HKS: Firm Profile

What is the history and background of the firm?

In 1939, Harwood K. Smith founded HKS in Dallas. Harwood’s entrepreneurial, proud, resourceful, and independent spirit underpins our culture today. Harwood’s artistic dreams continue to fuel our own: to inspire through design. Today, we are building upon our legacy of industry-leading architectural delivery through a focus on collaboration and innovation. We have become an interdisciplinary global firm by expanding our team beyond architects and interior designers to include engineers, researchers, urban designers, technologists, nurses, anthropologists, graphic designers, and more. At HKS, we view design as a process of discovery. Design research enables us to experiment, improve — and deliver smarter solutions for the communities that we work in. This is particularly important as we strive to create a more resilient and equitable future.

What is the firm’s current focus? What are the key projects you are working on?

HKS works in many different practice areas including aviation, cities & communities, civic & cultural, commercial, education, government, health, hospitality, life science, residential mixed-use, senior living, and sports & entertainment. Some of the key projects we are currently working on are shown in Figure 1 and include:

• Austin Transit Partnership, Project Connect
• Emory Musculoskeletal Institute
• University of California San Diego North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood
• Amaala Triple Bay Yacht Club
• Chengdu Phoenix Hill Sports Park

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? 

HKS has long been at the forefront of technological adoption within the AEC industry, demonstrating early foresight in embracing CAD and BIM. These cutting-edge tools have evolved into essential cornerstones of our design and delivery processes, reflecting our commitment to exploration and innovation.

Today, BIM underpins the development and realization of our visionary projects. By utilizing BIM, collaboration is elevated, enabling multidisciplinary teams to create transformative architectural solutions that encapsulate creativity, functionality, and sustainability (Figure 2).

Through our practice, we see computational methods and interdisciplinary collaboration creating opportunities at the intersection of architecture and contemporary issues. In 2013, we established HKS Laboratory for INtensive Exploration (LINE), a studio that operates as a research and design team, cross-pollinating design thinking across all sectors and industries. By studying and evaluating the relationships between emerging technologies and methodologies, LINE seeks to elevate modes of architectural production and construction through intensive explorations in materiality, process, and toolsets (Figure 3).

At HKS, our unwavering commitment to staying at the forefront of technology remains steadfast. Innovation serves as the star guiding us toward a future where design boundaries are pushed, and architectural achievements are elevated to uncharted heights. As we continue to shape the built environment, we remain committed to exploring and adopting advancing technologies as an integral part of the evolution of our firm (Figures 4 and 5), ensuring that every project we undertake is imbued with the essence of brilliance, creativity, and visionary distinction.

What is the firm’s approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology?

At HKS, we believe that technology is a foundational component in the future of our cities and the processes used to design and deliver them. We leverage a technology-forward approach to our firm vision, which anchors our investments in technology as a key enabler of the growth and evolution of our business. By establishing AEC Technology as a fundamental part of our strategic plan, we believe that the firm and our clients will be able to leverage the adoption of these platforms to realize their benefits and outcomes more successfully (Figure 6).

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

In implementing AEC technology, we encounter several significant challenges that impact our progress and success. Three main challenges we face are adoption, interoperability between technologies, and the slower adoption of technology across the industry.

One of the primary challenges is gaining widespread adoption of technology across all levels of the organization. Change at our firm's scale is a significant undertaking and requires a considerable investment in training and upskilling our labor force. The time required by staff can be seen as competing with the needs of our projects. Deep engagement and collaboration with key stakeholders, employees, and project teams about the benefits and advantages of technology is crucial to overcoming this hurdle.

With the growing complexity of our work, we often utilize multiple software platforms and technologies to design, simulate, visualize, and deliver our projects (Figure 7). Ensuring seamless interoperability between these diverse platforms can be a significant challenge requiring customized solutions developed within HKS. Incompatibility issues can lead to data loss, inefficiencies, and communication gaps between teams. To minimize this risk, our Enterprise Technology and LINE (Laboratory for Intensive Exploration) work closely with our Practices to help to bridge the project's needs with the technologies deployed.

And finally, there is the evolution of the AEC industry as a whole. The broad reliance on the traditional instruments of service and the current risk environment can slow progress and innovation within projects. Architecture is a collaborative profession that requires many stakeholders before and after the development of the architectural and interior design packages. At each project step, the key stakeholders must share the same core competencies around technology for our contracting and delivery processes to evolve. While the industry is not there yet, we do see a change in many areas of the world and are excited to be a part of the change that is driving the delivery of the built environment.

How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

The evolution of our industry through technological change is nowhere near complete; in fact, we believe that the pace of change is only set to quicken in the near future. Just like everyday life, the adoption of technology and technology-enabled activities will continue to become more ubiquitous. Overall, the industry will see a broader increase in the adoption and use of shared digital assets, including BIMs which will lay the foundation for open collaboration and direct communication of design proposals opening the door for new means of project delivery. The evolution and access to high-power computation will unlock new opportunities for simulation and visualization of solutions allowing designers, clients, and operators to explore and experience the designs well before a single building component has been fabricated.

Additionally, digital transformation in our practices will continue to create more connectivity across platforms enabled by accessibility to core information that was previously locked away in proprietary data structures. Access to rich project data will allow our profession to expand into areas of analytics that can ensure higher quality and better performance in our projects. Further, the availability of more structured and connected data will open the doors for deeper explorations in computational design processes and, ultimately, AI.

Beyond our immediate working processes, we believe that architects and designers will need to become more versed and proficient in their understanding of the technologies that will enable the smart cities and buildings of the future. The rapid growth in IoT devices and integrated systems in our built environment are fundamental to our future experience of the built world, and our profession will play a primary role in shaping this experience.

If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

At the forefront of our firm's wish list stands the imperative for seamless interoperability within the realm of AEC technology. The pressing need to establish fluid communication and data sharing across diverse platforms and applications has become an integral requirement. If achieved, such interoperability promises to yield many benefits, ranging from streamlined workflows and error reduction to fostering a collaborative environment amongst all project stakeholders.

Moreover, we recognize that this call for integration extends beyond the user interface and encompasses the infrastructure level. While the migration of design platforms and applications to cloud-based storage has gained momentum, a critical challenge persists in the fragmentation caused by proprietary clouds. As a result, seamless data exchange between different file types remains an aspiration rather than a reality. Ideally, each designer could freely utilize their platform of choice, all conveniently hosted in one unified location. Data intercommunication between these platforms would be executed without any hindrances or inaccuracies, adhering strictly to the set standards of the respective applications.

Furthermore, the pursuit of comprehensive interoperability would encompass not only authoring and modeling applications but also extend its reach to encompass visualization and analysis tools. This holistic approach seeks to transcend the barriers that currently impede seamless data transfer and collaboration, empowering our professionals to harness the full potential of their preferred tools while capitalizing on a unified and harmonious ecosystem.

By placing seamless interoperability atop our wish list, we aspire to enhance the efficiency, accuracy, and cohesiveness of our endeavors, leading to the realization of more ambitious and innovative projects. The vision of a harmonious AEC landscape, where technology seamlessly interacts and integrates, beckons us forward as we strive to transform our aspirations into tangible realities.

Are there any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology from the firm that you would like to share?

HKS leverages technology to frame and solve challenges with our clients in ways that drive innovation through and beyond complex projects. Inventive solutions such as our patented Digital Stamping and Sealing of Architectural Documents have built a foundation for digital delivery across the AEC industry. HKS has licensed this IP, which we utilized in the design and delivery of SoFi Stadium, to ConcertVDC. HKS is also an investor in this independent software company that is built and funded by some of the largest AE firms in the U.S. We believe that collaborative and open solutions like this will be central to the evolution of our industry.


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