Brad Robichaux

Pacific Northwest’s Thriving Economy Fosters Sustainable Design Innovation

Pacific Northwest’s Thriving Economy Fosters Sustainable Design Innovation

The Pacific Northwest has been a hot location for new construction and development during the past decade due to a growing population and the influence of major tech companies in the region.

Despite some slowdowns during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, that booming trend continues. According to Rider Levell Bucknall’s crane index Seattle had 51 cranes in operation in the first quarter of 2023. During the same period, Portland tied the (much larger) city of Chicago with 14 operating cranes.

HKS recently opened a Seattle office to expand the firm’s services throughout the Pacific Northwest during this exciting time for design and development in the region. Scott Hunter, HKS Regional Director for Americas West, said that architecture and design clients in the Puget Sound area expect excellence and social responsibility in the services provided to them. He said that “aligns beautifully with HKS’ core values and mission.”

“We’ve worked in the region for a long time and have a roster of successful projects in the area, so to now have an actual office sets a very positive trajectory for us in this market,” said Hunter.

HKS Seattle Office Director Doug Demers said that across sectors, local clients are looking at repositioning, retrofitting and new construction in nearly equal measure. Despite recent fluctuations in the commercial sector, opportunities abound with corporate clients as well as those in the health, education, residential and mixed-use development markets.

“Right now, like most cities in the U.S., Seattle is in a cycle where there’s an excess of office space, but there are other sectors that are very active because the population is still growing,” said Demers. “Basically, you’re always catching up on infrastructure.”

Housing, Healing, and Educating a Growing Population

In 2023, several cities in Washington and Oregon made Forbes’ list of 50 fastest growing U.S. cities and The Seattle Times reported that Seattle is the fastest growing “big” city in the country, based on U.S. Census data.

The steadily rising population is driving a need for housing, especially in the large cities of Portland and Seattle where development space is constrained by waterways. Demers said that the residential market is highly active in Seattle and its surrounding smaller cities; an increasing number of high-rise multifamily properties are being built to house people in denser settings.

With more people continuing to move to the area, additional pressure is placed on local health and education systems, according to Demers and HKS Regional Design Director Carl Hampson. As HKS expands its health care and higher education practices in the region to serve residents, Hampson is paying special attention to how designers can respond to the on-going mental health crisis, in particular.

 “In health care, there’s been a huge push in the Northwest on mental health,” Hampson said, noting that Washington and Oregon state governments have recently prioritized access to care and developing modern facilities to provide mental and behavioral health services.

“The behavioral health system is very complex, and I’m really interested in looking at all the different pieces of it holistically. You can’t just solve problems in one area, you have to think about the entire continuum,” Hampson said, adding that in addition to policy and financing, architecture can “certainly play a role” in helping solve mental health challenges.

Colleges and university systems in the Pacific Northwest are also taking mental health seriously. Hampson said schools are seeking to provide student spaces that enhance health and well-being and that he looks forward to bringing HKS’ research and design expertise in higher education and mental and behavioral health to clients throughout the region.

Tech and Commercial are Bouncing Back

Regardless of the slight pause in new commercial sector projects and construction in recent years, the Pacific Northwest’s legacy as a destination for some of the world’s most influential tech companies — including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon — is secure.

“Growth in the tech industry isn’t dead, it’s just slowed to a normal pace,” said Demers. He also noted that the next few years are shaping up to present new real estate and design opportunities as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes a larger business driver for the tech companies rooted in the Pacific Northwest.

HKS Studio Design Leader Christa Jansen said that as the tech sector has evolved in the region, clients have influenced each other when it comes to interior design, adopting best practices for healthy and inclusive workplaces so they can remain competitive as employers.

“Their standards and way of looking at design has definitely evolved over time and become more sophisticated,” Jansen said.

Beyond tech, many leading corporate brands are headquartered in the Seattle area including Nordstrom, REI, Starbucks, and Costco. As companies like these — and the hundreds of others in the region — solidify in-office work policies and employee desires and behaviors change in the coming years, Jansen said she expects an uptick in commercial design opportunities.

“Commercial clients are giving up a lot of space,” Jansen said. “They’re shrinking down. We’ve been conducting studies about how to use space more efficiently and what kinds of spaces are most important.”

Jansen added that HKS’ workplace design research, including the firm’s recent study illuminating affordances for better brain health, is a helpful differentiator for her team.

Experiences in Hospitality and Mixed-Use Destinations

Because of its national parks, dynamic cities and proximity to popular cruise ship destinations, the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed for travel and tourism. Current travel trends indicate that people want to be immersed in nature and take part in socially conscious experiences, and hospitality brands with locations in the region are working with design firms to keep up with these trends, among others.

“So many people are traveling. Owners and operators are trying to differentiate themselves. They’re constantly thinking about reinventing themselves and keeping up on things more rapidly than they used to,” Jansen said.

An emphasis on how to provide exciting experiences to people has also made its way into conversations about new mixed-use developments. Unlike pre-pandemic developments where anchor buildings tended to be commercial offices, a shift toward anchor entertainment venues is occurring, according to Demers.

“They might be sports related, music-related, but they are experience-driven,” said Demers, who is actively working on strengthening client relationships and pursuing large mixed-use strategy and planning projects in the Seattle area.

Creating dynamic centers of activity and economic growth is going to be a key way designers contribute to resilience as the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m looking forward to opportunities around mixed-use development… how we can create better communities through that avenue and tap into what it means to be in the Northwest,” Hampson said.

Emphasizing Sustainability and the Natural World Through Design

To borrow Hampson’s phrase, a big part of “what it means to be in the Northwest” is to experience life surrounded by some of the country’s tallest mountains, most verdant forests and breathtaking water vistas. Local architecture and design tend to reflect these local natural wonders, Hunter, Hampson, Demers and Jansen all said.

Building materials such as wood and mass timber, stonework, and green roofs can be found in contemporary buildings throughout the region — from civic structures and schools to corporate offices and residential properties. Hampson said clients and designers also often focus on incorporating thoughtful outdoor space because when the weather is nice, “everyone wants to be outside.”

“There’s an authenticity in the architecture here that you don’t see in other places,” said Hampson. Architects, designers and their clients, he said, tend to draw inspiration from natural history rather than “importing something from another time and place.”

HKS designers working in the region indicated that this design trend corresponds with a local commitment to sustainability — proximity to robust natural resources means that clients are more conscientious about conservation and environmental impacts of design and construction.

“Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland are all pretty progressive cities around sustainability. They’ve spawned architecture that responds to that,” Demers said.

Jansen said that the interior design clients she works with desire spaces with natural and resource-conscious materials and are always keeping an eye on evolving sustainability and well-being certification guidelines.

“Ever since LEED was introduced, sustainability has been a big thing…designing to those standards is embedded into all projects here,” Jansen said.

What the Future Holds

Jansen noted that HKS’ expansion in the Pacific Northwest brings new opportunities for the firm as well as for the companies and organizations it partners with to create spaces and places where people can thrive.

“I’m excited to bring the HKS ethos to this region and give our clients another option,” she said.

HKS intends to serve the growing region with diverse needs with its robust design and project delivery talents. Hunter said that the Pacific Northwest’s dynamic economy, forward-looking sustainability approaches and engagement with natural beauty will help foster innovative design solutions where architects, designers, and researchers can excel.

“We think HKS presents something new to the PNW market,” Hunter said. “Our ability to tackle complexity and to synthesize integrated solutions regardless of the project type gives us a unique perspective that can help us guide our clients into the unexpected.”

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. 

The Place at Honey Springs

Case Study

The Place at Honey Springs A New, Inviting Future for a Historic Dallas Community

Dallas, Texas, USA

The Challenge

The Joppa community was founded in 1872 as a freedmen’s town in present-day South Dallas. Today, the community is isolated from the rest of the city by the borders of a highway, a river, railroad tracks and industrial sites. The neighborhood — also known as Joppee — is a food desert and lacks access to city infrastructure such as grocery stores or sports facilities.  

Citizen HKS partnered with the Melissa Pierce nonprofit organization to revive the abandoned 1950s Melissa Pierce School into a vibrant multipurpose center that reflects the rich history and character of Joppa.

The Design Solution

After extensive community engagement, the design team developed The Place at Honey Springs, a multipurpose center that embodies the vibrant spirit of Joppa’s residents. The center is named for the Joppa community’s original name of Honey Springs, which was annexed into the City of Dallas in 1955.

The Place at Honey Springs features several indoor and outdoor multipurpose areas for community gatherings and dining. A recording studio and classrooms for after-school programs and continued education encourage creativity and lifelong learning.  

The center also boasts a variety of opportunities for neighbors to pursue active lifestyles, including a soccer field, basketball court, exercise stations, open green areas and an indoor swimming pool. Further, community members will have access to fresh produce from multiple aeroponic gardens, and there is dedicated outdoor space for a pop-up clinic to deliver medical services. 

The Design Impact

The Place at Honey Springs stands as a testament to Joppa’s enduring history while equipping the community with tools to design its future. By reimagining the original school building, the new community center helps preserve Joppa’s identity, but is also more sustainable than a brand-new structure.  

The new sloped roof allows for the collection of rainwater to irrigate the center’s native landscaping, and the addition of new trees helps to mitigate the urban heat island effect. If incorporated, solar panels, minimal glazing on the south side of the building and other passive strategies could reduce both energy use and operating costs. 

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How Design can Support Social and Emotional Learning

How Design can Support Social and Emotional Learning

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Over the past year and half, we’ve investigated how to improve the well-being of schoolchildren through the intersection of social and emotional learning and the built environment. The timing of our effort couldn’t be more crucial. From existential concerns triggered by climate anxiety to the trauma experienced by gun violence in schools, many school children are understandably experiencing a mental health crisis. This is the context of our research exploring the intersection of social and emotional learning and design.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an approach to education that helps children gain skills outside of typical school subjects such as math, reading, and comprehension. It matters because the approach helps children and adolescents understand and regulate their feelings, communicate with and relate to others, build strong relationships, and make empathetic decisions.

The culmination of our research project is a visual design guide — a library of evidence-based design (EBD) strategies formatted as a tool for designers of learning environments to quickly reference during the design process. Whether the intention is to create an enriched environment, understand the impact design strategies have on students and teachers, or both – the EBD strategy cards are a tool to help create enriched environments that support social and emotional learning.

Our Methods & What We Found

Before creating our visual design guide, we conducted a comprehensive literature review and ­in-depth interviews with primary, middle, and high school teachers. We initially sourced 143 articles, white papers and books, that resulted in 18 evidence-based strategies supported by 102 empirical research studies that have demonstrated outcomes associated with teachers and learners. We then interviewed school teachers who participated in one-hour semi-structured virtual interviews where they elaborated on how they define social and emotional learning, their ideal working environment, and their perceptions of the current school environment in regard to SEL. Here are a few findings from those conversations:

What the Findings Mean

The visual design guide provides a research-informed framework to create spaces that augment and support social and emotional learning. Our guide is intended for stakeholders as they move throughout the design process, and when they are documenting design intent. Those who use our guide are instructed to print out cards, fold them in half, while referencing the comprehensive evidence to provide rationale for design decisions.

The design of physical space can be used as a tool to support or augment existing pedagogical practices in classrooms – advancing the agenda to provide students with competencies in SEL by stimulating diverse affordances (sensory, cognitive, motor, and social) within their learning environments. Being intentional through design can help attain social and emotional learning goals for the environment . A good school building has spaces for both learning and working and should include a multitude of spaces. A few of the recommendations we suggest in our design guide are to institute:

Why Is This Important?

This work underscores the critical role of social and emotional learning (SEL) in education, especially given the current mental health crisis facing children and adolescents. Our visual design guide emphasizes the need to integrate SEL considerations into the design of learning environments to foster emotional regulation, empathy, and communication skills. By doing so, this visual design guide serves as a valuable tool for designers, offering evidence-based strategies derived from a comprehensive literature review and teacher interviews to positively impact students and teachers in their learning and working spaces.

This report emphasizes that intentional design cues can have a significant impact on the social and emotional well-being of students and educators. It highlights the importance of incorporating a range of design elements, including variety, privacy, sensory control, and support for the whole person, in school buildings. By stimulating diverse affordances within learning environments, educators and designers can help students develop competencies in SEL.

What’s Next

Our next step is implementation. In designing educational facilities to improve K-12 students’ outcomes, researchers and designers will leverage our design guide—a library of evidence-based design strategies formatted as a tool for designers of learning environments—to create and implement better learning and working spaces.

Teachers engage in a variety of work modes and utilize multiple tools to effectively do their job, and the guide can help designers provide a variety of psychological needs met within their working spaces and their students’ learning spaces. The design of physical space can be used as a tool to support or augment existing pedagogical practices in classrooms by stimulating diverse affordances (sensory, cognitive, motor, and social) within their learning environments.

This work is a product of coalition-based research bringing together the Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation (CADRE), Uplift Education, HKS – funded by the ASID Foundation. Next steps for the coalition include an impact study, investigating how the move of a Pre-K-12 school from a dense urban setting devoid of green, open space to a new location with an open quad green setting and enriched interior affordances transform well-being, academic outcomes, and college-readiness for at-risk and first-gen students. Learn more about the coalition.

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The Whole College Athlete: Designing for Success On and Off the Field

The Whole College Athlete: Designing for Success On and Off the Field

The career of a storied professional athlete begins early—with a passion and preternatural skill, neighborhood pickup games and youth sports, and finally, collegiate-level competition. University or college coaches and administrators understand this trajectory, and they’re preparing incoming student athletes for long careers, whether on or off the field. Because, on average, colleges support 20 sports programs—of which only 2% are expected to turn professional after college. It’s just the statistical reality that few athletes will become the next Tom Brady, despite the stories abounding of elite athletes playing longer into their career. This is where the concept of the “whole athlete” comes into play.

The “whole athlete” means supporting innovations for peak performance and the means to support an athlete as a well-rounded student. Today’s student-athletes represent the pinnacle of not only physical, but also mental fitness. At HKS, we’ve leveraged this concept to create guiding design principles for collegiate sports facilities, integrating health facilities and the latest science in sports medicine, brain health, and related fields.

HKS embarked on a research project in 2021 to learn more about leveraging the built environment to enhance athletic performance, recovery, and well-being. An interdisciplinary team including experts from HKS’ Sports & Entertainment and Health practices, and the firm’s Advisory Services group, identified five characteristics of facilities design that support the whole athlete. Such facilities are:

To apply this framework, we reviewed the literature to build on our acute understanding of athletes as an accumulation of experiences, from youth sports up until they step foot on campus. And we’re applying study findings to explore how these experiences intersect with the latest trends in research that bridge healthcare and medicine with facility design.

Facilities at the academic core can bind student athletes from diverse backgrounds to reap the true benefits of youth sports participation—socially, physically, and cognitively. Most origin stories begin with the true benefits of youth sports participation. Before their Hall of Fame careers—and before they stepped foot on a college campus—Tom Brady, Sue Bird, Bo Jackson, and Jim Brown came of age as multi-sport athletes. While there are risks, youth participation in organized sports is generally a net boon to mental health, as summarized by a large systematic review of the literature. Leveraging brain-health-informed environments will continue to help student-athletes in their athletic careers and beyond.

That’s our aspiration, but how do we get there? And how do we first embrace the sheer diversity of student-athletes?

Before Jimmy Butler played for Marquette and then garnered the name “Jimmy Buckets,” he slept on friends’ couches all through high school. In 2014, as the debate around pay and sponsorships first took off, former University of Connecticut basketball star, Shabazz Napier, famously stated that he often went to bed, “starving.” To add context to these anecdotes: many student athletes come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, meaning that inclusive design is a critical complement to supportive policies and practices. Once on campus, student athletes undergo athletic, academic, psychological, and psychosocial transitions—and the uniqueness of these experiences, intersecting with all that’s come in the past, means many require greater resources and coping strategies.

Taking a step back, today’s collegiate athletes differ significantly from those of previous generations: there’s increased professionalism—through sports science resources, academic resources, coaching and training opportunities. This fall, the entering class of Freshman was born in 2005, making these student-athletes digital natives. In all that’s to be considered for how today’s collegiate athletes are different than those in the past, it’s symbolic that an athlete like Paige Bueckers, UConn’s star guard, has 1 million followers on Instagram, a technology didn’t exist as Sue Bird, also a UConn alum, entered the WNBA draft in 2002.

The diversity of student-athlete backgrounds impacts planning decisions for collegiate sports facilities, too. Researchers have found that of 125 Division 1 campuses, only 13% had “athletic academic support programs located in or adjacent to the academic core of the campus.” Athletic support services removed from campuses’ academic core create a greater degree of student-athlete segregation—a clear problem that symbolically and physically removes student-athletes from the broader collegiate community.

Advancing sports medicine means better recovery, better performance, and better long-term health. Consider the following stories. In 2013, the Florida State Seminoles saw an 88% year-over-year drop in injuries because the team adopted wearable technologies from Catapult GPS. And one randomized clinical trial found that patients who received a few weeks of pain reprocessing therapy saw a significant drop in reported chronic back pain. These are advances that have significant implications for today’s student athletes. Designated recovery spaces, such as cold/hot tubs, compression therapy rooms, and foam rolling/stretching areas, can help athletes address muscle soreness, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation after training sessions or competitions.

The average collegiate athlete spends 40 hours per week in athletic-related activities—and moderate and vigorous exercise makes up a significant portion of this time. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that Americans get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week—but only  1 in 4 Americans meets these goals, according to the CDC. There’s a healthy balance to be had—and while the average American is more likely to be overcome by a sedentary lifestyle, athletes are more concerned with burnout.

As competitive athletes push the body and mind, they also push research to show the outer bounds of what the body and mind can achieve. On this front, a research question would be: what is the body’s limit with intense exertion? NIRS is a technology that measures hemodynamic activity, or changes in blood flow, throughout the brain which shows that athletes may reach physical and cognitive exhaustion after too much exercise. Consider the extreme exertion of a marathon or a long-distance competitive swim. Researchers found that over the course of the race, participants saw 6 percent in grey matter atrophy. For student-athletes, this fact carries implications for design.

Over the past year, we’ve explored brain health in connection to office workers, but the concept has far broader implications, from college to the workforce and beyond. Cognitive fitness for athletes is a key concern that needs attention to avenues for not just mental health services, but proactive social health strategies, opportunities for creative expression, rest and recovery, and socialization.

Athletes need access to healthy choices, and design strategies to make the healthy choice the easy choice. To determine where this happens, Point-of-decision design, a “person-centric” construct provides personas and journey mapping to determine key areas. Through this lens, on-site dining and nutrition counseling provides pre-training nutrition and post-training replenishment of glycogen stores, hydration, anti-inflammation and recovery nutrition.

Recovery is pursued in tandem with better performance. Beyond medicine and nutrition, you may have read about virtual reality capabilities and bio-mechanic analyses in sports: transitioning a batter’s swing, a swimmer’s stroke, and a defenseman’s slapshot into data for next-level athletic performance. Efficiency translates into a faster time or higher shooting percentage, because altogether, each new advance means a more holistic and tailored approach for each athlete.

We’ve discussed a holistic approach to today’s athletes, and recent advents in sports medicine, and we apply these insights into the built environment.

Importantly, we’re looking to integrate principles of enriched environments to athletic facilities. Space must be integrated at multiple levels. Versatile facilities provide for multiple student-athlete needs, but without planning considerations, students may become isolated from the broader academic community. Facility design should go hand-in-hand with planning. Several colleges and universities are integrating sustainability and academic goals into the design of sports facilities. Arizona State University joined the Green Sports Alliance, pursuing zero-waste status. The Sun Devil Fitness Complex nudges athletes and visitors alike toward green behaviors, while leveraging sustainable design features.

But taking a step back for context, less than 2% of student athletes go pro, but most student-athletes either want to continue their academic studies after graduation or leverage transferable skills gained from athletic participation for a career. At the University of Florida, Trinity Thomas recently tied the record for the most perfect 10s in NCAA gymnastics history. Watch an interview here where she discusses how she got into gymnastics, and how she looks to apply a major in physiology and kinesiology to a career in sports medicine.

Consider the NCAA GOALS study, with the most-recent iteration produced in 2020. Two-thirds of student athletes wanted to pursue graduate studies, and a vast majority reported that collegiate-sports participation provided transferrable skills to future careers.

And thinking about the long term, we must focus on brain health. Design principles related to brain health brings together student and athletic needs—quiet zones, study spaces, and technology integration.

Thinking about mental well-being and brain health, the placement of facilities and academic support systems should serve to integrate student-athletes, not isolate them. In 2020, the NCAA GOALS study revealed that feeling a sense of belonging is on the rise among student athletes—although there is room for improvement. Today’s student athletes are treated uniquely but distinctly from the rest of the student body. Student athletes have unique needs, but they also want better integration with their campus peers.

Thinking about mental well-being and brain health, the placement of facilities and academic support systems should serve to integrate student-athletes, not isolate them.

All dimensions of athletic facilities begins with planning—and student athletes are a population integral to this vision. HKS’ UC San Diego North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood creates truly mixed-use experiences by first understanding how students live and learn. The campus is the largest living and learning community in the University of California system and promotes well-being and sustainability through the integration of living space, retail space, dining experiences, and outdoor and public spaces.

In all, collegiate sports facilities are advancing by incorporating innovative designs and features that support the holistic needs of student athletes, including their academic, physical, and mental well-being. These modern facilities prioritize accessibility, inclusivity, and sustainability while integrating advanced technology and resources to optimize athletic performance and recovery. By creating comprehensive and adaptable environments, collegiate sports facilities are elevating the student athlete experience and fostering success both on and off the field.

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Simulation Design to Support Nursing Students’ Mental Health

Simulation Design to Support Nursing Students’ Mental Health

In response to the 2023 State of Nursing survey by nursing education and advocacy group Nurse.org, 81 percent of nurses surveyed said they have experienced burn out and that their mental health has suffered during the past year.

At HKS, we believe supporting mental health should be a primary concern of programmers, planners and designers of nursing education space. As we celebrate National Nurses Month, we are especially concerned with how design can promote mental health and wellness in the nursing and allied health professions.

Actively teaching wellness strategies in nursing schools and creating spaces that allow students to utilize these strategies will equip nurses with the skills necessary to prioritize their mental health as they enter the workforce.

Rethinking simulation center design is one way to accomplish this. By updating the simulation experience to incorporate spaces and amenities to support mental health and well-being, HKS is investing in nurses and prioritizing their overall health.

A New Model for Simulation Center Design

Simulation laboratories can be stressful environments for nursing students. In a simulation lab, students enact real-world healthcare scenarios, in order to practice skills and demonstrate proficiency in patient care.

The traditional model for a simulation center prioritizes efficiency in the simulation process. This model focuses on providing realistic patient room environments supported by control rooms, ample storage and support space and room for systems such as audio-visual and information technology equipment.

Based on our own research and a review of the literature on simulation center design and operations, HKS has developed a new simulation center sequence – one designed to create an environment of psychological safety throughout the immersive learning experience.

This enhanced simulation center environment incorporates design features and amenities to support students’ health and well-being. In addition, it augments the traditional simulation center layout and flow with non-traditional spaces designed for wellness. Moments that inspire health and wellness can be integrated into the environment without adding significant area or cost.

General Education Space

The general education space is meant to equip students with the skills they need to make the most of the simulation lab experience. Creating rooms where students can relax nearby, but outside, the simulation center allows these rooms to remain open for student use 24 hours a day. The HKS-designed Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation (OSU COMCN) in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, includes peaceful relaxation and reboot rooms in the school’s general education area that serve as restorative spaces for students. The design of the graduate medical education space at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, also by HKS, features a dining area, comfortable seating and outdoor views.

Simulation Center Entry Zone

On entering the simulation center, students may need to secure their belongings, review procedure notes, hydrate, eat a snack or use the restroom. Secure lockers; comfortable, flexible seating that allows for individual reflection or collaborative work; adjacent restrooms and a water bottle filler are design features that can help put students at ease, so they can focus on themselves and their performance in the lab.

This approach is demonstrated in HKS’ design of the entrance zone to the simulation center at a new international medical college. The design features lockers and a variety of individual and group seating areas, along with plants and a soothing color palette to enhance the nurturing environment.

Prebriefing Zone

Prebriefing is a quick (approximately 10-minute) information session meant to prepare students for a simulation lab activity.

A prebriefing zone should be considered a fundamental part of the simulation process. Creating a dedicated space to engage students prior to a simulation exercise helps establish that the simulation lab is a psychologically safe environment.

When prebriefings are conducted in a corridor, transitional space or an area designed for another activity, students can be disadvantaged. They may not be able to see, hear or focus well enough to prepare properly for the upcoming assessment.

The design of OSU COMCN includes a separate prebriefing room with comfortable seating and a distraction-free environment. The HKS-designed medical school on the Centro Medico ABC medical campus in Sante Fe, Mexico, has an area with a table and chairs where students can learn about an upcoming simulation exercise. A nearby doorway provides immediate access to an outdoor respite space.

A study published in the research journal Clinical Simulation in Nursing showed that students who engaged in a mindfulness exercise following prebriefing, immediately prior to beginning a simulation exercise, reported feeling a sense of calm that was not typical of their previous experience in the simulation center.

Meditation space should be designed to offer a variety of relaxation activities. These can include larger spaces for group meditation and individual pods for students who prefer a private meditation experience.

Simulation Labs

Because real patients are not treated in simulation labs, simulation lab environments do not typically include the design features associated with actual patient treatment spaces. Design details such as daylight, nature views and soothing color palettes can improve the simulation lab environment and create a more mindful experience for students.

Debriefing Zone

Debriefing after a simulation exercise is a critical step in the simulation process. The goal of a simulation exercise is to promote reflective thinking. To learn from a simulation, students must be able to integrate the experience with conscious consideration of the activity.

A safe debriefing environment is critical to helping facilitators observe learners’ behavior, encourage open discussion and reflective thinking, provide appropriate feedback and aid students in responding to unanticipated situations.

Dedicated rooms are a necessary and well-established standard for debriefing. Prebriefing and debriefing can occur within the same space to create a more efficient floorplan if the circulation sequence is arranged so that the prebrief/debrief zone is positioned to serve both functions well.

Creating different sizes of debriefing spaces – such as a small room for an instructor to meet with one or two students and larger rooms for various-sized groups – allows the debriefing environment to adapt according to need.

Research into best practices for simulation lab debriefing shows that this process should be conducted in an environment that allows for privacy, trust and confidentiality. Acoustical treatments and window coverings can help maintain visual and auditory privacy.

Debriefing spaces should also provide students with access to areas where they can regroup or receive support if they become distressed due to unwelcome outcomes from a simulation exercise. In terms of adjacency, this may include access to a relaxation space or restroom, a smaller debriefing room or office, or nearby faculty/staff office areas.

Debriefing rooms should be positioned such that students can exit the simulation laboratory suite without interrupting simulations in progress. HKS included multiple doorways leading in and out of the debriefing space at City University of New York Lehman College Nursing Education, Research and Practice Center, to allow students to exit the simulation center without crossing back into the simulation labs.

Commitment to Health and Wellness

Our commitment to student health and wellness extends to every environment along nursing students’ journey to graduation. The integration of these wellness interventions and moments for mindfulness can help improve students’ simulation experience, decrease their anxiety and contribute to better learning outcomes, for greater student success.

HKS Wins 2023 COTE Top Ten Award for UC San Diego Living and Learning Neighborhood

HKS Wins 2023 COTE Top Ten Award for UC San Diego Living and Learning Neighborhood

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced that HKS has won a 2023 COTE Top Ten Award for the design of the University of California (UC) at San Diego North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood. The design-build project team members included HKS, Clark Construction, Safdie Rabines Architects and OJB Landscape Architecture. HKS also worked with UC San Diego and the Center for Advanced Design Research (CADRE) to form a research coalition for the project.

Established in 1997 by the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE), the annual award celebrates 10 projects that exemplify the integration of design excellence and environmental performance. Entrants to the COTE Top Ten Awards are evaluated against AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence, which comprises 10 principles to help architects achieve projects that are zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy.

“This honor is more important to us than I can say,” says Dan Noble, President and CEO of HKS. “For years we have worked with our clients and partners to put into practice the principles we hold as fundamental and foundational in our pursuit to merge performance with beauty. This project is the realization of how through purpose, knowledge and relationships we can create places that are good for the people who use them and good for the planet.”

“This project is the realization of how through purpose, knowledge and relationships we can create places that are good for the people who use them and good for the planet.”

Dan Noble, President and CEO
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This landmark construction project at UC San Diego, the largest in the university’s 62-year history, includes eight general assignment classrooms, three residence halls, two academic buildings,  administration offices, underground parking and public amenities.

While expanding their facilities within the context of a state-wide housing crisis, increasingly extreme heat and rising sea levels, UC San Diego chose to prioritize sustainability and well-being. Today, the North Torrey Pines Living Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) is the largest higher education project in California to achieve LEED Platinum certification.

“North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood is a shining example of UC San Diego’s commitment to sustainable design in the built environment,” said UC San Diego Senior Director of Project Quality Management Walt Kanzler. “This spectacular LEED Platinum project is the new home for Sixth College and the School of Social Sciences and the School of Arts and Humanities. With open spaces, art, dining, the new Craft Center and residential space for 2,000 undergraduate students, it embodies our values and welcomes everyone to live, learn and play in an exceptional, inspiring environment.  Many thanks to the amazing team that developed this once-in-a-lifetime project!”

Data from the first year of occupancy show that NTPLLN has reduced its measured EUI by a whopping 81% while realizing an 8.2% reduction in students’ self-reported depression rates. This decrease occurred at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when mental health was in crisis.

Data from the first year of occupancy show that NTPLLN has reduced its measured EUI by a whopping 81% while realizing an 8.2% reduction in students’ self-reported depression rates.

Jaime De la Garza

Sita Lakshminarayan

Energized: Can a University Campus Reach Net Zero by 2025?

Energized: Can a University Campus Reach Net Zero by 2025?

Can a university campus reach net zero by 2025? The task may seem too tall, the timetable too tight. But the situation is urgent. That’s why the University of California, San Diego is committed to a sustainable future through the development and adherence of a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that includes specific goals and timelines informed by operational baseline data.

UC San Diego is a longtime leader in climate change research and education, dating from Dr. Charles Keeling’s groundbreaking work linking rising levels of atmospheric carbon to fossil fuel emissions. The university has made significant progress in areas such as academics and research, energy and climate, sustainable operations, environmentally preferable procurement, waste diversion, clean transportation and water conservation and is on track to meet its ambitious sustainability goals. Chief among them, that its buildings and vehicle fleet become climate neutral by 2025.

UC San Diego’s all-inclusive transformational plan also supports many state and regional objectives and directives to tackle carbon emissions. At the building scale, the CAP is integrated within the university’s new project developments, including the HKS-designed North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN), to achieve carbon neutrality.

NTPLLN opened in fall 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The design intent led to significant positive measured outcomes for student well-being and the neighborhood is now certified LEED v3 Platinum – the largest higher education project in California to achieve that distinction.

A New Living and Learning Home for Sixth College

NTPLLN is a dynamic mixed-use neighborhood that combines academic, residential, commercial and cultural programming. It is designed to reduce the environmental impact for current and future generations. Prominently positioned on UC San Diego’s 1,200-acre campus, NTPLLN is the new home for Sixth College and the university’s social sciences and arts and humanities departments. The vibrant 1.5-million square-foot neighborhood fulfills UC San Diego’s vision of a fully integrated university community by blending residential housing for more than 2,000 students, academic buildings, classrooms and community space to create a truly immersive community-centered learning experience.

Each building houses a combination of living, learning, community and administrative facilities and provide expansive terraces with sweeping ocean views and myriad outdoor spaces, including pedestrian and bike-friendly pathways. Every design move was strategic: to create a place of health, wellness and environmental responsibility that supports student and faculty well-being and academic excellence. Additionally, NTPLLN promotes healthy human and environmental interactions and improves air, water, and soil quality for enhanced biodiversity.

Supported by several performance frameworks including LEED, Parksmart, CALGreen and the AIA 2030 Commitment, the integrated sustainability features target carbon-neutral operations by embracing initiatives that will measurably reduce energy consumption, water use and waste, ensuring the sustainable community will meet the future needs of UC San Diego’s administration, faculty and students.

Meeting and Exceeding Energy and Environmental Goals

The design takes full advantage of the local micro-climate to deliver improved environmental quality and enhanced occupant comfort within indoor and outdoor spaces at multiple levels. Future climate weather files were utilized to stress test the resiliency of the project design based on carbon emission escalation rates and mitigation scenarios, ensuring that the resources utilized for the design and construction of NTPPLN today meets the needs of the campus tomorrow.

The siting and massing of residential buildings are intentional design measures to balance access to daylighting, reduce solar gains and promote natural ventilation. The fixed exterior shading provides reductions in solar heat gains during peak cooling months, improving thermal comfort and reducing energy demand.

Given the favorable and unique climate conditions in San Diego, over 70% of the housing building area is naturally ventilated which is an alternative passive measure to using energy intensive mechanical ventilation and cooling. All residential units include operable windows to naturally cool and ventilate each unit. Studies demonstrate that passively ventilated spaces improve cognitive functions from increased volumes of outside air. And little did we know that naturally ventilated spaces and the open-air campus design would become a critically important safety feature to help protect student and faculty health during the pandemic.

A photovoltaic system powers the 1,200-space parking structure, which was designed with deep light penetrating wells for potential conversion into other uses in a car-free future. The parking structure includes various energy efficiency measures including sensors capable of detecting unsafe levels of emissions that control exhaust fans, daylighting wells to reduce electrical load from lighting and that provide an opportunity to naturally ventilate the space.

To advance campus efforts toward carbon neutrality, the NTPLLN Design Build Team integrated an on-site modular micro-anaerobic digester thereby creating a local environmental impact asset and catalyst. The anaerobic digester provides on-site generation of electrical energy from organic food waste and materials while producing valuable enrichened liquid fertilizer for community gardens. This diverts waste from the landfill and eliminates the emissions generated from offsite trucking. The anaerobic digester acts as a closed loop system where the conversion of organic waste into fuel and nutrients promotes the concept of community based, farm-to table- and back to farm, life cycle.

Since NTPLLN opened, on-site building performance metrics have been consistently tracked. The measured performance of NTPLLN resulted in an 81% reduction in measured energy use intensity (EUI) inclusive of renewables – exceeding initial targets and helping UC San Diego get even closer to reaching ambitious climate action goals.

NTPLLN also achieves a 30% energy improvement over CEC 2016 Title 24 and a 70% predicted energy reduction through the AIA 2030 Commitment. On-site renewable energy amounts to 4% of total energy while 60.5% of the electricity consumption at NTPLLN is offset through renewable energy credit purchases, procured through the University of California Wholesale Power Program. Continuous benchmarking with Energy Star Portfolio Manager, and on-going measurement and verification, aid in further decarbonizing energy and water operations at UC San Diego.

Because energy efficiency measures exceed California’s Title 24 requirements, the school was able to participate in San Diego Gas & Electric’s Savings By Design program, which awarded more than $200,000 in funding that can be applied to other needs.

Setting Goals for LEED – and Leading through Teaching

Referencing the Chancellor’s vision for the university and goals identified in the CAP, in collaboration with UC San Diego staff, Clark Construction and HKS facilitated a multidisciplinary immersion course that utilized NTPLLN as a living example of how LEED’s comprehensive approach to the built environment can substantially improve environmental outcomes at various scales.

Modeled after one of USGBC’s educational resources, the pilot course adopted the framework of LEED® Lab™, designed specifically for LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M), but in the context of LEED Building Design and Construction (LEED BD+C) both in theory and application. Students gained a unique opportunity to connect and engage with professionals who designed and delivered NTPLLN by reviewing prerequisites and credits related to site considerations, energy use, water consumption, waste management and occupant comfort. They also learned how to evaluate a project’s impact on the surrounding land and ecosystem.

The LEED Living Lab pilot course is now offered for-credit — a first of its kind at UC San Diego. The desired outcome of the course is to use the built environment to broaden the students’ view so that they can mature into sustainability-focused citizens and become leaders in their fields of studies. While the focus of the CAP is foremost campus operations, it embraces the vision of a student-centric university using experiential learning techniques to provide opportunities for students to gain real-world experience. The LEED Living Lab pilot course became a cornerstone of both supporting the CAP process and delivery of NTPLLN.

Enforcing climate action plans are particularly important for the state of California where aggressive greenhouse gas reductions are demanded and are setting the pace for the nation. The desired outcome is to improve public health and air quality, conserve water, efficiently use existing resources, and increase clean energy production, thereby improving the quality of life for UC San Diego and the broader community. The NTPLLN project has been a transformational opportunity to nurture a collaborative and interdisciplinary living and learning community that provides an educational experience focused on collaboration, leadership, and innovation in a diverse and interconnected world, supporting the UC San Diego Strategic Plan.

The University of California has more than 40 LEED buildings, with most new construction targeting Gold certification or higher, including another HKS-designed project at UC San Diego — the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood. With more than 4 million square feet of green building projects in its pipeline, the University of California is a leader in enhancing human and environmental health and well-being at the neighborhood, campus and community scales.

NTPLLN demonstrates — with its significant measured outcomes for environmental and human health — how climate action plans, design-build collaborations, and outcome-driven designs can positively impact the future of architecture and education.

Dallas Lutheran School

Case Study

Dallas Lutheran School School Design Supports Community Recovery and Student Success

Dallas, Texas

The Challenge

On the evening of October 20th, 2019, Dallas Lutheran School (DLS) was hit by a tornado that ripped through the north Dallas area. Classes were not in session and no one at the school was injured, but the main classroom building sustained significant damage, rendering it unusable. With two buildings boarded up and classes operating out of portable buildings, DLS was at risk of losing significant enrollment. The school quickly moved forward with a cleanup and recovery, under the theme, “Rise up, rebuild, rejoice,” based on Nehemiah 2:20.

The Design Solution

HKS organized visioning sessions with students, faculty, and families to determine what they wanted at the rebuilt school. The excitement generated by those meetings bought the school much-needed time and trust from the concerned parties. Ultimately, the new campus responded to the positive feedback from students’ recent experience using the temporary portable buildings. The engagement process revealed the students liked the outdoor circulation and its impact on their emotional well-being.

The design solution creates a beautiful new front plaza and building elevation to replace the one lost in the tornado. Students enter the school by crossing through the new gate and going through a series of courtyards dedicated to them and their education. The effect is as if the classrooms extend directly to the outside. From all the rooms, the visual connection with nature serves as the protagonist and center of attention. The space that connects the classrooms is not only a functional passage, but also a space for work and play that includes multiple nooks, balconies, and walkways over the outdoor courtyard. The large, covered outdoor area is programmed for learning, food service and collaboration, and is poised to become the heart of the school. When completed, the first phase of the Dallas Lutheran School project will consist of 15 classrooms (including art and science), an administration area and a study center. Standard classrooms, science labs, and the study center are adjacent to one another to support cross-disciplinary interaction. The second phase will host more classrooms (including robotics) and a new auditorium/chapel.

The Design Impact

Through the use of color, materials and the exterior and interior experience, students who walk through the school will become part of the re-emerging campus.  A Study Center, flanked on three sides by floor-to-ceiling glass, is the core of activity, providing students the power to discover learning in their own ways. Different programs and activities are juxtaposed, offering new connections across various levels and inspiring curiosity and a passion for exploring. Students in the study center on the second floor can look down into performances in the learning courtyard and activities in the Zen Garden. The new design has brought a sense of place and hope to the community and created a feeling of cohesiveness out of chaos.

Project Features