Introducing HKS’ BLACK Collective: A Conversation with Ashli Hall

Introducing HKS’ BLACK Collective: A Conversation with Ashli Hall

Ashli Hall, a Senior Communications Project Manager and Vice President, is President of the BLACK Collective, a new Affinity and Inclusion Group at HKS. A small team of Black employees have been meeting regularly since the fall of 2023 in preparation for the group’s upcoming formal introduction to the firm. As part of that preparation, and HKS’ continuing recognition of Black History Month, Ashli agreed to answer a few questions about the group and what it hopes to accomplish.

Question: OK, Ashli, let’s start with the group’s name. Why the moniker BLACK Collective, and why is the word BLACK all uppercase?

First, I want to emphasize the significance and depth associated with a name.  It is a powerful tool for identification, communication, emotional connection, branding and cultural preservation. A name extends across various aspects of human experience and interaction. We gave considerable thought and effort to how best to characterize our group, and while we were initially content with the term “collective,” defined as a cooperative unit or organization, we eventually recognized the importance of not only defining ourselves as a group but also highlighting our individual identities externally.

The use of all caps for “BLACK” is intentional, representing Black Leadership, Advancement, Community, and Kinship. These values are integral to our identity, and we aim to amplify them within our affinity inclusion group and HKS as a whole.

Question: What’s the primary purpose of the BLACK Collective, and what do you say to those who might question the need for such a group?

Our mission is to cultivate a vibrant and welcoming architecture and design industry where Black HKS professionals grow and thrive, not just here, but throughout the industry. Through service, we will actively engage with our community, leveraging our design expertise and broad-based skills to uplift underserved people. We aim to empower Black design professionals to lead and excel by helping to create and foster an inclusive and supportive workplace where their talents and voices are heard, utilized, valued, and promoted. Mentorship is our cornerstone, and we seek to nurture the next generation of Black design professionals, providing our guidance and support. As advocates, we champion equity in architecture as we work to remove barriers while promoting diversity and fairness at HKS and throughout the industry.

Why start this group now?

We strongly believe that the establishment of this group holds immense value, and the timing for its inception is optimal, with some even suggesting that its formation is long overdue. Candidly speaking, there is a pressing need for this group to champion diversity within our firm and the broader AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) profession. Beyond that, it is crucial to foster connections and a sense of belonging for our Black employees, not only to retain talent but also to cultivate a community.

According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) report in 2022, out of 121,603 licensed architects in the U.S., only 2,492 were Black — a mere 2%. This stark underrepresentation underscores the urgency and importance of our group’s mission and goals to increase diversity within our industry.

And why is diversity so integral to the BLACK Collective’s mission? The answer lies in the understanding that innovation thrives in diverse environments. Diverse teams bring a broader range of skills and knowledge, which allows for a multifaceted approach to challenges. This diversity fosters creativity and encourages unconventional thinking. Unique cultural perspectives and life experiences often lead to innovative solutions that may not be evident in more homogenous settings. Simply put, diversity is good business strategy.

To fulfill the HKS vision of becoming the most influential firm in our industry, we recognize the need to be a place of limitless thinkers. This necessitates not only embracing diversity but actively championing it, as it is the key to unlocking innovation, fostering creativity, and achieving our ambitious goals.

BLACK Collective team. From top left to bottom right, Selwyn Crawford, Benjamin Robinson, Alex Q Jones, Chasa Toliver-Leger, Ashli Hall and Chandler Funderburg

What will success look like for the BLACK Collective?

Our vision of success involves several key components. Firstly, it entails fostering cultural awareness within our firm, creating an environment where diversity is not just acknowledged but celebrated. Secondly, we aim to enhance architectural practice and contribute to the industry’s enrichment by embracing diverse perspectives and innovative ideas.

In addition, building inclusivity and connection is a crucial aspect of our success. We aspire to create a workplace where everyone feels a sense of belonging, fostering strong connections among our team members. Moreover, we are committed to working toward the development and promotion of Black professionals to leadership roles, recognizing that diverse leadership is essential for driving meaningful change and ensuring representation at the highest levels.

We recognize that our goals are ambitious. But with the steadfast support of our Co-Executive sponsors, Dan Noble and Sam Mudro, and the valuable guidance from our Chief Advisor, Sidney Smith, we are confident that we can make significant strides to effect positive change within our organization and the broader AEC industry.

Why should any HKS employee want to be a part of or support the BLACK Collective?

Because the success of any one of us translates to success for all of us. All HKS employees should seek to support the BLACK Collective because our goals and mission are ultimately designed to improve HKS and the broader AEC industry. And isn’t that what we all want?

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)


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

Five Design Trends Shaping Communities in 2024

Five Design Trends Shaping Communities in 2024

Advances in artificial intelligence, modular construction and other methodologies will bring renewed energy to the architecture, engineering and construction industry in 2024 despite economic and environmental challenges.  

In response to — and at the forefront of — current real estate and design trends, global design firm HKS is striving to revive and strengthen communities worldwide. In 2024, HKS will continue to create healthy, resilient, dynamic places that support peak performance and bring people joy. 

1 – Spaces for Healthy Living and Learning 

HKS is leveraging the firm’s research and health design expertise to help people navigate ongoing and emerging crises in health care, student health and well-being, and senior living. 

The Sanford Health Virtual Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is one of several exciting HKS health care projects opening in 2024. The telehealth center will improve access to care for rural patients, a medically underserved population.  

Clinical workforce shortages will be a continuing challenge for health systems in the year ahead, according to McKinsey & Company. HKS is designing facilities to address the health care staffing crisis. To further this work, the firm is partnering with design brand MillerKnoll on a study to identify factors that contribute to nurse burnout and to learn how these factors relate to the built environment. The study findings will be published this year. 

This year HKS will also participate in an impact study to gauge how the design of Uplift Luna Preparatory School, which is scheduled to open in Dallas in January, affects student outcomes. HKS’ design of the school was informed by research into how design can support social and emotional learning.  

At the 2024 Environments for Aging conference, HKS and industry partners will present a case study of Elevate Senior Living’s Clearwater, Florida community. HKS’ design for Elevate Clearwater is intended to help address the senior living affordability crisis. The number of middle-income older adults in need of affordable care and housing options is swiftly rising, as demonstrated by a study into the “forgotten middle” senior cohort, by research group NORC at the University of Chicago

2 – Commercial Office Reinvention 

It’s clear by now that hybrid and remote work are here to stay. Changes to work habits over the last four years caused major fluctuations in corporate real estate portfolios, leading to increased vacancy rates and diminishing valuations worldwide. But according to Deloitte’s 2024 commercial real estate outlook, newer, higher quality assets are outperforming older spaces and new construction projects designed to accommodate hybrid work strategies are on the rise.  

HKS commercial interior designers are creating offices with hybrid-ready technologies and attractive amenities for companies like Textron Systems in Arlington, Virginia and AGI in Naperville, Illinois. HKS’ advisory groups have also teamed with influential companies, including CoreLogic, to develop strategies and design concepts for their robust asset portfolios that help them keep up with the evolving real estate landscape. 

The firm’s industry-leading research on brain healthy workplaces has yielded exciting discoveries about how offices that prioritize employee well-being can be designed, delivered and operated. Piloting strategies in the firm’s own real estate portfolio and advocating for “breaking the workstation,” HKS researchers and designers are setting new standards for inclusive, productive office environments. In 2024, HKS will present these ideas to a global audience at South by Southwest® (SXSW®) and continue to design workplaces for new modes of working. 

3 – New Mixed-Use and Planning Match Ups

Fluctuations in the commercial office sector and retail are providing new opportunities in mixed-use development. PwC and ULI’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2024 report indicates that real estate investors are increasingly diversifying or pivoting their portfolios to counteract disuse of downtown offices and regional malls.  

A shift toward developments with a variety of localized services and amenities is occurring — and HKS designers and planners are at the forefront of creating exciting new projects with unique anchors. In Hangzhou, China, the 2023 Asian Games Athlete Village Waterfront Mixed-Use is becoming a prime destination for retail and entertainment, not unlike HKS-designed SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park in Los Angeles with its newest attraction, Cosm. Beyond these new mixes, HKS designers are creating dynamic properties such as NoMaCNTR in Washington, DC, to join hotel and residential uses — a combination on the rise in many major cities. 

In 2024, HKS is expanding its ability to serve communities with mixed-use planning and design, fostering sustainable growth for cities in the years to come. The Austin Light Rail team — consisting of Austin Transit Partnership, HKS, UNStudio and Gehl — is set to finalize design guidelines for proposed station locations that will provide opportunities for Austin residents to live in more affordable locations and promote urban expansion into less dense areas. As the transit network expands, it will unlock real estate opportunities and give rise to a variety of diverse and exciting mixed-use properties. This work complements the Transit Oriented Developments projects HKS is working on to elevate the health and well-being of our communities nationwide.  

HKS designers are also set to craft a new master plan for the Georgia World Congress Center’s 220-acre campus in downtown Atlanta this year. The cohesive, sustainability-driven master plan will create a legible pedestrian-friendly environment that maximizes economic potential of the convention center campus. This will integrate the campus’ global canvas with surrounding historic neighborhoods using a comprehensive framework. 

4 – Adaptive Reuse Rising 

In their report on 2024 real estate trends, PwC and ULI write that that “the movement to convert existing buildings from office to multifamily (or any other asset class, really), offers a meaningful achievement in saving carbon emissions.”  

As part of HKS’ efforts towards sustainable and resilient design, the firm is igniting adaptive reuse for a variety of building types, such as ParkwayHealth Gleneagles Chengdu Hospital in China, a tertiary care facility created from a former shopping center. HKS’ design for Mount Sinai Beth Israel Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center in New York City reinvigorated a structure built in 1898 to create a new destination for behavioral health. HKS designers in London renovated a 19th-century office building into a 21st-century clinic. And for an expansion of Rusk State Hospital in Texas, HKS reinvented the hospital campus, which opened in 1883 to house a penitentiary, into a therapeutic and dignified behavioral health care setting. 

In a highly poetic adaptive reuse project, HKS reimagined a defunct airport terminal, which dated to the 1940s, as a creative, contemporary workspace for online travel company Expedia Group. 

In 2024, HKS will continue to advance adaptive reuse design across different markets and geographies. 

5 – Creating a Better World through ESG

Balancing holistic sustainability — including decarbonization, climate resilience, and equitable design practices — with business goals is imperative for commercial real estate investors according to 2024 outlooks by both Deloitte and PwC. Leading the architecture and design industries to a brighter future, HKS is committed to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). 

HKS leaders recently demonstrated the depth of the firm’s ESG efforts through thought leadership — speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the United Nations Science Summit on Brain Capital, and at the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference, where HKS was also a Diamond Sponsor. 

Driven by ESG goals, HKS designers strive to enhance human and environmental well-being through the places they create day in and day out. The firm’s growing portfolio of high-performing projects includes the world’s first WELL-certified airport facility, a COTE Top-Ten Award-winning campus in California and a IIDA Global Excellence Award finalist hospital in Saudi Arabia to name a few. In 2024, HKS architects, sustainable design leaders and advisors will continue developing building portfolio sustainability guidelines and high-performance designs for major tech companies and educational institutions.  

HKS will also align with the Science Based Targets Initiative, which recently established building sector guidelines, to ensure the firm’s carbon neutrality goals are science-backed and can be properly benchmarked. The firm will provide voluntary disclosures about its offsets portfolio to meet regulatory requirements, enhance transparency and improve accountability. 

Most excitingly, 2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of Citizen HKS, a firmwide initiative that impacts lives and drives change through design, community service and financial philanthropy. HKS designers around the world will celebrate the pro-bono design work and service projects they have contributed to through Citizen HKS and re-commit to enhancing their communities for years to come. 

Jeremiah Community

Case Study

Jeremiah Community Virginia's Jeremiah Community Offers a Lifetime of Care, Security and Well-Being

Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

The Challenge

Rising population and soaring living costs will likely escalate homelessness and housing insecurity nationwide. This absence of permanent housing fuels hefty spending by localities on managing crime, public health issues, and social injustices. Micah Ecumenical Ministries, experienced in aiding Fredericksburg, VA’s homeless, proposes an intentional solution: a holistic supportive housing community. Partnering with Citizen HKS and engaging the community, the Jeremiah Community aims to offer affordable, permanent homes tailored to the unhoused. This initiative includes health care programs, access to nature and faith, fostering a cohesive community for those transitioning from homelessness to a stable, supportive environment.

The Design Solution

The Jeremiah Community focuses on lifelong healing through deliberate design choices, ensuring well-being, safety, and accessibility. Citizen HKS, contributing expertise in place analysis, master planning, and unit design, collaborates with Micah’s partnerships at the University of Mary Washington Healthcare System and Virginia Supportive Housing. They strategically position essential facilities like the health care clinic, market, maker space, chapel, community center, and gardens to create varied public, social, and personal spaces catering to community healing needs— ranging from physical to spiritual.

Citizen HKS’ holistic approach balances environmentally friendly strategies and urban design principles on the dense site. Pathways carve pocket neighborhoods, connecting diverse programming while emphasizing nature’s role in wellness. These areas, centered around shared green spaces, encourage communal immersion in nature, addressing erosion and heat island effects passively.

This sustainable urban plan showcases how integrated design strategies create healing spaces within the Jeremiah Community, supporting individual and communal well-being for all.

The Design Impact

The Jeremiah Community seeks to eliminate chronic homelessness by offering ongoing care and stable housing for more than 100 individuals. Citizen HKS’ design approach emphasizes Housing, Purpose, and Relationship principles, empowering the unhoused community in the design process. This collaboration fosters a master plan prioritizing affordability and a sustainable, healthy environment for transitioning to permanent homes. As this community pursues choice and self-determination, our design journey will continue to align with their progress as we engage in future project phases.

Project Features

“Without the [unhoused] community, I would have lost the only possession I had left [when I was on the streets] – hope.”

Peg Phillips, Micah, Servant-Leader of Neighbor Care

HKS Honored as a Leader in LGBTQ+ Workplace Inclusion with Equality 100 Award

HKS Honored as a Leader in LGBTQ+ Workplace Inclusion with Equality 100 Award

HKS, a global design firm, has earned the prestigious Equality 100 distinction on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2023-2024 Corporate Equality Index, an honor that recognizes the firm as a leader in LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion.  

Launched in 2002, the Corporate Equality Index is a “national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees,” according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s website.  

A company’s index score is evaluated by the criteria of workforce protections, inclusive benefits, supporting an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility. The Equality 100 Award is given to companies that score all 100 possible points.  

The Equality 100 Award is a testament to the firm’s dedication to championing justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (J.E.D.I.) under the leadership of HKS Director of J.E.D.I., Yiselle Santos Rivera. 

“I’m grateful that we are prioritizing the needs of our employees and continually seeking to create a workplace where all are welcome,” Santos Rivera said. “Personally, being able to support my LGBTQIA+ community and seeing them thrive as they show up authentically at work brings me unimaginable joy. I’m humbled by this great honor.” 

“I’m grateful that we are prioritizing the needs of our employees and continually seeking to create a workplace where all are welcome.”

Read the full 2023-2024 Corporate Equality Index report here.  

Designing Health Care Environments for Community Integration and Empowerment

Designing Health Care Environments for Community Integration and Empowerment

As a part of its quarterly Limitless series, global design firm HKS recently hosted a panel to discuss how health care design can facilitate community integration and empowerment.

Nupur Gupta, Senior Medical Planner at HKS, moderated the panel and introduced each of the panelists and their community health care practices. Panelists were Jessica Duckworth, COO of The Rose Breast Center for Excellence; Dr. Andrea Caracostis, CEO of the Asian American Health Coalition dba HOPE Clinic; and Joel Miller Kalmin, facilities designer manager at Legacy Communities Health Services.

Design That Honors Community Identity

Hospitals and clinics can be unwelcoming and impersonal institutions, but many health care and design professionals are working to change this narrative with inviting and community-oriented health care design.

HOPE Clinic is a community health care provider that serves patients from 90 countries of birth in 60 languages. The clinic launched in 2002 in a Chinese community center and continues to serve a large Asian and Hispanic population at its five locations in the Houston area.

To honor the communities it serves, HOPE clinics have prayer rooms for Muslim patients and use colors and themes in the design that are significant to Asian and Hispanic communities. Outdoor spaces display murals and cultural decor such as Chinese lanterns.

“I think that we forget that, if we want people to engage in their health, we also have to provide them a safe space where they feel respected, and they feel like people are putting their needs first above everything else,” Dr. Caracostis said.

Legacy Community Health Services launched in 1978 at the Montrose Clinic to provide STD prevention services to gay men in Houston and now operates more than 50 facilities. Its Southwest Houston clinic is home to 70 different ethnicities. Drawing inspiration from Latin and African culture, the exterior of the clinic is adorned by colorful panels to represent woven textiles. The clinic also features stools with fabric designed by patients.

At Legacy’s Fifth Ward clinic, the community is represented with exterior “Healing Hands” murals by local artist Reginald Adams.

“The murals feature larger-than-life hands with palms outreached surrounded by color fields that represent the chakras,” Kalmin said. “Community members, children and parents alike went to the studio, and their hands are actually part of this permanent mural.”

Meeting Patients Where They Are

Duckworth said that transportation and time constraints are a major barrier to accessing health care. To reduce these barriers, The Rose Breast Center of Excellence operates five mobile mammography coaches to reach patients in their communities and perform life-saving screening services. Founded in 1986 in a 915-square-foot (85-square-meter) space, The Rose now sees 40,000 patients a year across 43 counties in Greater Houston and Southeast Texas through its mobile mammography fleet. The fleet is the largest in Texas.

According to The Rose, 77% of its mobile mammography patients would not have received their annual screening mammogram if they didn’t visit one of its coaches.

“We got to most of the local ISDs to be able to set up a mobile van there so the teachers don’t have to take off, they can just walk out,” Duckworth said. “We got to business, as well, to be able to provide those services.”

In the last five years, Legacy has partnered with schools to offer a variety of health services — such as behavioral health, immunization and dental care — to students during school hours. Parents of students who are minors can enroll their students in the program by signing a consent form for them to be treated by the Legacy team at school.

“The child doesn’t have to miss school, and either guardian or parent doesn’t have to miss work for the child to get the care that they need,” Kalmin said. “That’s a really important niche that is not being served.”

Integration of Care: A “One-Stop Shop”

Dr. Caracostis said that, for many patients, having to return to the clinic at a later date or travel to another clinic for additional care is burdensome as it causes them to be away from their families or take time off work.

“Being able to provide dental, vision and other services in that same space and on that same day is really critical for families,” Dr. Caracostis said. “Because a lot of our families’ wages are on an hourly basis, and every time they take off to go to a medical appointment, it’s dollars off their paycheck.”

Duckworth also shared the value of health care environments acting as a “one-stop shop” for patients.

“If they’re able to go and get all the services they need, they’re going to be more compliant and improve their health outcomes because they’re going to get all of that done in the place that they trust versus having to travel all over to different clinics to be able to receive those services,” Duckworth said.

Engaging with Communities

The Rose and Legacy both have dedicated community engagement teams, and because of data collected in community outreach, Legacy determined a gap in senior primary care. It now has three primary care facilities designed specifically for seniors, featuring wider hallways to better accommodate wheelchairs and exam chairs instead of exam beds.

When HOPE Clinic built its newest facility, it held a visioning session inviting community members to share their hopes for the new space. The clinic features social spaces for community events such as a culinary program and an upcoming concert series.

“We’re all super proud that we provide fabulous services, but that doesn’t mean we’re good community partners,” Dr. Caracostis said. “Being a community partner means you get off your soap box and you listen to the communities and open your doors for their priorities and not necessarily yours.”

View the full webinar recording here

Connect with HKS at the 2023 NOMA Conference

Connect with HKS at the 2023 NOMA Conference

HKS is excited to attend and participate in this year’s National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference as a Diamond sponsor. Scheduled for October 11th-15th in Portland, OR, the annual event will unite more than 1,200 designers, allied professionals and students under its 2023 theme, “Building Bridges Toward Just and Joyful Futures.”

HKS team members look forward to engaging with conference attendees interested in joining hands to create more just and equitable communities through collaborative design.

Connect with HKS designers during the 2023 NOMA Grad Fair + Expo

Talk with HKS team members from cities around the country about the firm’s culture of inclusion, design excellence and innovation.

Date and Time: Saturday, October 14th 10:15am-4:15pm

Hear from HKS panelists during these exciting education sessions:

1 – “Out in Architecture: Witnessing LGBTQIA+ Joy to Build Just Futures”

Date and Time: Thursday, October 12, 2023, 2:45pm-4:15pm

Yiselle Santos Rivera, HKS’ Global Director of J.E.D.I. and My-Anh Nguyen, HKS Design Professional will joinfellow panelists A.L. Hu, Amy Karn, Bz Zhang, Andrew Grant Houston to discuss their paths to authentic expression, joyful living, and equity-building within the architecture profession.

2 – “Demystifying the workplace: Preparing for success as you join a new firm”

Date and Time: Friday, October 13, 2023, 2:45pm-3:45pm

HKS’ Yiselle Santos Rivera will present with R. Corey Clayborne and Tiffany Millner about how young professionals can navigate the architecture employment process and leverage the AIA Guides for Equitable Practice as a resource.

Demand for Healthier Spaces Inspires Innovation in the Built Environment

Demand for Healthier Spaces Inspires Innovation in the Built Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designing for Well-being Across Sectors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Healthier Offices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborating for Positive Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

HKS Research Accelerator Program Explores How Advancing ESG in Design Adds Client Value

HKS Research Accelerator Program Explores How Advancing ESG in Design Adds Client Value

We’re no longer interested in the simple exercise of acknowledging problems. We’re taking action. We’re moving beyond mere awareness by driving progress, alongside our clients, by enriching interactions and promoting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) measures. We’ve joined the United Nations Global Compact, embracing Sustainable Development Goals under the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. But we also have ongoing research to support the bleeding-edge innovation on how to get there.

“The greatest challenges of the 21st century are Design problems. They are not thrust upon us; they are of our making. Fortunately, the solution is also Design. What we are faced with is not a technical challenge, it is a people challenge. HKS’ holistic, integrated, research based ESG is one of our empowerment tools.”

Rand Ekman,
Chief Sustainability Office

HKS supports multiple paths to innovation through research. We offer our talent opportunities to learn and grow by instilling research and providing opportunities to explore, investigate, and evaluate. The Incubator track emphasizes the development of research capabilities, expanding our firm’s knowledge and exploring novel concepts, ultimately enhancing our innovation potential. Building upon incubated work, the Accelerator track aims to generate applicable research and insights, transforming this innovation potential into practical integration and impact for our projects and practices.

Each year we encourage diverse, inquisitive teams to think, synthesize and translate insights into impact, with a focus on new design ideas. Over the past three years, the Incubator/Accelerator research program has supported 29 projects, including 150 HKS employees from various regions. Our firm is differentiated by the scope and breadth of our evidence-based practice areas. And while we aren’t the only AED firm to support research grants, the projects we support are designed to create tools and methods that make an actionable difference in design.

“Better Design, Better Outcomes. Better Research, Better Design. It is that simple. Our research incubator and accelerator programs are designed to democratize research and make room for the limitless thinking that is vital at a time when so much is changing all at once”

Upali Nanda, PhD,
Global Practice Director, Research

Here we’ll focus on our 2022 accelerator projects which are exemplary in showing how ESG is foundational in design. The research questions and methodologies of each project varied greatly, including how to engage with diverse stakeholders and cultivate a sense of belonging, how to improve energy savings and align carbon impacts with client goals, and what to consider in mitigating climate risks and developing a framework for materials transparency. Over the last year of research, here are three key pathways that transcend each effort.

Key Pathways #1: Sustainable practices find cost savings through best practices.

From a bird-eye perspective, the construction and design industry contributes 30% of total global waste and 38% of global carbon dioxide. However, by adopting sustainable construction practices, building operations , and optimizing material selection and transportation, the industry can not only reduce waste and carbon dioxide emissions but also achieve substantial cost savings.

Construction methods vary based on location, affecting both the materials used and their transportation distances. The architecture and engineering (A/E) industry must adapt to the global shift towards carbon neutrality by designing and maintaining carbon-neutral buildings that align with client goals. To achieve this, Miguel Lopez and his team provided design teams with low-embodied-carbon material recommendations and engaged in project-specific building systems and assemblies during the early stages of design. Their assessment tool allows teams to work proactively during the design process to identify and implement carbon reduction strategies and effectively reduce embodied carbon footprints with cost savings in mind.

Adaptive reuse stands out as the most cost-effective approach to sustainable building construction, primarily because it allows for the repurposing of existing structures. This method minimizes the requirement for new materials and reduces construction expenses. By adopting principles of the circular economy, Lisa Adams suggests solutions that are not only sustainable but cost effective. Her team collected data on material usage and sustainable upgrades, utilizing Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which when applied to design, informs decision-making and more efficient resource allocation.

By creatively transforming and retrofitting buildings, adaptive reuse preserves the embodied energy within the existing structure, minimizes waste, and conserves resources. Compared to constructing entirely new buildings, this sustainable practice not only benefits the environment but also generates substantial cost savings for project developers and owners.

Adams’ team developed five key strategies to adopt in the design process—prioritizing adaptive reuse, specifying carbon sinks, designing for reuse, eliminating waste, and carefully selecting materials —to not only reduce embodied carbon but also create cost-saving opportunities and long-term value for clients.—to not only reduce embodied carbon but also create cost-saving opportunities and long-term value for clients.

Amber Wirth led a team that met with experts on MEP systems, collaborating closely to assess data related to various façade strategies employed to optimize greenhouse gas emissions reductions for all-electric buildings. The team delivered strategies that focused on financial benefits by optimizing window-to-wall ratios, improving insulation, using high-performance glazing, designing with solar panels, and combining these elements in an all-electric approach. Leveraging software that assesses the triple bottom line of these design strategies, the team quantified and attributed dollar values to their projects’ social and environmental impacts, a crucial step for clients in their decision-making process.

The research team explored solutions driven by data, such as window-to-wall ratio, to understand potential cost and energy savings. By reimagining prescriptive envelope requirements, more efficient and impactful decisions can be made.

Key Pathways #2: Client engagements are enriched by research that address equity and sustainability.

Sammy Shams and his team applied the Resilience Design Toolkit that was developed in partnership with the AIA during the Incubator program for designing more resilient buildings that reduce risk from climate change. The team studied the project work data of a large hospitality client in Marco Island, Florida, involving a renovation and expansion. Despite the area’s risk of 30-foot storm surges, site visits and design workshops helped the team comprehend and implement resilient design solutions to reduce risks and further refine the toolkit.

Building on our expertise in health design, Hannah Schultz and team created a design validation tool that combines evidence-based design and Safety Risk Assessments (SRA) to enhance existing processes. The tool aligns with client goals and selects suitable design options. When applied to mental and behavioral health projects, it will establish benchmarks, enable data-driven improvements, and leverage an evidence-based approach.

In pursuit of a more inclusive approach to design, Renae Mantooth’s team developed a guide focusing on equity in design, inspiring HKS collaborations for more equitable industry standards. The guide contains activities for project teams, stakeholder engagement, and analysis protocols, all contributing to HKS’ commitment to inclusive and equitable design.

The research team was sponsored by HKS’ education practice. Passionate about providing inclusive and supportive environments for primary, secondary and higher education, they were inspired by HKS projects like Whitefriars Community School in England (pictured above).

Key Pathways #3: across all industries, incorporating ESG throughout the design process is crucial for achieving the greatest impact.

ESG goals transcend the design process, and by embracing them, design solutions strengthen partnerships with clients, ensuring their needs are considered within the context of industry trends and conversations.

“ESG research through the J.E.D.I. lens encouraged us to consider the system with a growth mindset that impacts the choices we make in service of our communities. Research empowered our people to re-evaluate their thought process to affect the making of the built environment.”

Yiselle Santos Rivera,
Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion

Over $40 trillion in global assets under management (AUM) followed ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria, demonstrating a substantial rise in sustainable investment approaches in recent years. This figure underscores the increasing significance of ESG factors in business and investment choices. The topics we’ve addressed through last years’ Accelerators projects—from energy savings, carbon impact alignment, climate risk mitigation, and material transparency to inclusive design for health and well-being—seek to strengthen client partnerships and emphasizes equitable, client-centric projects. These projects contribute to greater social goals by promoting sustainable practices, reducing environmental impact, and fostering healthier spaces.

Team credits:

HKS Guide for Centering Equity in the Design Process​
Mantooth, Renae
Krause, Courtney
Rudd, Zac
Tang, Diana
O’Donnell, Kathleen
Jankowski, Jarod

Design + Safety Risk Assessment Tool Interface Development
Hudson, Roly
Shultz, Hannah
Howell, Nathan
Farrell, Rachael
Brugger, Cory

Resilience Design Feedback Loop Implementation
Fox, Adam
Barton, Amanda
Sorge, Caroline
Shams, Sammy

Designing Interiors for a Circular Economy
Adams, Lisa
Smith, Allison
Gilkey, Amy
Hartman, Dave

Embodied Carbon Case Study
Smith, Allison
Shams, Sammy
Funderburg, Chandler
Pina, Briana
McCann, Michael
Lopez, Miguel Angel

Building Decarbonization through Electrification & Envelope Thermal Performance
Wirth, Amber
Sorge, Caroline
Padmanabha, Shefalika
Brown, Mike
Dailey, Apryl

Designing for the Future: HKS Gives Interns Real-World Experience

Designing for the Future: HKS Gives Interns Real-World Experience

Finding a professional internship can be difficult. Some internships aren’t paid, while others only hire college graduates. Even once hired, some interns are left wondering exactly what they’ll be working on.  

None of that is true at HKS, which hires dozens of interns every year to work at its 27 offices around the world. Not only are HKS interns paid, but they work on important projects that provide real-world experiences, including working on deadlines and attending client meetings.  

“Just in the sports division of the Richmond office, we’re working on at least eight different projects simultaneously,” said Kayla McKinney, an incoming master’s student in architecture at Virginia Tech who hails from Fredericksburg, Virginia. “It’s an interesting way of gaining knowledge of different building typologies and systems.” 

Kartik Sharma, a Health and Commercial/Mixed-Use intern in the Chicago office, also said that simultaneously working on multiple projects has helped him understand the design process better.  

“The most wonderful coincidence is that each of the three projects I’ve worked on simultaneously are in different stages, ranging from proposal to concept to design development stages, which allowed me to holistically understand the real world of architecture and the design process,” said Sharma, a Master of Architecture student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from New Delhi, India. 

Left: Kartik Sharma works in the Chicago office as a Health and Commercial/Mixed-Use intern. Right: Dallas interns tour the Loews Arlington Hotel with Laura Walters, Regional Practice Manager of Hospitality at HKS.

The firm’s commitment to its interns and the intern development program is vital to the company’s work and success, according to HKS CEO and President Dan Noble. He said hiring interns helps fulfill the firm’s constant goal of innovation and limitless thinking.  

“Our intern development program is the foundation of our intentional goal to provide a constant stream of fresh thought,” Noble said.  

The firm’s commitment to its interns and the intern development program is vital to the company’s work and success.

Anderson Zheng, a LINE intern based in the Dallas office, glues pieces on a physical model.

HKS hires a host of interns across its sectors and practices, ranging from the typical architecture, interior design and engineering interns to research, construction services, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) interns. Interns at the firm’s Dallas headquarters have the opportunity to participate in watercolor classes, site visits, weekly Lunch and Learns and attend a Texas Rangers game.  

These activities help facilitate friendship and networking among the cohort, but interns aren’t drawn to HKS for the extracurriculars — they come to work at one of the largest design firms in the world and develop skills that will serve them in what they hope will be successful careers in the architecture and design industry.  

Dallas interns attend a tour of HKS-designed Globe Life Field led by Rob Matwick, Executive Vice President of Business Operations for the Texas Rangers.

Amya Sims, an Education Interiors intern in the Dallas office, said working at HKS has provided a better understanding of the industry as a whole.  

“The classroom only provides a restricted idea of an accurate workplace in the field,” said Sims, a rising interior design senior at Oklahoma State University from Lavon, Texas. “With HKS, the people I encounter often provide further explanation of the workplace and how the firm operates. Interns can see how collaboration takes place, discussions of how the company continues to improve, the progress of documentation and communication with other companies.” 

HKS offices are located all around the world, and so are its interns. Daichi Kunori works with the Health team in the Singapore office. Originally from Japan, Kunori values the national diversity of his colleagues and its ability to impact the quality and character of projects across the globe.  

“My interest in the firm is from the diversity of the offices, as I enjoy exchanging culture, values, expertise and skills with architects who come together from different parts of the world to enrich the designs of architecture,” said Kunori, who is in the graduate International Program in Architecture and Urban Design at Meiji University in Tokyo. “The HKS office in Singapore represents 21 nationalities.” 

HKS follows ESG — an evolved holistic business model that allows HKS to operate in a way for common good. In 2018, HKS committed to an ESG framework that combines its sustainability, public interest design and JEDI efforts. The firm’s ESG efforts include interns, too.  

Dallas intern class of 2023.

Bela Nigudkar, an ESG DesignGreen intern in the New York office, said working at HKS has allowed her to explore topics she was already interested in, such as embodied and operational carbon, indoor environmental quality, healthy building materials and human health. 

“This internship has brought me one step closer to my long-term vision of regenerating the environment with every act of construction,” said Nigudkar, who is pursuing a Master of Science in sustainable design at Carnegie Mellon University and is from Pune, India.  

McKinney said she was attracted to HKS for its ESG efforts, as well.  

“I wanted to intern at a firm with a large, innovative portfolio and breadth of work,” McKinney said. “With the intention of pursuing sustainability research in my master’s, I especially admire the way HKS implements thoughtful and intentional design and planning. HKS brings transformative environmental solutions to each project.” 

HKS interns come from across the globe, and their unique experiences influence the firm’s impact on the built environment. Noble said interns keep curiosity and exploration alive at HKS, which helps enact meaningful change both within the firm and in the communities that it serves.  

“Talent is the life blood of any creative enterprise,” Noble said. “And nurturing young talent keeps our firm fresh and always in transition.”  

HKS interns come from across the globe, and their unique experiences influence the firm’s impact on the built environment.


Building Resilient Futures: 2023 HKS Detroit Design Fellowship Applications Open

Building Resilient Futures: 2023 HKS Detroit Design Fellowship Applications Open

The HKS Detroit Design Fellowship (DDF) is a student design charrette that seeks to cultivate emerging design talent, excite and stimulate new design approaches and provide service to benefit the communities in which we live.

Since it began in 2009, the DDF has focused on the learning opportunities presented by pairing professionals with selected university students from some of the region’s top design programs.

In partnership with community organizations, DDF Fellows leverage design to solve challenges faced by Metro Detroit communities. In previous years, the DDF has worked with organizations such as Cass Community Social Services, Plymouth Coffee Bean Company and the City of Northville, Michigan.

The city of Detroit holds great significance as an historic hub of the American automotive industry and a cultural center known for its contributions to popular music. The city has endured and continues to navigate economic, social and educational challenges.

Due to population decline, suburban immigration and the emergence of charter schools, Detroit’s traditional public schools have experienced a decrease in student enrollment. This decline in enrollment has strained the finances of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, impacting available resources and educational opportunities. Additionally, the school district has struggled with low academic achievement, as evidenced by consistently below-average standardized test scores and graduation rates. Various factors, including high poverty, inadequate funding and a lack of resources, have contributed to the school district’s challenges. Detroit continues to harness the strength of its communities, embracing resilience as a fundamental value to create a better future. The heart of this year’s DDF design challenge is resilience – within, through and beyond the built environment.

Our partner this year

This year the DDF is partnering with Brilliant Detroit. This non-profit organization was founded in 2015 with the goal to provide a radically new approach to kindergarten readiness in Detroit neighborhoods. The idea was to create a unique delivery model in early childhood development by using underutilized housing stock to create early child and family centers in city neighborhoods.

Brilliant Detroit homes provide holistic services for children aged 0-8, predicated on evidence-based programs concerning health, family support and education. Brilliant Detroit was born to create kid success neighborhoods. In each of the organization’s locations, neighbors come together for activities and learning to assure school readiness and provide needed support for families. The DDF Fellows will work on a challenge that expands on this approach, exploring the power of design to build a more resilient future.

Location and Schedule

During three days of collaboration, DDF participants will investigate, iterate, and propose solutions, based on a design prompt. The workshop will begin on Friday, September 8 and culminate on Sunday, September 10.

A final review and public exhibition will be held Friday, September 15 as part of Detroit Month of Design, a citywide celebration of creativity. The exhibition will provide the community with the opportunity to learn more about the design process and actively participate in it. Registration for the final review and public exhibition will be available through the Detroit Month of Design website at

Specific 2023 DDF design challenge information will be presented to students selected to participate in the fellowship one week before the in-person collaboration.

HKS Detroit Address: Main St, #102C Northville, MI 48167

This year we are part of Detroit Month of Design

If you are in Detroit, we invite you to this year’s Detroit Design Fellowship student work exhibition in the MarxModa Detroit office on September 15. This event is part of the Detroit Month of Design, which is a citywide celebration of creativity that gathers designers and the greater community to celebrate Detroit’s role as a national and global design capital. Detroit is the first city in the U.S. to be named a UNESCO City of Design.

The exhibition is free to the public and provides an opportunity to learn about the Fellow’s work and the design process behind it. You can register on the MoD website.

Address: 751 Griswold St, Detroit, MI 48226
Time: 6 pm – 9 pm


Sixteen Fellows will be chosen by the design fellowship committee. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application via email within a week following the application deadline. Those selected for the Fellowship must submit a headshot photo and brief bio (up to 200 words) upon notification for inclusion in the welcome packet and website announcement.


DDF is open to college or university undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates (up to 1 year post graduation) of architecture, interior design, industrial design and other design programs.

The 2023 application period opens July 10 and closes on August 21.

To apply, please email the following information to [email protected]

Meals will be provided to participants during the four days of the DDF. Hotel and travel arrangements will not be provided, however, and are the responsibility of the Fellows.

The decisions of the design fellowship committee are final. For any inquiries, please email: [email protected]

Making Urban Spaces Equitable Places for All

Making Urban Spaces Equitable Places for All

Inequity is often viewed through the wide lens of socioeconomic and racial disparity, but it manifests itself in more places than one might expect. It’s built into every aspect of a person’s daily environment — even, for example, in something as mundane as the amount of time it takes to get to the grocery store. 

As a part of its quarterly Limitless series, global design firm HKS recently hosted a panel to discuss inequity in the built environment and the cooperative effort necessary to improve it.  

Dan Noble, HKS President and CEO, gave opening remarks. Erin Peavey, Health and Well-being Design Leader at HKS, moderated the panel, which examined the city of Dallas as a setting for the creation of healthier and more equitable development and redevelopment. Panelists were Dr. Maria Martinez-Cosio, Dr. Christopher J. Dowdy, Dallas City Council Member Jaynie Schultz and Murphy D. Cheathum II. Dr. Lorin Carter, founder and CEO of C Suite Equity Consulting, was the keynote speaker.  

“A lot of people don’t intuitively understand the relationship between health, well-being and the built environment,” Peavey said. “They don’t understand that the way our cities are designed is this constant underlying influence.” 

Inequity Manifests Itself in More Ways Than You Might Expect

As the Dallas area experiences a population boom that could earn it the title of the third-largest metropolitan area in the country in the next decade, its southern half hasn’t experienced the same rapid development as the northern half. Much of that area was labeled as “hazardous” by the now-defunct Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a federal agency founded in the 1930s that is often viewed as the creator of the practice of redlining. Redlining is a discriminatory practice of withholding loans or other financial resources from neighborhoods based on residents’ race or ethnicity, marking them with redlines that show their status. 

The inequity that oppressive systems like redlining have created is, in many ways, limitless. In her keynote speech, Carter expanded on the concept of social determinants of health.  

“This is not high blood pressure or whether or not you have asthma,” Carter said. “These are all things (like) … where you’re born, how you grow, you work, you live and age, and all the wider sets of forces, systems and constructs that we live within … that impact our overall quality of life.”   

Carter presented a series of maps that illustrated a variety of social determinants of health in the Dallas metroplex. The maps closely resembled the ‘30s-era redlining map, with the most negatively affected areas in present-day Dallas having been marked as undesirable for development nearly 100 years ago.  

For example, according to a 2010 map by the city’s Office of Economic Development, almost all prominent business headquarters are located on Dallas’ north side, with many located in areas that are difficult for residents of South Dallas to reach without personal transportation. A job proximity index map showed that residents of South Dallas and parts of East Dallas live near significantly fewer job opportunities than residents of North Dallas, and another map showed that most racially/ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (R/ECAPS) are in South Dallas.  

Carter also highlighted a study by University of Texas health systems that revealed major differences in life expectancies by ZIP code in Dallas and demonstrated an interactive map with color-coded sections of average life expectancy.  

Dowdy, Vice President of Strategy and Larry James Fellow at Forest Forward, also noted the study’s findings.  

“Depending on where you’re born here in Dallas, that can take five or 10 years off your life, which is arbitrary and horrific,” Dowdy said.  

Cooperative Solutions for Building Equity in Urban Environments

The panel agreed that extensive collaboration during the design process with the communities a development plans to serve is vital to building equity in those communities.  

“Sometimes we forget that communities and residents that live and will live with the changes are also experts in what they need,” said Martinez-Cosio, interim dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.  

Martinez-Cosio also noted that although efforts to include community stakeholders in the development process are well-intentioned, some burden residents more than they give them a voice.  

“We’re all billing for our time (to attend these community meetings), but we expect residents to sit and attend these night meetings without daycare, without getting time off work,” Martinez-Cosio said. “We expect them to do all this to rectify part of what we’ve created.” 

Dowdy noted that marginalized communities may not trust developers or local government after being let down and “de-resourced” in the past, so it may take years to cultivate the relationships necessary for true collaborative and equitable development.  

“We need to think about all the things people need, not just drop in a shiny project and say we’re done,” Dowdy said. “We need to think about how to, over years and years, develop trust and struggle alongside and think through different strategies so that we can develop the cultural and economic enterprises that are going to make the most sense for that neighborhood to give them power over the things they’re going to enjoy.” 

Cheathum, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Manager for the Americas at global commercial real estate services firm CBRE, noted the power of the private sector in helping to effect change. 

“Private business, private equity and private investment are always going to lead the way,” Cheathum said. “Government policy is great. Nonprofit is great, but we all know private dollars lead government policy.”  

The Dallas City Council is contributing to addressing inequity in the built environment through its Racial Equity Plan adopted in 2022, said Schultz, City Council member for District 11 and chair of the City Council’s Workforce, Education and Equity committee.  

The plan’s “racial equity indicators were our checkup. Now we know the prognosis, and we are beginning to have conversations that, for years, we avoided as a city,” Schultz said. 

What Individuals Can Do to Help

While the panel explored the need for a well-rounded, collaborative effort among city leaders to build equity in underserved communities, individuals — especially young people — can still make an impact on their own.  

Dowdy highlighted how easy it can be for passionate designers to unintentionally lose their spark for meaningful work when faced with the potential to earn large sums of money. He called on designers to keep in touch with the desire to make a difference.  

“A life in solidarity with the people who really deserve your attention is a life repairing the damage we’ve done to these communities,” Dowdy said. “It’s up to us to learn our trades but also to keep our character.”  

Cheathum, who now works for one of the world’s largest real estate services and investment firms, said he didn’t know real estate development was an industry until he was 27 years old. He believes professionals can help bring sustainable wealth to low-income communities by exposing people to professions they wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. 

“What you all can do individually is show people — who look like you or don’t look like you — your profession, the skills it takes to do what you do and put them on a path to go generate that revenue and income, and then reinvest that income wherever they choose to live.”  

View the full panel discussion below.

Watch Recording

To Create Inclusive Spaces, LGBTQIA+ Designers Advocate for Themselves and Others

To Create Inclusive Spaces, LGBTQIA+ Designers Advocate for Themselves and Others

There isn’t a universal approach to designing for inclusion, no one size-fits-all definition for what an inclusive space looks like. Architects and interior designers often engage with individuals who will use the spaces they design — seeking to understand who they are and what they need — with the goal of creating supportive environments for people with diverse identities.

Many designers also rely on their own experiences to inform the work they do.

Reflecting on their lives and identities, LGBTQIA+ designers bring perspective that can lead to more welcoming, comfortable spaces for people with similar backgrounds and lived experiences as them, as well as a broader range of people who encounter the places they design.

A design professional and job captain working in HKS’ health practice in Washington, DC, My-Anh Nguyen (they/them), identifies as non-binary and transmasculine. They said that their queer identity, as well as their Asian American identity, helps them overcome barriers to inclusion during the design process and in the outcomes of the projects they work on.

“In design, we talk a lot about integration and how we can avoid silos. The idea of avoiding silos comes pretty naturally to me,” Nguyen said. “Being non-binary allows me to have mindset that is expansive and inclusive as a professional. I see my experience as a practice of nuance and consideration in how I incorporate different perspectives.”

Nguyen and several other LGBTQIA+ designers at HKS said their personal experiences shape how they collaborate with project team members including fellow designers, contractors and clients. Some said they have developed abilities to communicate across differences and empathize with others — often stemming from instances where they felt excluded while growing up or early in their careers — that they bring to their work.

“I go out of my way to try to not make people uncomfortable and that is related to my being out. I try to be in tune with people’s comfort levels and sensitivities and adapt. It’s ingrained in me,” said Scott Martin, a senior health project architect in the HKS Detroit office who identifies as a cisgender gay man. Martin also said that he downplays hierarchies as much as possible; he feels most comfortable on a project team where everyone is treated as equals.

Fostering Comfort and Safety Through Design

Whether or not people will feel welcome and comfortable in a space is a crucial consideration for architects and designers. But physical and psychological safety are not guaranteed for anyone in the built environment, no matter how well the spaces are designed. Marginalization or othering — including discrimination based on race, ethnicity, physical abilities, sexual orientation or gender expression — can occur in any space.

“When I think providing safe spaces, I think about providing them across all challenges,” said HKS’ Mary Hart, a Dallas-based principal who identifies as a cisgender woman and a lesbian. “Am I thinking about all the different people who can be in a space? Will they be okay, will they be safe? It’s a big thing to tackle. It’s a big responsibility.”

“When I think providing safe spaces, I think about providing them across all challenges…It’s a big responsibility.”

Although design alone can’t ensure physical and psychological safety, there are plenty of opportunities to advocate for people who will use a space and design to support them, according to multiple LGBTQIA+ designers at HKS.

“Design can give people — no matter how they self-identify — the ability to be comfortable showing up as they are,” said HKS’ Zac Rudd, who identifies as a cisgender gay man.

Rudd is a designer with the firm’s education practice, where he creates interior designs for schools and universities. While growing up, Rudd didn’t always feel like he could be his true self at school. Today, he draws on those memories to approach design challenges “with kindness and a sense of curiosity and care.”

Rudd said that because children are required to go to school, they don’t necessarily have autonomy to choose what spaces they can be in during elementary or high school. In higher education settings, challenges associated with access to transportation can limit students’ options to get around or leave campus. He strives to design places that provide students with some elements of autonomy and choice for where they can socialize, study, or retreat.  

“One of the important things to do as a designer is to normalize all the elements of being a human that change from day to day,” Rudd said. “There is power in choice. Design can provide people with the ability to know that one choice is just as okay as another and if your choice changes the next day, you’re not more or less of a person.”

Just like educational environments, hospitals and clinics contain ample opportunities to design for the different needs of a diverse range of people, according to Martin, who primarily works on interior renovations in health care settings.

“If I am space planning, I think about my own experience. I don’t like spaces that are too restricted. I like there to be space where I can get out of the mix of things and be on the periphery,” he said. Martin said that his personal preferences, in addition to his perspective as a cancer survivor, have helped him to understand what patients and staff need from health care environments.

“In waiting areas, you may not want your back to the door or passageway and be able to see people coming and going,” Martin said, noting that it’s important for designers to think about how they can provide opportunities to reduce stress, especially in hospitals.

Hart, who is a mission critical practice leader, also said that good design can make a difference in peoples’ comfort and tension levels. The data centers she designs tend to be high-stress environments for the people that work in them, so she makes room for plenty of amenity spaces, access to nature, and other design elements that support mental health.

 “If you’ve failed to think about designing for a particular slice of the community, then you haven’t really done your job to relieve their potential stress. It’s important to understand who someone is as a person, how they come to work, and how they are able to be their authentic self at work and design for all those variables,” Hart said.

Showing Up and Paying Forward

Being able to be authentic at work can be affirming for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and aids their ability to design inclusive spaces. Several LGBTQIA+ designers at HKS said that although they have experienced some challenges in their careers, they find the design field to be supportive of their identities and points of view.

“I think architecture and design, in general, is fairly accepting of the queer community,” said Charles Gatins, a Dallas-based HKS project coordinator who identities as a cisgender gay man.

Gatins said that being out at work and being open with colleagues about his life is central to who he is and how he has built his career. In addition to his role with the firm’s commercial mixed-use practice, he’s been involved with mentorship, outreach, recruitment and onboarding initiatives. He’s taken those steps to amplify the value of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the field for younger designers.

“By being myself in front of future generations and saying that I am an openly gay man who can be successful, I am communicating that the opportunity for them to be successful is there as well,” Gatins said. “I want to make sure they feel included, that they can go forward and do anything they want to do regardless of their identity.”

Nguyen also prioritizes showing up for students and younger professionals, serving as an active member of several collectives and organizations that seek to lift a diverse array of voices in the design fields. They said that they have greatly benefitted from having mentors and advocates with different identities, and that they hope to pay it forward as they take on more responsibilities in their career.

“Seeing representation in your career is important. While we are still growing our diversity as an industry, encouraging a culture of belonging will allow even more creativity and innovation to flourish throughout the design process. When someone invests in your success, regardless of shared identity or not, it can make a big difference in how you see yourself in the field,” Nguyen said.

“While we are still growing our diversity as an industry, encouraging a culture of belonging will allow even more creativity and innovation to flourish throughout the design process.”

Creating and Sharing Space

As the AEC industry continues to diversify and conversations about how the built environment can contribute to social equity and justice become more prevalent, HKS has launched Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) initiatives to uplift employees with different identities and backgrounds so they can be themselves and do their best work. HKS’s PRIDE Affinity and Inclusion Group, for example, seeks to create space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies and influence supportive company practices and policies. Nguyen, Gatins, Martin, and Hart are all part of the group, and Rudd is co-founder and chair.  

For each of these LGBTQIA+ designers and advocates, creating space that truly includes members of their community and those representing other minority groups — whether it’s space for conversation or a building like a hospital, elementary school or commercial office — has more to do with people than elaborate plans or drawings.

“Personally, I think inclusion is about people that are in spaces more so than the spaces themselves,” Gatins said. “I can use HKS as an example. I feel included in this community because I have been included in this community.”

LGBTQIA+ Designers at HKS Bring Pride to Their Work

LGBTQIA+ Designers at HKS Bring Pride to Their Work

HKS’ mission to build a better future isn’t limited to our design practice — that goal drives everything we do. Our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives allow us to look inward and effect meaningful change that makes our firm a better place to work. These initiatives include the daily celebration and inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ colleagues through the firm’s Pride Affinity and Inclusion Group and participation in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index.  

HKS constantly strives to create space for, and amplify the voices of, our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, but Pride Month is a chance to honor them further. To celebrate Pride Month, three of our colleagues — Dennis Dine, Gaby Espinosa and Pablo Morales Contreras — share how their identities within the LGBTQIA+ community make them better designers.  

Dennis Dine, he/him 

Architecture Design Professional, Health Care 
HKS Chicago 
Years in the industry: 6 
Years at HKS: 2 

Since joining HKS two years ago as a health care designer, I have worked alongside a diverse, dynamic team comprised of varying intersectional identities. Together, we seek to create environments that heal and uplift by using a people-first design approach. User engagement is central to any responsive design solution and our varying identities and experiences give our team a comprehensive perspective to ask the right questions. My own identity as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community — along with our ongoing research on gender-affirming design — provides me with a lens to think critically about gendered spaces and psychological and physical safety. This lens, when compounded with those of my teammates, results in more empathetic and inclusive solutions.  

At HKS, my identity within the LGBTQIA+ community is viewed as an asset, not a liability. Our clients are demanding a built environment that reflects the communities they serve, and HKS recognizes that responsiveness does not emerge from homogeneity. It is not enough to merely hire and bring diverse voices to the table. Rather, we must ensure diverse voices are amplified to fully leverage the benefits they offer to our work. 

Pride Month provides us all with an opportunity to both celebrate progress and recognize the work we have cut out for us. The opportunities I have today are the result of those before me who fought tooth-and-nail for them. It is now my turn to lead with influence to push the needle further. 

“At HKS, my identity within the LGBTQIA+ community is viewed as an asset, not a liability.”

Gaby Espinosa, she/her

Designer, Senior Living
HKS Dallas
Years in the industry: 8
Years at HKS: 2.5

Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community encourages me to be a better designer by fostering an understanding of and appreciation for the needs of diverse communities. It has opened my eyes to the importance of inclusivity and the role of design in creating spaces that not only embrace diversity but celebrate it. Whether it’s incorporating accessible features, respecting cultural traditions or accommodating different lifestyles, I want to design environments that make everyone feel like they belong. By designing spaces that take into consideration the uniqueness of people, we can empower individuals to freely be who they are. 

Being a lesbian has cultivated my strong sense of empathy and curiosity about people’s different perspectives. This has allowed me to connect with clients and the people we design for on a deeper level. By creating an open environment with honest dialogue, I can collaborate in an effective way, which results in unique designs that reflect the identity of the communities they belong to. Celebrating diversity and incorporating elements that reflect people’s cultures and identities results in designs that make people feel at home. 

My identity encourages me to think outside the box and challenge the norm, especially when designing for the future of senior living. The LGBTQIA+ community has a history of progress and pushing boundaries that inspires me to approach design challenges with fresh eyes and seek unconventional solutions. By embracing different perspectives, cultures and ideas, I want to create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also challenge what we traditionally think of when we think of senior living design. Design should foster inclusivity and result in spaces that encourage exchanges between different generations, cultures and identities. 

“The LGBTQIA+ community has a history of progress and pushing boundaries that inspires me to approach design challenges with fresh eyes and seek unconventional solutions.”

Pablo Morales Contreras, he/him

Designer, Hospitality 
HKS Mexico City 
Years in the industry: 6.5 
Years at HKS: 1.5 

I believe creativity comes from viewing the world from a different perspective. As members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we tend to see the world differently, moving away from the way things have always been done to what should be done instead. What is innovation if not a twist or an introduction of a new thing to an established arrangement?  

From an early age, every queer person comes to terms with their identity, realizing that we aren’t like most people. This process of self-discovery is what makes us more creative. We get to create our own playbook, and because of that, we see the world as a creative place. We explore how we can make something more beautiful or more inclusive.  

As a designer, my identity has been influential in the way I think about design and how I approach each project. My background, experiences, values and beliefs all play a role in how I interpret a design brief and choose the best solution for it. I believe there’s power in bringing a diverse point of view, a different way of doing things or a different world view. From the vibrant colors of the Pride flag to the powerful messages of self-love and acceptance, I strive to bring these elements into my designs to create something that is both visually stunning and meaningful. 

“I believe there’s power in bringing a diverse point of view, a different way of doing things or a different world view.”

Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community has been a great source of inspiration and motivation for me as a designer. Being exposed to different perspectives, cultures and ways of thinking has helped me develop my creative skills and become more open-minded when it comes to design. 

It also has made me more aware of the importance of representation in design. I strive to create designs that are inclusive and representative of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This helps me create designs that are not only visually appealing but also meaningful and impactful. 

CMNTY Culture Campus

Case Study

CMNTY Culture Campus A Love Song for Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California, USA

The Challenge

CMNTY Culture Group (CMNTY pronounced as community), a new independent music and media company, seeks to improve access and equity in the entertainment industry for aspiring musicians, recording engineers and creative artists. To support this important mission, CMNTY Culture envisions a mixed-use campus with creative offices, studios, performance venues, and public event spaces — right in the heart of Hollywood.

The Design Solution

Every aspect of the CMNTY Culture Campus design is inspired by music and community connectivity. A high-performance façade wraps around the building, mapping a composition like a music notation staff. A grand exterior staircase invites the public to ascend through an atrium with native plants and fresh air, leading people to an outdoor rooftop amphitheater. At the building’s northeast corner, the façade dips, orienting the building around the amphitheater and framing views of the Hollywood sign in the hills beyond.

At over 460,000 square feet, CMNTY Culture Campus will nurture a thriving music industry scene with engaging venues, state-of-the art studios, and offices that foster collaboration among new talent and established music artists, students and teachers, and producers and creators.

The recording studio program is foundational to the CMNTY Culture Campus program. It includes world-class music production facilities and a hospitality component offering artists the opportunity to live on site during the recording process. The recording studio lobby provides access to six professional studios, a flexible production space and an artist lounge. Recording studios are strategically organized along ‘the hallway,’ a circulation route inspired by the historic instances of serendipitous hallway collisions between artists who partner to push the boundaries of music.

CMNTY Culture Campus offers an attractive co-location experience for creatives adjacent to the center of the music and entertainment industry. A variety of office floor configurations provide options for office tenants to flex and grow their teams while being a part of the campus culture with direct access to recording musicians, students and patrons. HKS partnered with landscape architecture office Hood Design Studio to create dynamic outdoor spaces on every office level that promote healthy working and nature-based restoration. The Highland office lobby, visible from the building’s exterior, also allows passersby to catch a glimpse through a recording studio window so they can feel as though they are a part of the creative process.

The building is designed to be an exciting and accessible place that engages its surrounding community to participate in activities on site. A covered plaza situated across the street from Hollywood High School — a historic regional magnet school — welcomes students to the campus. The plaza connects to a community auditorium that will host educational lectures by top recording artists, local entrepreneur and venture capital events, performances by professional musicians and students, and serve as an important “third place” for the neighborhood. The plaza, a café, and retail space provide amenities for building users and neighborhood residents as well as pre-show and post-show gathering places for patrons of performances.

The Design Impact

CMNTY Culture Campus bridges the history of Hollywood with the future of entertainment, offering the industry a creative home while creating a new paradigm for the design of office buildings, event venues and creative production facilities. The project is a love song for Los Angeles that pushes the envelope of what a creative campus can be and how it can give back to its community.

Project Features

How Design Can Benefit from Indigenous Ways of Being and Doing

How Design Can Benefit from Indigenous Ways of Being and Doing

When I think about Environmental, Social, Governance in Design, or ESG in Design, I often consider the relationship of social constructs, identity and well-being. It is our responsibility as designers to understand how we can work with people in communities, empower them and help create places that support and reflect their lived experiences.

HKS recently invited architect and educator Wanda Dalla Costa to speak at our annual ESG in Design Celebration about her perspective on these ideas. Dalla Costa is the first, First Nation woman to become licensed to practice architecture in Canada and she founded Tawaw Architecture Collective, where she is a Principal. Dalla Costa holds a joint position at Arizona State University between The Design School as Institute Professor and the School of Construction as Associate Professor.

In a keynote address to HKS’ global studios, Dalla Costa shared how she works to uplift indigenous communities through participatory design. As HKS’ Global Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, I was inspired by her messages and wanted to dig deeper. I invited her for a follow-up conversation to talk more about her work and discuss the values and shared goals we have for the design industries.

Yiselle Santos Rivera: Your design firm, Tawaw Architecture Collective, includes a staff of native designers and focuses on providing services with “Indigenous Ways of Being/Doing.” Can you talk about the impact this approach can have?

Wanda Dalla Costa: The fundamental shift we’re trying to accomplish is to increase spatial agency of our user groups. We’re also aiming to increase the accuracy and relevancy of design for people who are diverse. To bring indigenous ways of being and doing into a firm, it means you have to change the process. If you don’t change the process, you don’t change the product. Our process includes place-based research, community-led teaching, co-design and storytelling. We also focus on listening more than talking. When you do that, you get information on a wide variety of topics and perspectives that haven’t typically come into architecture lately. It’s about resurfacing the place for ancestral worldviews in contemporary society; and that’s an underexamined and understudied subject.

YSR: I love that you mention process. You’re shifting the mindset of two things — who is leading the conversation and how the conversation is being led. This can help us rethink how we put design teams together, what we do, and how we engage. You’ve also shared the philosophy and practice of “decentering self” in the design process. Can you elaborate on how that differs from dominant ways of working in architecture and how this can be a meaningful path forward for the design industries?

WDC: I think the metrics of success in architecture have typically been how many awards an architect receives, which are often judged by a homogenous and non-diverse group. That really negates the fact that all the voices count in this world. When you look at indigenous practices happening around the world, the decentering of self is about prioritizing the voice of the collective. Indigenous people have long practiced consensus-based decision making. The difference is that it’s not about what is best for us, but what’s best for the whole group. We don’t just think about the human group, we think about all living things. If we don’t all live together in harmony, then we all won’t survive. There’s a focus on the whole kingdom of nature that necessitates a shift away from the self toward a bigger collective.

YSR: It’s always been important, but right now it’s critical for us to think about the entire ecosystem and our place in it. I find the clarity of the language of “decentering” self extremely powerful, and I think it’s important we incorporate this language and ideology in our practice and processes. Your practice and process emphasize participatory design and research. At HKS, we believe that both are key parts of creating beneficial experiences for people in the places we design. How does leveraging both participatory design and research lead to stronger, more equitable outcomes?

WDC: The research and participatory side of this work is critical to jolt us out of limited outcomes. Our research covers many realms, and part of it focuses on making visible what is invisible. Many things are invisible in different cultures and we want to lift those up. I think invisible aspects of cultures worldwide are important because they have a broader system of measurement than what has been used in architecture. Research broadens how we measure design, and it brings science to it. Right now, I’m working with a researcher at ASU and we’re looking look at holistic measures of success. There are a host of factors that, together, make good space for human beings — social, psychological, spatial, cultural and spiritual factors.

Regarding participatory design — unless we begin to bring narratives that have not typically been captured in architecture, we will never see progress in the field. When we explore multiple diverse perspectives, it brings up whole new dialogues. I see this happening in indigenous design specifically. When we do place-based research and engagement, we come up with inspirations that are completely the opposite of what you would learn to be inspired by in design school. I think that will change outcomes in the whole field of architecture.

“Unless we begin to bring narratives that have not typically been captured in architecture, we will never see progress in the field.”

YSR: I relate to the idea of ‘making the invisible, visible’ very much. There’s a disconnect at many architecture firms in what Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion means to the work. Many people think it’s inward facing, but there is connection between our internal efforts and our project outcomes —what we’re delivering is not for us, it’s for other people. Some of your participatory work is with the Indigenous Design Collaborative, which you founded at ASU in 2016 and where multidisciplinary group of students and professionals work with tribal communities in Arizona to enhance the built environment. Can you talk about some of the discoveries you’ve made through this initiative?

WDC: What I was shocked at when I started the Indigenous Design Collaborative was the level of interest and how easily and quickly that idea became scalable. We now have calls from people who associate with the word ‘indigenous’ from Hawaii, South America, the Middle East, India and more. There are indigenous communities around the world identifying with what we’re teaching about, what we’re researching, and the mission of this work. I suspect that’s the biggest discovery — finding people with similar challenges to us. We’ve become a coalition of sorts where we’re all paying attention to what other groups are doing and seeing if our ideas have staying power.

YSR: You’ve talked about how Native cultures place value on giving to future generations. How do you see design playing a role in impacting future generations? How do you see these ideas and your leadership as an architect and educator supporting young people in the design industries?

WDC: Something that drives the design we do at the firm is reciprocity. With every project, we ask: how does this give back to the local community? If we can’t name how it gives back, then there is not enough reason for us to get involved. In my lectures, I often talk about Wakanda from the movie Black Panther. It is a place designed to honor worldviews, lifeways and identities of different cultures, which gives power to people who live there. It communicates the notion that you don’t have to live in a place that doesn’t represent you or where people don’t design like you or look like you — you can live in a place where your identity is reflected.

Another important aspect about giving back is being a role model for the up-and-coming generations. Not only do I want to create the worlds that they can see themselves in, but I want them to take the pen out of my hand. I want them take on this job and mission of uplifting all indigenous and diverse cultures. We start with indigenous cultures because there is a certain right we have with the land that we recognize, but I think that inclusivity permeates to all different nations and cultures across the globe.

HKS’ Julie Hiromoto Named to International Living Future Institute Board of Directors

Turning Design Excellence into Effective Leadership: A Conversation with HKS CEO Dan Noble

Turning Design Excellence into Effective Leadership: A Conversation with HKS CEO Dan Noble

At HKS, we believe design can change people’s lives for the better. We strive to create beautiful buildings and communities that bring people together and solve real problems.

In his 39-year career at the firm, HKS President & CEO Dan Noble has observed the parallels between extraordinary design and impactful leadership. He’s noticed that the same character, purpose and relationships that contribute to excellent design lead to successful governance.

Reflecting on HKS’ legacy – and looking towards the future – Noble recently shared his thoughts on the firm’s rich history, his personal journey as a designer and leader and how lessons he’s learned from the design process translate into effective leadership.

What key aspects of HKS’ heritage are important to you as a leader?

HKS was founded in 1939 by Harwood K. Smith and his wife, Kate Robertson Smith. Harwood was an amazing entrepreneur, architect and artist. Born in Evanston, Illinois, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to Dallas to pursue his passion for, and hone his skills in, architecture.

Harwood set the tone for informality and mentorship at HKS. He was known for walking through the office and engaging even the newest architects in discussions about what they were working on. That informality and humility, and the spirit that we are all in this together, set HKS apart today and contribute to our familial culture.  We are a large firm with a small firm culture.

For an 83-year-old enterprise, our line of succession is not very long. I am only the fifth President & CEO, building on Harwood’s legacy.

How has your journey at HKS progressed from design leader to President & CEO?

My tenure at HKS began in the fall of 1983 after I graduated from North Dakota State University and worked briefly with smaller firms in Houston. Today, HKS employs over 1,500 people across 26 offices worldwide. When I started at the firm, we were about 200 people strong, with one office in Dallas.

I was fortunate to work under the direction of past HKS presidents, Joe Buskuhl and Ralph Hawkins. With Joe’s leadership, the firm became known for our management and technical expertise. Ralph was equally interested in design excellence and geographic expansion.

I became Global Design Director of HKS in 2002. I had always worked collaboratively on projects but now I had a more active role in elevating our design firmwide and helping project teams find creative design solutions. The design problem, for me, shifted from developing solutions for individual buildings to creating more successful and creative design teams. I was still hands-on with design, participating in pinups and charrettes, but I had to transition from doing to directing.

What does Design Excellence mean to you?

Design Excellence of course encompasses aesthetic considerations, such as scale, rhythm, proportion, repetition, proper editing, delight, beauty and harmony. But it also entails building performance, enhancing the human experience and understanding the behavioral science of improving the environment.

The process of creating and executing an excellent design is more alchemic than paint-by-number.

What lessons have you learned from design that translated to your role as President & CEO of HKS?

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that Design Excellence correlates closely with leadership excellence. Qualities that are essential to the design process – collaboration, incubation, iteration, failure, empathy, connection, innovation and humor – are just as important to effective leadership.

Collaboration – Bringing diverse teams together to discover the most creative solutions is something HKS believes in highly. Best practices in Health design may inspire solutions in Education, Hospitality ideas may make Workplaces more user-friendly and understanding crowd movement for Urban Planning can inform design solutions for our Sports group. And of course, Research can be a huge differentiator for all our practices. HKS works across practices and geographies to bring our clients the best talent available worldwide.

Incubation – Part of finding great solutions is listening to multiple stakeholders – including clients, consultants, users and community leaders – and letting ideas settle in. Let the game come to you a bit. Slow down to go fast. Taking time to engage with diverse partners can help you arrive at effective design solutions quicker. Being open to new ideas is essential.

Iteration – Once you collect that feedback, you can begin exploring ways to create solutions. Here is where you must exhibit some humility. Ego needs to take a back seat. It doesn’t matter where the best ideas come from, we build off each other’s ideas. I like it when a project team leaves the room and nobody knows exactly where an idea originated, but everyone feels like it was kind of their own.

Failure – As HKS’ Design Director, I tried to create a safe space for people to experiment. Being vulnerable and open to others is essential to innovation. As a leader, you have to avoid jumping in and trying to solve other people’s challenges. Sometimes design ideas fail, but failure is an important teaching moment. I routinely engage in 360-degree reviews to receive feedback on my own performance and try to continually learn how to be a more effective leader.

Empathy – I love being an architect. I love being hands-on and in the thick of things. But as HKS’ Design Director and later as the firm’s President & CEO, I had to learn to step back and let others find solutions. Sometimes people don’t do things the way you would. But having the patience and empathy to let people find their own paths is important to developing the next generation of leaders.

Connection – Finding that synergy between place, purpose and design is what great architecture is all about. Finding essential connections between people is important to designing a successful project and to running a successful business. After all, people create the synergy that results in great design solutions.

Innovation – True innovation is hard to come by. At HKS, we strive to hire people who are constantly challenging the status quo. And then we let them experiment, fail and learn. We’ve developed an entire Innovation sector to bring focus to this type of thinking and working. Developing this sector may have been HKS’ most transformational move. Do you want to be a commoditized vendor or a trusted advisor and partner? In the end, our brains and our thoughts are the most valuable assets we can offer the world. What can be automated and commoditized will be. Let’s not compete in a race to the bottom.

Humor – As a leader, you can’t take yourself too seriously. We spend most of our waking hours working with others – we can make it fun and fulfilling or a chore and a drag. The gift of humor shouldn’t be minimized.

How can leaders design and build better teams?

Part of being an effective leader is being in touch with your people, developing friendships and learning people’s strengths and weaknesses, passions and personalities. With understanding and empathy comes trust. Our people are our differentiators. Hire the best people you can find who share your values and give them the tools, training and mentorship they need to grow and evolve. And then get out of their way. Let them figure things out.

High-performing teams are built through inspiration, transparency, a certain degree of ambiguity, and diversity and inclusion.

Inspiration – Our job as leaders is to emulate the transparent culture that we aspire to, to establish the strategic direction we want to go and to inspire others to come along. In the book, The Way of the Shepherd: Seven Secrets to Managing Productive People, Kevin Leman wrote, “If you want your people to go above and beyond, they must see your passion, your heart. If it’s greatness that you want, it’s greatness that you must give.” You can’t be afraid to show that you care and that you’re passionate and committed to your purpose.

Transparency – Two things I continue to strive for as a leader are more transparency throughout the firm and the support of an effective feedback loop that includes all our people, regardless of their rank or experience. People walk into my office all the time – I encourage it. We have an “Ask Dan” feature on the HKS intranet that goes directly to me and enables people to ask me anything they want, anonymously or not. We’ve also instituted checks and balances to make sure every member of HKS’ Executive Board, including me, is holding true to our Strategic Plan. We are all held accountable to the firm’s established values and vision.

Ambiguity – I’ve learned to accept holding opposing ideas in my head at the same time. Decisions aren’t always black and white. Embracing the messy gray is crucial – it’s where the most profound solutions come from. I like to say that I’m comfortable with ambiguity as long as we’re clear about what we want to achieve.

Diversity & Inclusion – It’s no surprise to hear that our profession has lacked diversity, especially in the leadership ranks. This is partly because people tend to hire and promote those who are most like themselves. To help break this pattern, at HKS we have created a robust Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion program with a dedicated JEDI Director who is leading community outreach, education and enrichment programs that are helping us build a more diverse team and leadership. These efforts include our recently launched partner diversity program, HKS xBE, which is designed to help disadvantaged businesses build relationships and pursue new opportunities in the architecture and design professions. Diverse teams give rise to innovative thinking and increase the value of our work in the communities we serve.

How do you view the future of leadership at HKS?

We are fortunate to have a cadre of qualified people who can step into leadership roles. What I am looking for in our future leaders is innovation, creativity, empathy, grit, honesty, humility, optimism and heart.