Measuring essential ingredients for excellence in design

Research is the lifeblood of any enterprise seeking to innovate. It is an essential ingredient for excellence in design and it aids architects in creating unique environments based on the best possible information and insight. It provides the foundation that supports the design solution, and it can offer assurance to a client that there is sound evidence and intent behind that solution.

HKS is committed to holding its designs accountable to a higher standard aimed at achieving groundbreaking structures that enhance human experience, improve environmental quality, and increase value to the organizations we serve.

HKS Research, led by a Ph.D. Director, and a licensed architect, provides leadership, expertise, oversight and coordination of both internal and external research activities and knowledge management for the firm, is influencing design in three ways. First, we manage the Center for Advanced Design Research & Evaluation (CADRE) to conduct rigorous scientific investigations into key client operational and design issues. Second, we are using our accrued knowledge from design research to trigger advances within our own emerging Innovation Lab. Third, we are integrating research into practice as we design new projects. Through research in practice, we innovate for a market that is increasingly performance-focused and value-driven.

HKS’ research entities and initiatives are interwoven within our design practice including:


The Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation (CADRE) is a non-profit research corporation that conducts and disseminates evidence-informed and comparative research worldwide, allowing the design teams to create operationally efficient and effective architecture. Its work provides deep dives into research focused on enhancing human and organizational wellbeing. By developing strategic partnerships with academic institutions and industry partners, CADRE provides a means to pursue funding for independent research facilitating rigorous immersion ino key design issues in the industry.

•   LiNE

HKS LiNE (Laboratory for INtensive Exploration) is a studio that operates as a research and design team, cross-pollinating design thinking across all sectors and industries by the study and application of emerging technologies and methodologies in the science of putting together a building. By studying and evaluating the relationships between emerging technologies and methodologies, LiNE seeks to elevate modes of architectural design and construction through intensive explorations in materiality, process and tool sets. LiNE collaborates with many universities to help leverage our resources with our academic partners.

•   Knox Advisors

The Knox Advisors team is a group of clinical, business, industrial engineering and healthcare design professionals who provide business consulting to HKS’ clients. These consultants are key members of HKS Research activities, particularly that of CADRE. Their continuous engagement in strategic and operational planning, as well as programming and master planning, sharpen focus on critical operational performance questions that influence design.

•   Design Green

Design Green focuses on researching and implementing strategies to improve building performance and environmental health. This includes commitment to product transparency, investigating healthy materials, simulating material and assembly influences on energy savings and developing research-based strategies for prudent sustainability decisions.

•   Design Fellowship

The goal of the HKS Design Fellowship is to cultivate emerging design talent, provide a forum for stimulating new ideas and deepen the relationship between research and design. It provides an opportunity for each fellow to break away from traditional project roles and combine dedicated research and problem-solving to produce ideas that influence how we at HKS can more positively impact the communities around us.

•   Healthcare Fellowship

The HKS Healthcare Fellowship is a program to recognize and encourage aspiring and talented recent college graduates committed to improving the built healthcare environment through design and research. Research thinking is interwoven into the fabric of the Fellowship. These future leaders are mentored by some of the most influential architects in the profession from within the HKS healthcare studio, including our Research Director.

Research in Practice

Research fosters a culture of commitment to innovation and learning through each project from concept to occupancy. In a world of super specialization, HKS is renewing the focus on the whole architect, working to instill research-driven knowledge into every design project. A new breed of designers is integrating research into the projects they do, and accepting accountability not just for a better building in terms of performance, but a better experience, a better environment and a better bottom line for the organization.

To enable this culture, our research is rapidly evolving from simply informing designers of options and their implications to confirming that their design solutions achieve desired outcomes. A data-driven approach focused on meaningful metrics is the key. Research is the art of translating data in a way that helps make informed decisions with relevance. At the end of the day, research in practice is the active pursuit of invention from discovery with validation from measurable outcomes. The culture shift that this approach brings about is firm-wide, across multiple building sectors and design disciplines.

Research is an investment, and requires a commitment. It is about more than hiring a few people with unique skill sets. It is about strategically placing research champions across the organization and incentivizing them to integrate research into the current practice model. As we purposefully distance ourselves from the commodity-driven world and move into the world of value-added service, our intent is to create a value proposition that allows design solutions to be more robust and innovative, environments that are more sustainable, buildings that are informed by science and investigation, and a relationship with our clients that allows us to be valued partners to the business at hand.

Dan Noble, FAIA, FACHA, President and CEO, HKS, Inc.

Upali Nanda, Ph.D., Associate AIA, EDAC, Vice President, Director of Research

Tom Harvey, FAIA, MPH, FACHA LEED AP, President, CADRE