Three Ways HKS Deploys Design-Build Best Practices for the FBI

Three Ways HKS Deploys Design-Build Best Practices for the FBI

Located on the emergent 243-acre Science and Technology District at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, the FBI Innovation Center is a training facility for agents learning the latest cybercrime combat tactics. Set to open in 2024, the project — designed by HKS through a design-build contract with Clark Construction Group — exemplifies best practices set forth by the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), also known as Design-Build Done Right®.

Design Build Done Right® (DBDR®) outlines how architects and contractors, engineers and trade contractors can achieve the highest levels of quality in procuring and contracting design-build services and executing project delivery. In addition to universal best practices, the DBIA also establishes more specific standards for certain markets including the federal sector.

Design-build can reduce challenges and inefficiencies that often accompany traditional design-bid-build projects, according to Jim Whitaker, FAIA, FDBIA, HKS Global Practice Director, Government & Alternative Project Delivery and Principal-in-Charge of the Innovation Center project.

“Contracts don’t legislate good behavior, but project delivery methodologies can encourage good behavior and design-build does that,” Whitaker said, adding that DBDR® best practices are a great tool to enhance overall project outcomes.

David W. Triplett, DBIA, MBA, the FBI’s Chief Contracting Officer and Facilities Acquisition Unit Chief has been instrumental in advocating for and educating others about DBDR® within the FBI. Triplett, who has presented about the Innovation Center to industry groups across the country with Whitaker, is passionate about project outcomes that better support the FBI’s mission and said the building will do just that.

“The Innovation Center will be the centerpiece of the new academic campus at Redstone Arsenal, and we are very proud of it. It’s a fantastic design,” Triplett said.

HKS architects and designers have brought dozens of large-scale federal facilities such as the FBI Innovation Center to life on strict timelines and budgets with airtight coordination. Here are three of the essential ways HKS and the firm’s partners deliver such projects by deploying design-build best practices:

1 – Building Trusting Relationships

On traditional building projects where there are multiple contract holders, team relationships are often established in a “command and control” environment, according to design-build expert Lisa Washington, Executive Director and CEO of DBIA. Design-build projects are different — they have a single source contract holder, the design-builder — and clients, contractors, and designers must collaborate from the beginning. Teamwork is fundamental to the process.

As the Innovation Center building owner, the FBI fully embraced DBDR® principles and established a network of design and construction experts who would be advocates for and talented executors of the design-build process.

“When done right, design-build allows the owner to select a team with culture alignment that will help them achieve goals. The FBI learned the best practices and were able to select the right team for this project,” said Washington, who attended an Innovation Center presentation at the 2023 Federal Design-Build Symposium by Whitaker, Triplett, and Barbara W. Wagner, DBIA, an industry-recognized DBDR® expert from Clark Construction.

“When done right, design-build allows the owner to select a team with culture alignment that will help them achieve goals.”

Selecting, organizing and training a high-performing team where members’ strengths complement one another is non-negotiable in design-build, Whitaker said.

“Because construction starts before design is done, the requirement to cooperate and plan activities is essential,” Whitaker said, noting that the first 30 days after the project is awarded is “the highest value, most impactful period of performance for the whole contract’s duration.”

From the onset of the Innovation Center project, the HKS and Clark team — having previously worked together on more than 30 projects, many federal and design-build — understood the importance of fostering a supportive team atmosphere. Before and during the procurement process, they held extensive, confidential meetings to formalize teaming agreements with designers and trade contractors and to ideate design solutions. After they were awarded the project and project execution proceeded, they collaborated to validate building program requirements, and develop the project’s full design and a detailed project schedule.

By putting this amount of effort into building and maintaining relationships, the team was able to accomplish what Washington calls the “most important aspect” of design-build.

“There is no magic bullet or piece of equipment that will make a project successful— it’s how the people work together, engage with the owner and have mutual trust and respect,” Washington said.

2 – Committing to Design Excellence

Throughout a design-build process, there are many opportunities to produce exceptional design outcomes, especially in federal projects. Whitaker said projects at Redstone Arsenal have been procured — or are being procured — using a best-value technique with a fixed stipulated cost, which means the contractors and designers all “get a chance to shine” because they are not reduced to a low-price bidding war. For the Innovation Center, the FBI set its price and chose the Clark and HKS team with this best-value, qualifications-based selection (QBS) method, which isan adopted best practice of DBDR®.

HKS committed to designing the Innovation Center as a signature centerpiece for the new campus capable of supporting learning and exchange of ideas. The design is also intended to attract top talent for the FBI — young professionals who want to train and work in dynamic, modern surroundings. The building itself is a recruiting and retention tool.

The project features a three-story academic and workplace structure with an attached practical problem training facility. Though these elements were initially intended to be unified in one building, the HKS team came up with the idea to decouple the components and make them elegantly stand out while maintaining the highest levels of security in design. HKS also worked with landscape architects and civil engineers to advise on master plan adjustments that would support the FBI’s goals for the overall campus, again illustrating how teamwork and coordination are required to fulfil design-build best practices.

Washington said that design excellence like what the Innovation Center designers have achieved goes well-beyond aesthetics to include building performance, environmental context and sustainability features. Design-build as a process, she noted, is perfectly suited to help teams create high-design, high-performance buildings that will last a long time and provide federal agencies value into the future.

 “The FBI understands that best value and low cost are two very different things,” Washington said. “[With this design] …they’re getting the best value for the taxpayer dollars, a facility that is state of the art that they and this nation can be proud of.”

3 – Anticipating and Managing Change

Federal building projects often come with challenges related to cost, bureaucracy, and aversion to risk. And just like on any building project, goals and expectations are subject to change throughout the process.

Unlike traditional building projects where most major design solutions are generated in early phases, design-build projects allow for the development and implementation of new design solutions during completion of design and into construction. The design-build process inherently enables instantaneous response and quick decision making when modifications are required, Whitaker and Washington said.

By adopting design-build best practices of DBDR®, the FBI Innovation Center team could overcome significant hurdles as the project progressed. First, the team navigated trials of procuring and contracting the project during the height of the COVID-19, which meant team members had to be extremely flexible and detail-oriented with technology, schedules and virtual communications to maintain lockstep coordination. Due to pandemic restrictions, the FBI and the design-build team never met in person during the entire procurement period.

Later, after construction had already started, unforeseen mission critical requirements necessitated changes that presented a challenge to the original design and construction schedule. Whitaker said the HKS team jumped into action immediately, creating new design solutions that still met project goals while reacting to the real programmatic needs of the FBI as Clark proceeded with construction.

“With design-build, we could actually prosecute a change in a timely manner,” he said. “Nimbleness and adaptability are crucial.”

As the FBI Innovation Center swiftly moves toward opening its doors, the project team continues to demonstrate that its ability to support clients with efficient, flexible responsiveness can lead to exceptional design and construction outcomes. And exceptional outcomes are exactly what federal building owners such as the FBI need, so they can carry out their mission in high performing environments. By implementing DBDR® best practices from day one, project teams and federal clients can create such places that stand the test of time. And Whitaker says the key to success is getting a good start.

“The very best design-build teams know that you have to build the team first before you build the building,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Living and Learning Home for Sixth College

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

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

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

Meeting and Exceeding Energy and Environmental Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Goals for LEED – and Leading through Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaveh Amirdelfan

North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood Honored by Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards

North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood Honored by Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards

Fast Company named UC San Diego’s North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) as a finalist in the 2022 Innovation by Design Awards. Designed by HKS, NTPLLN is honored in the Spaces and Places category, which celebrates the most innovative architecture of the year.

In its 11th year, the Innovation by Design Awards competition commends “designers and businesses solving the most crucial problems of today and anticipating the pressing issues of tomorrow,” according to Fast Company. Judges evaluate submissions based on Fast Company’s key ingredients of innovation: functionality, originality, beauty, sustainability, user insight, cultural impact, and business impact.

HKS’ Global Practice Director for Education, Leonardo Gonzalez Sangri said the honor acknowledges the firm’s commitment to design and research innovations that yield positive impact.

“Being recognized by Fast Company is an affirmation of the investments and efforts HKS makes towards leading with purpose and delivering measurable benefits to our communities through our work,” Gonzalez Sangri said.

NTPLLN is a “campus within a campus” at UC San Diego designed by HKS using sustainable and evidence-based strategies proven to promote environmental, physical, mental, and social well-being. Led by UC San Diego and the University’s vision for a socially connected, sustainable residential and learning environment, the project’s design-build team also included Clark Construction, Safdie Rabines Architects and OJB Landscape Architecture.

The Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards recognize NTPLLN for its outcome-driven, sustainable design and industry-leading longitudinal research study. A coalition of researchers from HKS, UC San Diego, and the Center for Advanced Research and Design (CADRE) assessed the design’s impact on student mental and physical health, capturing metrics related to depression, diet and environmental satisfaction compared with prior spaces. Students reported an 8.2% reduction in depression scores and a 27.96% increase in satisfaction with residential spaces, among other significant results.

Dr. Upali Nanda, HKS’ Global Practice Director of Research said that linking design intent to outcomes is at the heart of HKS’ investment in research and the Fast Company honor recognizes — and signals to a global audience — that good design goes beyond just aesthetics.

“This is about meaningful impact that we as a design community hold ourselves accountable to,” Nanda said. “We appreciate Fast Company’s recognition of innovation as something that is reflected in the lived outcomes of the people and societies we design for.”

UC San Diego is using the innovative design, research and operational methods of NTPLLN to inform new approaches to services and future campus developments. Gonzalez Sangri said that the project itself, along with honors presented by organizations like Fast Company, powerfully demonstrate positive progress in higher education design and development.

“My hope is that projects like North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Community mark a shift in the way higher education institutions plan and develop capital improvements,” said Gonzalez Sangri, “where they seize opportunities to deliver beyond physical space and program needs and define outcomes that improve environmental conditions for better human health and well-being.”

U.S. Southeast’s Growing Economy Spurs New Design and Development Trends

U.S. Southeast’s Growing Economy Spurs New Design and Development Trends

For the past 50 years, population growth in the Southeastern United States has outpaced the country’s overall growth rate by nearly 40%. The region is now home to more than a quarter of the nation’s residents and a slew of major employers, including dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

Even more people and businesses flocked to the Southeast from Northeast and West Coast cities during the pandemic as Americans looked for temperate, less-dense living environments and were able to work remotely.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth particularly in the Southeast related to peoples’ shifting priorities for what they want out of life and what they want out of work,” said HKS Regional Director Shannon Kraus.

The exploding Southeast population has led to a flourishing regional economy that grew over 10 percent in 2021 alone. HKS is working with clients and communities to understand the impact these shifts are having on the region’s built environment — and expanding our design services for a resilient future.

We’re seeing a lot of growth particularly in the Southeast related to peoples’ shifting priorities for what they want out of life and what they want out of work.

Commercial Real Estate Re-evaluation

In Raleigh and Atlanta, an influx of companies re-locating to or opening regional headquarters has caused a surging need for commercial office space.

Lynn Dunn, Office Director of HKS’s new Raleigh location, said that companies in industries ranging from finance to pharmaceuticals are keen to set up shop in fast-growing North Carolina as employees and corporations “seek the tremendous benefit of quality of life” that can be obtained there.

“It’s fairly inexpensive for corporations to come to this area from an investment standpoint. For years, we’ve had companies consistently moving here from across the country,” Dunn said, noting the top recognition North Carolina recently received in CNBC’s “Top States for Business” survey and Raleigh-Durham area’s repeat inclusion in national “best places to live” reports.

Dunn and HKS Atlanta Office Director Julie Volosin said that building owners, property managers, brokers and developers are collaborating to keep up with evolving desires of employers and employees. Companies moving into their cities are interested in building new high-performance offices as well as repurposing existing spaces.

“Atlanta is a broker-driven market and we’re seeing brokers courting corporations around the country to relocate here. There is also an increased interest among brokers and building owners to reposition buildings with more robust amenities and technology-rich infrastructure,” Volosin said

As organizations determine new policies for employees’ in-office and hybrid working models, they are evaluating real estate changes and how to best utilize the spaces they invest in. HKS is designing corporate workplaces to optimize versatility.

“We really focus on creating the most flexible kind of space that will support their work and business plans. We consider the flexibility within the footprint of the real estate as well as the external ecosystem that surrounds it,” Volosin said, noting that offices located near ancillary spaces for working or conducting meetings, such as parks or coffee shops, are increasingly popular.

Designers and researchers across HKS offices are exploring workplace habits and environmental conditions in “living labs.” Along with improvements in technology and policy shifts, HKS is investing in spaces that will entice employees, clients, and the community to use offices with intention and purpose. 

This year, HKS’ Atlanta office is leading the firm in how workplaces can best accommodate and support a hybrid workforce. The design for the new Atlanta office, located in the Buckhead business district, is the result of a multidisciplinary process that combined research, place performance advisory, and commercial interiors teams. No longer a sea of workstations, the Atlanta office has design havens, idea exchange centers, agile team pods, and a communal hospitality plaza — all of which offer abundant choices for where to work, interact with clients and serve the community.

“We’re in a state of transformational discovery right now. It’s a journey as we continue to learn and leverage a truly hybrid workplace,” Volosin said.

We’re in a state of transformational discovery right now. It’s a journey as we continue to learn and leverage a truly hybrid workplace. 

Changing Job Markets Prompt New Design Needs

Among the Southeast’s most attractive relocation destinations, Florida has a job market in the throes of major transformation due to its growing population.

In Central Florida — which has a historically tourism-driven economy — incoming science, technology and health companies have begun to diversify the job market, according to HKS Orlando Office Director Nathan Butler.

“Our area’s legacy is deeply rooted in the service industry with a transient population that far outweighed the permanent population. Resources have historically supported tourism disproportionately,” Butler said. New emphasis on non-hospitality industries, he added, has created better balance in the local economy and provides exciting opportunities to design new health, commercial and mixed-use developments.

HKS designers in Central Florida are also answering the call to work on public sector projects as local governments invest in building places that support the area’s expanding permanent population. New community venues for sports and the performing arts, transit system facilities and civic buildings are among the types of design projects rising in number, particularly in Orlando, Butler said.

Another of Florida’s major cities, Miami, is also experiencing rapid population growth and a diversifying job market as many people from the Northeast moved there during the pandemic.

“Miami is growing to the point where you can’t build quick enough for the people who are moving here,” HKS Miami Office Director Jonathan Borrell.

Although Miami is a tourist destination like other Florida locales, it has the unique quality of being an international business hub with large financial institutions and deep connections to the global hospitality industry. Borrell said that the inflow of new residents, combined with big business interests, is driving a wave of mixed-use developments.

“There’s a big market here for commercial mixed-use,” Borrell said, adding that the HKS team there is building relationships with local clients who want to provide more connected and vibrant 24/7 destinations throughout Miami.

What “Mixed-Use” Means Moving Forward

HKS leaders from the region said a strong desire for mixed-use properties permeates most cities in the U.S. Southeast. What “mixed use” means, however, is evolving in light of population and economic growth, expanding to include more types of properties than a traditional blend of residential and commercial.

“In middle markets, developers are very interested in multi-modal transportation and mixed-use developments,” Kraus said. “And the mix of uses can be a broad range.”

In Raleigh and the North Carolina Research Triangle, science and technology companies, research organizations and the area’s many higher education institutions are driving demand for life science centers, and innovation-based workplaces and learning environments. Dunn said that design teams there are working with clients to create mixed-use hubs with these — and many other — types of buildings at the heart.

“Creating depth with different uses is what makes a space dynamic and attractive to people. We look at amenities like retail, parks, entertainment and how they connect to the community,” Dunn said.

In middle markets, developers are very interested in multi-modal transportation and mixed-use developments.

As the city grows, Dunn says Raleigh is becoming an attractive destination for conferences and sporting events, which require diverse venues, hotels, dining, and retail located in close proximity.

“We have a great need for hotels that developers and investors are looking into. The city has lost opportunities to host national events due to the lack of hotel rooms to support them,” said Dunn. Building on the success of the firm’s hospitality work in the Southeast on major projects for clients including Four Seasons, Marriott, and the Biltmore, HKS is deepening local relationships to support Raleigh’s goal to accommodate large-scale events.

Integrated Design Approaches for Stronger Outcomes

Regional Director Kraus and all four HKS Office Directors located in the Southeast said the firm is committed to diversifying design service offerings and enhancing the built environment during this period of change — and they’re working together to do so.

“We are one firm and one profit center globally. We work well at leveraging our different sectors and services in all our work, and I think that will continue,” said Volosin. She shared the example that firm-wide strategic advisors, designers and planners are collaborating with non-profit organizations and city agencies for more equitable public environments in the Atlanta metro area.

Borrell and Butler said HKS’ Florida offices are expanding upon the firm’s long legacy of working on health and hospitality projects by sharing the talents of designers from those sectors with local commercial, education and senior living clients.

“The more we find ways to blur lines between practices, the better position we’ll be in to deliver better projects for our clients and have stronger, more collaborative teams across offices,” Butler said.

The more we find ways to blur lines between practices, the better position we’ll be in to deliver better projects for our clients and have stronger, more collaborative teams across offices.

Architects are working with colleges and universities in all parts of the Southeast — including the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and Florida International University — on a wide spectrum of building types including residential, education, sports, life science and health facilities. By distributing talent across practice areas, HKS designers are creating learning, working, and leisure spaces for a rising generation of business, research and medical professionals.

“There are synergies between all these different practice areas. Our individual practice areas are working together to determine the best opportunities and offer a depth of expertise,” Dunn said.

As the Southeast’s economy and population both continue to shift and grow, HKS is seeking to strengthen its partnerships with communities, helping to ensure a bright future through innovation and collaboration.

“We want to be seen as the go-to firm for creative solutions to complex problems, where we can have an impact at the project level, neighborhood level and city level,” Kraus said.

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HKS Announces New Mexico City Leadership Team and Office Move

HKS Announces New Mexico City Leadership Team and Office Move

HKS, a global design company recognized as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Architecture Firms, today opens the doors to our new location at Insurgentes Sur 1431 PB-2, Insurgentes Mixcoac, in Mexico City. We also want to introduce our new Mexico City leadership team: Juan Carlos Pineda as Office Director, Jorge Bracho Marzal as Studio Practice Leader, and Dan Flower as Senior Designer. Juan Carlos will oversee studio management, with Jorge and Dan leading design.

Left to right, Juan Carlos Pineda, Jorge Bracho Marzal, Dan Flower

Twenty Years in Mexico City 

Since opening our doors in Mexico City in 2002, our local studio has participated in many award-winning projects supported by HKS’ global network of talent. Our new Mexico City office reflects our belief that design excellence should embrace a commitment to ESG, or environmental and sustainable governance and demonstrates our latest thinking in workplace design. 

“Nowadays sustainable design is not an option, but a must,” Jorge Bracho said. “At HKS Mexico, we are committed to designing projects for all our stakeholders – communities, clients, end users and the planet — that excel in form and function, as well as projects that minimize negative environmental impacts and energy consumption.”

At HKS Mexico, we are committed to designing projects for all our stakeholders – communities, clients, end users and the planet.

Expanding our commitment to the city, region, and country 

Entering our twentieth year in Mexico, we will build upon HKS’ reputation for delivering exceptional projects to local, regional, and global clients, with a focus on the hospitality, health, education, commercial and mixed-use markets. “We have a great team here in Mexico,” said Juan Carlos, a Principal at HKS. “We look forward to moving into our new home and working with our current and future clients on exciting new work.”

“Our new leadership team and office in Mexico City reflects our long-standing commitment to Mexico,” said Dan Noble, President and CEO of HKS.  “Juan Carlos, Jorge, and Dan are exceptionally talented and committed to expanding our client and partner relationships. We are already working on many new projects in Mexico and look forward to many more.”

Luis Zapiain and Sergio Saenz, both HKS Principals and Global Directors of the firm’s Hospitality practice, remain closely tied to our Mexico City office and leadership. Our portfolio of resorts in Mexico notably includes Esperanza, an Auberge Resort; Las Ventanas Al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort; and Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal.

 

Our new leadership team and office in Mexico City reflects our long-standing commitment to Mexico.

HKS ANUNCIA SU NUEVA UBICACIÓN Y EQUIPO DE LIDERAZGO EN LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO

HKS, la empresa global de diseño reconocida como una de las firmas de arquitectura más innovadoras por Fast Company, abre hoy las puertas de su nueva ubicación en Insurgentes Sur 1431 PB-2, Insurgentes Mixcoac, en la Ciudad de México. También presenta a nuestro nuevo equipo de liderazgo en la Ciudad de México: Juan Carlos Pineda como Director de Oficina, Jorge Bracho como Líder del Estudio de Diseño, y Dan Flower como Director de Diseño. Juan Carlos supervisará la administración del estudio, con Jorge y Dan a cargo del diseño.

Veinte años en la Ciudad de México

Desde que abrimos nuestras puertas en la Ciudad de México en 2002, nuestro estudio ha participado en muchos proyectos galardonados, apoyados por la red global de talento de HKS. Nuestra nueva oficina en la Ciudad de México refleja nuestra creencia de que la excelencia en el diseño debe incluir un compromiso con la gobernanza ambiental y sostenible (ESG, por sus siglas en inglés), y demuestra nuestro pensamiento más actual en el diseño del centro de trabajo. 

“Hoy en día, el diseño sostenible no es una opción, sino un deber”, comentó Jorge Bracho. “En HKS México, estamos comprometidos con el diseño de proyectos para todos nuestros grupos de interés (comunidades, clientes, usuarios finales y el planeta) que sobresalgan en forma y función, así como proyectos que minimicen los impactos ambientales negativos y el consumo de energía”.

Ampliando nuestro compromiso con la ciudad, la región y el país

Al ingresar a nuestro vigésimo año en México, aprovecharemos la reputación de HKS como base para entregar proyectos excepcionales a clientes locales, regionales y globales, con un enfoque en los mercados de turismo y hotelería, salud, educación, comercial y de uso mixto. “Tenemos un gran equipo aquí en México”, comentó Juan Carlos, director de HKS. “Estamos ansiosos por trasladarnos a nuestro nuevo hogar y trabajar con nuestros clientes actuales y futuros en nuevos y emocionantes proyectos”.

“Nuestro nuevo equipo de liderazgo y oficina en la Ciudad de México refleja nuestro compromiso a largo plazo con México”, anunció Dan Noble, Presidente y Director Ejecutivo de HKS.  “Juan Carlos, Jorge y Dan son excepcionalmente talentosos y están comprometidos a expandir nuestras relaciones con clientes y socios. Ya estamos trabajando en numerosos proyectos nuevos en México y esperamos muchos más”.

Luis Zapiain y Sergio Sáenz, ambos Socios y Directores Globales de HKS del sector de Hotelería de la firma, permanecerán estrechamente vinculados a nuestra oficina y liderazgo en la Ciudad de México. Nuestra cartera de resorts en México incluye proyectos emblemáticos como: Esperanza, de Auberge Resort; Las Ventanas Al Paraíso, Rosewood Resort; y Waldorf Astoria en Pedregal Los Cabos.

HKS Expands Its Presence in North Carolina With the Opening of Raleigh Office

HKS Expands Its Presence in North Carolina With the Opening of Raleigh Office

HKS, a global design company recognized as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Architecture Firms, is expanding in North Carolina with the opening of an office in Raleigh.

A leader among international architecture and design firms, HKS is known for its innovative ability to create and deliver environments of distinction through award-winning architecture, planning, interior design, research and commitment to ESG (environmental, social and governance). Since 1984, HKS has been a part of designing more than 200 North Carolina-based projects including Cone Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Duke Health, JW Charlotte, American Tobacco Master Plan, Smoky Hollow and Biltmore in Asheville. 

“We have been active in the Research Triangle for many years,” said Dan Noble, President and CEO of HKS. “Our new office in Raleigh will allow us to expand our offerings to our existing clients, develop new relationships with clients and partners and deepen our commitment to the community.”

“Our new office in Raleigh will allow us to expand our offerings to our existing clients, develop new relationships with clients and partners and deepen our commitment to the community.”

HKS has long been active in the Raleigh area, offering a local portal to a global network of award-winning designers. The new office – the firm’s 26th — will focus on Commercial/Mixed-Use, Life Sciences, Education and Health projects. The Raleigh office will be led by North Carolina native Lynn Dunn, along with an energetic staff of nine.

Dunn attended North Carolina State University and believes that great design begins locally by achieving clients’ visions through a reflection of their brand, mission and purpose. Dunn empowers designers at all levels, cultivating their passions and strengths and collectively connecting with the community for the greatest impact.

“I am excited for the opportunity to open and lead the Raleigh studio for HKS, bringing national and global design perspectives to the region that I call home,” said Dunn, a Principal at HKS. “Building on the tremendous portfolio of work in the Carolinas over the past three decades, HKS will continue to make an impact on businesses and the local community through the creation of high-performance environments that support physical and mental health. The unprecedented and stimulating growth we are seeing in the region needs leadership, innovation and social and cultural consciousness. HKS is the right firm at the right time in North Carolina and offers me the opportunity to further serve my community through thoughtful design and creating a sense of place for all.”

“HKS is the right firm at the right time in North Carolina and offers me the opportunity to further serve my community through thoughtful design and creating a sense of place for all.”

Two Years After COVID, Here’s What We’ve Learned as Designers

Two Years After COVID, Here’s What We’ve Learned as Designers

COVID-19 has officially been in the world for more than two years. During that time it has changed the way all of us live, work, play and think.

Tragically, it has also killed more than 6 million people worldwide. Health experts and scientists agree that many of those deaths could have been avoided. As the life continues in a world in which COVID will likely be a permanent companion, architects, designers and engineers have acquired many lessons in the past two years about what steps our industry can take — now and in the future — to make our lives safer and more comfortable. Here are a few things we learned at HKS:

1- Use What You’ve Got

It’s too costly to build new hospitals for the next pandemic, so converting existing spaces quickly is key for architects and designers. HKS-designed Orlando Regional Medical Center in Florida offers one blueprint how such blueprints can be done successfully. 

2 – Prepare for the Surge

In a pandemic, every available space – from lobbies to hallways – may become emergency treatment areas. That means that certain medically necessary infrastructure components – oxygen, medical gasses, pipes and wiring should be close at all times, even if generally hidden from view. And water, electricity and medical hookups should be available to quickly convert parking lots or nearby structures into field hospitals.

3 – Staff Needs Love, Too

The pandemic has clearly shown us that health care workers are a treasure and must be treated as such. They need ample space to unwind and relieve the stress that comes with their jobs. Designing spaces that give them plenty of room to relax and recharge, away from the hustle and bustle of patient care, is necessary. For example, spaces that allow privacy and allow staffers to control sound and lighting would be helpful, along with rooms with windows that overlook gardens or other serene settings.

4 – There’s No Place Like Home 

The pandemic has forever changed how we work, or more to the point, where we work. COVID forced employees to shift to working from home – or places other than their main offices – and many of them discovered that they not only liked the flexibility of doing so, but they were also more productive. One finding from HKS’ extensive internal research bolsters this point. The findings revealed that work satisfactions jumped 12% for employees who have control over their home conditions, such as the ability to close a door to block out noise. HKS used this internal research to develop a flexible work from home policy for its employees that became a model for the AEC industry. Firms will likely need to maintain this flexibility going forward to retain, obtain and reward its workforce.

5. Office Work isn’t Dead Yet

While it’s true that working from home is more acceptable than ever, many companies will still need employees in the office for a variety of reasons. And when those workers are there, they will need to feel healthy and safe. Again, HKS research helped provide insights into designing for a safe office space. Recommendations include having teams work in their own “neighborhoods,” creating work “shifts,” so that certain amount of people are in the office at a given time, mobile infrastructure and seamless technology so that processes are consistent at home and remotely, holding meetings outside when possible and adequate spacing of desks. But even with working in the office, flexibility will remain the key component.

6. Safe at Home

Because more work will continue to be done at home, residential spaces will have to adapt. Single family homes will obviously have more options and leeway to do this. But multifamily residential spaces will face unique challenges, in large part due to size and affordability limitations. During the height of the COVID pandemic, HKS worked on possible solutions for future apartment construction. Among the many considerations: flexible workspaces adjustable surfaces, adequate access to light and air in all the spaces, finding a way to “hide” workspaces when they aren’t being used so that employees won’t always feel “on the clock.”

7. Air is Not Rare

No matter who you are or where you go, you’ll need air. The pandemic often put that basic need in jeopardy. Designers have figure out ways to funnel breathable air into any space from office buildings to shopping areas to airports to sports arenas. Our HKS office in downtown Chicago uses displacement air distribution ventilation technology to help keep the air clean. At the open-air HKS-designed SoFi Stadium, designers minimized air pollutants there by maximizing natural ventilation through operable panels, using the building skin to increase occupant comfort and creating “grand canyons” – large, landscaped pathways, gardens and patios. Airports can use a scaled approach to ventilation to help remove airplane exhaust fumes that historically contribute to poor air quality.

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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Bringing Equity into Focus, HKS Honors Black History Month 2022

Bringing Equity into Focus, HKS Honors Black History Month 2022

Each year in February, we celebrate Black History Month by recognizing and honoring Black Americans who have influenced our country’s history and paved the way for future generations to succeed. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) defines an annual theme for the month, and the 2022 theme, “Black Health and Wellness,” is especially relevant and one that’s personal to me as a designer. Architects should take great pride and responsibility in our ability to impact health and well-being through the buildings we create, the communities we impact, and the end-users who interact with our facilities. We have the power to create places that address and potentially resolve systemic inequities that continue to exist in Black communities today.

Though our industry historically has low numbers of Black architects, we are making progress in being a more diverse and equitable field, and we all play a part in that — whether through recruitment efforts, mentoring opportunities, community outreach, and more. And it’s more important than ever before; with a more diverse population racially, culturally, and socioeconomically within the U.S., the teams designing buildings in diverse communities should make efforts to reflect those environments. If our teams can better reflect the populations for which we design, we can ensure more inclusive, equitable and successful projects for all stakeholders.

After all, our role is not to design for people, it’s to design with people.

HKS is fortunate to have a growing number of Black leaders within our firm who bring their expertise and visions to life each day while paving the way for future team members to join our firm and the industry at large. We’ve asked a few of them to share their thoughts on this year’s Black History Month theme, their role within our industry, and how they contribute in their communities.

From left to right: Shantee Blain, Selwyn Crawford, Chandler Funderburg, Tyrone Loper

What is your cultural background and how do you connect with it?

Shantee Blain — Office Director and Project Architect; Washington, D.C.

All four of my grandparents come from mixed lineage and they and my parents all identified or identify as Black, as do I. I consider myself a native of the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia) area. My parents relocated here from Southern Virginia shortly after they married, and my siblings and I were born and raised here.

Selwyn Crawford – Editor; Dallas

I hail from the Deep South (Florida), as do both of my parents (Georgia), and I strongly identify with the Southern Black experience – and for me, that is not a negative.

Chandler Funderburg (Davis) – Engineer; Fort Worth

My mom is Black and white, and my father is Nigerian, but I grew up with my mom’s side of the family, all of whom are white—just like the majority of my peers in grade school. It took me a long time to make sense of who I was and find a real sense of authentic identity, but it also allowed me to develop the skill of adaptation, patience with people, and a widened perspective of the world.

Tyrone Loper – Senior Project Architect; Detroit

My father, Otis Loper, was born just under a century ago in rural Mississippi. My grandfather, Marshal Loper, was a sharecropper born in the late nineteenth century. It is believed that my great grandfather was born in bondage in rural Mississippi. This would place me three generations post chattel slavery. My parents moved north during the second great migration and settled in a Detroit Slum called Black Bottom. The City of Detroit razed Black Bottom and my parents settled into one of the many neighborhoods open to Negros after European immigrants settled into Post-War suburban Detroit.

How does the theme “Black Health and Wellness” resonate with you as important in the year 2022?

Blain: Black Health and Wellness, and specifically Black mental health, is often overlooked — not just from a global standpoint, but also within the Black community. Often, mental health isn’t talked about until it’s too late, but there’s been more conversation about it recently during the pandemic and due to the Black Lives Matter movement. Working from home during the pandemic was beneficial because it took away the need to be “on” all the time at work, but it was also easy to get sucked into the distress of the news. I plan to find a better balance by taking the time to process and reflect. 

Crawford: To me, Black Health and Wellness goes back to the days of slavery and how from then until this very day, Black people have constantly prepared themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually, for the unique challenges that they face. In other words, “Black Health and Wellness” is not just a 2022 thing or a COVID-19 pandemic thing, it’s a generational way-of-life thing.

Funderburg: Black Health was and still is so often neglected, and it’s important not only to address and improve barriers to our physical health, but also to allow ourselves to care for our mental health and well-being. In the Black community, at times, we get caught up trying to prove ourselves and our worth through work and striving, but we often don’t put enough emphasis on taking the space to give our mind and body the care and rest they need to live a fulfilling and long life. I’d like to see that change.

Loper: The Association for the Study of African American Life and History 2022 theme “Black Health and Wellness” is timely in this pandemic. SARS-COV-2 exploits comorbidities or underlying health conditions and as such magnified the poor nutrition, lack of access to medical care, fresh air and safe spaces for Black men, women and children

“Black Health and Wellness” is not just a 2022 thing or a COVID-19 pandemic thing, it’s a generational way-of-life thing.

Tell us about a project or initiative you have contributed to that you are particularly proud of.

Blain: I’m proud of how diverse the D.C. office has become in recent years. I started with HKS when the office opened about 17 years ago and we had few people of color and no women in leadership positions. We’ve dedicated ourselves to bringing on and promoting diverse talent as the office has grown. We reach out to students — including those at HBCUs like my alma mater Florida A&M and local schools like Howard University — to offer guidance and make connections for hiring staff and interns. Personally, I make a point to maintain mentoring relationships with young people I meet through those initiatives and through more informal connections. It’s a huge deal when you have people who look like you in your desired field or workplace.

Crawford: Since I joined HKS in June 2018, I have been directly involved in the hiring of four full-time employees. Of those four, three (75 percent) have been people of color. If we continue on a similar path to seeking diversity in all areas, it can only serve to elevate our firm.

Funderburg: I was incredibly grateful to be a part of the work done by the HKS J.E.D.I Council and Champions this past year. I’ve seen so many people channel their time and energy into making HKS an even better place to work for everyone and I can’t wait to see what impacts continue to be made for HKS and for the young talent that we hope to see in our seats one day.

Loper: In 2011, I encouraged HKS Detroit leadership to start recruitment and I led the first interview team at my alma mater, The University of Detroit Mercy, hoping to identify more Black American talent. In 2018, I successfully secured HKS sponsorship of the inaugural Hip Hop Architecture Camp offered through the Museum of Contemporary Art – Detroit (MOCAD). There, a group of Detroit youth got to craft imaginary space from their unique perspective using the Hip Hop genre as inspiration for expression. For most of these young people, this camp was their introduction to creating architecture and interacting with architects.

How would you encourage peers and colleagues in the architecture, design and construction industries to provide support for Black people in the workforce — not just during Black History month, but always?

Blain:  Encourage younger staff to reach out to you and have frank conversations with them. Advocate for them to get experiences you may not have gotten when you were just starting out.  I’m genuinely interested and invested in the professional growth of our office and believe we succeed together when given opportunities to pursue what we are most passionate about. Also, expanding your network and circle is important. Over the last few years in our more virtual work environment, it’s made a huge difference to me to make more connections with people outside of D.C and the East region.

Crawford: First, don’t just talk about it, be about it. Second, along with your complaints, bring viable solutions to fix what you’re complaining about; and lastly, advocate on behalf of someone other than yourself, particularly your fellow Black colleagues whose work efforts might seemingly be overlooked.

Funderburg: Widen your circle. The best way to learn how to support someone is to get to know them. If you make an intentional effort to understand someone’s needs, motivations and background, it’ll be easier to know what you can do to support them.  But most importantly, help make space for people to be themselves, whether you understand every aspect of who they are or not.

Loper: I would encourage my peers to participate in one of the many initiatives that companies like HKS have launched, such as our HBCU Engagement Team. Recently, the Detroit chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) sponsored a career fair and encouraged young professionals to participate. I know firsthand the power of such exposure. During high school, I participated in the inaugural Boy Scouts of America Explorers Group, sponsored by a large architecture firm. I knew that a career in architecture was a real possibility for me because the director of the group was a Black American architect.

Not Just a Building: Using Design and Advocacy to Create More Socially Just Communities

Not Just a Building: Using Design and Advocacy to Create More Socially Just Communities

Every major U.S. city has been historically affected by social and spatial injustice in some way, from housing to policing to policymaking. And reversing generations of unjust policy making and economic disenfranchisement will require individuals across industries to take an active role in redefining  our cities.

An HKS panel recently explored what the architecture industry can do to help create more socially just communities. As stewards of the building environment, architects, designers and planners have the unique opportunity to redistribute power to undeserved communities by translating their vision and voices into the spaces around them.

The multidisciplinary panel, organized as part of HKS’ two-week ESG in Design Celebration and moderated by HKS Project Designer Hilari Jones, captured how the industry can enable social justice through urbanism, policy, and community-focused projects to encourage inclusion and a stronger sense of belonging among the people those projects serve.

Each speaker touched on the value of diverse teams, repairing community relationships, and scaling the impacts to enable broader change.

‘Designing for Humans’

For New York Architect and Keynote Speaker Pascale Sablan, socially just design starts with intentionality.

“We need to not just think about the client who pays the bills, but also who is impacted by the projects and structures that we are developing,” said Sablan, who founded the organization, Beyond the Built Environment, to advocate for equitable environments that reflect the diversity of their people.

Success in architecture is often evaluated on the finished product: How big is it? What features does it have? What makes it unique? The panelists emphasized that design teams should challenge themselves to think bigger, defining their purpose and processes early on and ensuring that each project meets those shared goals.

“It’s actually not a building – it’s an opportunity. Who are you going to invite to be your partner in that?” said panelist Karen Weigert, of the climate-focused nonprofit Slipstream.

“And we forget that we’re designing for humans,” Patricia Acevedo of JLG Architects added. “If we’re looking inside our site, we’re forgetting that architecture is the first impression that people have of any town.”

Repairing Community Relationships

Community engagement is more than simply checking off a box before starting a project, the speakers said. The planning process should be a human-centered approach that strives to serve, not harm, the people whom the project touches.

At the start of any project, it’s wise for designers to identify who isn’t in the room and invite them to have a say in the decision-making process. Failure to do this can erode the trust of the community, leaving ripple effects that last well past the project’s completion.

“I get asked all the time, ‘How can we introduce architecture to kids of color or socioeconomically challenges communities?’” Sablan said. “And it’s not that they don’t know what architecture is; it’s that their relationship with architecture is negative. Their built environment fails to provide them the kind of spaces that they need.”

Siboney Díaz-Sánchez is a licensed architect who became a nonprofit affordable housing developer because she was tired of advocating for more community voices in projects and being told by clients that those voices had no place in the scope of the project.

At the start of any project, it’s wise for designers to identify who isn’t in the room and invite them to have a say in the decision-making process.

She participates in the Design as Protest collaborative that works with artists, architects, designers, and planners to make policy recommendations addressing issues such as permanent affordable housing, eviction, and social injustice.

In her current role as a developer, community members are paid as consultants for sharing insight on upcoming projects.

“They have valuable experience information and should be compensated for that,” Díaz-Sánchez said. “Not only do we make room in the schedule for those feedback loops, but we need to compensate community members for their time.”

Díaz-Sánchez explains to owners early in the process that if they get input from the community up front, it could save them money that they would spend later on legal fees and other expenses to address issues that residents might bring up during public forums or hearings.

“It’s going to benefit the project, the sustainability of the project, the pride of the project, and the longevity of the project if we have community voice and authorship,” she said.

Elizabeth Kennedy, who leads one of the oldest black-owned and woman-run architecture firms in the U.S., said it’s also important for everyone on a design team to leverage their unique identities to bring out the best in their work. She shared how her own experiences as a Black woman have helped her be more aware of the experiences of other people of color – even when those experiences are different than her own.

Working with clients, one key step is to educate them about the process of completing their project and the impact the project could have on the surrounding community. After learning of the impact on the surrounding community and ways to engage them in the project, clients may be more willing to support  an equitable solution that serves their business interests and addresses the community’s needs.

“Just like doctors, who originated as patients, had to learn bedside manner, there has to be some concerted effort of restoring to individuals the ability to understand the process … in order to advocate through design solutions that sustain,” Kennedy said.

Scaling the Changes

But change and advocacy don’t necessarily require grand gestures. Sometimes, the broader changes within the architecture industry come from more socially responsible policies that can tackle a variety of issues and concerns.

Policies can address equity, climate and sustainability while also dictating who is paid to do the work, as a way to give back power to communities that have been historically left behind in the public realm.

For example, some states now require a certain amount of money be set aside for energy efficient measures at new constructions. And some businesses have altered their procurement policies to prefer, or require, hiring minority or women-owned businesses for their construction projects.

Designers can also connect with like-minded individuals outside their firms to collaborate on issues they are most passionate about and learn what else their own firms can do  to move the needle forward.

Sablan is an active member of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), where she promotes knowledge-sharing among younger and more veteran members. She also founded Beyond the Built Environment in 2018 to promote diverse voices and stories, and show the various pathways that minority designers have taken in the field.

“I’m empowering us to feel comfortable about telling our stories, sharing ourselves, and being the author of how we’re introduced to the profession,” she said. “I’m also exploring all the different ways that we impact the built environment because there’s not just one right way to do it.”

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.”

Designing Today’s U.S. Buildings for an Uncertain Future

Designing Today’s U.S. Buildings for an Uncertain Future

The United States government owns more than a quarter of all land in the country and an estimated 130,000 civilian buildings nationwide. Responsible for stewarding this staggering amount of property, federal agencies must determine how they can adapt their aging building stock and prepare it for a resilient future.

The upcoming decades present clear environmental and social challenges for U.S. government facilities. The ongoing battle with climate change, increasing risk of airborne illnesses like COVID-19 and rising cybercrime activity are all placing demands on how we design and build the nation’s infrastructure.

Moreover, these 21st century problems each pose serious threats to public health, safety and welfare — the very things the federal government and architects like those at HKS are both charged with protecting.

“Government and design professionals have a common core function to serve those who encounter what we do,” said HKS’ Director of Government and Alternative Project Delivery Jim Whitaker. “For the government, the essential tasks are serving the citizen, the soldier, the older person or child in need. For us, our tasks are serving the multiple government stakeholders and end users that are going to deliver services in a building.”

Driven by a shared sense of service and purpose, Whitaker and designers across HKS’ government practice assist diverse U.S. agencies, helping them prepare their facilities and people for impending changes in society and the environment.

Facility Utilization Studies Support Adaptability and Flexibility

The Department of Defense’s Military Health System, which provides health care to U.S. armed forces personnel and their families, operates facilities all over the world. For more than 30 years, HKS architect and Senior Medical Planner, Brent Willson, has worked with the Military Health System on projects ranging from multi-phase renovations to new hospital campuses. He says “ready and resilient” facilities are crucial so that the Military Health System can fulfill its important mission to protect the health of current and former service members, their dependents and the public at large.

“Readiness is really the name of the game for the military. They have to be ready to act in whatever capacity they can to defend our nation, whether it’s to go to war or help out in natural disasters,” Willson said.

A military branch’s ability to be prepared for deployments or emergencies can depend on how well suited its buildings are to support the mission at hand. When it comes to military health buildings, Willson says readiness and resilience are almost synonymous with flexibility. Whether their buildings house research units that seek to combat rare illnesses or provide treatment space for those returning home from conflicts, the military requires adaptable facilities capable of supporting a variety of ever-changing tasks and missions.

“The buildings can be a hindrance as much as they can be a help, so the infrastructure is very important,” Willson said. “If there’s going to be a building inventory that supports the mission, then it needs to be the best it can be.”

When it comes to military health buildings, Willson says readiness and resilience are almost synonymous with flexibility.

 To meet government “demand signals” — a term that Willson says means “problems that need solving” — HKS provides Facility Utilization Studies (FUS) among other design and delivery services. These highly detailed reports include analysis of space requirements and provide planning solutions for government properties. Encompassing multiple options for building or campus programs, spatial layouts, economic analysis and budget estimates, the studies are an upfront investment in long-term readiness.

“We take a look at the existing constraints and figure out how to grow and expand different departments. It all has to do with flow, adjacencies, operational efficiencies and what works best,” said HKS architect and Senior Project Manager Jeff Haven, who has worked on several FUS projects with military health clients.

At the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC) in Silver Spring, Maryland, trained specialists in infectious disease, operational medicine and biological defense conduct research and provide treatment for some of the most complicated contemporary medical conditions. Squeezed into limited, shared facilities inadequate for their increasingly complex efforts, they identified a need for change last year. What exactly the changes could or should be, however, they weren’t quite sure.

In a joint venture with engineering conglomerate WSP, HKS designers including Willson and Haven held dozens of interviews and investigated the NMRC facility history and requirements. Together, they produced a 400-page Facility Utilization Study to help the client better understand their building conditions and opportunities for future use. The study first validated what the Navy already knew — that their current co-location within Army facilities did not provide adequate space for their vital work to understand and treat emerging medical threats.

After listening to the aspirations of NMRC leaders, the team proposed four vastly different design solutions including full building replacements and medium-scale renovations as well as prospects to lease additional space. Leveraging its long-term experience designing and delivering government projects as well as a deep understanding of government funding sources, the team shared innovative, but realistic, options.

“The solutions we came up with were tailored to the appropriate funding mechanisms that the government has. We tried to maximize the dollars that would be available,” Haven said.

Willson believes that making sure “facilities are planned and developed so they have useful, long lives” provides the best value for the U.S. taxpayer. A Facility Utilization Study, he says, is a crucial decision-making tool that the leaders within the Military Health System can use to explain what they do, why they do it and what resources they need to achieve their goal to support health care and research. As the threat of a global pandemic lingers, and similar illnesses are assuredly on the horizon, their work is going to become even more crucial in the coming years.

“They have a passion for this mission,” Willson said. “These studies help them say what is best for our country, for our servicemen and servicewomen.”

Purpose-built Training Facilities for Future Law Enforcement

Operating with a different — but just as vital — mission to protect the United States, the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is constantly thinking ahead about what future crime will look like and how to combat it. After identifying cybercrime as a significantly growing threat, the FBI decided to build a new facility to train a rising generation of agents capable of mitigating nefarious digital offenses such as identity theft, hacking and fraud.

In a collaborative process with design-build contractor partners at Clark Construction Group, HKS analyzed requirements and campus conditions at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to create design solutions that would meet the Bureau’s programmatic needs for a flagship facility. The team produced an expansive brief that included a competition-winning design for a new Innovation Center, which broke ground last month.

Whitaker, the project’s principal-in-charge, said that since 1996 when Congress passed legislation enabling the use of design-build methodology for federal projects, it has become the government’s default delivery mechanism. Whitaker has more than 30 years of experience working on government projects, and he said that design-build project delivery allows for better cost control, more certainty in scheduling and ultimately, enhanced satisfaction among building buyers and occupants. He believes the greater economy of design and construction services bundled into one contract helps agencies be wiser about how they allocate resources to prepare more buildings for future changes in mission, society or the environment.

“More integrated forms of project delivery are absolutely a better way to conserve resources and most successfully assure getting what you intend with the end result,” he said.

Design projects like the Innovation Center must be “responsive and resilient” for the activities that will take place, according to Whitaker. “It’s important to tailor-make the building for the importance of the government’s function that will be discharged there,” he said.

The Innovation Center’s purpose-built training facility will include full-scale replicas of buildings and streets where trainees will be immersed in computer-generated conflicts. The venue is where they will hone their skills in an integrated simulated environment before they go out into the real world where the stakes will be higher.

Describing the predicted impact that the Innovation Center will have on the FBI’s ability to carry out its complicated mission, Whitaker said, “We’re creating a building for those who are going to become experts of crime fighting in the future. It will have a long-term outcome for how the crime-fighting business evolves for the Bureau.”

Intensive Technological Research Drive Sustainable Innovation

While some government agencies are rightly concerned with how they can adapt and build properties to better support civic workers, others are also backing boundary-pushing discoveries that could limit buildings’ immense impact on the environment.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), for instance, has long advocated for sustainable design. For nearly 20 years, the agency’s Solar Decathlon competition has challenged college students to create small buildings that are fully reliant on renewable energy. A former judge for the Solar Decathlon’s Innovation category and Director of HKS’ Laboratory for INtensive Exploration, Heath May, is now working on a DOE grant-funded research study aimed at conserving energy and enhancing human wellness in commercial office buildings across the country.

In addition to HKS designers and researchers, the team for the study includes research leads from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Architecture, Science, and Ecology (case), and employees of one of the world’s largest lighting companies, Lumileds. Together, they’re seeking to reduce the amount of energy commercial buildings consume through artificial lighting by creating a dynamic “sculpt” lighting system. Currently in its second year of research and development, the system will illuminate spaces by responding to people and activities rather than simple on/off switches or dimmers.

“Our hypothesis is that by being able to place photons where they’re needed, we can reduce energy that otherwise goes to lighting that isn’t actually useful,” May said. He noted that when a room or building is artificially lit through traditional methods, even with efforts to reduce Lighting Power Density (LPD), there is still opportunity to further refine the light pattern and quality and cut back on wasted energy.

HKS team members have focused on creating digital environments and controls to test the sculpt system and are leading simulations this year. They believe that in addition to conserving energy, the system will also enhance human well-being, as it will limit interference with circadian rhythms and reduce interactions with harsh sources of light.

“Often, we’re not getting the right kind of light into our eyes at the right time of the day,” May said about the typical 9-to-5 office worker. “We’re attempting to prototype a way to ensure the quality of the light we’re delivering into the space can be beneficial for the task at hand and also healthy for the body.”

May says that building connections between academia, private industry, architectural practice and federal agencies — like the DOE is doing through the Solar Decathlon and research grant programs — will be integral in solving some of the most intense climate change-related demands the country’s infrastructure is facing.

“These types of partnerships are really going to be necessary for finding creative solutions given the magnitude of problems we’re dealing with,” May said.

Today’s Collaborations Impact Tomorrow’s Results

With their work across a spectrum of design services from cutting-edge research to facility assessments, and creating award-winning federal architecture, HKS designers believe in the power of collaborating with government agencies to prepare their people, policies and places for the future.

“We’re trying to advise for influence and make meaningful impact on how things are going to be done moving forward,” Whitaker said. “It’s doing our work today well so it has impact on the future of building design and construction.”

To provide solutions for the social and environmental uncertainties ahead, Whitaker says the inspiration all comes back to having a purpose beyond oneself — an attention to the dedicated government employees and service people entrusted with creating a safer, more resilient future for all Americans.

“Agency after agency and project after project, I find the people that are serving in those roles are driven by delivering services and fulfilling their mission to the best of their ability,” Whitaker said. “As designers, we align ourselves with them because have the same ideals. We’re there to serve someone.”

We’re trying to advise for influence and make meaningful impact on how things are going to be done moving forward.

Fast Company Names HKS a Best Workplace for Innovators

Fast Company Names HKS a Best Workplace for Innovators

HKS ranked highest among design consulting firms on Fast Company magazine’s third-annual Best Workplaces for Innovators list. In 2021, the magazine honors organizations who continued to foster creative culture amidst unprecedented disruption. HKS was singled out for its research incubator program, one of the many ways the firm encouraged creativity while adopting a new flexible work policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ranking #31 out of 100 on the Fast Company list, HKS is the only design consulting firm that placed among the top 75, an honor HKS President and CEO Dan Noble attributes to the firm’s culture, relationships and purpose.

“Our goal is to be the most influential firm in our industry,” said Dan Noble, President & CEO of HKS. “We want to be a trusted partner to our clients, a progressive and supportive employer and a force for good in the worldwide community. We believe in giving our people the time and resources they need to discover new and better ways of creating environments that combine beauty with performance. Our research incubator program is yielding exciting methods and ideas to do just that.”

Fast Company identified HKS’ Research Incubator as a stand-out example of our commitment to innovation. “The Research Incubator encourages diverse, inquisitive teams to think, synthesize and translate insights into impact, with a focus on new design ideas,” said HKS Global Director of Research, Dr. Upali Nanda. “When COVID hit, we had a choice. We could preserve our resources for when things returned to “normal”, or we could invest in shaping change at a time when the world needed new ideas, new hope. This recognition confirms our choice.”

When COVID hit, we had a choice. We could preserve our resources for when things returned to “normal”, or we could invest in shaping change at a time when the world needed new ideas, new hope.

One of our Research Incubator teams explored the future of work, studying how people worked from home in 2020. The goal was to explore what was successful, what was not, and form insights about the future of workplace design. The comprehensive, employee-centered study informed HKS’ new flexible work policy, underscoring our belief that work is not a place we go; it is what we do.

“Workplaces are evolving from containers to services,” says HKS Principal and Director of Commercial Interiors, Kate Davis. “Our research confirms this, and our teams now focus on crafting experiences for clients that weave together business, brand, mission and values in resilient ecosystems. I’m proud to work for a firm that leaned into the disruption of 2020 to craft a better future.”

In addition to HKS’ award-winning research program, highlights of the firm’s winning submission include COVID-19 conversions, in which we transformed civic and government facilities into flexible hospital treatment space in record time, as well as our CitizenHKS social impact program and our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) network.

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

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Hate, Violence Must Stop Now

Hate, Violence Must Stop Now

The tragic shootings in Boulder and Atlanta epitomize the devastation and destruction wrought by prejudice, racism and blind anger. It affects all of us in a profound and visceral way. We are appalled by theses escalating senseless acts, born out of ignorance and fear.

While we don’t yet know all of the facts in either case, we do know this: hatred incited by racism, discrimination, and xenophobia is not only abhorrent and destructive, but it also diminishes our unity as human beings, erodes our trust in each other and diminishes the creative potential possessed by every one of us.

In the wake of such senseless acts anywhere, HKS categorically condemns violence and hate in all its forms. We mourn with the families of the victims in Boulder and we grieve with our Asian and Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) colleagues and communities. We stand together to build a more just, equitable, and inclusive world.

As designers, we have the responsibility to create spaces where all can thrive and feel welcome.

This recent violence compels us to strengthen our commitment to radical inclusion, relentless bias confrontation and compassion for everyone. Driven by our core values of Relationship, Character and Purpose, we pledge to create a culture that is safe, supportive, and encouraging of all voices.

We recommit to infusing social responsibility into our culture as well as our governance structure. To do this, we 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.

Achieving real change requires us to set definable goals, implement effective processes and track our progress. 

In the Era of the Mega Project, Technology and Research-Based Collaborations Drive Innovation

In the Era of the Mega Project, Technology and Research-Based Collaborations Drive Innovation

Though COVID-19 has affected our world in many ways, it has not derailed the design and construction of many large university and hospital campuses, mixed-use commercial centers and stadiums. As these structures continue to rise, it’s evident that the era of the mega project is upon us.

Compelled by clients’ desire for enhanced efficiency, the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries are facing a turning point in the creation of high-performing places — a turning point that calls for meaningful partnerships and a commitment to leveraging technology. The design and delivery process is changing to meet the demands of mega projects, expanding to include big rooms and research and development-driven collaboration.

“Project delivery has evolved for more fluent and cooperative service providing in design and construction to make for better outcomes,” said HKS Principal Jim Whitaker, Director of Government and Alternative Project Delivery. Whitaker leads some of the firm’s most integrated, stakeholder-intense projects, design-build and public-private partnership endeavors that contractually stipulate more collaborative delivery approaches than traditional design-bid-build projects.

“We are completely comfortable doing design as a live performance art in front of a fully integrated team of engineers, specialty consultants, construction contractors and trade subcontractors and other third-party stakeholders,” Whitaker said, emphasizing HKS’ long history of delivering complex projects.

We are completely comfortable doing design as a live performance art in front of a fully integrated team of engineers, specialty consultants, construction contractors and trade subcontractors and other third-party stakeholders.

Collaborating in Physical and Virtual Big Rooms

Job site trailer compounds and ‘big rooms’ where contractors, engineers and client representatives work together are common settings for HKS architects and designers. Typically organized under a charter that outlines parameters for how various stakeholders will combine efforts, big rooms enhance relationships among architects, engineers, contractors and clients from many sectors including aviation, health and higher education.

“It’s a shared leadership model in a precisely timed dance. Everybody in that conversation has got something meaningful to contribute that matters at the moment that it matters the most,” Whitaker said.

Large projects particularly benefit from the big room approach. Often encompassing multiple structures, hundreds of thousands of square feet and demanding extra budget and time considerations, they require unparalleled coordination.

To deliver San Francisco Airport’s Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Boarding Area B, which opened in 2019, HKS worked out of a 200-person big room on airport grounds throughout the project lifecycle, starting during early design phases. The SFO big room charter document — like many others used in the field — outlined communication protocols, decision-making responsibilities and stakeholder roles. Fulfilling her position as “governor” of the HKS team, designer and project coordinator Faten Abdullah interfaced with representatives including other designers, engineers, construction contractors and airport officials on a daily basis. She believes one of the biggest perks of a big room is increased efficiency.

A broad range of stakeholders work in the SFO big room, where over 200 people including HKS employees collaborated to deliver the aiport’s Harvey Milk Terminal 1, Boarding Area B.

“Being in the same room with all the different disciplines and contractors was a great advantage. You can just walk right up to a consultant, ask a question and resolve an issue in no time,” Abdullah said.

The SFO big room helped break down communication barriers commonly found on complex projects and increased the speed at which the team could deliver the world-class terminal — a crucial factor for a client with rigorous goals for guest experience, revenue and sustainability.

“Design charrettes and coordination meetings were held on a regular basis, which helped the project move forward faster,” Abdullah said.

For Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood, Ohio — a two-building expansion next to the original greenfield hospital HKS designed more than a decade ago — HKS Principal and Director of Health Lynne Rizk and her colleagues worked in big room settings during early design phases. Rizk noted big rooms are a “great way of gaining consensus” and that collaborative decision-making means “everyone has ownership for the result.”

Component teams comprised of individuals from the owner’s representative, HKS, consultant groups, the construction manager and sub-contractors met on a weekly basis and planned to move closer to the hospital just before COVID-19 hit last year. When the pandemic forced project teams to work in a fully digital environment, HKS and its collaborators took the big room virtual. Moving component team meetings and large convenings online, the virtual big room exchanged sticky notes and in-person conversations for digital pull planning tools and video conferencing software.

“Everyone adapted to it,” Rizk said. “There are electronic ways of doing the same thing that we did in the room. We learned a lot of lean ways to work…we learned to be more efficient because we had to,” she said.

The project, which opens in 2023, stayed completely on track. Rizk says the team “didn’t skip a beat” in carrying out user and client meetings for the remaining schematic design, design development and construction document phases virtually. She believes that the client was satisfied with the transition to remote working and even experienced unexpected savings on air travel and hotel expenses for the project team.

Rizk hopes other HKS clients will see that it’s possible to design and deliver even the most complex projects in a digital environment. Though she believes virtual collaboration is here to stay, she doesn’t want it to “take away completely from the personal connection with the client” because it’s an important part of a collective process that helps a team meet project goals successfully.

Building High-Performing Teams Starts Within

Mega project delivery — whether it happens in a big room, a traditional setting, or via an alternate delivery model — starts with assembling adaptive, high-performance teams with people that complement one another’s strengths, Whitaker says. HKS strives to build more successful, balanced teams, in part by creating new technologies.

In recent years, HKS’ Chief Technology Officer Cory Brugger has worked with colleagues to develop a proprietary platform and process to track and advance employees’ technological skill sets. He believes that innovative design solutions are not about technology itself, but rather how architects leverage technology to better serve project outcomes. Brugger says that when staff members are familiar with design and delivery tools, then assembling teams and developing a delivery strategy can be a creative, rewarding exercise.

Innovative design solutions are not about technology itself, but rather how architects leverage technology to better serve project outcomes.

“It’s being able to shuffle the ingredients to make the recipe right for the project,” Brugger said, adding that delivering high-quality projects with consistency is foundational to HKS’ mission.

With more than 170 programs ranging from business development and project management software to energy modeling, design and 3-D visualization tools at our disposal, HKS can assemble teams that best accommodate clients’ desired skill sets and collaboration methodologies — teams that can better meet the goals of complex projects.

When the Tools Don’t Exist, Create Them

Opportunities to develop new tools and build relationships abound on mega projects. In designing and delivering SoFi Stadium, the new landmark Los Angeles-area arena set to host the 2022 Super Bowl — HKS created a new design application and an unprecedented delivery methodology.

For the stadium’s perforated metal skin, HKS’ Laboratory for INtensive Exploration (LINE) developed a custom computational tool that could handle the complex geometry of more than 36,000 uniquely sized metal panels when off-the-shelf software couldn’t rise to the challenge. The custom tool allowed the design team to create a massive digital model, an accurate virtual version of the physical skin.

In creating the state-of-the-art skin of SoFi Stadium, HKS developed a patented delivery methodology for stamping and sealing digital models.

“The closer we are in the virtual environment to the physical environment, the more information and accuracy we have to predict, coordinate, communicate the intent of a project,” said Brugger, describing the value of a data-rich digital model.

The technological innovations taking place with SoFi Stadium’s design and delivery would not have come about without observations made on another large HKS sports project — U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, which opened in 2016. LINE’s Director, HKS Principal Heath May learned then that the value of a model ‘greatly superseded’ the value of paper drawings, which require more interpretation by contractors and fabricators.

The SoFi Stadium design team approached the California Board of Architects to consider accepting a digital ‘model of record’ so the skin could be fabricated with the most accurate specifications. After extensive discussions and documentation, the Board approved the request. May said no one had ever used digital models as an official instrument of service before.

The complex building skin came in under budget and on time. May and Brugger agreed that without trusting partnerships — the fabrication team at Zahner Metals worked with HKS and the client every step of the way — the new ‘true digital delivery’ process would not have been possible.

HKS recently patented the methodology to digitally stamp and seal architectural documents and has licensed the intellectual property to startup company Concert BDC, a move Brugger says aligns with HKS’ goals of advancing architectural practice and the AEC industries at large.

“We know the needs from our peers, our collaborators and the stakeholders in our projects,” Brugger said. “It made sense to invest in bringing it to market.”

Embedding Research and Collaboration in Many Different Ways

Mega projects like SoFi Stadium present exciting opportunities for collaborative research and development, serving as a laboratory to advance new ideas shared by both clients and designers.

“[Larger projects] can be more like academia, where we can go from one year to the next and study something,” May said.

In actual academic settings, complex projects are plentiful, and universities have big ideas for how the research and design can go hand-in-hand. For example, the Detailed Project Program for the University of California, San Diego’s North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) design competition included a mandate to provide a piece of original research related to the project. The University’s central mission of advancing research aligned with HKS’ research and outcome-driven design methodology.

Project teams at NTPLLN streamlined delivery in later phases of the project by employing big room-style coordination, further exemplifying the many types of collaboration a complex project necessitates. Working closely with design-build partners at Clark Construction Group, the HKS San Diego office expanded its footprint to accommodate a shared space where teams could effectively see through all final aspects of the project’s design and construction ahead of its Fall 2020 opening.

The rich partnership that developed between UC San Diego and HKS led to the establishment of the NTPLLN as a living-learning laboratory, a formalized research coalition with on-going studies and another large project currently underway: the UC San Diego Theater District Living and Learning Neighborhood.

To deliver the UC San Diego North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, HKS and partners worked in a collaborative big room environment.

Contributing to the Full Project Life Cycle Brings Value

Through long-term partnerships, performance modeling and post-occupancy evaluations, HKS is continuing to expand into earlier and later phases of the project life cycle. Brugger believes these services, along with a robust collection of data and qualitative information, create additional value for clients and improve our ability to complete large-scale projects.

“We’re trying to move in the way of historically-proven models, where we leverage data and benchmarking on past projects to inform how we make decisions in the future and how we advise our clients,” Brugger said.

With every mega project we design and deliver – from SoFi Stadium, which hosted its first game last fall to Sun Yat-Sen Hospital in China, one of the largest hospitals in the world set to enter early planning stages soon — HKS project teams endeavor to use every tool in our toolbox, make new discoveries and build lasting relationships.