Scott Lay

Mark Oliver Trance

Darren Copeland


Case Studies

Dwight Song


David Stover


Tara Nations


Case Studies

Amy V. Anderson


Prince Ambooken

Matthew Hake

HKS Mission Critical Team Expands to Meet Growing Demand

HKS Mission Critical Team Expands to Meet Growing Demand

The global data center market, which was valued at $200 billion in 2021, is expected to zoom to $450 billion by 2027, with more than 25 million square feet added during that period, according to Ken Research’s latest estimates. In the U.S. alone, the data center market is projected to expand from $20.21 billion in 2022 to $28.56 billion in 2028 (a compound annual growth rate of 6%), when it will have 25.95 million square feet of leasable space and 3,404 MW of power capacity, according to Arizton estimates.

With this growth in demand, HKS is increasing its global reach to serve Mission Critical clients by adding more staff and tapping into the talent across the firm to research better and faster ways to address the challenges of this market sector. Over 90% of HKS’ Mission Critical are long-term clients. The team worked in 31 U.S. states last year, several sites in the UK, and is currently working with over 35 different clients who provide hyperscale, colocation, edge, enterprise, and wholesale data center facilities.

Mary Hart, Bernie Woytek and Michael Malone are leading the HKS Mission Critical practice bringing more than 90 years of cumulative experience with this building type. They are supported by Michael Lyons and William Ringer. In addition, the firm has recently focused on Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics facilities under the leadership of industry specialist Balmiki Bhattacharya.

“We are at a critical point of transition in the data center market,” said Hart. “The way we design a data center is rapidly evolving, changing standard templates and modular designs to accommodate AI and technology growth. We are working to understand these changes as they occur and focus on client specific implementation requirements. As technology evolves, so does the need to build smarter from a sustainable and resilience perspective. We bring the full range of subject matter expertise and front-line research to our design process. Speed to market is key and our team is built to specifically provide that.” 

Woytek added, “The state of the market for data centers and other critical facilities is not only growing exponentially, but it is evolving as well. Machine learning, AI, technological advances, and society’s reliance on these facilities have led all our clients to push the envelope on project delivery that requires our teams to be ahead of the curve on industry knowledge through experience, lessons learned, and research. Knowing that we have a very deep bench of design and technical staff with considerable experience and knowledge of multiple types of data centers from 2 MW shielded data halls to million-plus square foot campuses with several hundred MW of power feeding multiple buildings, we have yet to not meet the challenge any of our clients have presented us.”

Malone said, “Our thirst for data usage and storage continues to grow, our Internet of Things continues to expand, and our fascination with what AI holds for us captivates our imagination. Our team continues to evolve to anticipate market demands. Our partnerships with our clients and design consultants allow us to explore ideas of how to better prepare our data centers to react over time and to do so with minor impact to ongoing operations.” 

HKS has recently focused on Advanced Manufacturing Industrial & Logistics market. Bhattacharya characterized the opportunity as, “Built-to-suit activity remains strong but speculative development has slowed down significantly driven by lower demand, high cost of capital, rents plateauing and almost 490 million square feet of industrial projects still under construction that will hit the market in the coming quarters.”

“We expect to see consolidation in the 3P Logistics market which will drive a lot of repositioning work. Dense urban areas in select coastal markets are seeing an uptick in multi-story industrial projects of diverse types as land value continues to increase. We expect the next big wave of industrial projects will be more specialized in nature and focused on solving bigger problems,” he added

We look forward to working with you to explore the latest thinking in Mission Critical design. For more information please visit our website or email any of the leaders highlighted above.

Joy DeWitt

J.D. Lambert


News, Announcements and Events

Michael Lyons


Case Studies

Mary Hart Brings Empathetic Leadership and Military Precision to HKS’ Mission Critical Practice

Mary Hart Brings Empathetic Leadership and Military Precision to HKS’ Mission Critical Practice

When Mary Hart was in high school, a teacher asked her to write down her top three career choices.

“I put architect, race car driver and rock star,” she said.

Hart had become fascinated with buildings and infrastructure as a child while visiting job sites with her father, who worked as a contractor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She also loved cars and music, but the motion sickness and stage fright she experienced at the time made two of her career options non-starters.

“Architecture just made sense,” said Hart, a Principal and Mission Critical practice leader at HKS.

But even before her dream of being an architect took shape, Hart knew she wanted to attend college. Her parents both passed away when she was young — her mother before she turned 1, and her father when she was 14. She received support from her stepmother and older half siblings during high school and navigated the challenges of adolescence while living in multiple places. Through it all, she kept an eye on her goal of pursuing higher education.

“Bouncing around from home to home, I had the potential to be a really bad kid, but there was something in me that always stopped me at the eleventh hour that said, ‘You’re not going to be what you want to be if you go down this path,’” Hart recalled. “Once I got into college, I had to straighten up my life or I wasn’t going to succeed.”

Starting a Life of Service

An Army recruiter approached Hart when she was in junior college, and she opted to take advantage of the scholarship that came with joining The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Texas Christian University. The school didn’t have an architecture program, so she sought a business degree with the belief that no matter where her career led her, understanding the ins and outs of business would help.

She graduated in 1988 and joined the Texas Army National Guard as a Communications Officer. The role required her to travel for training several times a year, including a two-week stretch every summer.

“My personality fit great with the Army,” Hart said. “I was always organized, kept things clean, and I was an early riser.”

During Hart’s 22 years in the Texas Army National Guard, she served deployments in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hart worked as a manager at regional supermarket chain Tom Thumb for six years as she simultaneously served in the Guard, helping numerous stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area grow by using her business savvy and organizational skills. It was also during this time Hart met her wife, Linda Reyes-Hart. The couple first connected while visiting a mutual friend in the hospital and then really hit it off a few months later at a party Hart threw to celebrate that same friend’s recovery. A week later, Hart “got up enough courage to ask her on a date” and the rest is history — they’ve been together more than 30 years.

In 1994, Hart became newly determined to follow her dream and enrolled full time in the University of Texas at Arlington’s Master of Architecture program, which permitted students with prior degrees to complete undergraduate and graduate architecture courses in three years. After she reached that milestone, she moved on to the next ones: gaining employment in an architecture firm and achieving licensure.

Parallel and Complementary Paths

As Hart built her architecture career in Dallas, she also rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Texas Army National Guard. She served deployments in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan before retiring from the military in 2011 after 22 years of service.

Some might call it a double life, but Hart believes her parallel career paths as an architect and service member are inextricably linked. As a signal officer, she led teams setting up communications networks and equipment ranging from Vietnam-era telecom devices to modern computer systems. As an architect, she has designed and delivered millions of square feet of commercial offices, data centers, operations centers — many of which include corporate and civilian versions of the equipment she operated in the military.

Hart fondly recalled a time where she was able to leverage her design skills on a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. She used Microsoft PowerPoint (the only available software) to redesign her unit’s Network Operations Center, transforming a dusty plywood command office into a secure open-plan workplace with independent computer stations and collaborative space with large wall monitors.

“Most of the time, I’m using my Army career to support my civilian job,” Hart said. “It was really neat to go the opposite direction, to use my civilian job with my Army career.”

Casey Montague, a fellow architect and retired Texas Army National Guard officer, said that during her years in the service, Hart developed a reputation for being an extremely skilled officer with strategic and tactical capabilities. She also became renowned as an exemplary leader and supportive teammate who always looked out for others.

“In the Texas National Guard, everybody knew who Mary Hart was and wanted her on their team,” said Montague.

“In the Texas National Guard, everybody knew who Mary Hart was and wanted her on their team.”

The military isn’t the only community where Mary developed a reputation that preceded her. She also built relationships with other designers and architects throughout Texas who knew her to be an exceptional project manager and professional leader.

Leading a Growing Practice

When she came to HKS in 2021, Hart was excited to get back to designing data and operations centers, which she had an affinity for since early in her architecture career. She also looked forward to growing as a leader and leveraging the knowledge she gained while getting an MBA after she retired from the military. From day one, her role as Principal and Mission Critical practice leader at HKS was a perfect match.

“I walked in here and it felt like I’d been here forever,” Hart said.

During the last two years, Hart has been a key player in expanding the HKS Mission Critical practice, which now has three times as many staff members as when she started and is experiencing an influx of projects and revenue due to increasing demand for secure data centers and similar facilities. She is particularly excited about the growing practice’s diversity and the opportunities it has provided her to help shape younger professionals as they learn new project types and become a cohesive, highly functioning team.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping people see outside themselves or beyond themselves to become something better,” Hart said. “I think I do a pretty good job at looking at personalities and finding where the gaps are and where they can connect to make a great team.”

Two of the people Hart personally brought aboard the HKS Mission Critical team are her National Guard colleague, Montague, and architect Rachel Franklin, who was introduced to Hart through a friend in 2022. When they met, Franklin was instantly taken with Hart’s story and joined her at HKS not long after.

“Immediately, she was an open book and was open to being a mentor for me,” Franklin said. “Learning about Mary’s life, I thought I could learn about how I could navigate this industry as a gay woman.”

Openly identifying as a lesbian in her professional life, Hart has used her voice to create impact through the HKS PRIDE Affinity and Inclusion Group, which develops programs and informs policies in support of the firm’s LGBTQIA+ employee base. As a founder of the group, she has been influential in the firm’s participation in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, building on her and Reyes-Hart’s longstanding involvement in HRC advocacy efforts and committees.

Hart and her wife, Linda Reyes-Hart, are pictured attending a Human Rights Campaign luncheon (left) and Black Tie Dinner, an annual charity event that raises funds to support the North Texas LGBTQIA+ community (right).

Franklin said that seeing Hart proudly be her authentic self at work has inspired her to integrate her own professional life more intentionally with the personal life she shares with her wife and children. She’s also been taking notes about the ways in which Hart has risen to high-ranking roles in the military and in architecture while maintaining a calm air of humility.

“To meet somebody who is as successful as she is and as humble as she is…it is so inspiring to me, I can’t even explain it,” said Franklin.

Hart guides her team’s project work from a kind and caring point of view while also bringing military sensibilities of efficiency and productivity to the table, according to her colleagues. Montague and Franklin both said that in addition to taking time to help them learn the particulars of designing Mission Critical projects, Hart consistently balances keeping track of progress on their many projects while serving as an empathetic and invested leader throughout the firm.

“Mary is reaching out across the entire Mission Critical practice and making an impact on everybody,” said Montague. “She is full of knowledge and ready and willing to share it with anyone who is willing to learn and get better.”

Not one to shy away from doing things differently, Hart is also celebrated by her teammates for being an out-of-the-box thinker who seeks to integrate new technology into their workflow and deeply cares about improving project outcomes.

“Her forward-thinking, positive attitude about what she wants Mission Critical to be is infectious,” Franklin said.

A lover of both good food and nature, Hart’s hobbies include cooking, baking and gardening.

A New Chapter, a New Challenge

In her time outside of work, Hart enjoys cooking, gardening and spending time outdoors with Reyes-Hart, who works remotely as a director of digital experience for an Arkansas-based bank. Hart says that through her schooling, deployments, travels and career advancements, her wife has been an immense source of support and love.

“Linda is my rock. She keeps me grounded when things are going haywire and she has consistently supported me and cared for me,” Hart said. “I would not be where I am today without her.”

The couple’s love of nature and their hobbies of hiking and biking recently compelled them to relocate to the Denver area. Hart said the impending move is due to several factors: her desire to escape the Texas heat; because she has been supported by HKS to transition to the firm’s Denver office; and because she didn’t want to wait until she retires to pursue her and her wife’s longtime dream of living in Colorado.

“We decided you only live once,” Hart said. “I don’t want to wait until I’m 65 and my knees don’t work anymore to go hiking in Colorado. I can’t wait to be able to go out and be in nature every day.”

Hart and her wife Linda enjoy hiking in the mountains of Colorado (left) and biking with friends on trails like the Trinity Trails of Fort Worth (right).

The relocation is also indicative of Hart being “ready for a new challenge,” she said. This is an unsurprising statement to hear from a determined and ambitious person who served 22 years in the military, obtained three degrees and leads a team at a global design firm. Her life story is a master class in tackling big challenges.

As she embarks on this new chapter, Hart is energized by thoughts of the future — the fun and rewarding experiences she will share with Reyes-Hart and how she can continue to grow in service to others as an architect and mentor.

“When I came to HKS, I promised myself that I’m not here to be anything other than who I am, to do a good job, to support the people I work with, and build buildings,” Hart said. “That’s what it’s about.”

How Integrated Modular Data Center Design Maximizes Time and Resources

How Integrated Modular Data Center Design Maximizes Time and Resources

The words “modular data center” create many different images in peoples’ minds. Some might visualize an equipment skid with individual components assembled off-site, which is then transported to a conventional building and put into place. Others may picture a full IT module with cooling racks, built off-site and placed into a yard with power infrastructure.

Regardless of the mental image they conjure, modular data centers consistently lead to major benefits over conventional construction projects including high-quality installation, minimal on-site work, and scalable and replicable solutions. Perhaps most importantly, modular data centers can maximize speed to market and be extremely cost-effective for clients and project teams.

The HKS Mission Critical team, which has many years of experience designing and delivering modular data centers, recently had the opportunity to maximize all these benefits while working on the SoFi Stadium Modular DAS Data Center in Inglewood, California.

A Major Challenge

This project presented a major challenge: our client needed a 13,000 square foot data center to support a Distributed Antenna System and host four carriers. Adding to the challenge was a mandate that procurement, design, local approval, fabrication, delivery and full operational capability all take place within nine months.  The team got to work immediately and made sure to involve all design disciplines, modular manufacturer TAS, the construction manager, and client representatives to facilitate real-time decision making and approvals.

We didn’t follow the typical approach of having one design discipline work to a certain level of completion before passing the project to the next discipline. All players were at the table throughout the process. We completed the design during a one-day work session, followed up with concept and schematic design, and kept lines of communication open during twice-weekly coordination sessions. At the end of that first day, an HKS project manager declared that the project was akin to a rocket being launched — after lift-off, there was no turning back and no slowing of the pace.

In addition to being a fantastic example of teamwork and fast-paced, integrated decision making, the SoFi Stadium Modular DAS Data Center features a best-in-class design that is scalable and replicable. It has 30 modules designed at standardized sizes for simplified manufacturing and transport to the project site from the fabrication and assembly facility in Houston, Texas.

The data center has white space modules for telecom equipment and grey space modules for mechanical and electrical equipment. Modules arrived with MEP systems already designed and installed and came pre-certified with UL labels, which reduced work time and inspection requirements at the site. The team also chose to have the hollow metal doors and frames between white space and grey space modules assembled in the controlled factory environment — everything from door hardware to exit lights and signage was installed in Houston prior to shipment to Southern California. Today, the DAS modular assembly and all critical equipment are contained within a screened perimeter wall, affording a secure environment to critical operations, and effectively sequestering those operations from the public environment at SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park.

Lowering Costs and Adding Value

There are many ways modular data center design and construction can reduce costs compared to traditional construction. Once an appropriate module is created, it’s relatively simple to repeat the process and lower costly material and labor expenses. Like an assembly line, off-site module creation maximizes budget efficiency. Cross-trained professionals at the manufacturing plant who build modules take the place of a variety of tradespeople and countless assembly hours at the job site.  Additionally, off-site module manufacturing can happen at the same time as job site preparations, so construction timelines and associated costs are reduced.

With the SoFi Stadium Modular DAS Data Center, all these cost benefits paid handsome dividends. The initial one-day work session resulted in a rough order-of-magnitude budget for the project, and the project team worked closely with the client ownership group to adequately communicate and work through changes as the project progressed. TAS’ Houston manufacturing plant was large enough that it could assemble and house most modules concurrently, leading to significant time and cost savings. The modular solution led to seamless installation at the site with fewer tradespeople and greater organization than traditional construction, which allowed the project to meet its ambitious schedule without financial strain.

Successful outcomes at SoFi Stadium Modular DAS Data Center were only possible because the project was championed by a client that staffed a team of professionals at the top of their game and was willing to put trust in the hands of dedicated designers and manufacturers to deliver it. Because of that trust and our ability to collaborate in a talent-rich environment, our HKS team was able to meet the short timeline, save money and create a facility capable of handling a high volume of data for the NFL’s largest stadium.

Increased Demand for Building Design in the U.S. Southwest Fueled by Growing Metros

Increased Demand for Building Design in the U.S. Southwest Fueled by Growing Metros

The Southwest region of the United States is home to several of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. Small- and mid-sized cities, as well as large metropolises such as Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Phoenix — which just surpassed Philadelphia as the nation’s fifth largest city — are all growing at a phenomenal pace. And all that growth is translating into an increased demand for building design and construction.

“The growing population and economy in this region is driving demand for new types of environments in a variety of sectors including residential, commercial, science and technology and health,” said Scott Hunter, HKS Regional Director for Americas West. “More people means more opportunities to design innovative places that support their daily lives.”

Why Companies Are Putting Down Roots in the Southwest

People are moving to the Southwest to take advantage of lifestyle benefits such as proximity to natural resources and relatively lower costs of living compared to large cities in California and New York. And large corporations are following the people to reap the benefits of Southwest states’ cheaper land and smaller amount of red tape.

Emir Tursic and Mike Vela, office directors of HKS Salt Lake City, said conditions are favorable for companies coming from out-of-state to build new developments or move into existing properties in Utah.

“There is a different approach here. The governments here are a lot more collaborative and less regulatory,” said Tursic.

Arizona also has a business-friendly environment, according to Matt Lafflam and Sidney Smith, office directors of HKS Phoenix.

“The main economy here is growth. Population influx drives all market sectors of construction and growth propagates growth,” Lafflam said. “With a business-friendly environment, there’s a significant draw for companies to relocate to Arizona.”

Though most major U.S.-based corporations maintain headquarters in coastal cities, many — including financial giants like Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo — now have large outposts in Salt Lake City and Phoenix.

But no sector is capitalizing on the opportunities of the Southwest quite as much as the tech industry.

About 25 miles south of Salt Lake City, an area dubbed “Silicon Slopes” has become a destination for tech start-ups and long-established players including eBay and Adobe Systems. Similar small and mid-size metro areas throughout Utah, Arizona and Nevada have attracted technology companies and as a result, speculative commercial office buildings and new or renovation-ready properties for mission critical facilities have both surged.

“Tech companies are looking at creating massive data centers where they can get cheap, abundant power, where less expensive land is readily available, and where the regulatory climate is much easier to get things approved. It’s a rapidly growing market for us,” said Hunter, noting that HKS offices in the region are working hard to design secure mission critical facilities like Aligned Data Centers in West Jordan, Utah.

A Growing Emphasis on Science and Technology

Beyond access to affordable and abundant real estate, the growing appetite for tech facilities in the Southwest is aided by the region’s number of world-class research universities.

“Having a large pool of educated graduates is part of why the tech industry is growing so much,” Vela said, referencing large schools such as University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

In Arizona, tech firms are taking advantage of the talent coming out of institutions there, including Arizona State and the University of Arizona.

A lot of companies, especially ones from California, are thinking, ‘Why should we hire people from out-of-state and bring them here where the cost of living is higher when we could just meet them where they are and have them work in the state where they are graduating’,” Smith said.

Arizona’s major universities and large health care systems are strategically aligning with private industry to create science and innovation corridors, Lafflam and Smith said. HKS is leveraging our nearly 30-year history working with major health systems and allied industries in the Southwest and Mountain states to build relationships and influence the future of sci-tech design and development.

These clients tend to rely on one another for research and evolution,” Smith said. “Science and technology rely on health care and vice versa. We can be the conduit between those two to help them learn more about each other’s practice and how they work.”

Smith cited HKS-designed 850 PBC in Phoenix as a key example of how integration among biomedical, technology, and research institutions can support relationship and community building.

The wave of science and tech developments isn’t limited to suburbs or university-adjacent locations. Tursic said that in Salt Lake City, there is a “very deliberate effort” at the local government level to nurture the biotech industry. City officials, he noted, are implementing a zoning change that would allow life science labs to be built downtown, which will aid the development of integrated innovation districts in the urban core.

New Lifestyles Drive Mixed-Use, Residential, Commercial and Entertainment Design

As more and more companies have flocked to Phoenix and Salt Lake City, the number of young professionals, young families, and people who are used to living in bigger, denser cities has grown.

“Phoenix has options. If you’re a professional and you want live downtown, there are high rise options and historic options. Every infield lot has a condo complex or mixed-use complex. It’s a thoughtful approach to planning,” Lafflam said.

In addition to wanting places to live downtown, younger demographics are also increasing demand for mixed-use amenities and places where they can socialize, eat, and enjoy entertainment all within a short walk of one another.

“There’s real synergy. What we’ve called ‘live, work, and play’ for a long time — we’re seeing really come to fruition in a market like ours now,” said Tursic.

HKS has long designed hospitality and sports destinations in the region. Utah mountain resorts such as Montage Deer Valley and baseball spring training facilities in Arizona including Salt River Fields at Talking Stick are examples of how HKS designers have been able to provide world-class amenities for short-term visitors.

Now, the firm is taking that experience and expertise into city centers to serve the growing metro populations who live there 365 days a year. Tursic said HKS’ recent amenity-rich projects in Salt Lake City — ranging from luxury residential high-rise Astra Tower to large mixed-use hotel developments and smaller social clubs like the newly-opened Edison House — speak to Salt Lake City’s positive transformation.

Vela credits the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics as a major turning point in recent history. He said it enhanced the public’s perception of the city and started a significant invigoration of downtown.   

“Downtown is alive. There are places to eat and bars, and the theaters that we have been able to design,” Vela said, noting that the HKS-designed George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater and its 2,500-seat performance hall gave the city the ability to host major entertainment acts and attract visitors and locals alike to enjoy events downtown.

Both HKS Phoenix and HKS Salt Lake City are moving later this year to new offices that they designed in the heart of their respective downtowns where employees in those offices can enjoy the benefits of mixed-use developments. Those offices’ leaders are working to expand relationships and build new ones to design more properties that support lifestyles of people residing in Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and beyond.

“We’re continuing to work with opportunities — both developer and publicly funded — and make them real in the commercial market,” Lafflam said.

Maturing Markets

As the Southwest population continues to surge, a backswing in affordability of residential and commercial design and construction is already occurring. Metro areas are attempting to prevent this, in part by supporting integrated design and planning solutions such as transit-oriented development and adaptive re-use of existing buildings.

Seeking to provide the built environment people need to thrive, even amid constraints of an ever-changing development market, designers see exciting opportunities for the future of architecture in Southwest states.

HKS leaders said that the region’s development approaches are maturing, meaning design projects are increasing in sophistication. Technology and mission critical, health and life sciences, and residential and commercial mixed-use are all in-demand building types that require a high level of skill and expertise.

“HKS’ legacy of delivering complex projects — from large medical hospitals to high-rise residential towers and major sports facilities — uniquely position the firm to partner with building owners, developers, and cities for the types of projects the Southwest region needs right now,” Hunter said.

The four office directors of HKS Phoenix and Salt Lake City — each of whom is a transplant and chose to call the Southwest home just like many of the millions moving there now — are excited be a part of building the region’s future.

It’s genuinely a great place to live, work, raise a family and it’s growing so much,” Vela said of Salt Lake City. “It’s gratifying as an architect to have a hand in changing the face of the city for the good. That’s why we do what we do.”

What to Know About Converting Buildings into Modern Data Centers

What to Know About Converting Buildings into Modern Data Centers

Remote work, cloud-based computing, and streaming entertainment have helped increase demand for widespread high-speed internet access in the last several years. And with that demand comes a growing market for secure data centers. Research indicates that data center buildings will reach 20.07 million square feet and a construction market size of approximately $25 billion by 2027 in the United States alone.

One way developers, building owners and facility operators are meeting the moment is by working with architects to convert existing buildings into modern data centers. Since 2018, HKS’ Mission Critical design practice has renovated or re-purposed more than 250 buildings ranging from 10,000 square feet to 585,000 square feet. The projects include adapting office space in commercial high-rise buildings in addition to electronic manufacturing, semi-conductor production and warehouse and distribution facilities.

There are many things to consider when purchasing and transforming properties that weren’t purpose-built as data centers. With years of experience converting buildings into these important facilities, we want to highlight lessons learned to help our collaborators and partners avoid costly issues and challenges that may arise when we’re making buildings into something they were not initially designed for.

Getting the Project Going

Repurposing a building as opposed to building from scratch usually provides the opportunity to deliver a space quicker, and cities and counties are increasingly accommodating of data centers. As a conversion project idea develops, these are the first things to evaluate:

Zoning – Many jurisdictions include specific data center requirements in their zoning, but if a jurisdiction is not familiar with the building type, proactive dialogue will limit surprises throughout project. If the site doesn’t allow for data centers, a rezone and a ‘change in use’ will need to be implemented. Approval processes can become quite laborious and lengthy, especially if rezoning or permits are required. Clear and consistent communication about expectations and timelines among all project team members as renovation proceeds will help ease the design and delivery process.

Public Awareness – It’s important to understand that the public may not know what a data center is or how a project will impact a community. If a ‘change in use’ is required for the site, it may trigger a public hearing. In that case, educational outreach can help neighbors understand what a data center is, how it will be different from the existing facility, and what the benefits of the project will be.

Understanding the Site’s Constraints and Opportunities

Dozens of site-related factors can impact a data center’s design as well as how efficiently and cost-effectively a conversion project can be completed. Here are a few:

Power and Connectivity – Data centers require a large amount of power and connectivity to operate effectively. The typical number of watts per square foot for these buildings can be more than 30 times higher than office buildings or 60 times higher than distribution centers. Early conversations with local utility providers are important — upgrading substations or distribution lines, building an on-site substation, or establishing or relocating easements can take several months. Additionally, multiple, high-speed, high-capacity telecommunications carriers are critical to attracting tenants to data center facilities. Getting a handle on this information prior to purchase from real estate brokers or reporting entities is crucial for the project’s viability.

Security – Perimeter security is important to protect a data center from breaches. Most existing sites will not have adequate space to accommodate all secured entrance and setback requirements. That means some of the most challenging security planning aspects will be appropriate access lanes for vehicles and adequate space around the building that reduces vulnerability to vehicle ramming and explosives. By engaging with the client’s security team, project teams can develop viable solutions to this problem.

Flood Mitigation and Water Systems – As with all building types, it’s crucial to evaluate a data center site’s proximity to flood plains and the possibility of disruptions due to weather events. In addition to potentially flooding the data center itself, floods can interrupt fuel delivery, maintenance, and other services around the facility. Also, repurposing a site for use as a data center often requires new or additional equipment yards on semi-pervious or non-pervious ground. Working to understand the current size of the existing stormwater system and completing a stormwater study will lead to appropriate planning.

Major Equipment – Jurisdictions will likely have specific rules and regulations regarding a data center’s on-site equipment. Some may require permits for fuel storage that will take time to get approved and need to be renewed regularly. It’s also important to make sure adequate planning for fuel filling stations and truck access takes place. Another thing to consider during early planning is screening — in many places, data centers must include aesthetically pleasing equipment screens. Sideline studies from the property lines are useful for design teams who need to meet screening requirements.Location-related Impacts – If the site is near railroads, project teams should conduct a vibration study and evaluate any changes to rail service required by the project such as new crossings. On sites with electromagnetic fields surrounding transmission lines, a shielding plan will be required if the forces have potential to interrupt data center operations or pose health problems to employees. Also, most cities and counties have a noise ordinance that limits decibel levels at the property lines and project teams can conduct acoustical studies to help assure the data center’s operating equipment do not exceed them. Outreach and education about when and how often generators will run can proactively mediate public concern about noise.

Making the Most of Structural Planning and Analysis

Not all building types will be structural matches for the requirements of a data center. Commercial offices and distribution and manufacturing facilities are often the best fit, but no matter what type of building is on the table, these are key things project teams should evaluate regarding a structure’s capacity for data center uses:

Exterior Equipment – Many buildings that weren’t purpose-built as data centers will not have the infrastructure to accommodate all the equipment and extensive power and cooling distribution systems required for this building type. Splitting the equipment and loads between the rooftop and a utility yard is a good solution to this problem, but it’s important to pay attention to the existing building’s available structural capacity. In a best-case scenario, you’re investing in a building whose structure is good to go, but if a building requires structural strengthening, the project could require a new internal sub-structure with columns and foundations, which can yield a substantial added cost.

Interior Loads – Once a project team has resolved capacity for the largest systems and equipment, the remaining structural capacity for the interior of the building may be lower than the typical capacity commonly used for structural ceiling grids. To avoid overloading the existing structure or costly work-around interior structural solutions, project teams should take into account interior loads during initial structural planning.

Diving into the Building Design

When a data center conversion project is put into motion, thoughtful evaluation of the existing building’s design will lead to conscientious solutions. These are the most important things to assess that will impact design:

Current Building Conditions – The common phrase “every time we open a wall, we get a surprise,” can certainly ring true on any type of building project, but it may be particularly relevant on repurposed data centers. Most existing buildings won’t come with as-is conditions or an as-built set of drawings. And over the lifetime of a building, chances are remodeling has occurred and documentation of existing conditions isn’t accurate. Since it’s highly unlikely project teams can know all the potential pitfalls prior to full design, selective demolition could be a helpful step to uncover conditions that will need workarounds for layout such as utility locations that require reroutes or structural impediments. A contingency budget approximately 10% above what would be normally carried for other building types will cover these issues.

If a building’s roof and its drainages slope are not up to current code requirements for data centers, some adjustments will need to be made. Rebuilding the roof structure is often out of the question due to cost, so the alternative is to re-roof at the required slope. Sizing of the roof and overflow drains should also be reviewed, as should the need for roof enhancements to meet necessary wind performance ratings.

Floor-to-Floor Heights and Space Efficiency – With all the complex power and IT distribution needs in a data center’s interior, floor-to-floor heights become a very crucial thing to pay attention to — the higher the clear spaces, the better. Trending designs for commercial buildings today usually do not have raised floors for power and IT distribution, which means they have more clear space multi-story and are a good candidate for repurposing. Concrete structures typically net an average of about 11 feet of clear spaces, while steel structures net about 14 feet of clear space. Project teams should create a test-fit for equipment racks to ensure the column spacing can accommodate an efficient layout that maximizes space. Other efforts to maximize space and efficiency — such as new, expanded, or relocated stairs and elevators — may be required and will add costs as well.

Service and Maintenance Accommodations – Since many multistory buildings have water lines in above-ceiling locations, they can present a challenge for data center conversion. Avoiding water-related lines above data halls is best, but relocating lines can be a challenge both physically and financially. If relocation is not physically possible, a prevention system must be installed to protect major equipment. If relocation is possible, that cost needs to be taken into account. The simplest and cost-effective solution is to plan the data halls and support rooms around these routes if possible. Additionally, sufficient docks for truck circulation with trash compactors and dumpsters are required to make sure the facility can operate effectively and smoothly.

Setting the Project Up for Sustainability and Long-term Success

Simply put, the repurposing of an existing building is more sustainable than a new build. However, converting a building for use outside its initial purpose has its own sustainability challenges. Data centers can have a large impact on the electrical grid and if not designed and operated thoughtfully, may have a large carbon footprint. Working with designers and sustainability consultants is the best way to ensure that a building’s conversion and operations as a data center limit impact on the environment.HKS’ Mission Critical practice is founded on collaborative solutions and a commitment to high quality project delivery. If you would like to learn more about these or any other solutions, please contact Dutch Wickes, Mary Hart, Matt Lamont, Bernie Woytek, or Michael Malone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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