Demand for Healthier Spaces Inspires Innovation in the Built Environment

Demand for Healthier Spaces Inspires Innovation in the Built Environment

Well-being certifications have steadily risen in prominence and popularity since they were first introduced to the design and building industries about a decade ago. Spaces using WELL and Fitwel frameworks, for example, skyrocketed from fewer than 20 to more than 700 between 2016 and 2020, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

Setting standards for environmental quality factors such as air, light, water and mobility, these certifications are granted to spaces that incorporate building systems, materials, furnishings and operational methods that measurably support occupant health.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic accelerated interest in well-being certifications among building owners and operators. In August 2022, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) reported that the amount space using WELL increased fourfold in the prior 18 months, contributing to more than four billion total square feet (371,612,160 square meters) globally.

“We are seeing more clients express interest in and proceed with pursuing certification. It’s hard to deny that COVID-19 and some of its results are driving factors. People are much more aware of their health as well as the impact buildings have on their health,” said HKS Sustainable Design Leader Allison Smith, who leads the firm’s efforts on pursuing well-being certifications for design projects.

Another catalyst is that real estate investors, developers, and managers — and their design industry collaborators — are committing to Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) frameworks, weaving environmental, economic and human sustainability measures into their business practices.

“When we talk about ESG, most people in the architecture, engineering and construction industry think about environmental outcomes and health outcomes related to physical products. The harder pieces to unravel are the social and governance aspects,” said Yiselle Santos Rivera, HKS’ Global Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Santos Rivera said that to achieve holistic sustainability and meet ESG goals, organizations can make efforts to embed well-being and social equity within their structures and operations in addition to the external work in which they are engaged. When it comes to design outcomes that support social and health equity, she believes sustainability certifications, emerging social justice toolkits, and well-being standards are carving an important path forward.

“I very much value these certifications as a designer, and I believe they are great baselines for best practice that we should all be aware of. They help us build consistency in terms of what we deliver and the metrics we align with so we can certify project outcomes in a more equitable way,” she said.

Designing for Well-being Across Sectors

HKS’ growing network of designers equipped with well-being credentials currently includes more than 100 WELL Accredited Professionals and 10 Fitwel Ambassadors. And the firm’s project portfolio includes several WELL and Fitwel registered and certified buildings in a variety of market sectors. Earlier this year, Downtown Dallas’ HALL Arts Residences became the first WELL Gold-certified multifamily building in Texas. And last year, Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Boarding Area B at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) became the first WELL-certified airport facility in the world, achieving Platinum certification (the highest level).

Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Boarding Area B is the first WELL-certified airport facility in the world. It achieved LEED Platinum certification in 2022.

Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Boarding Area B features exemplary air quality with an efficient outdoor air filtration system and complementary radiant heating and cooling. It supports occupant comfort, circadian rhythms, and overall well-being with dynamic glazing, ample natural light, acoustic management strategies, and healthy materials.               

With daily management practices including green cleaning practices and consistent tracking of environmental quality, the SFO project demonstrates that — even in the most heavily trafficked, operationally intensive environments — designing for wellness is possible. And that is good news for the industry currently showing the most interest in certifying buildings for well-being: health care.

As hospital design grows more complex, health systems continue to consolidate services in central locations, and public health crises like the pandemic occur, designing for the general well-being of patients, families, staff and administrators is critical.

“We’re seeing the biggest uptick in the sector because for health care clients, it’s an extension of their mission to create an environment that supports the health of occupants and staff. That’s a pretty clear connection,” Smith said, noting that HKS is working with several health clients interested in pursuing well-being certification on their upcoming projects.

Creating Healthier Offices

To date, well-being certifications have been most prevalent in office environments, according to Smith and Casey Lindberg, HKS Senior Design Researcher. Lindberg conducts research that influences design decisions and measures environmental quality and occupant experience outcomes in HKS commercial and commercial interiors projects.

In addition to the positive health outcomes for employees and tenants, these types of certifications are noticeably good for clients’ bottom lines, according to Lindberg. He said that commercial clients have begun to understand that when their spaces are designed for well-being, they can see higher long term property values and better retention rates.

“We are working with clients who are willing to be at the tipping point…those who will invest a small amount of money in research on design decisions or features that support well-being with the idea that the return will be way more than they put in,” Lindberg said.

HKS’ new Atlanta office features a design that emphasizes holistic well-being and brain health with social hubs, a wellness haven and idea theater.

As companies and organizations continue to adjust return-to-work policies and redevelop or reconfigure their real estate portfolios since the pandemic eased, they can rely on designers to help go beyond the minimum criteria or baseline certification levels.

“As a design firm, we’re interested in creating spaces that have beauty and meaning and also hit the checklists,” Lindberg said. “We’re here to make sure we’re at the intersection of art and science of supporting humans in the built environment. If it’s just a checklist, you’re missing something. We can help elevate the design.”

HKS is testing well-being design and research strategies within our own real estate portfolio. The firm has designed three WELL-certified buildings to date and is pursuing WELL certification for four of its own newly designed offices across the United States. Building upon living lab research launched at the HKS Chicago office and well-being and brain healthy workplace tactics deployed at the HKS Atlanta office, HKS is also bringing diverse design strategies to create workplaces that support the firm’s culture of design rigor and innovation.

“We want to have transparency available throughout the firm about how different offices are performing on metrics that we value…from environmental condition satisfaction to productivity and how well the space supports their work,” Lindberg said.

Collaborating for Positive Outcomes

Despite the value and positive outcomes that can come from using well-being standards in design, it’s important to note they do not guarantee success from a health, equity or human experience standpoint, HKS experts said.

“All of these certifications that look at wellness and health cannot alone recognize that when you develop great spaces and places, the system overall may still create negative outcomes for people,” Santos Rivera said.

Whether a space can achieve certification and enhance the wellness of people who inhabit it is ultimately based on successful operations and measurable results. Certifications require intensive collaboration between designers and building owner representatives throughout the design process, and then well after a project is finished because most certifications are only granted after occupancy. Plus, buildings or spaces that do achieve certification must be recertified every few years to maintain good standing, which requires consistent tracking and reporting of metrics over time.

“Industry-wide, designers are used to talking with their team as well as some of the design and construction team on the owners’ side, but we really have to expand the team and coordinate with Human Resources, facility management, and help set in place policies and procedures for them to be able to achieve the certification,” Smith said.

Smith, Santos Rivera, and Lindberg also said that certifications can be used as tools to have conversations and drive design and building operations to be more holistically sustainable. As the impacts of climate change and social inequities increasingly affect human health and well-being, the built environment has a big part to play. HKS designers and researchers are rising to the challenge, creating places that help people thrive.

 “The only point of a physical environment solution is to help humans do things better, collectively or individually,” Lindberg said. “Spaces that support well-being help people become the best version of themselves.”

How Design can Support Social and Emotional Learning

How Design can Support Social and Emotional Learning

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

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

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

Our Methods & What We Found

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

What the Findings Mean

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

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

Why Is This Important?

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

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

What’s Next

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

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

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

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Global Design Firm Reaches Climate Action Milestone: HKS is Now a Carbon Neutral Business

Global Design Firm Reaches Climate Action Milestone: HKS is Now a Carbon Neutral Business

Global design firm HKS is pleased to announce that we are now a carbon neutral business.

This achievement is the result of a multi-year, multifaceted effort to monitor, reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions produced through our business practices, such as office operations, employee travel and commutes.

“I am proud of our firm for prioritizing this effort by adapting our business practices to address critical environmental challenges that impact future generations,” said Dan Noble, HKS President and Chief Executive Officer. “Our goal as an organization is to enhance communities and the lives of people all over the world through our work, and addressing our carbon footprint is a natural next step.”

Carbon neutrality is a milestone on HKS’ journey to net zero. We are building a pathway to eliminate operational carbon from 100 percent of our active design work by 2030 and to reduce the net carbon emissions from our business operations to as close to zero as possible.

Carbon neutrality is a milestone on HKS’ journey to net zero.

Rand Ekman, Chief Sustainability Officer and a Partner at HKS, said the firm aspires to address our carbon footprint in “the most meaningful way possible.”

To accomplish this goal, HKS engaged with third-party experts to develop a rigorous and thorough methodology to calculate the firm’s emissions. As we endeavor to reduce these emissions to net zero, we are investing in carbon removal initiatives that are independently verified by leading carbon market registries. For maximum benefit, our investments include products designed to advance sustainability in the built environment. We believe high-quality carbon offsetting can be an invaluable tool to support the decarbonization of the global economy.

Data-driven Strategy

HKS worked with sustainability consultants from Omaha, Nebraska-based Verdis Group to develop and refine a comprehensive, data-driven strategy to monitor and measure our firmwide carbon emissions. Verdis Group has approved an auditing process that we will use to account for our emissions moving forward, as part of our climate action plan.

In addition, HKS partnered with Cloverly, a climate action platform headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, to curate a portfolio dedicated to carbon offsetting through carbon avoidance (preventing carbon from being released into the atmosphere) and carbon removal.

Impactful Leadership

HKS has long recognized and endeavored to mitigate negative impacts of the architecture, engineering and construction industry. The American Institute of Architects reports that the built environment is responsible for approximately 40 percent of emissions that contribute to global warming.

HKS’ history of environmental and social leadership includes joining the United Nations Global Compact in 2020. We were one of the first large multidisciplinary design firms to sign this global agreement that aligns business strategies and operations with universal sustainability principles and actions to help end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and protect our planet.

Yiselle Santos Rivera, HKS Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and a Principal with the firm, said, “If we want to create a more just, equitable, inclusive and diverse world, we have to recognize the impact that our footprint has on our environment.”

Operating as a carbon neutral business is an important way for HKS to embody the firm’s values, said Santos Rivera.

“You have to have your house in order,” she noted. “Your actions speak louder than words.”

“Operating as a carbon neutral business is an important way for HKS to embody the firm’s values.”

Kurt Chiusolo

Reports

Stories

HKS’ Chicago Office, a Living Lab, Realizes Measurable Value through Design for WELL-Being

HKS’ Chicago Office, a Living Lab, Realizes Measurable Value through Design for WELL-Being

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At HKS, we believe that designing to improve the health and well-being of people—the talent that drives any organization—is the foundation for great workplace design. This leads to inherently resilient design solutions. Designing for health and well-being positions our clients to weather changes ranging from a global pandemic to winning the war on talent. This approach also enables our clients to align their organizational values to their workplace designs.

As designers, we are squarely focused on leveraging our research to glean insights on what will make the best work environments for tomorrow. So when we first began designing our HKS Chicago office in September 2017, we decided to use it as a Living Laboratory. We wanted to learn how design influences employee behavior, health, well-being, and overall performance by living in a lab every day. We had no idea of how urgent the question of design for well-being in a post-Covid workplace would become.

As designers, we are squarely focused on leveraging our research to glean insights on what will make the best work environments for tomorrow. 

The WELL Building Standard helped us quantify and track the ways that we incorporated research on health and human experience in every step of the design process. It positioned us to assess, measure and quantify the health of our interior environment.

The HKS Research team led a multiyear longitudinal study of the HKS Chicago Living Lab to assess performance in several ways, including:

Committing to multi-level research enabled us to measure environmental, human, and business impacts. As we think about the value of the office now, these impacts, more than amenities or perks, will create value for organizations. The HKS Chicago Living Lab ultimately achieved both LEED v4 Platinum and WELL v1 Gold certifications, and we now have research to quantify performance outcomes.

Design that Realized Measurable Value:

In the era of Covid-19, we are all more aware of the significance of clean, healthy air. The Building Wellness survey found satisfaction with air quality in the workplace significantly increased after the move. A total of 91% of the employees reported being satisfied with the air quality in the new office.

Our design team leveraged synergies between our selected displacement ventilation (WELL v1 Feature 21: Displacement Ventilation) and specifying low-emitting materials (WELL v1 Feature 4: VOC Reduction) during design. Prioritizing these investments enabled us to improve wellness through better air quality.

The Evolving Work Ecosystem

The HKS Chicago Living Lab has a markedly different makeup of space proportions and programming intent from our previous location. Our design team proposed thinking of spaces within the Living Lab from the perspective of:

The square footage of the old studio consisted of 25% ‘Us’ space type, while 49% of the new studio square footage consists of ‘Us’ space. When we designed the Living Lab, we did so thinking that some of the “Us” space might need to be converted to new workstations as the office grew. Then Covid-19 transformed our expectations of work, and how we think of work. While we still prioritize employee well-being, our attitudes, norms and culture around when to work in the office and when to work elsewhere have changed. We’ve adapted a new HKS Employee Experience.

We know now that our office is not the only place work happens. It is one of the places work happens. Our initial thinking around increasing workstations over time has shifted, as we consider: what should happen in the office? What will happen elsewhere?

Our employees are growing along with our understanding of the emerging work ecosystem, enabled by the performance of the HKS Living Lab. Here’s what our research found:

We wanted our office to be a living embodiment of our core belief that design should support health and well-being for all, and our own research quantifies the impact of our work.

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Advancing Mental Health Care Through Design: Common Ground from Uncommon Conversations

Advancing Mental Health Care Through Design: Common Ground from Uncommon Conversations

Lauren Kennedy West remembers. She remembers being brought in handcuffs from her psychiatrist’s office and restrained to a metal gurney alone, stripped naked and visible to other patients. The trauma happened to her when she was hospitalized during a mental health crisis.

West relayed this story in a keynote address to a two-day Mental and Behavioral Health Think Tank hosted by the HKS Health practice earlier this year. HKS invited West, a Canadian social worker and creator of the popular YouTube channel Living Well with Schizophrenia, to share her insights on the mental health system with our team of researchers, medical planners and designers and a diverse array of mental health stakeholders. We gathered the group of more than 20 experts in education, health care, the judicial system, and nonprofits that serve people experiencing homelessness to learn about the state of the mental health system and brainstorm strategies for improvement.

As West and other Think Tank participants made clear, the mental and behavioral health system in its current form is broken. We heard a common theme in her story and that of others that there is a lack of community understanding about mental health and a lack of connection that contributes to stigmas in various forms. This is in addition to a system that is difficult to navigate and rife with obstacles to accessing care, funding and reimbursement.

West said her terrifying hospital ordeal intensified one of her symptoms – a distrust of the medical system – but a compassionate nurse regained her trust and helped put her on a path to improved health and well-being. Her story illustrates how environments for care deeply impact how people feel about themselves and the competence and consideration of their care team moving forward.

Promising Practices

Three major themes arose from our Think Tank conversations:

Design can play a key role in all three themes. By creating welcoming spaces throughout the community to provide a full spectrum of mental and behavioral health care services, designers can help build connections between people, empower patients to choose care paths that meet their needs and advance innovative care.

Commonplace Resiliency 

Como Community Center is a bright, cheerful, light-filled building where residents of Fort Worth’s Como neighborhood gather to talk, play, nurture friendships and uphold neighborhood traditions. Establishing touchpoints for mental and behavioral health in buildings like this – including schools, libraries, community centers and clinics – could substantially support public health and strengthen social connections. Making environments for mental and behavioral health care more commonplace could help reduce the associated stigma, generating instead a more universal sense of belonging. It would also help distribute resources to a wider array of individuals, families and concerned community members, so that they can advocate more successfully for themselves and people they care about.

Regardless of where people are on their personal journey to mental health and well-being, a warm, familiar environment can help put them at ease and encourage them to be more receptive to care. Acoustical surfaces and softer materials create a calming effect, and the strategic use of textural features can provide a soothing sensory experience for some individuals. Culturally relevant details are meaningful to achieving a friendly, empathetic atmosphere conducive to advancing mental and behavioral health care.

Culturally relevant details and pops of bright color create a positive, welcome atmosphere at Como Community Center in Fort Worth.

Biophilic design leverages the innate human connection to the natural world to promote health and well-being. Biophilic design principles include soft natural forms, greenery, daylight, views and access to courtyards, natural materials such as wood and stone, and color palettes, patterns and artwork inspired by nature. INTEGRIS Arcadia Trails Center for Addiction Recovery in Edmond, Oklahoma, for example, features warm natural wood and stone to provide a homelike atmosphere. Daylight and nature imagery bring a sense of peace to Zev Yaroslavsky Family Support Center, a Los Angeles center for counseling, child support, mental health and public health services.

Color theory demonstrates that certain colors evoke certain emotions. Pops of bright color, generally without deep gray or black undertones, enliven a space and appear happy. Neutral backgrounds can allow individuals to personalize a space through artwork, different lighting hues and similar colorful design elements. Spaces that allow for personalization, choice and control over one’s environment help uphold individual dignity and promote autonomy.

Natural wood and stone lend a homelike feel to INTEGRIS Arcadia Trails Center for Addiction Recovery in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Empowering Self-Advocacy

The right to refuse treatment can be a barrier to healing. Empowering self-advocacy and ownership of care leads to greater success in the realization of personal health goals. West and other experts at the Think Tank noted that patients often feel powerless in directing their care; however, gaining a sense of control is essential to healing. Based on her experience, West advocates for correcting the power imbalance between patients and caregivers to enable people to “take the helm” of their own care journey.

By offering seating options, variable lighting, places to decompress, opportunities to engage in a variety of activities or differing degrees of social interaction, designs can help foster a sense of empowerment. This is demonstrated in the design of Smithfield Elementary School in North Richland Hills, Texas, where zones for activity, play and respite empower students to discover, play and take breaks according to their individual comfort levels. The Sensory Well-Being Hub at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago provides a range of soothing and lively activities to allow students to calm down and refocus on their own terms.

Designing flexible spaces for mental and behavioral health care into education facilities could aid in early intervention and help prevent mental health issues from escalating. School design should consider how to enable strategies to increase mental health equity and connect students and families to support, such as incorporating mandatory counselling as part of the grade school experience and integrating mental health first aid into the regular curriculum.

Integrating the health care campus into the broader community would help create an extended support network to ease challenges to navigating the care continuum. Environments of care within this extended network might include, for example, resource centers to assist parents and other caregivers in understanding their loved one’s condition and determining when to seek help.

The design of hospitals, pediatric health centers and primary care clinics can support patients, families and caregivers by incorporating flex space that can be used for individual or group care, professional development or family health education, such as instruction on how to care for a child with mental health needs. Nurse stations designed to promote interactions between caregivers and patients can lay the groundwork for trusting relationships. Comfortable places for grief or respite provide health care staff and family members spaces to retreat and recharge, so that they may continue to nurture others.

Seeing the Whole Person

West said her care journey has included a misdiagnosis, hurried triage, lack of follow-up care, side effects of medication and agonizing relapses. A disjointed care plan that responded primarily to crises let her down repeatedly. Treatment that fails to see the whole person is ineffective. Environments of care must consider the complete physical, mental and socioeconomic needs of vulnerable people.

In the geriatric community, for instance, the physical decline that accompanies aging can compound mental health issues. Supportive environments designed to promote social engagement and purpose can transform elder care.

For unsheltered individuals, access to basic needs like food, water and shelter is empowering. Spaces designed to promote relationships and supportive community can also help meet higher-level psychological needs, such as belonging and esteem. At True Worth Place, a Fort Worth day center for people experiencing homelessness, a courtyard, roof deck dining, comfortable seating options and other thoughtful design details help create a sense of community.

HKS Think Tank participant Dr. Emily Spence is Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. She notes that people who have been traumatized or who are experiencing other mental and behavioral health issues “are struggling with something that feels outside their control.” Environments designed to increase people’s sense of control can help build autonomy, which can have a therapeutic effect, Spence said.

Informal seating areas at True Worth Place in Fort Worth encourage people to socialize and are useful design tools for building community and self-worth.

According to Spence, stressful or triggering environments produce physiological reactions that can cause the logical and reasoning part of the brain to shut down. “When people are in that place, they don’t have logical reasoning abilities. If you’re offering care, their brain isn’t operating in a way that can even hear or receive it,” she said.

Environments designed to provide peace, tranquility and relief from stress “bring people to a place where they are more ready to engage in reflective dialogue,” she added. “Think about the environment as being something that is part of a person’s healing journey, because it’s giving them a sense of control.”

Fast Company Places HKS Among 2022 World’s Most Innovative Companies

Fast Company Places HKS Among 2022 World’s Most Innovative Companies

HKS is ranked No. 4 in the architecture category on Fast Company’s 2022 World’s Most Innovative Companies list. The annual ranking honors business making the biggest impact on their industries and culture with some of the most inspiring accomplishments of the 21st century.

“The world’s most innovative companies play an essential role in addressing the most pressing issues facing society, whether they’re fighting climate change by spurring decarbonization efforts, ameliorating the strain on supply chains, or helping us reconnect with one another over shared passions,” said Fast Company Deputy Editor David Lidsky.

The world’s most innovative companies play an essential role in addressing the most pressing issues facing society.

As COVID-19 drastically reshaped the way we live, work and play, HKS’ most innovative recent work focused on people’s well-being as we continued to create high-performing environments that support physical and mental health. And when the pandemic forced us to become acutely aware of the quality of air around us, we delivered solutions for breathing easier, by design.

Dallas’ HALL Arts Residences— the first residential project in Texas to register for WELL Multifamily Certification — exemplifies how sustainable design improves air quality and overall quality of life at home. Our Future of Work research and Chicago studio’s Living Lab demonstrate just how much our working environments can support our wellness and enhance productivity. And our award-winning design for SoFi Stadium in California showcases how even the largest, most complex projects can include natural ventilation, restore the environment and foster community connections.

The World’s Most Innovative Companies ranking provides a snapshot and roadmap for the future of innovation across the most dynamic sectors of the economy. This is the first time HKS has made the list, and the firm was also honored by Fast Company in 2021 as a Best Workplace for Innovators.

HKS President and CEO Dan Noble appreciates the recognition of the global firm’s more than 1,300 employees including architects, interior designers, researchers, communicators and more.

“I see our teams fulfilling our strategic vision to ‘think limitlessly’ on a daily basis through our design work, and I believe we have some of the best creative minds propelling our industry forward,” Noble said. “It’s incredibly rewarding as a leader to see this recognized by an external panel of experts at Fast Company through this award.”

Explore career opportunities at HKS through the link below.

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Can Design Help Curb College Drop-out Rates?

Can Design Help Curb College Drop-out Rates?

According to College Atlas, 70 percent of Americans pursue studies at four-year colleges, but less than two-thirds earn a degree. Nearly one-third of college students drop out of college after their freshman year. Among the chief reasons students drop out or underperform academically is because of anxiety, depression and loneliness, which often stems from stressful or unengaging environments.

So, can a campus environment help combat isolation through design? How might a live-learn community on a large university campus make a difference?

From the moment our team — comprised of HKS, Clark Construction, Safdie Rabines Architects and OJB Landscape Architects — was awarded the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) at UC San Diego, we prioritized student health and well-being. We wanted to create a dynamic and welcoming place for many different types of people: the teenager experiencing their first time away from family; faculty and administrative staff responsible for guiding students during a formative period in their lives; and families and community members who visit.

The university’s Detailed Program Plan (DPP), a 1,400-page document created for competing teams pursuing the design-build competition, established a bold vision to create a fully integrated live-learn, mixed-use neighborhood nestled within UC San Diego’s sprawling 1,200-acre oceanfront campus in La Jolla, California. The largest construction project in school history, NTPLLN encompasses residence halls, academic buildings, faculty and administrative offices; below-grade parking and numerous amenities such as a market, two-story dining hall, expansive outdoor and public spaces, and the revival of the popular Craft Center, which closed in 2012.

Home to the university’s Sixth College, NTPLLN’s academic program includes the Social Science and Arts and Humanities departments. Founded in 2001, Sixth College prepares its students to become engaged 21st century citizens, offering rich and varied programs focused at the nexus of culture, art and technology.

The Neighborhood Takes Shape

During the project’s development, we interviewed students at the Sixth College who would eventually inhabit NTPLLN, asking them which elements of their environment contributed positively and negatively to their college life. We also used a persona mapping tool to understand the user experience from all points-of-view, which informed our design solution for each building type. Sixth College students said it was key that their culture of innovation and creativity be included in the design in a way that respects time-honored traditions while embodying future ideals: sustainability is a crucial tenet and aligns with UC’s system-wide initiative to be carbon neutral by 2025.

The main concept behind the design is simple and dates back to 6th century Greece planning schemes where dwellings, public amenities and learning buildings were often located near one another. We believe that students, faculty and administrators can experience a greater sense of community when their everyday tasks result in multiple interactions with each other. Starting with this basic organizing principle, we developed a design that reimagines the live-learn environment to align with the university’s vision and core values. And to make NTPLLN feel at home with the rest of the UC San Diego, we continued the traditional materiality found on campus, using exposed concrete and wood.

Due to the project’s density, we knew it would be critical to design for a human scale. The mixed-use neighborhood is organized around an active “main street” and to further develop a sense of community, we relied on the behavior mapping research we conducted that helped us put ourselves in the shoes of the college students whose valuable feedback we received.

We used the concept of nesting scales for the campus design, illustrated by considering a student’s bedroom and unit shared with suitemates as their home; the floor they live on — vertically connected to others in their building in a house style — as their community; Sixth College as their village, and UC San Diego and La Jolla as their city. We kept in mind how we could provide for meaningful social experiences at each of these scales.

When located adjacent to pedestrian areas, buildings more than four stories tall can feel intimidating, and we wanted the design to be a welcoming and accessible. Employing a dual scale design concept helped us minimize the actual and perceived magnitude of buildings throughout the neighborhood; those with podiums have stepped back towers from the lower podium facades, creating semi-private terrace rooftops for students and faculty to gather and enjoy access to the outdoors. Breaking up the verticality in this way also allowed us to create courtyards and varied building entry points.

Every residential building includes extensive natural ventilation and daylighting. Each floor is designed to provide both privacy and opportunities for social interaction and each student bedroom room is designed to feel like home. With 15 different housing configuration options, NTPLLN students could have a different living arrangement every semester of their academic career.

Academic buildings portray the distinct identities of the Social Sciences and the Arts and Humanities programs while maintaining shared connections among administrative staff via a shared outdoor entry plaza, courtyard and roof-top decks. Situated on the high point of the site, these buildings serve as a gateway and embrace the project’s dual scale theme on the campus grounds while providing natural daylight and fresh air to those inside.

A Place Where Well-being is Prioritized

NTPLLN opened to students for the Fall 2020 semester during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But well before the pandemic caused us to think even more critically about how living and learning spaces can impact our physical and mental well-being, we sought to make healthy, sustainable design decisions.

The team centered design strategies around the mental, social, and physical health of college students and others on campus using the Point of Decision Design (PODD) framework developed by the Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation (CADRE). PODD is defined as the use of well-planned ecological schemes and cues within the built environment to influence how individuals decide on participating in healthy activities at critical points of decision where they can have the most impact. The underlying principle is to make the healthy choice the easy one, by design.

PODD strategies are evident throughout NTPLLN. Making internal and external stairs inviting and providing visible spaces for play and exercise encourage movement, while dining options and convenient access to kitchens and rooftop gardens promote healthy eating. Accommodating bike racks, buses and micro-mobility solutions like skateboards, as well as an underground parking garage created a place where cars are not the “default” mode of transportation to and within the neighborhood.

We took advantage of San Diego’s temperate climate, creating places for outdoor living throughout. Each building in the neighborhood offers scenic coastal views and connections to the tropical climate to facilitate mental and physical wellness. Communal areas such as a rooftop vegetable garden provide opportunities for healthy habit development and physical activities including gardening and fitness classes, and community kitchens on each residence hall floor encourage cooking and socializing. Even learning spaces with operable walls open up onto outdoor terraces.

Positive Design and Research Outcomes

For more than two decades, academic researchers have linked anxiety and depression among college students with external stressors concerning food, housing and transportation. Research has proven that when students must commute to campus, do not have proper nutrition, or experience financial constraints and familial demands, they are less likely to be able to concentrate in academic settings and less likely to graduate. Put another way, students who have significant personal and structural barriers preventing them from fully engaging in their academic and campus life tend to drop out more frequently.

At NTPPLN, we sought to remove as many of those barriers as possible. We hoped that the campus would be embraced by UC San Diego and the people of La Jolla, a place that would inspire ingenuity and invention, learning and growing. With affordable, healthy on-campus living and dining options and dynamic learning spaces, NTPLLN’s design has exceeded those initial hopes.

Pre-move and post-move occupancy evaluations conducted by a research coalition comprising the university, CADRE and HKS designers revealed that student satisfaction with Sixth College new buildings has demonstrably increased, compared with the college’s prior facilities. On-site observations, interviews and media reporting have illustrated that NTPLLN has become a new center of energy at UC San Diego. And retail and restaurant activity there is setting records that are causing the university to rethink all other food service options. Friday night student music concerts on the lawn and cookie baking pajama parties in the teaching kitchen are becoming new school traditions.

Sixth College students reported reduced rates of depression, despite the COVID-19 pandemic when college student anxiety and depression rates increased five percentage points in the U.S., according to the National College Health Assessment. Moderate, significant correlations were observed between well-being metrics related to life satisfaction and depression and physical environment metrics related to satisfaction with multiple types of campus spaces. The correlation between mental health and environmental satisfaction factors demonstrates that the design of the places where students live matters.

An engaging mixed-use community, North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood is proving to be an environment that supports students’ holistic well-being and one that helps UC San Diego’s fulfill its mission to develop global citizens and environmental stewards. Based on our design and research outcomes, we believe that students who live and learn there are more likely to stay in school and achieve academic success on their path to becoming the next generation of civic leaders.

Breathing Easier, By Design

Breathing Easier, By Design

Over the past two years, COVID-19 has forced us to become acutely aware of our breath and the act of breathing. The quality of our air, and the safety of our environments, have become the topic of our collective focus.

That focus on our breath will continue in 2022 as we at HKS seek to build upon what we’ve learned to improve the air quality of all the places we design. We must reimagine how people work, live, learn, and gather: getting people safely back indoors is critical to our long-term success and business development strategy.

Here are three examples, ranging from multi-family housing to the workplace — or how we work, live and play — that offer insights into how we can use design to improve the quality of air we breathe in 2022 and beyond.

Working Well: The Workplace as Wellness Laboratory

Researchers from Stanford and the University of Chicago have been taking the monthly pulse of thousands of workers since COVID-19 hit the accelerator in April 2020. The Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes reported in its June 2021 findings on remote work that 6.4% of respondents said then that they would quit their jobs on the spot, without a backup plan, if asked to go back into the office five days a week, starting Aug. 1.

And nearly 36 percent of respondents said they would report to the office, but proactively seek a new employer. Between 30 percent and 49 percent of employees desire to work from home, and this percentage is increasing steadily for firms with larger staff numbers.

Our own research on The Future of Work reflects the trend of workers seeking flexible, hybrid work from home arrangements, with many types of spaces serving as an “office.” Yet the small and ancillary businesses reliant on workers flooding American downtowns daily – not to mention commercial real estate assets sitting idle or largely empty – continue to feel the economic gut punch.

How can design help workers feel safe about returning to the workplace? Our HKS office in downtown Chicago was designed  to help people breathe easier on the job. The design features displacement air distribution ventilation technology that is integrated into a space typically used for the base building’s conventional overhead VAV (Variable Air Volume) system. This creative approach transformed the interior design of the 13,412 square-foot office – a Living Lab that measures environmental conditions and their impact on employees.

How can design help workers feel safe about returning to the workplace?

Specific to air quality, the HKS workplace design team minimizes indoor air pollutants by:

Living Well: HALL Arts Residences

HALL Arts Residences in Dallas, the first residential project to register for WELL Multifamily Certification in Texas, was designed to achieve WELL Gold – one of the highest levels that can be attained. The WELL Building Standard is a research-informed framework for creating healthy indoor environments. WELL certification ensures that the design and operation of their building is actively contributing to a better, healthier environment, so residents breathe, sleep, and live better. Annual on-site assessments verify that WELL standards are continuously maintained.

Specific to air quality, the HALL Arts design team minimized indoor air pollutants by:

Playing Well: SoFi Stadium

As the pandemic persists, sports and entertainment venues, working in tandem with public health officials (and conjunction with local and state health guidelines and mandates), have slowly reopened. Sports teams and facility operators are employing multi-pronged approaches to keep fans and employees safe, from showing proof of vaccination to masking in indoor areas to touchless food and beverage ordering. But the most critical element in keeping people safe is air flow and natural ventilation. While open-air venues have an advantage, many facilities rely on mechanical heating and cooling systems for fan comfort.

Designed by HKS, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California is the NFL’s largest stadium and home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. The site of Super Bowl LVI in February 2022, the 298-acre project includes the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater, the 2.5-acre American Airlines Plaza and 25 acres of parks and open space for the community. 

HKS conducted extensive research on the regional architecture, lifestyle, climate, and geography to create the first true indoor-outdoor stadium ever constructed. The coastline inspired the stadium’s curved form, and the roof, bowl and concourses were sculpted to evoke an outdoor venue while providing the flexibility of a traditional domed stadium.

Because there are no walls – the roof is “anchored” at four different spots — fans feel cooling Pacific breezes while ‘inside’ the 70,000-seat stadium. The semi-translucent roof is comprised of more than 300 Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) panels, including 46 operable panels to maximize airflow while reducing heat gain.

Specific to air quality, the SoFi Stadium design team minimized air pollutants by:

Well, Wherever You Are

In addition to the specific types of spaces mentioned above, HKS’ research, design, and consulting also expands to work on the following:

The built environment accounts for 38 percent of annual global emissions.  As the climate continues to degrade — and the coronavirus continues to mutate — we are committed to holding ourselves to a higher standard of behavior and design. We must be part of the solution by aligning our firm with the growing chorus of voices who are advocating and designing for a healthier future.

That’s why HKS committed to the UN Global Compact, an agreement between the United Nations and global organizations that challenges us to look at everything we do — from how we run our company to the places we design – to make the world healthy, equitable and more sustainable for all.  

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. HKS has selected eight of those goals to be the core of how we do our part to make a difference. These goals range from the reduction of carbon dioxide and embedded carbon from buildings and construction that pollute our air, to investing in sustainable cities and communities and partnering for clean water, air, and improved health and well-being.

We recognize that the future depends on the actions we take every day to help the next generation breathe a little easier.

Kristen Ambrose

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Architects Must Lead Conversations about Climate Change to Prioritize People and Planet

Architects Must Lead Conversations about Climate Change to Prioritize People and Planet

The 26th session of the Conference of Parties (COP26) is underway in Glasgow, Scotland and this is the first year that the American Institute of Architects has sent an official delegation of observers to the Conference. The group includes HKS Principal and Director of Integration, Julie Hiromoto, FAIA. She is attending  along with AIA President Peter Exley, FAIA, of Architecture Is Fun; and Michael Davis, FAIA, of Bergmeyer Associates; and Dr. Mark Breeze, University of Cambridge and AIA UK Sustainability Chair; who together comprise the official AIA delegation of NGO observers. 

At COP26, we’ll talk about how architects can help reach international goals to address the climate emergency. We’ll do it by designing for energy efficiency and carbon neutrality by 2030 in accordance with standards set forth in the Paris Agreement on climate change and the AIA 2030 Commitment.

“I will be listening and engaging to learn how architects can take a leadership role to realize the plans that will be finalized in Glasgow,” says Hiromoto. “Where can design have the greatest impact? How can we inspire everyone—from our teams to our clients, collaborators and communities—to do more to realize a more just, net zero carbon future?”

 

How can we inspire everyone—from our teams to our clients, collaborators and communities—to do more to realize a more just, net zero carbon future?

But we can’t achieve our goals alone. We can only realize them with the support and involvement of our clients, our consultants, our contractors, our suppliers, our communities, our policy makers and government officials. It will take all of us to realize our goals.

What can we, as architects, do? We can lead the conversation. We can listen. We can build alliances built around values, such as Architecture 2030’s 1.5°C COP26 Communiqué, because architecture reflects our values as a society.

To attain our goals, we must determine what do we value now? What do we measure? How can we prioritize people and planet? It’s all about values, how we talk about them, how we measure them, and how we express them.

What is the value of clean air?

When we first designed our HKS Chicago office, we were thinking about what our employees wanted in an office. We were also thinking about how to embody our firm’s core values, or as our CEO Dan Noble put it, “to walk the talk.” We prioritized we spaces over me spaces, and we prioritized sustainable design that would improve human health and well-being. It was the right move to express our values.

And then, COVID-19 changed everything about how we value clean air.

Our initial investment in our values realized an unexpected return, as we can now say that our employees recognize a 56 percent indoor air quality improvement. The design of our new office has also realized a 60 percent reduction in energy cost per square foot to operate, improved the quality of air and water our team consumes, led to greater employee sleep satisfaction and increased employee presence in our office. Read more about the impact our design has in an Impact Report outlining the measurable outcomes of our energy, financial and well-being goals.

What is the value of water conservation?

Water is one of the world’s scarcest natural resources. And as the effects of climate change impact our global environment, more flood zones emerge, more ecosystems are endangered and water quality is compromised. We can adapt and improve upon these conditions with design and in the process, conserve water and reduce building emissions.

In designing the Virginia Military Institute’s Corps Physical Training Facility, we worked with civil engineers to reconfigure a creek that routinely flooded parts of the historic campus and local community. The building spans the creek, sitting atop a holding basin that collects water and limits the dangerous amounts of run-off that has damaged streets and the quality of local drinking water.

The building and its surrounding landscape also feature a cistern to retain rainwater absorbed through green roofs and permeable pavers. Recycled water collected through these means is cleaned through on-site filtration and used in plumbing systems with low-flow fixtures. The Corps Physical Training Facility’s building systems take advantage of water available in the atmosphere to cool internally circulating air, also cutting back on energy use and emissions.

Our work at VMI exemplifies how high-performance design really is a “team sport,” and how collaboration is crucial to sustainability.

What is the value of equitable communities?

In early 2021, HKS designers started working with a southern Dallas neighborhood to design a park on land that was once a dumping ground for roof shingles piled up higher than — and often adjacent to — the houses nearby. Residents worried about the health risks that the heaps of toxic waste posed for their families. Some constantly wore masks to mitigate the effects of what became known as “Shingle Mountain” on their lungs.

City officials have since cleared out the neighborhood eyesore and Citizen HKS, local activists, the Dallas Regional Chamber, and the Dallas Stars Foundation are partnering with residents to repurpose the land. The park project is called Floral Farms, as a symbol of hope and change for the community.

The park will include a community garden, soccer field, walking trail and a landscaped entrance featuring the phrase “together we can move mountains” to celebrate the residents’ resolve in removing Shingle Mountain. The project is an example of how architects can partner with their local communities to solve their most pressing challenges through impactful design.

These are just a few examples of our values at HKS. The time is now for us to flip the traditional script, to change the conversation. We must bring to light the long-term value of design — and what that means — to all the people who architecture impacts. What we learn at COP26 will help us on our journey.

“The world is watching all of us, from architects to elected leaders, as we determine how to build a more just, resilient, and healthy future,” says Hiromoto. “Our work is just getting started; post-COP26 the next challenge will be inspiring people to take action with us. We will tell the story of how we can better realize our shared societal values through architecture and design.”

Three Big Ideas for Tackling the Global Carbon Conundrum

Three Big Ideas for Tackling the Global Carbon Conundrum

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sent shockwaves around the world, clearly communicating a sobering point — we’re running out of time to stave off the fatal effects of global warming.

While many greenhouse gases and pollutants drive up temperatures threatening the earth and its inhabitants, the August 9th report confirmed that the main driver of climate change is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Fortunately, experts behind the research believe humans still have the ability to influence what happens next.

“Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions,” according to a statement by Panmao Zhai, co-chair of the IPCC working group that wrote the report.

The crucial role design can play in reaching a net zero future is not lost on many in our industry.

“You would be hard-pressed to find an architect who hasn’t heard that buildings are responsible for nearly 40 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions,” said HKS’ Director of Building Engineering Physics, Dr. Tommy Zakrzewski. “This is our chance to respond to the crisis.”

This is our chance to respond to the crisis.

During HKS’ recent “Carbon Crackdown” virtual panel, Zakrzewski and three building industry professionals discussed the many ways operational and embodied carbon are generated through design and construction activities. As part of our ESG in Design Celebration, a two-week long event series to raise awareness among our employees about important environmental, social and governance topics, the panel outlined strategies that can drastically lessen carbon production and emissions.

Spanning large to small scale changes, these experts revealed three key insights for how everyone who contributes to the built environment — including governments, developers, manufacturers and designers — can tackle the global carbon conundrum.

1 – If We Don’t Create High-Performing Buildings, We Will Lose Out

As climate change brings about massive ecological and social shifts, governments and policy makers have been noticeably slow to adapt building codes and impose emissions regulations. According to Cliff Majersik, Senior Advisor of Policy and Programs at the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), there has been an uptick in climate-responsive energy codes across the United States, but not nearly enough to limit the major impact buildings have on the environment.

“We cannot think that just because we’re designing buildings to the latest energy codes that we’re doing the right thing,” he said, encouraging designers to consider existing codes a bare minimum.

With a mission to “catalyze widespread and sustained demand for high-performing buildings,” IMT conducts market research and advises on policy. Majersik has been responsible for shaping legislation related to green buildings and energy efficiency in sizeable jurisdictions including the District of Columbia and the State of California. On the horizon, he sees a groundswell of local governments adopting stronger policies and regulations for sustainable design.

“There are a number of cities and states that have either pending building performance standards or ones that are before legislators,” he said, noting that if architects design to these incoming standards now, they can cut back on carbon impacts and present strong financial incentives for clients.

Broad policy movements are coinciding with a substantial turn toward high-performance design among corporate developers. Recent market research IMT conducted on a private global building portfolio showed that green buildings had up to 17% lower operating costs and 28% higher net operating income. Majersik noted that such studies prove the business case for high-performance design is evident and that developers, owners and operators are taking that knowledge to heart.

“It’s not just that they’re paying lower utility bills or that their buildings are more comfortable and healthier for occupants. Employees and investors are increasingly holding them accountable for greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

As policies progress, building owners and operators could be subject to significant fines for not meeting performance standards, Majersik said. He believes that architects are the “most empowered profession” at the table in the building industries because return on investment for sustainable solutions is higher during the design phase than any other period in a building’s lifecycle.

“You need to be part of the climate solution, you need to go back to your projects, see how they’re doing and what you can learn. You need to educate your clients that this is right for the role and right for their bottom lines,” he said.

2 – Cooling Down the Planet with More Sustainable Design Doesn’t Mean Sacrificing Our Comfort

As the earth’s temperature continues to rise, we constantly see natural disasters drastically impact communities around the world. Keeping the warming level close to the IPCC’s targeted 1.5-degree Celsius limit is going to be a major challenge for all industries, including architecture, engineering and construction.

“There are different paths in the future and this [current] path can bring us up to 8 degrees Celsius. That would be a disaster,” said Tommaso Bitossi, Associate Director of German firm Transsolar, which creates high-performing, site-specific buildings and produces educational materials about sustainable design.

Increasing the efficiency of mechanical systems, optimizing building envelopes and capitalizing on renewable resources through items like photovoltaic arrays are design choices Transsolar routinely makes to limit the amount of carbon their buildings use and emit. Environmentally responsible building design, however high-tech, can only be successful when it’s conceived with mindfulness of locality and community, Bistossi said.

“Every building is different because of the local identity. And local identity and climate are connected,” he said.

Bitossi believes that making efforts to reduce global warming through the built environment doesn’t necessarily mean we have to give up the comforts we’re used to. Moving away from buildings that are essentially overly air-conditioned machines and back to incorporating passive strategies for air flow and thermal comfort, he says, will be key climate change solutions.

“There is no carbon reduction without thermal comfort. We still want to be able to move, travel and be comfortable in our buildings. We need to reach the point of carbon neutrality keeping our standards where they are,” he said.

There is no carbon reduction without thermal comfort.

High-performing buildings are only one piece of the puzzle — limiting global warming will depend on a variety of industries and organizations to work together. To reduce both embodied carbon and operational carbon emissions, Bitossi recommends integrated cross-sector solutions that consider local power sources, materials manufacturing and carbon sequestration.

Across all industries, wide-sweeping and immediate changes to reduce carbon worldwide are necessary, the IPCC report stipulates. Bitossi believes that designers and their collaborators have to make these changes a priority moving forward.  “As building professionals, we must advocate for low-carbon buildings for the future of our planet,” he said.

3 – We Should Flip the Script on Carbon and Materials

Having even a basic understanding of the damage carbon dioxide does to the atmosphere — whether it comes from building emissions or the burning of fossil fuels — is enough to cause fear and panic. But it doesn’t have to, according to Lisa Conway, Vice President of Sustainability, Americas for the global flooring company Interface.

“Carbon inherently is not a bad thing,” Conway said. “We’re all made of carbon. We have just taken too much of it and put it in the wrong place.”

Carbon inherently is not a bad thing.

To reach a carbon neutral future, Conway believes we need to “change our relationship with carbon” and focus not just on limiting the amount that goes into the atmosphere, but also drawing down the massive amount already there and repurposing it. In addition to promoting this shift in mindset, Interface’s Climate Take Back mission seeks to transform the building materials industry to be “a force for climate progress.” Interface is leading by example with a commitment to be a carbon negative enterprise by 2040 and has even developed carbon negative carpet tiles.

Materials like flooring represent a significant portion of the embodied carbon in a building project. For architects, interior designers and contractors, who all have a hand in specifying and installing materials, understanding embodied carbon and how to limit it is a crucial step they can all take in the fight against climate change. Conway recommends starting small by learning how to read and understand environmental product declarations (EPDs) and making thoughtful healthy material selections, one step at a time.

“You don’t need to know everything all at once. Become an expert on one material and then share the love of that knowledge,” she said. Conway added that she believes over time, as the building industries become more environmentally conscious, carbon negative materials that positively impact the planet will become more prevalent.

“When we can get to materials that we’re familiar with that can be carbon negative, I think it really bodes well for the industry of materials in general,” she said. “The real moonshot here is not about how much less bad we can do, but actually how we can make buildings part of the solution to reversing global warming.”

Design for Discovery: Improving Young Lives through Exploration and Evaluation

Design for Discovery: Improving Young Lives through Exploration and Evaluation

At its core, design is a process of discovery — a process that relies on evaluating outcomes and lessons learned.

“Design for Discovery” is the 10th and last measure within AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence. It encourages architects to conduct post-occupancy and performance evaluations and continually engage with clients and building occupants to learn how the built environment functionally impacts people and the earth. But while the measure is listed at the end of the AIA guidelines, HKS designers believe discovery is anything but final.

“Design for Discovery is both measure zero and measure 10,” said Anthony Montalto, HKS’ Global Director of Design. “We should be focused on discovery throughout the entire design process.”

An architect and leader who guides projects in many different sectors, Montalto believes that great design is a balance of art and science. The scientific aspects, he said, often revolve around measuring outcomes and determining how much a design really “works” for all stakeholders.

“Every project presents a unique opportunity to apply lessons learned from previous projects and gather information to refine the design process. It’s a mindset of consistent learning,” he said.

How a design impacts people and the environment can be studied and measured on any type of project, from commercial offices to hospitals and from schools to stadiums. Research and evaluation strategies can also be applied at all project phases — in early planning stages, during design and after a space is occupied. At HKS, designers and researchers seek to understand how spaces perform from a human well-being standpoint as well as an environmental standpoint, guided by the mission to improve overall sustainability.

“Our impact framework is the triple bottom line — looking at human, fiscal and environmental outcomes,” said HKS’ Global Director of Research Dr. Upali Nanda. “Discovery from every project should raise the baseline for the next one to enable more meaningful impact that aligns growth with purpose.”

Engaging in a scientific process to gauge success — and shortcomings — is an exciting and important responsibility for designers, according to Montalto and Nanda.

“In many ways, design is a hypothesis,” said Nanda, who oversees dozens of research projects every year. Nanda seeks to instill a sense of curiosity in all HKS designers and embed research into as many building projects and processes as possible. “We’re not just measuring outcomes, learning and evolving, but we’re also continuously applying what we’ve learned to develop an authentic purpose and set of principles. Discovery is about what difference we are making by design.”

Discovery is about what difference we are making by design.

Large-scale design projects can be arduous, taking years of planning and management from conception to occupation. So, it’s no easy task for architects and their clients to embrace research and evaluation on top of all the traditional responsibilities within the design process. Discovery requires trusted partnerships and mutual curiosity to learn and improve people’s experience.

“It all starts with asking the client what they’re really interested in learning from their built environment. They’ve made a tremendous investment and, oftentimes, they’re equally as interested as we are in learning if what we’ve designed functions as they originally intended,” said HKS’ Kate Renner, an architect, medical planner and researcher. Based in Washington, Renner designs and evaluates health care projects.

Like Nanda and Montalto, Renner believes that research is an inherent and integral part of the design process. Collaboration and intentionality, she says, are two of the key puzzle pieces to successful outcome-based design.

“Research and evidence enable us to solve problems in a rigorous and intentional way,” Renner said. “We work collaboratively from the very beginning to define goals and strategies intended to achieve the vision and targeted outcomes for the project.

Evaluation at all project stages feeds into what Renner calls a “continuous improvement cycle,” which benefits her design teams as well as health clinicians working in the spaces they create. As medicine advances and operational processes and technologies shift — designing for discovery can lead to more efficient hospitals and enhance quality of life for patients and caregivers.

Creating Discovery-based Relationships with an Educational Health System

Renner and many HKS team members have been partnering with Virginia Commonwealth University Health System (VCUH) and the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) for more than a decade on health projects small and large. In 2016, the HKS-designed outpatient Children’s Pavilion opened, providing care to one out of every eight children in the Richmond Metro region.

With a design centered on family-friendliness and operational optimization, the Pavilion houses 20 departments and more than 40 pediatric outpatient clinics for treating injuries and illnesses. Throughout the entire design process, HKS prioritized discovery, evaluating existing facilities and engaging with CHoR practitioners and community members to develop solutions that would meet their long-term needs.

A “great case study” in standardization, per Renner, 91% of the Pavilion’s exam rooms are identical, giving providers flexibility to increase exam room assignments based on the daily number appointments or shift their practices to other clinic modules as service line volumes increase. The building’s many collaboration areas and adaptable workstations for interprofessional care teams also provide flexibility, while spacious biophilic waiting areas with city views create a welcoming atmosphere for patients and families.

The Pavilion’s inventive design transformed operations for the teaching hospital, triggering many adjustments to the ways care teams members, medical students, patients and families give and receive care day-to-day. To get a grasp on the magnitude and impact of changes, VCUH partnered with HKS and the University of Kansas to continue our work and conduct multifaceted performance evaluations leveraging tools such as surveys, space audits, behavior mapping, shadowing and environmental quality studies.

In a behavior mapping exercise, researchers tracked the CHoR Pavilion’s user activities to help the design team and client understand how they experienced the space day-to-day.

In addition to illuminating an increased patient volume of 38% in the first year, the evaluations revealed that patient and family satisfaction with the new building skyrocketed to 80% immediately. Renner says that number continues to increase with each passing year. The LEED Silver Pavilion went on to receive more than a dozen design awards and a Gold distinction in the Center for Health Design’s 2018 Evidence-Based Design Touchstone Awards, a special honor for projects that employ design for discovery techniques. CHoR has also rated among the top 50 children’s hospitals in cancer, nephrology, pulmonology and lung surgery, and urology in US News’ Best Hospitals ranking.

HKS’ research didn’t just prove how the Pavilion’s design exceeded VCUH’s goals, it also uncovered some critical pieces of information that would go on to impact an even larger project – their new Children’s.

Currently under construction, the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s is a full-service children’s hospital for youth in need of surgery and treatment for illnesses and injuries including cancer and rare diseases. At over 560,000 square feet, the building will house acute and intensive care units, a Level 01 trauma center for emergency care, surgical and imaging services, cancer care, and specialty services. Designed with the goal of creating a cohesive oasis-like environment, the building will be fully integrated with the Pavilion and benefit from the outcomes HKS observed and recorded there.

Embracing Outcomes and Improving Design for Better Health Care

Outcome-driven design processes that engage a variety of stakeholders are important to the work occurring at Children’s Hospital of Richmond, according to VCU Health’s Tracy Lowerre, a nurse clinician and clinical liaison for the Children’s project.

“We want to be able to work smarter, not harder, in the future with increasing demands of health care and improved technologies,” she said. “By involving the entire team including architects, our patients and families, we captured ways to provide excellent patient care and support the education of learners and children.”

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s Tower is a 564,540 square foot full-service inpatient hospital.

The HKS team worked hand in hand with CHoR and VCU Health to develop the Children Tower’s design. Renner served as a senior medical planner, the client lead and the project’s research champion alongside fellow senior medical planner, HKS’ Lindsay Stevenson.

Stevenson believes that collaborating with CHoR in a deliberate and deep way led to a fruitful dynamic based on respect. “Everyone becomes an active contributor, taking on responsibility for the final design outcome. There are no inactive or passive participants in the room,” she said, noting that on top of engagement, robust research also informed health planning strategies.

“We are relying on sound data and concrete precedents to teach us something about the best solution based off the prioritized parameters from the client,” she said.

When the project kicked off in 2018, Stevenson, Renner and the rest of the HKS team referred back to behavior maps and survey data from the Pavilion and conducted design diagnostics in current inpatient environments. They identified things that could be improved such as common area flow and wayfinding, flexible workspace arrangements and supply storage constraints. For the Children’s Tower, they implemented design solutions that enhanced these areas for care team members and visitors alike.

The team also identified a feature that worked really well at the Pavilion — standardization. Standardized inpatient units with similarly sized and equipped patient rooms became a cornerstone of the Children’s Tower, which Lowerre says “will improve efficiencies for all” and allow rapid response team members to easily find the right room and deliver emergency treatment more rapidly.

Standardized units could be lifesaving as the nature of inpatient illness and recovery tend to be highly complicated. Renner says the flexible, yet identical, rooms can accommodate even the most critical cases. “Every room is designed to grow to ICU-level care if they need to up their intensive care capacity. Standardization will enable them to place patients in any room within the acute care units,” she said.

Design for Discovery in Action

How exactly the Children’s Tower’s units design came together, was a major discovery-based process in itself.

“You find that clinicians and health care providers aren’t trained to read floor plans just like I’m not trained to provide clinical care,” Renner said.

To solve this problem, the design team constructed full-scale cardboard mock-ups of key areas of the inpatient units. In Renner’s experience, mock-ups offer a much better idea of scale than a floor plan and a good sense how a space will function once it’s built.

VCUH’s Tracy Lowerre (second from right) worked with the design team closely to facilitate evaluation of full-scale mock-ups of clinical modules for the Children’s Tower, helping inform final design decisions.

With Lowerre’s help, the team invited more than 300 health care professionals and community members to walk through them. They modified mock-ups as the months progressed, adjusting dimensions and layouts. They also posted research articles and data points directly onto the cardboard walls that offered scientific evidence about their design considerations.

“This was a tangible way to illustrate the rigor behind the design,” Stevenson said, noting that the approach helped to build buy-in and greater confidence that the outcomes would be more successful.

The design team itemized and prioritized every single piece of feedback they collected to make the most relevant changes in accordance with VCUH’s goals for the project and best practices for health planning.

Lowerre believes that the mock-ups served many purposes, but perhaps most importantly, they helped create a true community-based design for the Children’s Tower. The building has already received a 2019 Gold honor in the Evidence-Based Design Touchstone Awards and will be submitted for Platinum upon completion and evaluation.

“All users were able to get into the space and make suggestions on design. This building has been built by our professional teams, patients and families, as well as our community members,” Lowerre said.

Renner, who conducted research with VCU Health in her first year at HKS in 2011, will continue to lead research efforts for the Children’s Tower over the next several years.

“The opportunity to have a continuous loop of understanding of whether the design intent was met once the Children’s Tower is occupied and operational greatly improves our understanding of what we create,” Renner said.

The power of creation and the ability to design for discovery is about far more than making advancements for the future. In the case of the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU Children’s Tower, it’s about offering the best possible environment for children to be healed and be themselves.

“We’re making sure we can provide for developmental needs and address them in a holistic way in addition to providing state-of-the-art health care,” Renner said. “We’re providing spaces where kids can be kids.”

Designing a Better Future: Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)

Design for Well-being: HALL Arts Residences Bring Healthier Living to Downtown Dallas

Design for Well-being: HALL Arts Residences Bring Healthier Living to Downtown Dallas

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, more than half of Americans spent upwards of 18 hours a day at home. While humans have been indoors for the majority of our time for decades — up to 90% in recent years — the shift to all of that time being spent in our own homes was a swift one.

As we continue to use our dwellings for more diverse activities, architects are developing new ideas for how homes can better sustain overall human well-being. HALL Arts Residences in Downtown Dallas — designed by HKS — exemplifies how design can support healthy lifestyles.

Due in large part to COVID-19, health and wellness have surged to the forefront of architecture and design, building on an industry-wide focus on sustainability. One of 10 measures outlined in the AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence, “Design for Well-being” concentrates on the experiences and livelihood of building occupants.

During a recent webinar about the Design for Well-being measure, HKS researchers and designers discussed the importance of viewing well-being holistically as something that spans human health, comfort and connection.

“When we begin to understand what true well-being is, then we flip the paradigm of what it means to design spaces,” HKS Health Research Lead, Deborah Wingler, said during the webinar. She added that she believes it is essential to design for the well-being of every person who enters a building.

Well-being for Everyone

The Design for Well-being measure outlines comfort, happiness and inclusion as design priorities. In addition to providing design features that improve air and water quality or provide access to nature and natural light, the built environment can empower individuals to behave in ways that enhance their overall wellness and ability to enjoy life. HKS designers speaking at the webinar underscored these important metrics, emphasizing that designing for well-being extends beyond the walls of a single building.

“We need to create designs that put occupants into a position to make healthy decisions,” said HKS Senior Interior Designer Deanne Teeter. “When people are happier, it increases the well-being of their community.”

“We need to create designs that put occupants into a position to make healthy decisions.”

A place where community members experience socially connected, healthy experiences, Dallas’ HALL Arts Development exemplifies every aspect of the Design for Well-being measure.

As far back as the 1980s, developer Craig Hall of HALL Group sought to build a set of properties that maintained an authentic relationship with its neighborhood, the historic Dallas Arts District. People were always at the heart of Hall’s vision and the design approach.

Located in the 70-acre Dallas Arts District, the largest contiguous urban arts district in the United States the HALL Arts Development encompasses public plazas featuring local art, a hotel and the 26-story multifamily condominium tower, HALL Arts Residences — the first residential project in Texas to register for the WELL multifamily certification pilot program.

A Healthy, Healing Residence

HKS architect Brian Wolfe, the project’s sustainable design manager, believes that working towards WELL Gold and LEED Gold certifications helped achieve the client’s “goal and vision of a healthy, healing residence” for homeowners who want to live in an urban setting while still enjoying a relaxing atmosphere.

Meeting WELL and LEED’s aggressive sustainability goals required a multifaceted collaborative design approach, Wolfe said. The HKS team, along with contractors and interior designers ensured the building could meet both programs’ conditions for energy and water consumption, landscaping, and healthy materials.

Wolfe says the team went “a standard above what was required at the time” when the project kicked off in 2014 and though many LEED-oriented design strategies have since become standard, WELL-oriented measures are still cutting-edge, particularly on large residential projects. Designed as a place where homeowners could breathe, sleep and live better, HALL Arts Residences opened in 2020, meeting pre-certification standards for each of WELL’s seven categories: air, water, comfort, nourishment, light, fitness and mind.

Creating a physically healthy atmosphere, the design team incorporated healthy materials free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) —contaminants often responsible for releasing potentially harmful chemicals into the environment — throughout the building’s common spaces and in each of its 44 residences. Reducing allergens and helping residents breathe easier, multilevel air filtration systems capture particles including VOCs and pollen while energy-saving outdoor air systems circulate freshly ventilated air and limit the transfer of pollutants inside.

Wellness-oriented features in the building and entire development, which is on track to be LEED Gold certified, illustrate that design excellence and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Each unit has 11-foot windows that provide residents with views of Downtown Dallas and allow natural light, complemented by interior palette options designed by Emily Summers that maximize comfort and reflect light. To limit sound disturbances and enhance acoustical comfort, the design includes an advanced wooden flooring system with a VOC-compliant membrane and demising walls with sound batt insulation. Rounding out the well-being ethos of HALL Arts Residences, fitness centers, common spaces with healthy snack options and access to natural spaces all support physical and mental wellness.

Pushing Well-being to New Heights

The design and delivery process for an ambitious one-of-a-kind residential building wasn’t always seamless. The WELL pilot program’s requirement for operable windows caused the team some initial concern. Wolfe said the client assessed that a large quantity of operable windows, many of which could be accidentally left open for long periods of time, may have negative operational effects on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems — side effects that could impact other wellness metrics building-wide. In workshops with representatives from the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the company that issues WELL certifications, they made the case that the balcony doors in each unit would meet wellness objectives.

The client and project team were eventually able to show IWBI that the operable wall in the living room technically met the access to natural ventilation and light requirements.

 

Working closely with a WELL coach, Wolfe navigated other challenges of designing a building to meet the pilot program’s requirements. The team had to determine, for instance, how to obtain appropriate health and wellness-oriented sustainability credits in a condo building, where units are owned by individuals as opposed to a central landlord as is the case with apartments.

“What we had to do was create a palette [of design solutions] that would be acceptable that met the intent of the various credits we were pursuing and take it from there,” Wolfe said, adding that when COVID-19 came about, he worked to understand and communicate how the WELL standard’s design steps help mitigate the spread of communicable diseases and infections.

The residential tower, currently in the final stages of becoming WELL Gold certified, shows the successful teamwork of HKS, HALL Group, Emily Summers, a host of contractors and consultants, and IWBI. The property manager, First Services Residential, will conduct on-site reassessments and record data annually and for the building to maintain the lofty WELL designation, re-certification evaluations will take place every three years.

Moving forward, the responsibility to ensure wellness standards are met at HALL Arts Residences will be shared by the property manager and each of the building’s homeowners, all of whom will benefit from Design for Well-being strategies HKS implemented and the HALL Group’s vision of a healthy residential environment.

How Design Thinking Can Help Manage Risk, Spur Recovery, Build Resilience and Inspire Reinvention in a Post-COVID World

How Design Thinking Can Help Manage Risk, Spur Recovery, Build Resilience and Inspire Reinvention in a Post-COVID World

Our workplaces are strategic tools for doing business, but like many things during this time, they are sitting dormant. They are not working for us. 

In the rush to re-occupy them we have lost sight of one of the fundamental flaws exposed by the pandemic; work was never a place. It was always a thing we did. 

For decades, we’ve talked about the myriad reasons that workplaces—and more specifically, their design—should put the needs of people first. Above real estate costs, above brand awareness, above management preferences. Now, putting people first is not simply beneficial — it’s pivotal.

In the rush to re-occupy them we have lost sight of one of the fundamental flaws exposed by the pandemic; work was never a place. It was always a thing we did. 

We recommend taking a systems approach to thinking about the future of work. What do you need now to maintain productivity? What changes should you make in the near term to be more resilient when the next crisis impacts your enterprise? And most importantly, for those looking for the best long-term value, how can a future-focused approach position you to transform work for long-term prosperity? 

Since the onset of COVID-19, we’ve witnessed amazing innovation, and a decade’s worth of change has occurred in a matter of months.

The darkness of this pandemic will pass; the moment is transient. Let’s capitalize on this opportunity for transformation.

HKS is already helping our clients take next steps and informing pivotal decisions for asset optimization to create long-term value.  We are here to co-create outcomes inherent and unique to your organization.

Relevant Advisory and Consultative Services

Risk Management and Reboot Readiness:

Recovery Assessment and Investment Prioritization:

Resilience Strategy and Long-Term ROI:

Click here to access our Returning to Workspaces after COVID-19 guide.

Why HKS Joined the United Nations Global Compact

Why HKS Joined the United Nations Global Compact

HKS signed onto the UN Global Compact in January 2020 to join leading global companies in aligning our strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment, anti-corruption, and to take actions that advance societal goals. When we signed the pact, we had no idea how increasingly urgent this pledge would become.

We commit to infusing social responsibility and sustainability into our culture as well as our governance structure. To do this, we will track our corporate objectives and key results in alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals form the framework for our Environmental, Social and Governance Report, which we’ve posted to the UN website here. This report outlines the years of commitment and work that we have already completed as well as the work we have yet to do.

We did these things now, this year because now is the time to put words into action. Hope is not a strategy for success. Achieving real change requires us to set definable goals, implement effective processes and track our progress. 

Highlights of our commitments, which are outlined in the report, include:

1. We will leverage our global influence to assist under-served communities through:

2. We will be a design firm that leads in Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) by:

3. We will design and deliver higher-performance buildings by:

4. We will lead our industry in sustainable, socially responsible practice by:

HKS is a global architecture, design, planning and advisory practice that touches the lives of millions. It is within our power to make a positive difference in protecting our planet, creating more equitable, sustainable and beautiful communities, and to encourage others to join us on that journey. We are pleased to join the United Nations and our fellow Compact participants in that mission.

And we encourage you to join us, too.

I want to thank our Environmental, Social Governance Team led by our Director of ESG, Rand Ekman, Our Director of JEDI, Yiselle Santos Rivera and our Citizen HKS Director, Lisa Adams for leading us through this effort.

Amanda Barton

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