Howard University East Towers

Case Study

Howard University East Towers Transformative Project Connects to a Neighborhood’s Storied Past

Washington, DC, USA

The Challenge

Howard University, a historically Black university located in Washington, D.C., has a 155-year legacy rooted in the District’s Shaw neighborhood. As it develops its portfolio of properties in the area, the University is creating a new heart of the neighborhood with vibrant and diverse mixed-use properties, housing, and public gathering spaces that connect to its historic campus and honor the history of its community.

The Design Solution

Located five blocks from the center of the Howard campus, East Towers will be a mixed-use multifamily residential building with 500 housing units and locally curated retail establishments.

HKS, its development partners at LOWE, and local minority-owned real estate firm FGLA created initial proposals for Howard University developments with thoughtful consideration of the neighborhood’s history as one of the centers of Black life in Washington. With goals of inclusion and sensitive place-making, those proposals led the University to directly award the team the East Towers project. The design approach balances sound development strategies that maximize land value with unique programming and placemaking that reinforce Howard University’s mission-oriented values and vision, along with the needs of the community.

The overall vision for the project takes its cues from the fabric of the neighborhood, beginning with a reimagining of W Street Northwest as a new neighborhood social center that promotes urban connectivity to the site. A courtyard created by the “C” shaped plan allows the building to bring the neighborhood’s energy further into the center of the site and the ground floor lobby. The courtyard’s exterior architectural identity incorporates a robust balcony expression and façade that allows for increased natural light within the residential units.

The site’s full block footprint in the heart of Shaw’s U Street Corridor also informs the architecture of the building. The project’s significant perimeter façades to the east, north and west take on an elegant yet restrained and cost-effective approach that responds to the narrow secondary streets surrounding the site. Crafted with brick and glass, the perimeter is contextually responsive and its visually calm expression contrasts with the more vibrant social heart of the courtyard.

Retail spaces on the ground floor will bring new opportunities for economic growth in the neighborhood and residential offerings include studios, one, two and three-bedroom units, many with balconies overlooking the interior courtyard.

One of the building’s signature design elements is suspended 10 stories above the main entry — the rooftop pool features skylights in its floor, allowing pedestrians below opportunities to catch rays of sunshine and a glimpse of swimmers above, while the building’s amenity-rich penthouse level will have indoor and outdoor lounges, grills, and casual seating areas to promote social interaction.

The Design Impact

East Towers is an investment in the future of the neighborhood that Howard University has called home for more than a century and a half. The development team is engaging local and minority-owned business partners throughout the project’s development. Eight percent of the building is dedicated to affordable housing and the design and construction teams will employ at least 50 Howard student interns.

The building will bring quality housing and public space to a rapidly changing neighborhood and foster connections between local residents and University students, staff and visitors. The building will support the overarching theme of “Creating Community” that drove the initial development proposal and align with Howard University’s strategic pillars to serve the community through collaborative partnerships.

The project will be transformative while also reflecting the unique history, heritage and legacies of the Shaw neighborhood through art, programming and branding. It will honor the significant and pioneering economic, cultural, social and institutional contributions of a proud and accomplished community of African Americans, many of which were associated with Howard University.

Project Features


Kristina Crawley

HKS’ Sidney M. Smith Uses Lessons from His Past to Build a New Legacy as a Black Architect

HKS’ Sidney M. Smith Uses Lessons from His Past to Build a New Legacy as a Black Architect

When Sidney Smith graduated from Florida A&M University at age 25 with a degree in architecture, friends in his hometown of Lynn Haven, Florida were shocked. Not because they didn’t think Smith was smart enough. They just hadn’t realized that he was attending college 95 miles away in Tallahassee because they saw him at home in Lynn Haven nearly every weekend.

Almost every Friday of his college career, Smith would pack his drafting board, design tools and tracing paper into his gold-rimmed 1988 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 and make the nearly two-hour drive back to Lynn Haven to spend time with his toddler son. The young single father would then wake early on Monday mornings for the return trip to campus in time for his 8 a.m. or 10 a.m. classes.

Although Smith hadn’t planned to become a father at that time, he said he didn’t get serious about life until his son, Khairi, was born.

Smith enrolled at FAMU so that he could earn a Bachelor of Architecture degree and still make those weekly trips home. He was determined to set a good example for his child.

“I made up my mind to graduate with honors, and I did,” said Smith, who graduated Cum Laude in 1995.

Smith has brought that same spirit of determination and devotion to his career at global design firm HKS, where in 2022 he was among the first African Americans to be named a Partner in the firm.

According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, people who identify as Black or African American make up less than 2 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. As part of HKS’ celebration of Black History Month, Smith, who has been co-director of the Phoenix HKS office since 2022, shared his journey as an African American leader in the field.

Smith with his parents and four older brothers, circa 1982

‘American Story’

A descendant of Alabama sharecroppers, Smith inherited a strong work ethic and commitment to family life.

His maternal and paternal grandfathers were born in 1901 and 1899, respectively, roughly 35 years after the 1865 adoption of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery in the U.S.

Under the sharecropping system, tenant farmers rented land in exchange for a portion of their annual harvest. Smith said both sets of his grandparents “worked to give away a lot of their profits and learned to raise their families on what they were given.”

Smith’s father, Julius “Doc” Smith, received a 9th-grade education and his mother, Della Smith, graduated high school. The two, who were married 55 years at the time of Doc’s death in 2016, raised five sons on the profits of a Lynn Haven business they owned, Doc’s Tire Repair.

“They started from nothing,” Smith said of the shop, which opened in 1974 and is now run by two of his older brothers. “It’s a true American story.”

The family business is “where I learned about hard work, relationships and being true to your word,” Smith said.

“I also learned about not overpromising and underperforming. My dad was very big on making sure that if he told someone that he could get a job done, he would do it and he would do it timely. So this was instilled in me at a very early age.”

Smith grew up in Florida in the 1970s and 1980s

Early Life

Born in 1970 as the youngest of five brothers, Smith recalls having “a great childhood, just playing outside until the streetlights came on.”

He and his brothers helped at the tire shop and were into anything with wheels – toy Matchbox cars, go-karts, three-wheelers, bicycles.

“We used to love building these Evel Knievel-type ramps, trying to jump ditches,” Smith said, referring to the late motorcycle stunt performer who was popular in the 1970s. “Fortunately, I never had any broken bones.”

Smith spent a lot of time drawing as a child, particularly superheroes.

“My best was probably Spider-Man,” he said. “People often ask, ‘What made you get into architecture?’ For me it was a love of drawing.”

Growing up in the Florida panhandle, Smith experienced racism in ways that reverberate with him to this day.

“You’d like to think that in the 70s and 80s, you would escape racism. But there was no way to escape it in the South,” Smith said. “There were times when you felt out of place. You even felt threatened at times. There were times when you were called the n-word.”

Looking back, he said, “those were probably some of the lowest moments of my life. There’s no way to ever erase those thoughts from your mind. They’re still as fresh today as they were when those incidents happened.”

By the grace of God, his family survived through difficult times, Smith said, adding that culturally, “we’ve seen changes but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Smith in New York City during the Florida A&M University (FAMU) School of Architecture trip to the 1994 National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference; Smith with his father following Smith’s FAMU graduation ceremony in Tallahassee, 1995

Quick Learner

Smith performed well in high school and wanted to attend the University of North Carolina, but his application was rejected.

So, he began studying pre-architecture at a local junior college, his interest in the profession stoked by a high school drafting class. He was going to school and working at his parents’ shop when he realized he wanted something different for his life.

He transferred to FAMU, signing on for an extra year of coursework because many of his junior college credits weren’t accepted by the FAMU School of Architecture program.

“I didn’t know if it would pay off,” Smith said, noting the scarcity of African American role models in architecture during his student days. “I honestly did not have a clue about what my future would entail after college.”

After he graduated, Smith returned home to Lynn Haven to figure out that future. His job search was frustrated by his inexperience with AutoCAD design software.

Using the 386DX computer he received from his parents as a graduation gift and a bootleg copy of AutoCAD version 10, Smith applied himself to learning the software.

“That’s what I did every day after working in my dad’s shop, teach myself enough AutoCAD to land a job,” Smith said.

He reached out to a FAMU classmate who was working as an architect in nearby Panama City and inquired about job leads. His friend introduced Smith to Bayne Collins, “one of the best-known architects in Panama City” at the time, according to Smith.

“I went on an interview, and I was honest with him. I said, ‘I don’t know AutoCAD as well as I should, but I’m a quick learner,’” Smith said.

Collins had reason to believe the young aspiring architect and hired him in the summer of 1995 at his firm, Collins & Associates.

“Bayne Collins knew my family, knew my dad – my dad had done tire work for him years before,” Smith said. “All the stars lined up.”

Smith and Casper on their wedding day, 1997

Opportunity Calls

That same year, Susan Casper started her first job as a television news personality in Panama City. Casper had attended the University of West Florida with a mutual friend of Smith’s who gave Casper his telephone number. In the age before social media, Smith was curious about what Casper was like and asked friends and relatives if they knew anything about her.

One friend eventually told him, “When that phone rings, you need to pick up,’” said Smith. “I answered the call.”

That “amazing conversation” led to another, Smith said, and eight months later he proposed marriage. The couple wed in May 1997.

Casper soon landed a position in Tampa, where she would go on to become the first African American woman to anchor a primetime newscast in Tampa. Looking to relocate closer to his wife’s new job, Smith asked another FAMU classmate, Jeff Bush, who worked in what was then the HKS Tampa office, if he knew anyone who was hiring in the region.

Bush, who is now a Principal and Senior Project Manager at HKS Orlando, was aware of an imminent job opening at HKS – his own. He was about to go back to school for his master’s degree.

Smith interviewed and was “basically offered the job on the spot,” he said.

When he started at Collins & Associates, Smith had sworn to himself that he’d never again be in the position of not knowing the tools of his trade. Since then, he said, he’d “learned everything there was to learn about AutoCAD” – including writing his own lisp files and code.

“When I interviewed at HKS, that’s exactly what they needed.”

Smith during a field observation jobsite walk at HKS’ 850 Phoenix Bioscience Core project, 2020; Smith celebrating after sinking a 30’ putt at the Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, 2022

Driving Forward

In addition to his roles as Office Director and Partner, Smith has also served as a Senior Construction Administrator and a Project Manager since joining HKS. He has worked in HKS’ Health, Sports & Entertainment, Commercial, Residential Mixed-Use and Life Science practice areas. His projects include BOE Hefei Digital Hospital in China, a 1000-bed facility that involved eight HKS offices and approximately 65 HKS staff members worldwide.

In 2008, Smith and his family – which by then included twin 3-year-old daughters, Sophia and Sierra – moved to Phoenix so that he could be the lead construction administrator on HKS’ Phoenix Children’s Hospital project.

“Phoenix Children’s is still our client today,” Smith said.

Smith with HKS colleagues Jeffrey Stouffer and Jeff Kabat at a fundraising event to support Phoenix Children’s Hospital, 2019

Jeffrey Stouffer, Global Sector Director of HKS’ Community practice and an Executive Vice President and Partner in the firm, attributes such long-standing client relationships to Smith’s accessibility and willingness to listen.

“He’s empathetic and he’s wise,” said Stouffer.

As the principal-in-charge and principal designer of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Stouffer said he was privileged to watch Smith develop his natural skills as a leader.

When Smith joined the hospital project, “I immediately saw leadership qualities” in him, said Stouffer. “He related to clients with confidence (but) without any arrogance. He’s always been very measured and he thinks before he speaks. He represents the best in HKS.”

Keith Lashley is a Senior Construction Administrator at HKS who, in 2011, was among the first African Americans to become a Principal at HKS. Lashley said Smith “has a unique ability to engage with people and meet them at their level. And he has a very infectious laugh.”

Lashley and Smith met when both worked for HKS in Florida. The two have maintained a friendship despite Smith’s move across the country.

“We still connect, knowing that this is a very difficult journey for African Americans, people of color,” Lashley said. “I consider Sid more of a colleague than a mentee. It takes rowing in the same direction.”

As Smith’s career progressed at HKS, he realized that a partnership in the firm was within his reach. “I thought, ‘If I can make it as a Partner, that will be a pinnacle for me,’” Smith said.

“It just kept driving and pushing me forward, knowing that my father was a business owner with a 9th-grade (education) and my mom graduated from high school,” he said. “(My father) never lived to see me become a Partner – that’s one of my biggest regrets – but I can only imagine how proud he is of me.”

Smith with his family, 2023 (left to right: Sierra, Susan, Sidney, Sophia)

Legacy

Helping to increase the visibility of African American architects is meaningful to Smith, a member of the Arizona Chapter (NOMAarizona) of the National Organization of Minority Architects. He said that within the group there are often talks about the “lonely only” – being the only African American in an office or meeting. “It’s unfortunate,” Smith said. “We have to help as much as we can to change that.”

He added that “at the same time, we, as African Americans, have to also help ourselves.” He said that one way future architects and design professionals can do that is to actively pursue licensure.

“It’s hard enough as a minority in the field to be seen. It’s even harder to compete when you’re not registered,” Smith said.

Beyond encouraging registration, Smith often tells young architects that cultivating a diverse set of skills can help them manage the economic ups and downs of the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

As Smith has advanced in his profession – and endeavored to help his profession advance – his family has also grown and matured.

The child he nurtured during his college years is now a married father of two. The twin preschoolers Smith and his wife brought to Arizona are in their first year at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University.

Marveling at his children’s successes, Smith is reminded of the lessons he learned years ago back at Doc’s Tire Repair that have helped push him to the top of his field.

“They’re listening,” Smith said proudly of his children. “Like I listened to my dad.”

Smith with his son, Khairi, at Khairi’s graduation from FAMU, 2013; Smith with twins Sierra (left) and Sophia (right) prior to their high school graduation, 2023

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. 

Office-to-Residential Adaptive Reuse Can Help Build Sustainable, Vibrant Communities

Office-to-Residential Adaptive Reuse Can Help Build Sustainable, Vibrant Communities

The evolution of office work is creating fresh opportunities to reimagine workspace. To attract today’s knowledge-economy workers and provide environments that help them perform at their best, businesses are adopting hybrid work strategies and new designs for creative, collaborative workplaces. Outmoded office buildings are ripe for reinvention as residential space.

Converting offices to residences may seem ironic in the era of work-from-home. But as Brad Wilkins, Principal and Studio Design Leader for the Austin office of global design firm HKS, noted, many older office spaces “are no longer at their highest and best use as office buildings anymore. They are now better suited for other types of uses – in particular, residential.”

HKS has an extensive history of repurposing, retrofitting and reimagining the built environment. The firm’s adaptive reuse work includes ProMedica’s corporate headquarters in Toledo, Ohio. That project gave new life to an historic, 1895 Daniel Burnham steam plant and a 1970s bank building. Also, ParkwayHealth Gleneagles Chengdu Hospital in China, a tertiary care facility created from a former shopping center.

HKS is leveraging its adaptive-reuse experience to explore ideas for transforming office space into residential space. Office-to-residential conversions expand the possibilities for how – and where – people live and work around the world.

Environmental and Economic Benefits

Sustainability is one of the chief benefits of adaptive reuse. “The first step when it comes to dealing with climate change is to reuse existing buildings,” said HKS Sustainable Design Leader Ramana Koti.

Repurposing existing buildings lessens demand for virgin material and can greatly decrease the amount of material discarded in landfills. Adaptive reuse can also significantly reduce embodied carbon – the CO2 emitted in the production of a building (this includes raw material extraction, the manufacture and transportation of building materials, and building construction).

Reducing embodied carbon is critically important as the global community approaches a key climate action deadline. The Paris Agreement international treaty on climate change calls for dramatic reductions in carbon emissions by 2030.

Architecture 2030, a New Mexico-based sustainable design think tank, offers a tool to help people compare the total carbon impacts of renovating an existing building versus constructing a new one. The calculator, called the CARE (Carbon Avoided: Retrofit Estimator) Tool, is free to use online.

Commercial-to-residential adaptive reuse projects also present financial investment opportunities. “From an economic perspective, you’re taking a building that probably has a pretty low basis and you’re redeploying it to be more valuable in the future,” said Doug Demers, Principal and Office Director of HKS Seattle.

Because these projects typically require less ground preparation, foundation work and structural construction than new building projects, adaptive reuse can hold a speed-to-market advantage over creating a building from the ground up.

Office-to-residential conversions can help meet market and community needs by matching the supply and demand for certain building types. As the market for older office space with fewer modern amenities drops, the need for housing is rising in cities around the world.

HKS’ design for the Benefield Building, a community center in Richmond, Virginia, includes 13,500 square feet of mixed-income co-housing, studio and 1- and 2-bedroom residential units. The pro-bono adaptive reuse project preserves a 1920s Spanish Art Deco structure as the front door to the center.

Revitalizing Communities, Retaining Character

Converting office space to residential space can rejuvenate a community. Office space “doesn’t really give you a community on its own, whereas residential does,” said Wilkins.  

When residential life is introduced into a business district, Wilkins said, restaurants that were open only at lunchtime can host dinner service. Children can play in plazas previously crossed only by people in business suits.

“There can be a whole different life to these places,” he said.

Adaptive reuse can energize a community while retaining the character of a building that is part of the local culture, said Jadenn Kelley, HKS Project Architect.

“The community already has ownership of the building. We’re just revitalizing it,” Kelley said.

And HKS Project Architect Taylor Odell added that with historic building conversion “not only are you maintaining the character of a neighborhood, but you’re getting a character in your (residential) unit that you’re not going to have” otherwise. “We can design great buildings, but we can’t design history.”  

HKS’ concept design for 1770 Crystal Drive, a 320-unit office-to-residential conversion in Crystal City, Virginia, transforms the existing height and set-back constraints of the site into a stepped vertical expansion that maximizes the unit count. The concept design showcases the adjacent park and unobstructed views of Washington, D.C. It includes wrap-around retail and building amenities to activate the public realm.

Challenges and Considerations

When it comes to repurposing a building as residential space, “the benefit of an office building is that it’s typically a clean floor plate, so structurally, it’s easier to divide up the floor plate into different units,” said Kelley.

Older office buildings tend to have smaller floor plates, which can more easily meet residential requirements for natural light and fresh air.

The deeper internal spaces of buildings with larger floor plates can serve as locations for amenities that are increasingly valuable in the residential sector, such as co-working spaces. “With these building conversions, the amenity package becomes incredibly important” to support flexible work experiences, said Kate Davis, HKS Partner and Global Practice Director, Commercial Interiors.

For the adaptive reuse of One Dallas Center, a modernist skyscraper originally designed by I.M. Pei & Partners in 1979, HKS incorporated 16 levels of residential units on the top floors of the 30-story building. The residential amenities include a lounge, fitness center and outdoor pool.

The firm renovated the building’s lower levels to serve commercial tenants, including HKS’ Dallas office. HKS redesigned the ground floor to function as a dual-purpose lobby for the residential and commercial spaces.

The typical column spacing for both office and residential buildings is 30 feet, which Odell said can simplify structural issues. Because centralized heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are typical for office spaces, additional ductwork must be installed to support individual HVAC systems for residential units. Electrical systems generally require little in the way of adaptation, as long as the loads remain similar. Plumbing systems require upgrades to manage an increase on the supply side and the amount of waste produced. Life safety systems, such as sprinklers, fire alarms, stairways and egress points, need to meet residential code requirements.

On a building’s façade, incorporating balconies and more open glazing spans can create a less commercial, more residential look and feel.

Overcoming Challenges for a ‘Beautiful Future’

Zoning and financing can be concerns for office-to-residential conversions, especially in areas where projects of this type are considered novel. In their 2023 report, Behind the Façade: The Feasibility of Converting Commercial Real Estate to Multifamily, the Urban Land Institute and the National Multifamily Housing Council reported that “conversions can be financially feasible in a broad range of markets, original uses, building conditions and circumstances.” Tax incentives and special planning districts may help address funding challenges for these projects.

Demers said that standard solutions to common structural, planning, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life safety issues related to office-to-residential conversions could be developed to lower the cost of these projects. This could be especially valuable for mixed-use developments of suburban office buildings in locations with parking and transit advantages, he added.

Converting office space to residential space can be a sustainable solution for enlivening neighborhoods and making the most of existing building stock.

“How do we keep reusing and reinventing?” Wilkins asked. “We have beautiful old buildings that may not be in their perfect state right now, for whatever reason, but can have a beautiful future.”

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.” 

Christine Marquis

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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.”

Astra Tower

Case Study

Astra Tower A Towering Model of Sustainable Urban Living

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

The Challenge

In the era of urban renaissance, rapid population growth, and climate change, residential high-rise buildings are not only expected to provide high-density urban lifestyle living, but minimize their impact on the environment and be resilient to the changing climatic conditions. The Astra Tower seeks to take this challenge to the next level by developing a unique urban community focused on health and wellness that will tackle one of the region’s most imminent environmental threats, air quality.

The Design Solution

Poised to promote wellness and resiliency at a variety of scales, the HKS design team will focus on the physical and cognitive well-being of Astra Tower residents through an extensive amenity program in connection with natural surroundings and biophilic design to encourage an active, healthy and restorative lifestyle.

At the building level, Astra Tower will minimize its carbon footprint, energy consumption and the use of natural resources through an efficient vertical organization and performance-based design for all major building systems. The structural system followed performance-based design rather than code prescriptive requirements and was engineered to withstand an earthquake that happens once every 2,000 years.

At the macro level, the project will filter the polluted outdoor air and improve its quality before releasing it back into the atmosphere, acting as an air purifier for the city.

The Design Impact

As the new tallest building in Utah, Astra Tower aspires to become a model of sustainable urban living with a focus on resilience, sustainability and wellness that will make an impact on a variety of scales. The project will maximize the indoor air quality for the residents , raise community awareness of outdoor air quality and set a unique example of environmental stewardship.

Project Features


Jaime De la Garza

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.

Salt Lake’s Astra Tower Reaches New Heights

Skyiera Mixed-Use Master Plan

Case Study

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

New Cairo, Egypt

The Challenge

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

The Design Solution

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

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

The Design Impact

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

Project Features


Kyle Sellers

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