the world for the better.

Top Projects are judged for their beauty, proportion, materiality and overall expression, as well as their adherence to the principles for sustainable, resilient and inclusive design supported by the American Institute of Architects’ AIA Framework for Design Excellence.

The AIA Framework is aligned with the values of HKS, said Tony Montalto, Chief Design Officer and a Principal at the firm. Basing the Top Projects program on the principles expressed by that framework helps HKS designers communicate those values and “helps us better focus on what matters most to us,” he said. “We want our projects to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”

“We want our projects to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”

This year’s Top Projects demonstrate a variety of scales, sectors and locales. The four designs selected for honor awards include a neighborhood park to help residents of Dallas’ Floral Farms neighborhood reclaim their community after years of environmental injustice; a medical campus meant to express the culture, spirit and Navajo heritage of Flagstaff, Arizona; and a state-of-the-art venue for international sporting events in Chengdu, China, that references an indigenous artform throughout its design. The fourth winning design is for a major U.S. sporting venue that cannot be publicly identified now because of a confidentiality agreement.

An external jury selected the winning projects from a group of 20 finalists representing each of HKS’ practice areas. A diverse panel of seven distinguished guests with expertise in a range of design and construction fields served as jurists: Amanda Kaleps, Managing Principal, Wolcott Architecture; David Staczek​​​​​​​, ​​​​​​​Principal and Senior Designer, ZGF Architects; Joey Shimoda, Co-founder, Shimoda Design Group; Karen Robichaud, ​​​​​​​Founder, Karen Robichaud Strategy + Communications; Nicholas Holt, Founder, Holt Architects; Thór Jónsson, Global Director of Design and Construction, Warner Bros. Entertainment; and Tonya Bonczak, Director, Strategic Sourcing – Construction, Henry Ford Health.

The judges commended all 20 finalists on the compelling narratives and videos they submitted about their projects. “The videos were extremely helpful” in expressing project goals and outcomes, said Kaleps.

What set the winners apart was “detailed information across the board” that helped judges “connect better with these projects,” Jónsson said. “Specific measures, specific outcomes, specific aspirations” put these projects a step above and made them worth recognition, Holt added.

Presenting work for judging by outside experts “results in more meaningful projects” throughout the firm, throughout the year, Montalto said. “Every time we have a conversation around our work and appreciate other peoples’ opinions, it will lead to better understanding.”

HKS’ Top Projects 2022:

Park for Floral Farms

The Floral Farms neighborhood was founded in South Dallas around the 1950s. The neighborhood is home to some of Dallas’s most important flower nurseries and the origins of the Black Rodeo. Many of the Black and Latino families living in Floral Farms have been there for generations.

Through self-advocacy and partnerships with area nonprofits, the neighbors united to fight successfully for the removal from their neighborhood of Shingle Mountain – an illegal dumping ground of shingles that grew to be over six stories tall. HKS designers partnered with the neighborhood team through the firm’s Citizen HKS public-interest design initiative to help bring life to the neighbors’ dream of having a communal park to heal, gather and play.

The park design honors the neighbors’ vision with safe walking trails and sports fields where people can decompress, a playground and splash pad for children to play and a community garden. A symbolic hill of soft green grass rises to create a reminder of the Floral Farm residents’ slogan: Together, we can move mountains.

Northern Arizona Healthcare Flagstaff, Arizona, Campus

This tertiary medical center and ambulatory care clinic, in design for Northern Arizona Healthcare Medical Group, will anchor a mixed-use development and is intended to serve as a health and wellness destination in Flagstaff. The design team is creating a Health Village that expresses the culture and spirit of the community, including the local Navajo population.

The project considers characteristics of the site – a relatively untouched greenfield of mature Ponderosa Pine trees – in order to connect authentically to both the natural setting and the history and community of Flagstaff.

Health care staffing is a major driver for the building design and operational planning. The proposed service lines and departmental planning are designed to create an environment of excellence that will help attract and retain top talent.

Chengdu Phoenix Hill Sports Park

Chengdu Phoenix Hill Sports Park was recognized as an HKS Top Project in 2018, when the project was in design. Opened in 2022, the sports park is a state-of-the art venue for major global sporting events and a public place where the local community can gather throughout the year.

The design includes a comprehensive master plan to create a sports-centered district with public spaces focused on diverse experiences, a 60,000-seat soccer stadium and a 18,000-seat basketball arena. To give depth and meaning to the work, the design is inspired by Imperial Embroidery, an art form that originated in Chengdu. Nature and the existing river are woven into the design to create a sports park and urban forest that enhance the connection to the surrounding community.

The project is designed with sports as the driver, with a diverse mix of uses (office, hotel, retail, residential, recreation) to create a sustainable community and balance the investment.

Four Design Lessons I Learned from Hurricane Sandy

Four Design Lessons I Learned from Hurricane Sandy

Ten years ago this month, Superstorm Sandy — which had been Hurricane Sandy just days before — slammed into New York City. Despite no longer being officially a hurricane, the storm packed “hurricane-force winds” that made a devastating impact on the tri-state area.

Back then, in October 2012, I was a college senior facing my most difficult semester yet. The biggest way Sandy affected me — at first — was that it gave me a reprieve from classes.

Growing up in the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I became used to snow days and late starts. But my college friends, most of whom were lifelong New Yorkers, rarely had school days off due to weather events. On October 29th, the City University of New York shut down campuses across all five boroughs and canceled classes for the rest of the week, an action that previously would have seemed unthinkable. It was a signal that things were going to be bad — a signal I glossed over.

Naively taking pleasure in the unexpected break, I invited friends who lived nearby over to my apartment. In the elevated safety of Harlem’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood — one of the highest points in Manhattan — we only saw the lights flicker a few times. We played games and laughed as the rain poured outside.

Elsewhere in the city, those same rains were flooding subway stations, causing major power outages, damaging buildings and submerging houses in the Atlantic Ocean. The city ordered 375,000 New Yorkers to evacuate their homes while I simply rode out the storm.

During the last 10 years, I’ve come a long way from being a college student who didn’t understand the impact of natural disasters or feel an immediate responsibility to help. Working alongside architects and engineers, I’ve gained insights into the value of designing for resilience and well-being.

Here are four things I learned because of Sandy and how I see HKS working to better shape stronger, more resilient communities:

1 – Building Beyond Code and Designing for Resilience Matter

Sandy resulted in 43 deaths and $19 billion in damage in New York City and 233 deaths and $70 billion in damage throughout the United States and the Caribbean. Among the massive number of evacuations and property impairments during Sandy, approximately 6,500 New York City hospital and nursing home patients were evacuated, and many health care facilities were damaged. I soon realized how crucial it is for hospitals, clinics and skilled care facilities to be able to operate continuously — and that additional evacuations brought on due to failing structures are dangerous for everyone, especially vulnerable populations with critical health issues.

In subsequent years, I’ve discovered that many standard building codes in the United States often simply ensure that people can survive a disaster if one occurs while they are inside a structure, but don’t necessarily ensure that buildings can functionally operate and properly shelter people during and after harmful weather events. I’ve learned that the value of designing for resilience is about far more than protecting buildings from damage, but also supporting people and their ability to lead happy, healthy lives.

Architects who strive to build beyond baseline codes are leading the design industries forward to create resilient, high performing buildings that support both life safety and continuous operations. High-performance design is embedded in HKS’ mission; the firm’s designers work around the world in diverse climates and cities that experience all types of natural disasters — from tsunamis in the Asia Pacific region to hurricanes in U.S. Southeast. Building beyond code, they design health care settings, and residential and senior living communities where people can live and receive vital care 24/7.

2 – Equitable Access to Services and Amenities is Essential

Close to 2 million people lost power in New York City during Sandy. Some of the most powerful images I saw on TV were of makeshift phone charging stations created by generous people who still had electricity so neighbors could charge their phones and contact loved ones. New Yorkers, myself included, also went several days without riding public transportation, as ferry, bus and subway service stoppages left nearly 5.5 million weekday riders without transportation.

During Sandy, many New York and New Jersey residents set up mobile device charging stations for neighbors without power. (Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images; Hoboken, NJ)

Sandy helped me realize how beneficial it can be to live in a neighborhood designed with the things we need close to home — grocery stores, emergency care, parks and public space amenities like electrical outlets and bathrooms.  Where I live now in Northwest Washington, DC, I have access to most of these things within a few blocks of home, but that’s not true for everyone in my city or in others around the world.

In addition to being necessary in the event of power outages and transit stoppages, public amenities and easy access to basic services can provide a higher quality of life year-round. Communities designed and planned with an equity-centered approach reflect the needs, desires and aspirations of people and who live in them. Using a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) lens, HKS designers collaborate with cities and communities, strengthening how the built environment can best serve people — providing design solutions that make living more convenient, even in times of disaster.

3 – Adaptable Public Spaces Provide Value in Communities

Though more than 1 million children and 250,000 CUNY students were out of class, many NYC public schools remained open to serve a different purpose during Sandy. Schools and public spaces throughout the five boroughs transformed into emergency relief centers, including the gymnasium at The City College of New York just two blocks from my apartment, where approximately 200 people received shelter, food, and internet access after evacuating their homes.

Before seeing people seek shelter on campus, I hadn’t quite considered all the possible multi-purpose uses of buildings I entered each day. More than places that can provide relief in emergencies, schools and other public buildings like libraries often accommodate a wide variety of activities for different populations daily. In my DC neighborhood, for example, there is an elementary school that plays double duty as a community center for after-hours fitness classes and local meetings.

Designing for flexibility and adaptability can maximize the potential of the built environment during emergency and non-emergency situations. Design strategies for shared space are increasingly being applied to public sector spaces like schools, colleges, and government building as well as commercial developments. HKS education, commercial, and hospitality designers are innovating new multi-use spaces that promote connection, offer more options for activities like shopping, working, dining, and gathering — with the goal to provide more beneficial environments for future uses, including unexpected emergency uses.

4 – Integrated Approaches Benefit People and Planet

In Sandy’s aftermath, I walked through my neighborhood and saw century-old trees downed in green spaces and cemeteries. Across the city, the storm damaged approximately 20,000 trees and nearly 400 parks had to close for major repairs. For months, caution tape cordoned off sections of local parks where families and neighbors could no longer get together for social events or enjoy fresh air outside of our densely populated apartment buildings.

Approximately 20,000 trees were downed in NYC during Sandy, including this one in the Battery Park neighborhood. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images; New York, NY)

Noticing how members of my community adapted by finding different places to gather such as sidewalks or park stairs, it really struck me that design is about more than creating architecture, buildings, or rooms — it is about creating places. Places like public parks and green spaces are more than just essential for civic life, they are also essential for our planet’s health. Designing for both people and planet — considering landscape, structures and potential climate shifts and weather events — can support both human and environmental well-being into the future.

Working in the architecture, engineering and construction industry today, I see the call for integrated design becoming more urgent. With holistic strategies and collaborative processes, design professionals can reduce buildings’ impact on the environment and create places that uplift people. Driven by a commitment to the firm’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) structure, HKS is leading conversations and moving toward more holistic, inclusive and sustainable design practices. HKS architects, designers, researchers, advisory professionals are creating leading projects with innovation and design excellence. Smarter and integrated sustainable building practices are non-negotiable in the fight to limit the effects of global warming and prevent natural disasters like Sandy from worsening over time.

Thinking Back, Looking Forward

Experiencing Sandy in New York was a key part of my journey to understanding the value, relevance and role of design in society. While it was the first time my eyes were really opened to the impacts of disaster, countless major emergencies have upended lives and caused harm to human and environmental well-being in the years since.

Many of my observations from Sandy — about the importance of outdoor space, the need for better access to basic needs, and the necessity of safe havens — have resonated even more strongly in the wake of other global natural disasters and during the COVID pandemic. From conducting research on pandemic-resilient communities and hospitals to designing hotels for intensifying hurricanes and delivering projects that can bounce back quickly after disasters, HKS designers prioritize recovery and resilience across sectors and around the world.

Many years later, and many miles from the apartment where I took it easy during Sandy, I’m still learning from the storm’s effects. It’s not a comfort that our future is uncertain; the threats of climate change are ever-growing. More disasters are inevitable. But with equitable, integrated design, we can rise to the challenges of a changing planet — and create places that help people survive and thrive.