Howard University East Towers

Case Study

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

Washington, DC, USA

The Challenge

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

The Design Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Design Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith with his parents and four older brothers, circa 1982

‘American Story’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Learner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith and Casper on their wedding day, 1997

Opportunity Calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy DeWitt

BayCare Wesley Chapel Hospital

Case Study

BayCare Wesley Chapel Hospital Prototyping to Lead the Market

Wesley Chapel, Florida, USA

The Challenge

BayCare is one of the largest health care providers in the fast-growing Tampa Bay/Central Florida region. The health system was formed 23 years ago when several area hospitals joined together to offer high-quality, compassionate care in a community setting. BayCare needed a design partner to develop a prototype hospital that could be built quickly and create an architectural representation of the BayCare brand, and asked global design firm, HKS, to lead that effort.

As part of BayCare’s larger growth strategy, BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel is the first prototype hospital to be built in the heart of Pasco County, recognized as one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. The program includes a 235,000-square-foot (21,832-square-meter), 50-bed acute care hospital with all required support services and an attached 85,000-square-foot (7,896-square-meter) medical office building.

The Design Solution

Drawing inspiration from the wind, water, and earth pervasive to the Florida landscape, the design utilizes soothing colors, vibrant textures, and flowing patterns to create healing spaces. Great attention was given to the connection between the interior and exterior.

The BayCare brand is visually represented in architectural elements both inside and out. The open architectural framing on the exterior signifies openness and welcoming. This open framing is repeated throughout the interior with wood cladding over registration desks, conference spaces, patient room doors, headwalls, and elevator lobbies representing thresholds and anchoring community spaces. The varied wooden shapes are reflected in the tile patterns on the floor.

The interior palette focused on hues and textures of Florida’s coastal environment including sand, water, and earth tones to bring warmth to the spaces. This palette is seen throughout the hospital, enhanced in different ways throughout each space.

Each patient floor was carefully choreographed with soothing colors in paint, big graphics, and accent tiles that gently remind us of the coastal breeze and waves to bring a sense of soothing calmness as our patients receive care.

The Design Impact

By analyzing BayCare’s existing facilities and HKS benchmarks, the prototype design has a more efficient and compact footprint and can adapt to different locations and growth avenues. The hospital’s branded look is repeated both inside and outside to give patients and visitors a unique BayCare experience.

BayCare Wesley Chapel Hospital provides full diagnostic, treatment, and inpatient services to the expanding communities in the Wesley Chapel area. The hospital is fitted with the latest technology, including SmartRooms that give patients and families control over their own environment and data. Patients can open shades, change lighting and temperature, view charts, or page the nurse using voice commands.

The campus connects to the surrounding communities and parks through a recreational path. A 38,000-square-foot YMCA with an aquatic center and soccer fields is currently under construction just south of the hospital, adding healthy lifestyle options to the campus. This prototype hospital design was so successful, an additional campus is currently under construction in Plant City, and is scheduled to open in 2024.

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