Seven Considerations for Health Care Design in the Middle East 

Seven Considerations for Health Care Design in the Middle East 

The Middle East is steeped in rich heritage and cultural subtleties, so designing the region’s next generation of health care facilities requires a nuanced approach. Each year, the Global Health Exhibition in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, brings health care professionals together to connect and drive health care innovation in the region. Please visit global design firm HKS at our booth at Riyadh Front Exhibition and Conference Center from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31, 2023, as we reflect on the various ways HKS addresses key Middle Eastern cultural and environmental characteristics through our award-winning health care designs. 

Responding to the Climate with Vernacular Architecture 

With temperatures hovering at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the shade for more than half the year, a building’s orientation is one of our first considerations when planning new structures. The site location of Kuwait Children’s Hospital required the HKS team to design patient windows to face east and west. Solar studies were performed to create sophisticated shading systems on both sides of the building to not only reduce solar gain but also reduce glare and enhance comfort within patient rooms. Catwalks on every other floor allow easy cleaning of the windows and shading systems after humid dust storms characteristic of the region. Canopies over outdoor respite areas are necessary for a large portion of the year, and HVAC systems need to be powerful, durable and efficient to minimize energy consumption. 

Water is a Precious Commodity in the Desert 

Because much of the region relies on desalination plants to provide water, irrigation is strictly regulated. Through the use of regional plant life such as Ghaf trees, we provide xeriscaping to minimize water usage. On-site water recycling plants efficiently irrigate green spaces. 

During transportation, water is warmed by intense heat and must be cooled before use. Brutal sunlight means that roof storage isn’t an option for cooling. Some jurisdictions, such as Kuwait, require water be stored in subterranean tanks or cooling towers before it is distributed. Pumps are then required to move water to its destination. Further, the use of large water features is discouraged due to the high evaporation ratio year-round. 

Designing for Cultural Subtleties and Privacy 

The Middle East can appear to be one large desert to some, but each country has specific cultural interests. Some countries are more conservative than others, and thus, understanding how varying cultural and religious customs can affect traffic patterns throughout a hospital is important. For example, some hospitals may include separate waiting rooms for men and women or an emergency room with an entrance split in different directions for men and women. Prayer rooms for men and women, and sometimes even mosques, are incorporated into convenient locations of our designs. 

Some clients prefer traditional architecture to help patients feel comfortable, especially as health care can be a sensitive topic in the Middle East — many patients prefer not to share details about their health. Health care facilities such as Prince Sattam University Hospital in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia, are in conservative agricultural areas outside of urban centers. Sensitivity to the local community is important, so the team focused on developing a design that utilizes local stone for the exterior facades. To reduce the sense of anxiety while providing familiarity to the agriculture community, the project was organized around a wadi, or valley, including natural elements that blend into the lobby. The National Rehabilitation Clinic (NRC) in Abu Dhabi also employs vernacular architecture to ease anxiety.

Planning for Large Families

Families tend to be larger in the Middle East than in western countries, and rather than one or two visitors, a patient might receive six or eight at a time. Patient rooms are designed with patient, caregiver and family zones, and public areas are designed to accommodate multiple families. 

Incorporating amenities in public spaces is a priority. Kuwait Children’s Hospital’s five-story atrium stretches nearly 1,500 feet and includes a hollow whale where movies are played, cafes, and other elements that blend health care, hospitality, and retail. We developed outdoor courtyards for Prince Sattam University and the NRC to allow families, or even patients, to walk away and take a break from the hospital. 


Rising energy costs and a harsh climate mean that sustainability is being pushed to the forefront of the region’s unique challenges. Dubai, for example, requires a sustainability checklist when submitting building permits, and other countries require a minimum of LEED-Silver equivalent design for government hospital projects. Our exterior design for Prince Sattam resulted in a 30% reduction of energy. Designers must continue to encourage clients and peers to support energy efficient initiatives. 

Rapid Growth 

The Middle East has a large middle-income class with growing expectations, and HKS is creating the next generation of health care facilities to meet the region’s needs. Dubai and some other cities have almost quadrupled in size over the last 20 years, and health care investment is struggling to keep pace. 

Private providers are beginning to invest in new facilities. Hospitals such as Danat Al Emarat, a private maternity hospital, are successful examples of an efficient and financially responsible project meeting the needs of Abu Dhabi. HKS has been involved with several teaching hospital campuses, including CapitalMED Medical City in Egypt and Prince Sattam University Hospital, in the ongoing challenge to meet the region’s demand for experienced physicians.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Living and Learning Home for Sixth College

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

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

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

Meeting and Exceeding Energy and Environmental Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting Goals for LEED – and Leading through Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Mass Timber Makes Sense – and Saves Dollars

Why Mass Timber Makes Sense – and Saves Dollars

HKS is a firm committed to exploring new building methods and materials, community health, design excellence and sustainability. That’s why we are a major proponent of the advantages of mass timber construction. Even though mass timber buildings represent only a fraction — less than .000189 percent — of the country’s commercial buildings, there are many reasons why this building type is a smart choice.

While some claim mass timber can be as much as 5 percent less expensive than steel and concrete construction, additional cost savings are possible through shorter construction time of prefabricated panels, less labor required for installation and in lower foundation costs due to less structural weight than in the material itself, which can cost as much or slightly more than concrete per square foot.

Mass timber also sequesters CO2 and its manufacture is far less carbon intensive than either concrete or steel. In addition, mass timber has a high strength-to-weight ratio that allows it to perform well during seismic activity, and its fire resistance properties meet or exceed most code requirements.

Mass Timber Buildings Have Health Benefits

There are also considerable health and aesthetic benefits of mass timber construction.

Research shows a link between exposed wood structural elements and greater workplace satisfaction and productivity. Studies also point to a growing body of evidence that natural materials, plants, natural light and access to nature relieve stress, the underlying cause of many forms of physical and mental illness. Variations in color and texture of wood and its tactile qualities can be both healthful and beautiful.

There are also considerable health and aesthetic benefits of mass timber construction.

Health facilities have been wary of mass timber due to the need for infection control. Because mass timber is engineered, its surface is smooth, free from cracks and knots seen in raw wood. It can also be coated creating a surface that can withstand industrial cleaning agents. Unlike other building materials, it also has reduced off-gassing, which translates into better air quality.

HKS Principal Kirk Teske notes the advantages of bundling underfloor air distribution (UFAD) with mass timber.

“Because UFAD doesn’t mix the air in the occupied zones like traditional forced air systems, it’s healthier,” Teske said. “UFAD also allows you to keep the HVAC ducts, electrical conduits, and data cables under the floor leaving the wood structure exposed. Done correctly, you feature the biophilic aspects of the wood structure with only the sprinkler piping and lighting systems remaining as a part of the ceiling structure.”

Considering the post-pandemic state of the commercial office market, Teske believes this combination would provide that sector with a unique niche offering that is especially attractive to corporate users that value environmental sustainability and healthy alternatives for their employees.

The HKS-designed Colorado Research Exchange will feature a 15,960 sf amenity center constructed with mass timber.

The Flexibility of Wood

Our practice spans a multitude of building types from senior living to commercial mixed use, education to hospitality, health to sports and more. Regardless of the building type, our clients are interested in creating spaces that are highly functional, adaptable, affordable and celebrated by users and the community-at-large.

Mass timber products, which come in a variety of sizes and forms, can help fill the bill. Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), is a wood panel system that uses wood stacked crosswise at a 90-degree angle and glued into place. Its strength, dimensional stability and rigidity make it suitable for use in mid-and high-rise construction. Nail-Laminated Timber (NLT), is dimensional lumber placed on edge with individual laminations fastened with nails or screws.

Dowel-Laminated Timber (DLT), panels are stacked like NLT and friction-fit together with hardwood dowels. Its strength comes from friction of the dowels, so it doesn’t use adhesives, nails or screws making it more sustainable, easier to mill and attractive for exposed structures. Glued-Laminated Timber (Glulam), is a structural engineered wood product commonly used for beams and columns. It allows for long spans of exposed framing as well as curvature.

So, Why Aren’t There More Mass Timber Buildings?

While hailing the energy-saving features of mass timber, some skeptics have expressed concern for deforestation due to wood’s increasing popularity.

“Most of the wood used in mass timber comes from trees that can be sustainably managed through responsible forestry practices,” explained Teske. “With smart design and planning and collaboration with knowledgeable manufacturers and contractors, we can mitigate any possible downside to using wood. A 2014 study stated that using wood as a building-material substitute could save 14%-31% of global CO2 emissions and 12%-19% of global fossil fuel consumption. The positives greatly outweigh any negatives.”

“Most of the wood used in mass timber comes from trees that can be sustainably managed through responsible forestry practices,” explained Teske.

Another reason cited for not using mass timber is that it is not as cost effective as its purported to be. According to Ryan Ganey, HKS Structural Engineer who has worked on several mass timber buildings in the states of Washington and Texas, selecting consultants with experience in mass timber construction can help alleviate cost concerns.

“It’s important to work with a contractor who has had some experience in mass timber to recognize the full benefits,” Ganey said. “Some contractors price mass timber higher because they have not had as much experience with it and they want to cover themselves. But as it becomes more popular, contractors better understand the cost of materials and labor and can price more accurately.”

Another possible reason for not using timber is building codes. But in 2019, the International Code Council (ICC) approved a set of proposals that would allow tall wood buildings as part of the 2021 International Building Code (IBC). If design meets these code requirements, buildings can be built up to 18 stories.

But what about fire safety?

In a fire, heavy timber chars on the outside while retaining strength. That slows combustion and allows occupants to evacuate the building. According to David Barber of Arup, in recent fire testing, a seven-inch wall of CLT lasted three hours and six minutes — one hour longer than code requirements.

A few years ago, the only mass timber manufacturers were in Canada or Europe. Today there are about a dozen scattered across the United States making sourcing easier and further reducing the carbon footprint of the material by eliminating importing and shipping. In addition, mass timber can be beautiful and might make a significant difference in the speed of leasing or sales of commercial, mixed-use and residential space.

As of December 2020, 1,060 commercial mass timber projects had been constructed or were in the design phase across the U.S., according to Woodworks — Wood Products Council. Developers, investors and corporations are embracing the idea that mass timber may give them an edge in the leasing or sale of real estate and in recruiting and retaining top talent. We can’t wait to help them achieve their goals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commercial Real Estate Re-evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Job Markets Prompt New Design Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What “Mixed-Use” Means Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrated Design Approaches for Stronger Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


HKS Announces New Mexico City Leadership Team and Office Move

HKS Announces New Mexico City Leadership Team and Office Move

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

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

Twenty Years in Mexico City 

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

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

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

Expanding our commitment to the city, region, and country 

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

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

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


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


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

Veinte años en la Ciudad de México

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsey Willke



Case Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1- Use What You’ve Got

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

2 – Prepare for the Surge

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

3 – Staff Needs Love, Too

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

4 – There’s No Place Like Home 

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

5. Office Work isn’t Dead Yet

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

6. Safe at Home

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

7. Air is Not Rare

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

Gaurav Chopra

Case Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explore career opportunities at HKS through the link below.

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Bringing Equity into Focus, HKS Honors Black History Month 2022

Bringing Equity into Focus, HKS Honors Black History Month 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Selwyn Crawford – Editor; Dallas

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

Chandler Funderburg (Davis) – Engineer; Fort Worth

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

Tyrone Loper – Senior Project Architect; Detroit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Sena

Case Studies

Zach Orig


News, Announcements and Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Designing for Humans’

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

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

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

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

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

Repairing Community Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scaling the Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Big Ideas for Tackling the Global Carbon Conundrum

Three Big Ideas for Tackling the Global Carbon Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

This is our chance to respond to the crisis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no carbon reduction without thermal comfort.

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

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

3 – We Should Flip the Script on Carbon and Materials

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

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

Carbon inherently is not a bad thing.

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

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

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

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

How a Decades-Old Lesson on Teamwork Inspired Sheba Ross Titus to Solve Problems for a Living

How a Decades-Old Lesson on Teamwork Inspired Sheba Ross Titus to Solve Problems for a Living

The most valuable lesson Sheba Ross Titus learned during her undergraduate studies was that her career in architecture would be like a team sport – she would need to meld her and her colleagues’ expertise to bring projects to life.

That was the early 2000s in Chennai, India, where Ross Titus grew up and chose to pursue architecture to appease her desire to be a gamechanger in her community. Two decades later, she’s still putting the lessons from her undergraduate years into practice as a Principal and Global Practice Director, Cities and Communities.

“Yes, you can do incredible things by yourself, but you can do better things if you surround yourself with people who are different than you and have different strengths than you,” Ross Titus said, reflecting on her career so far.

Sheba Ross Titus was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and grew up in Chennai, India.

Finding Her Rhythm in Music and Life

Ross Titus’ training on effective teams began long before college. Her parents enrolled all three of their children in vocal classes at an early age, hoping to instill in them an appreciation for music and a discipline with which to live their lives. Ross Titus found the music lessons to be an inconvenience initially, but her mom kept telling her she would one day realize how valuable they were.

Ross Titus was also the creative problem solver in her family. Any time her mom took her to the gift shop to pick out a gift for someone, Ross Titus opted to make something herself because she didn’t think anything at the store was good enough for the recipient. And she’d sometimes make her own clothes, repurposing what she already had, because it gave her a chance to express herself.

“You’re never satisfied with things just the way you are. I think you need to do architecture because then you’ll have the ability to create something out of nothing,” her mom would tell her.

Architecture wasn’t a popular path in India at the time, and Ross Titus was one of few women to enroll in the architecture program at Anna University in her hometown of Chennai, India. The program exposed her to the power of design, requiring all students to travel across urban and rural India and learn how people engage with the built environment.

That’s where Ross Titus realized her childhood training in music had taught her to be a better listener for life and in turn, a better teammate.

“Architecture is often thought about in terms of sophisticated design and buildings,” she said. “My experiences in college brought people to the center – it’s about who we are serving. And if there’s something I can do to connect the dots and elevate their standard of living, that’s where I want to be.”

Architecture is often thought about in terms of sophisticated design and buildings. My experiences in college brought people to the center – it’s about who we are serving.

From Architecture to Urban Design

When Ross Titus graduated from Anna University in 2000 with her bachelor’s degree in architecture, it wasn’t the norm for women in India to continue their education beyond their undergraduate studies. But Ross Titus’ father encouraged her to keep learning and advancing in her career – even if it meant leaving her home country to do so.

In 2002, Ross Titus enrolled in a master’s program in urban design at University of Colorado Denver with plans to gain a global perspective on her profession. When she landed in Denver that January, she peered out the aircraft window at the snow-capped city and thought, “What am I doing?” She didn’t know anyone in Colorado at the time and had never experienced those frigid temperatures.

Her discomfort melted during her first graduate school class, where talking about familiar concepts in architecture and urban planning helped her feel at home again. Studying in Denver, which is considered a haven for urban designers because of its visionary but pragmatic planning, also helped her see firsthand the impact of her profession on a community and its people.

She decided to launch her career on the East Coast upon graduating UC Denver. After her first job as a campus planner at The Blanchard Group in Richmond, VA, she soon landed at tvsdesign, an architecture and design firm in Atlanta, where she quickly earned her supervisors’ trust because of her people-centered approach to urban design.

Manny Dominguez supervised Ross Titus at tvsdesign and has remained a longtime mentor over the years.

“From day one, Sheba somehow made everyone better – better in our approach, better people, better in our collaborative and just better as a whole team,” Dominguez said. “We all saw Sheba’s design approach and methodology to create inspiring visions for our projects. It didn’t take long before everyone was following her lead.”

Ross Titus’ parents flew to Dubai from India in her early career to catch a glimpse of her work with a mixed-use project in Dubai for the architecture and design firm tvsdesign in Atlanta. “I lost my dad in 2017 and I am so grateful he was pivotal in me pursuing my passion,” she said.

Ross Titus joined HKS in 2013, working out of the Atlanta office where she hoped to advance her career and settle in a family-friendly city with her husband and two children. One of her most memorable projects was a master plan for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where the HKS team redefined visioning by organizing a series of exploration sessions with experts from fields outside of healthcare – such as Toyota, the Ritz Carlton, and Disney – to gather cues for transforming the patient experience and fueling better outcomes.

Building Bridges in Every Pursuit

As an urban designer, Ross Titus plays a pivotal role in building camaraderie within the HKS Atlanta office by organizing team building activities and charrettes.

She tells her peers that their work doesn’t just mean solving community problems through design; it also means going the extra mile to help stakeholders identify the root of their problems, too. Her ongoing work with the nonprofit Soccer in the Streets and Atlanta City Studio, for example, addresses the play equity gap in Atlanta’s underserved communities by building soccer fields on vacant land around light rail train stations and under elevated tracks.

“I love when clients say, ‘I knew you would give us what we want but I’m so grateful you chose to give us what we need,’” Ross Titus said. “One of the biggest blessings for an urban planner is being able to tell them, ‘Yes, what you want is a hospital, but what you need is something that can shift your population’s health because your top risks are obesity and lung disease.’”

Ross Titus’ schedule is packed with projects these days, but her family remains her passion and priority.

Ross Titus dedicates her free time toward new memories with them, including composing music with her husband who is a scientist by profession and shares her love of music.

Occasionally, she’ll blend her personal and professional worlds by bringing her 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to site visits and brainstorming sessions where a child’s perspective is needed. She says she wants them to experience the different dimensions of her work and be inspired to dream big for their future, just as her parents encouraged her to do when she was their age.

In addition to her family, Ross Titus stays connected to the community by mentoring young students and professionals, helping schools craft STEM curriculum for their capstone programs, teaching life lessons through music in her local church and working on urban design initiatives outside HKS.

Ross Titus volunteers often at schools to introduce students to Architecture and Urban Design as a STEM profession.

In 2019, HKS Architect Sarah Nelson-Woynicz nominated Ross Titus for the HKS Global Limitless Thinker Award, which she won in recognition of her commitment to lifelong learning.

“She’s incredibly humble and approaches everything with curiosity. She’s there to ask questions and not only ask the questions, but to ask them in a genuine way,” said Woynicz-Sianozecki, who has worked with Ross Titus on a number of HKS Atlanta initiatives and mentorship projects that serve the city.

In 2020 the Urban Land Institute in Atlanta, where Ross Titus is an active volunteer, named her in their inaugural cohort of the top 24 influential women in real estate and land use in the city.

“Community service is the best platform for servant leadership,” Ross Titus said in an interview about the award. “It is where I can authentically give without expecting anything in return. But the beauty of such service is that we are guaranteed to be struck by volunesia: a moment when you forget that you are volunteering to help change lives, because it’s changing yours.”

Left: Ross Titus and her husband prioritize engraining Indian culture in their children through clothing and experiences. Right: Ross Titus leads a visioning session with children for HKS’ master plan for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Children who participated in the session painted a mural with HKS members, some of whom sang for the group to emulate the connection between music and design thinking.

Fast Company Names HKS a Best Workplace for Innovators

Fast Company Names HKS a Best Workplace for Innovators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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