Hilari Jones

Shanghai West Bund Financial District Mandarin Oriental Hotel & Convention


Case Study

Shanghai West Bund Financial District Mandarin Oriental Hotel & Convention Shanghai's New Mandarin Oriental Hotel: Where Culture, Art, and Luxury Experiences Meet

Shanghai, China

The Challenge

The Shanghai West Bund Financial District Mandarin Oriental Hotel & Convention Center is a five-star luxury hotel and convention center located on the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai. Plans call for the project, which was developed by Hongkong Land, to be a world-class urban waterfront public space that brings together cultural and artistic institutions, modern art venues, and other facilities.

HKS designers faced two significant challenges with the comprehensive project. The first was organically integrating different functions, cultures, and commercial elements. Second was balancing those aspects in the overall planning to create a unified urban ecosystem.

The hotel and convention center are adjacent to the pioneering art landmark West Bund, ‘The Orbit’, designed by renowned architect Thomas Heatherwick. Maintaining the overall integrity of the three buildings in terms of urban interface and architectural form is essential. Thus, the HKS-led team faced the additional challenge of capturing the classic modern image of each structure while meeting diverse functional requirements that will contribute to a rich and harmonious public space experience.

The Design Solution

At the overall planning level, the project presents a main structure with two complementary components. While ‘The Orbit’ stands out as a unique and captivating feature, the convention center and hotel focus on overall functionality rather than extravagant forms, emphasizing timeless modern imagery. The West Bund Financial District comprises five plots, forming a cluster of urban spaces, each infused with distinct concepts and characteristics. These interconnected blocks create a unified master plan. The plot continues this overall planning structure, extending the riverside green belt into the city’s depth. Additionally, branching ascending structures create a stepped volume. By blurring the boundaries between architecture and landscape, the project aims to present an overall natural beauty, evoking the urban landscape of “Seashore Spring Mountains” along the stretching riverside green veins.

The Design Impact

The convention center primarily hosts exhibitions and events, while also accommodating conferences and performances, with the goal of becoming the most attractive venue for events, conferences, and exhibitions in the West Bund and Shanghai.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel also strives for excellence as it seeks to become the region’s most appealing urban resort destination featuring a top-tier spa center, technologically advanced banquet halls, and exquisite wedding venues.

The project creates a more inclusive and diverse urban ecosystem, providing people with imaginative spaces for cultural and artistic experiences. Amid the hustle and bustle of city life, residents can take a moment to appreciate the open visual designs while overlooking the urban riverside landscape.

Project Features

Peyton Booth


Case Studies

Aubrey Hartman

Darcy Lawrence

Nathmya Saffarini

Janice Mitten



Case Studies

News, Announcements and Events

Federica Buricco

A Family-owned Hotel Chain Explores Ways to Reposition its Portfolio

Case Study

A Family-owned Hotel Chain Explores Ways to Reposition its Portfolio

United States

The Challenge

Seeking to identify areas of improvement and determine investment priorities, a hotel chain’s management and owners commissioned HKS Advisory to complete market and site optimization studies for four of their properties across the United States. 

The unique sites — a truck stop/hotel along an isolated interstate location, two destination conference center hotels, and a city-adjacent conference resort hotel — challenged the team to find a balance between cohesive brand strategies and site-specific interventions that could elevate and differentiate the properties in a crowded branded hotel landscape. It was imperative to focus on the strong history and legacy of the company’s brand to help shape the future of the portfolio. 

The Design Solution

To guide renovation and expansion strategies, the team conducted full site assessments including staff and management interviews, on-site observation and informal user interviews, as well as an online survey with the hotels’ broader customer base. Interviews and surveys focused on feedback about the properties’ current states as well as ideal future state attributes. 

Simultaneously, the team conducted market research including informational interviews with local government entities and business organizations such as chambers of commerce, convention visitor bureaus, hotel associations, as well as national and regional booking agencies such as tour operators, meeting and event planners, and destination management companies.  

Each site study yielded a set of recommendations highlighting specific physical facility improvement opportunities with associated operational and programmatic considerations. A “now, near, far” framework for each, supports prioritization efforts and potential phasing strategies. The HKS design team also developed schematic site plans to help contextualize the placement of their facility recommendations and optimal layouts for various scenarios. 

The Design Impact

Insights from this study have the potential to impact over 450 acres of the brand’s hospitality-oriented properties and the company’s operations. Their unique spaces and experiences touch millions of guests and visitors a year — from supporting family road trips across the United States to providing accommodations for conference participants, and events and engagements in their local communities. 

HKS’ strategic recommendations will help elevate and expand existing offerings to meet the needs of new and potential user groups and have implications for the future of the brand’s business positioning, operations, and portfolio optimization. 

Through extensive outreach and engagement, the HKS Advisory team triangulated key insights and themes from varied perspectives. 
Assessing current and future target guest audiences for drop-in, overnight and extended visits helped inform programmatic recommendations for renovation plans.
Site-specific activities, offerings and partnerships help differentiate each property while still establishing a notable standard for the brand experience. 

Project Features

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.”

HKS Hospitality Interiors Becomes ROAM

HKS Hospitality Interiors Becomes ROAM

Today’s announcement of the launch of ROAM Interior Design, a new independently operated luxury design firm, is the result of extensive planning and research by a veteran team of designers. We at HKS look forward to continued collaboration with ROAM as it takes luxury design to new heights. Below is a release from ROAM about its new venture.

DALLAS, TX [November 8, 2023] – Today we proudly announce the launch of ROAM Interior Design, a new independently operated luxury design firm with specialization in hospitality and residential categories. Previously known as HKS Hospitality Interiors, ROAM will be led by design veterans Mary Alice Palmer and Olga Acosta. They will be ably supported by an award-winning team of interior designers and interior architects underscored by a well-established international portfolio, including Auberge Resorts Bishop’s Lodge in New Mexico and Esperanza Los Cabos. As a newly established maverick interior design firm, ROAM may now more freely showcase its work and operate independently with external partners, expanding the firm’s reach within the highly competitive landscape. 

“The ability to establish ROAM as an independent practice is a pivotal moment for our team, allowing the opportunity to bring on new, exciting projects with the added flexibility of working with independent brands, owners and architectural partners,” said Mary Alice Palmer, Global Creative Director and Founding Principal at ROAM. “We look forward to continued collaboration with HKS, pushing each other’s project boundaries through innovation and curiosity to achieve extraordinary results for our clients, while allowing ROAM to freely compete and establish its own identity within the highly specialized industry.”

ROAM’s name is conceived from its story of discovery, journeys and place – that a life well-lived is one of insatiable curiosity that finds inspiration and creativity through exploration. With this story, ROAM crafts its narratives through immersive, multifaceted spaces that evoke a sensory-driven experience, eliciting a sense of luxury with the freedom to relax without a timeline in surroundings that exceed expectations. The firm’s distinguished design team does not fear “jumping into the abyss,” Palmer said, which allows their instinctual creative direction and innovation to lead them in their projects. With a natural focus on creating spaces that promote a human-centric experience rooted in well-being, the ROAM team has already established itself as an organic leader in hospitality, focusing on a collective mindset that allows the creation of something that transcends the individual.

“We look forward to continuing to lead with our deeply held ideals of empathetic listening and collaboration as we take on exciting new projects,” said Olga Acosta, Global Practice Manager and Principal at ROAM. “I believe the establishment of ROAM will open doors to interesting new clients, opportunities and talent across the globe, and I look forward to leading that charge alongside Mary Alice and our expert team.”

ROAM Interiors will operate in Dallas and London with plans to expand to additional international regions in the future. The firm will continue to collaborate with HKS and directly with hospitality owners, brands, operators, developers and architectural partners globally, offering a menu of services including interior design and interior architecture, branding, product design, creative direction, strategy, art and accessory curation, and F&B concept development. 

The formal launch of ROAM Interior Design will take place on November 8th in New York marking the beginning of a new era for luxury design in the hospitality and residential sectors.

For more information on ROAM, please visit our website https://www.roaminteriordesign.com/ and follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.

HKS Wins ICONIC AWARD 2023 for Chongqing Luneng City Phase III

HKS Wins ICONIC AWARD 2023 for Chongqing Luneng City Phase III

Global design firm HKS has won an ICONIC AWARD 2023: Innovative Architecture for concept in urban planning for Chongqing Luneng City Phase III in Chongqing, China.

Annually awarded by the German Design Council, the ICONIC AWARDS: Innovative Architecture celebrate a variety of design work, and winners exemplify the interplay of design disciplines and factors such as social compatibility, accessibility, sustainability and overall concept.

The award is decided by a jury of professionals from the architecture, interior design, design and brand communications fields. This year’s jury included Ben Van Berkel (UNStudio, Amsterdam), Fabian Peters (BAUMEISTER, Munich), Virginia Lung (One Plus Partnership, Hong Kong), Lone Wiggers (C. F. Møller Architects, Aarhus) and Wei Wu (gmp International GmbH).  

“This prestigious international design award recognizes HKS’ creative design solution for an extremely complicated project site,” said Bin Cao, Managing Director of East Asia at HKS.  

“This prestigious international design award recognizes HKS’ creative design solution for an extremely complicated project site.”

Set for completion in 2025, Chongqing Luneng Phase III will be a 410,000-square-meter (4,413,200-square-foot) mixed-use, transit-oriented development over three city blocks in the heart of Chongqing. The project uses a multi-first level elevation system to connect each of the development’s three blocks by a streamlined shopping route, as the site has a 27-meter (89-foot) height difference across 520 meters (1,700 feet). 

The project will be built over two subway lines and a bus terminal and is next to Chongqing’s expansive Central Park, seamlessly establishing itself as a complementary consumer destination to the park and connecting the development to more of the city by transit.  

“The design team not only displayed their amazing skill and knowledge in efficiently integrating the public transit system into a large-scale development program,” Cao said. “But also in creating a vibrant place with trendy retail and lifestyle options, making it one of the most popular commercial centers in the city.” 

Gaylord Pacific Hotel and Convention Center 

Case Study

Gaylord Pacific Hotel and Convention Center  Transforming a California Waterfront Into a World-class Business and Leisure Destination 

Chula Vista, California

The Challenge

The city of Chula Vista and the Port of San Diego sought to transform the Chula Vista Bayfront into a world-class destination for residents and visitors through a resort-style hotel and convention center and robust public amenities and park spaces. The HKS project team wanted to honor the spirit of Southern California and enrich guest experience with access to nature but also aimed to apply sustainable design initiatives. Located on brownfield land and surrounded by industrial sites, the site required sensitive design solutions to promote wildlife and reduce the footprint of the development to increase the landscaped zones. 

The Design Solution

The resort hotel and convention center combine to become the centerpiece and catalyst project of the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan. The 1,600-room hotel rises 22 stories tall with breathtaking views of the San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Laguna Mountain Range to the east and south and downtown San Diego to the north.  

The convention center is a 477,000-square-foot (44,315-square-meter) facility featuring multiple restaurants and lounges, meeting rooms, elevated ballrooms and the largest exhibit hall in California. A 4.25-acre (17,199-square-meter) water park features waterslides, a lazy river, wave pool, water playground, surf simulator and multiple resort-style pools. 

The new hotel also features a large-scale, all-glass atrium that highlights the natural beauty of Chula Vista’s Bayfront while maintaining Gaylord Resort’s signature features. The atrium is home to an array of water features, a translucent polymer roof and elaborate glass wall system with large folding doors that will provide spectacular views of the bay. Extensive daylighting and natural ventilation enhance the site’s access to nature but also serve as sustainability measures.  

To further ensure connectivity and accessibility to the wider Chula Vista Bayfront area, Gaylord Pacific offers public amenities including a landscaped esplanade, plazas along bike paths, fine and casual dining with snack stands, lawn game activities, public art and public access to pools. Guests and visitors will also be able to enjoy shopping and dining amenities, waterfront viewing terraces, water features and more.  

The Design Impact

The project is the first phase of a major development of underutilized land into a luxury waterfront destination and is intended to promote further development of the overall masterplan while protecting natural wildlife and sanctuaries with careful regulation and land use. This will increase public access to nature while boosting the economy of the city in a respectful and calculated manner. When completed, 40% of the overall land area of the development will be parks, promenades, bike trails and other amenities open to the public.  

Project Features

The Allure of the Unseen: Top Travel Trends

The Allure of the Unseen: Top Travel Trends

Travel and tourism have witnessed a seismic shift in the past few years, with trends leaning more towards sustainable and conscious discovery. This surge in awareness about the environmental and socio-cultural impact of tourism has led to the rise of myriad innovative travel trends. While it would be impossible to spotlight all of them, we’ve distilled some of the most intriguing ones to us from redefining the concept of sustainability to unraveling our ancestry through our genes.

Let’s take a journey into the future of travel.

Regenerative Tourism: Restoring the World as We Roam

Moving a step beyond sustainable travel, regenerative tourism aims at restoring destinations rather than merely slowing down their degradation. It’s a collective responsibility between the traveler and the host destination, striving for active preservation of the environment. Imagine participating in ocean clean-up activities or helping in reforestation efforts as part of your holiday.

Global Family Travels’ ventures in Oregon have travelers actively aiding wildfire recovery in the Willamette National Forest, while in Guyana, indigenous-led eco-tourism at Rewa Village directly conserves a vast rainforest, turning each traveler’s carbon footprint into a net positive for the environment. As we strive to align our travel choices with our values, images of travelers taking part in in local clean-up drives, supporting local businesses, and contributing to the welfare of the travel industry workers underline this transition.

Indigenous Tourism: Reviving Traditions and Cultures

Indigenous tourism, with travel tours operated or controlled by First Nations, Métis, or Inuit peoples, presents a unique opportunity to experience and learn from the rich indigenous heritage. From Kenya and Tanzania to Ecuador and Australia, it’s the essence of the attractions.

This trend serves as a catalyst for cultural revival, intercultural awareness, and economic growth. It’s not just about providing guests with a deeper understanding of a different culture; it also promotes environmental stewardship and supports the local economy.

DNA Travel: Embarking on a Voyage to Your Roots

In the era of DNA ancestry services, a new trend has emerged – DNA Travel. It involves crafting a personalized travel itinerary based on your DNA ancestry results. This trend enables travelers to trace their roots, potentially meet distant relatives, and experience a sense of belonging that transcends borders.

Companies like 23andMe have made it easier for travelers to embark on these heritage discovery journeys. For instance, the award-winning “Go Back to Africa” campaign by Black and Abroad highlights the potent influence of DNA travel.

Set-Jetting: Live Your Screen Dreams

As travelers seek novel experiences, “Set-Jetting” – visiting the shooting locations of favorite movies or TV series – is making waves. Be it the enchanting landscapes of Sicily from an HBO thriller or the majestic views of New Zealand from ‘Lord of the Rings’, these locations have seen a surge in visitor numbers.

These cinematic destinations offer travelers the chance to experience their favorite screen moments in real life, often leading to unexpected discoveries and adventures.

Alpha, Beta, Gamma: New Coordinates of Adventure

According to a study by Booking.com, 30% of global travelers aspire to explore lesser-known cities. Alpha destinations are popular tourist spots, such as the Great Barrier Reef. Beta destinations, like Bhutan, offer an authentic cultural experience, while Gamma destinations are often off-the-beaten-path locations like Gabon that offer unique rewards for adventurous travelers.

This trend, driven by the desire for unique experiences and the ease of sharing travel stories on social media, encourages travelers to step off the trodden path and experience the world in fresh, exciting ways.

Type 2 Fun: Seeking the Extraordinary

Adventure tourism is witnessing an unprecedented boom, with millions across the globe seeking out-of-the-ordinary experiences. Be it sand surfing in Sahara or hot air ballooning over the surreal landscapes of Cappadocia, these experiences are defined by their thrill factor and the unforgettable memories they create.

Adventure travelers are predominantly motivated by the pursuit of unique experiences and the desire to travel off the beaten path. This adrenaline-fueled facet of travel holds immense potential for growth as more travelers look for novel, immersive experiences.

In this transformative phase of travel, we’re not just venturing towards new geographical coordinates but also embracing a profound shift in our perceptions, turning travel into a tool for personal growth, environmental preservation, cultural exchange, and self-discovery.

Unleashing Gastronomy: Food Tourism Reimagined

Food has always been an integral part of travel, but the ‘Gastro Memories’ trend is revolutionizing how we perceive culinary experiences. It’s not merely about fine dining or sampling local delicacies anymore. This trend emphasizes the creation and preservation of memorable food experiences. People now yearn to participate in cooking classes, food festivals, and even farm-to-table experiences to deepen their understanding and connection with the food they consume. Imagine handpicking fresh produce from a lush Italian vineyard and then being guided by a local chef to turn them into a sumptuous meal. These are the kinds of memories this trend is all about.

Whether you’re journeying to savor global cuisines, delve into ancestral roots, or quench your thirst for adventure, countless transformative travel experiences await. Staying abreast of the evolving trends that are shaping the profile of the market ensures that our designs are relevant and that HKS is able to lead with knowledge. 

HKS-Designed Fairmont Taghazout Bay Wins 2023 International Hotel & Property Award

LGBTQIA+ Designers at HKS Bring Pride to Their Work

LGBTQIA+ Designers at HKS Bring Pride to Their Work

HKS’ mission to build a better future isn’t limited to our design practice — that goal drives everything we do. Our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives allow us to look inward and effect meaningful change that makes our firm a better place to work. These initiatives include the daily celebration and inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ colleagues through the firm’s Pride Affinity and Inclusion Group and participation in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.  

HKS constantly strives to create space for, and amplify the voices of, our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, but Pride Month is a chance to honor them further. To celebrate Pride Month, three of our colleagues — Dennis Dine, Gaby Espinosa and Pablo Morales Contreras — share how their identities within the LGBTQIA+ community make them better designers.  

Dennis Dine, he/him 

Architecture Design Professional, Health Care 
HKS Chicago 
Years in the industry: 6 
Years at HKS: 2 

Since joining HKS two years ago as a health care designer, I have worked alongside a diverse, dynamic team comprised of varying intersectional identities. Together, we seek to create environments that heal and uplift by using a people-first design approach. User engagement is central to any responsive design solution and our varying identities and experiences give our team a comprehensive perspective to ask the right questions. My own identity as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community — along with our ongoing research on gender-affirming design — provides me with a lens to think critically about gendered spaces and psychological and physical safety. This lens, when compounded with those of my teammates, results in more empathetic and inclusive solutions.  

At HKS, my identity within the LGBTQIA+ community is viewed as an asset, not a liability. Our clients are demanding a built environment that reflects the communities they serve, and HKS recognizes that responsiveness does not emerge from homogeneity. It is not enough to merely hire and bring diverse voices to the table. Rather, we must ensure diverse voices are amplified to fully leverage the benefits they offer to our work. 

Pride Month provides us all with an opportunity to both celebrate progress and recognize the work we have cut out for us. The opportunities I have today are the result of those before me who fought tooth-and-nail for them. It is now my turn to lead with influence to push the needle further. 

“At HKS, my identity within the LGBTQIA+ community is viewed as an asset, not a liability.”

Gaby Espinosa, she/her

Designer, Senior Living
HKS Dallas
Years in the industry: 8
Years at HKS: 2.5

Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community encourages me to be a better designer by fostering an understanding of and appreciation for the needs of diverse communities. It has opened my eyes to the importance of inclusivity and the role of design in creating spaces that not only embrace diversity but celebrate it. Whether it’s incorporating accessible features, respecting cultural traditions or accommodating different lifestyles, I want to design environments that make everyone feel like they belong. By designing spaces that take into consideration the uniqueness of people, we can empower individuals to freely be who they are. 

Being a lesbian has cultivated my strong sense of empathy and curiosity about people’s different perspectives. This has allowed me to connect with clients and the people we design for on a deeper level. By creating an open environment with honest dialogue, I can collaborate in an effective way, which results in unique designs that reflect the identity of the communities they belong to. Celebrating diversity and incorporating elements that reflect people’s cultures and identities results in designs that make people feel at home. 

My identity encourages me to think outside the box and challenge the norm, especially when designing for the future of senior living. The LGBTQIA+ community has a history of progress and pushing boundaries that inspires me to approach design challenges with fresh eyes and seek unconventional solutions. By embracing different perspectives, cultures and ideas, I want to create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also challenge what we traditionally think of when we think of senior living design. Design should foster inclusivity and result in spaces that encourage exchanges between different generations, cultures and identities. 

“The LGBTQIA+ community has a history of progress and pushing boundaries that inspires me to approach design challenges with fresh eyes and seek unconventional solutions.”

Pablo Morales Contreras, he/him

Designer, Hospitality 
HKS Mexico City 
Years in the industry: 6.5 
Years at HKS: 1.5 

I believe creativity comes from viewing the world from a different perspective. As members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we tend to see the world differently, moving away from the way things have always been done to what should be done instead. What is innovation if not a twist or an introduction of a new thing to an established arrangement?  

From an early age, every queer person comes to terms with their identity, realizing that we aren’t like most people. This process of self-discovery is what makes us more creative. We get to create our own playbook, and because of that, we see the world as a creative place. We explore how we can make something more beautiful or more inclusive.  

As a designer, my identity has been influential in the way I think about design and how I approach each project. My background, experiences, values and beliefs all play a role in how I interpret a design brief and choose the best solution for it. I believe there’s power in bringing a diverse point of view, a different way of doing things or a different world view. From the vibrant colors of the Pride flag to the powerful messages of self-love and acceptance, I strive to bring these elements into my designs to create something that is both visually stunning and meaningful. 

“I believe there’s power in bringing a diverse point of view, a different way of doing things or a different world view.”

Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community has been a great source of inspiration and motivation for me as a designer. Being exposed to different perspectives, cultures and ways of thinking has helped me develop my creative skills and become more open-minded when it comes to design. 

It also has made me more aware of the importance of representation in design. I strive to create designs that are inclusive and representative of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This helps me create designs that are not only visually appealing but also meaningful and impactful. 

Jaime De la Garza

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Elias Kawass


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