Art + Progress

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond Hickok Cole’s doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world – from curators and artists to developers and more – with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our final Art Month panel, Art + Progress, examined how a renewed focus on social equity and justice in the arts is impacting creative communities in our region. Host Peter Nesbett, Executive Director at Washington Project for the Arts was joined by Cara Ober, Founding Editor at BeMore Art, Sandy Bellamy, Director of the General Services Administration’s Percent for Art, and Charles Jean-Pierre, a Washington, DC-based artist.

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art + Progress.

Our definition of progress is changing

“Today, progress is increasingly about issues of inclusion, accessibility, social equity, and justice,” says Peter Nesbett, Executive Director and Keeper of Imaginative Futures at Washington Project for the Arts,“which puts the attention on the context of art, and the biography and experience of the artist, as much as on the object.” Technology and social media have increased access to the artist themselves, carrying the artist’s voice and the messages behind their work further and than ever before. A recent example of this phenomenon is the reach and impact of the street mural at Black Lives Matter Plaza here in DC. Sandy Bellamy, Director of the General Services Administration’s Percent for Art program touched on the project’s virality, noting “it inspired people to emulate that particular work of art and express its simple yet complicated notion that Black lives matter.” 

Artwork, within the context of current events, politics, and today’s human rights issues, helps to tell a more holistic story by increasing exposure to a diverse set of voices and experiences. So as these experiences influence the artist, so does it influence their work, making it impossible to appreciate art without appreciating what’s happening in the world around us. “I’m finally at an age where I can recognize patterns in my work,” commented Charles Jean-Pierre, AKA JP, a DC-based artist. “And I feel like we’re in the same position as we were four years ago, heading into the 2016 news cycle. I feel like our Black bodies are politicized. But I think globally, darker people have been suffering and it’s not just an American problem. People are dying everywhere at the hands of people that look like them so I think this climate is based on racism but also on power dynamics. And that’s where I use my works to try to understand.” Today’s definition of progress calls on everyone to share in the burden because of how frequently we witness it’s presence – or lack thereof.

The message behind art can withstand the test of time

Governments have long commissioned artwork to reflect the ideals of the people in power. Sandy makes the argument that because of the lifespan of most public art, it’s important to commission culturally diverse artists and promote culturally diverse perspectives within our society. “When you look at neoclassical architecture and artwork in DC, there’s a lot of white men on horses, very few women and even fewer works commissioned by artists of color,” she adds. “But that doesn’t reflect who we are as a people today.” 

This is an opportunity for artists to break through the noise of divisiveness and realize the true definition of America. “Artists have always had the ability to speak directly to the soul and that will reveal the truth and the underlying humanity that we all have,” she says. “The more perspectives we have and the more artists of color at the table, the faster our journey towards embodying the true sense of freedom and democracy will be.”

Cara Ober, Editor at BeMore Art agreed, adding “By their nature, artists are comfortable saying things others are not capable of and they’re able to do it in a way that resonates.” She shares that the magazine’s community based and community accountable approach to local art has lent more people a voice when they want to express themselves while highlighting diverse talents and raising their profiles. 

How to create more equity within the art world

Working as an artist in a region with no shortage of established museums is an incredible privilege and undoubtedly provides inspiration to many. But Peter notes that they’re also seen as a point of contention in that they “embody the structural biases of the nation that gave birth to them.” “Museums have the most power of any entity in the art world,” Cara explains. “They have the power to legitimize careers. They have the money and the resources to invest in them and therefore it’s the job of museums to provide context and education and explain to people what they are seeing.” She pointed to declining attendance and membership as proof that these institutions are losing sight of their audience and the types of works today’s museum-goers hope to see. 

The hierarchy of decision-makers in the art world, including museums, elite galleries, and private curators, can create a barrier for contemporary artists seeking to broaden their reach. One solution to create a more democratic landscape is by expanding our approach to public art programs to increase representation and participation. “I’m currently working on a project with the Haitian Embassy where we’re commissioning Haitian artists to come to DC to create a public art installation,” JP shared. “I operate from a global perspective and from a place of privilege as an artist with an American passport. When I’m abroad, I’m constantly told how lucky I am to be an American so I leverage my privilege and access to help more people to create.”

Sandy adds that she’s working on a project that enlists the community’s perspective to make sure the work that’s installed reflects their lives and individual experiences. “I see it as a pragmatic decision. It’s important to meet people where they are instead of just plopping a work of art in their community selected by people who are not members of that community,” she explains. “Each property we commission art for has its own group of stakeholders made up of teachers, principals, architects, members of the ANC’s, and even high-schoolers. They select artists from a very diverse database of every demographic you could think of. And to me, they are perfectly capable of selecting outstanding works of art for their own community enjoyment.” 

Art Buying, Demystified

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond Hickok Cole’s doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world – from curators and artists to developers and more – with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our second Art Month panel, Art Buying: Demystified, focused on making the art buying process more approachable for novel collectors. From assessing quality and determining your style to spotting up-and-coming artists, DC creatives and art experts shared insight on building your collection while reflecting on the value of art beyond the physical object. Host Laura Ewan, Marketing and Communications Director at Hickok Cole was joined by Schwanda Rountree, Founder of Rountree Art Consulting, Philippa Hughes, Founder of Curiosity Connects Us, Angie Shah, Director of Marketing at Shah & Shah Jewelers, and Regan Billingsley, Founder of Regan Billingsley Interiors.

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art Buying, Demystified.

Understand what value means to you

Like with most big purchases, you have to do your research before pulling the trigger. Whether through Instagram or by visiting galleries, increased exposure to a wide variety of art is the best way to identify what style and mediums you’re most attracted to–and what you’re willing to spend. 

“For some of my more novel collectors, the decision making factor is definitely budget driven,” says Schwanda Rountree, Founder of Rountree Art Consulting. “But, as a consultant, my primary role is to educate the client on what it is they’re purchasing, especially when justifying a larger price tag.” Apart from aesthetic, Schwanda says one thing to consider is sustainability. “It’s important for me to know that this artist is dedicated to their craft and their success isn’t fleeting,” she reflects, adding that if artists have shown in institutions, museums, or certain private collections, that up-ticks the value of their work.

Angie Shah, Director of Marketing at Shah & Shah Jewelers approaches her art collecting with a long-term perspective. “The longevity factor is important to me,” she shares. “I ask myself, is this going to continue to inspire me and challenge me? Can I live with this for the rest of my life?” She advises that new collectors look for artists with a distinct point of view and one that matches their own. “Every piece should be a reflection of someone’s taste, likes, and how they live.”

The bottom line is art buying is a personal process and ultimately we determine the value of having art in our homes. “We all have limited budgets but I chose to put my disposable income towards buying art,” says Philippa Hughes, Founder of Curiosity Connects Us. “You have to decide for yourself, How much of a priority are you going to put on this in your life? How much is it worth to you outside of the monetary value?”

Investing in art goes beyond the physical object

Buying a piece of art is an investment. But you’re not just investing in your happiness or the decor in your home. Your purchase has a direct impact and is a reflection of your values. “It’s bigger than just buying something. I’m an advocate for artists and believe in supporting their livelihood,” says Schwanda. “I have a pretty diverse collection in terms of medium but the common thread throughout is that all the works are made by Black artists and that’s important for me because Black artists are underrepresented in the collecting realm as well as in institutions.”

When you purchase a work of art, you’re investing in that artist, their profession, and the community they’re a part of. “Maybe your investment actually helped pay their rent that month,” Philippa says. “Even buying art at a lower level helps allow that artist to continue creating.” And while art is everywhere these days, rather than purchasing a commercial print, buying locally has an authenticity component to it as well as a higher level of transparency. “I see a lot of cultural appropriation in design and in art. When looking to add a new work to your collection, it’s important that you understand where it’s coming from and are sure the artist is being compensated appropriately,” adds Regan Billingsley, owner of Regan Billingsley Interiors.  

Resist the urge to impulse-fill your white space 

What comes first, the art or the interior design? According to Regan, both can be true. A piece that holds a lot of value for a client might determine how a particular space is designed. “I recently had a client who had a bunch of old charcoal drawings of New York that we transformed into panels as custom wallpaper in her elevator.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, Angie shared her husband’s recent experience. “Having moved into an office space where the walls were dark grey, he commissioned two large charcoal works of clouds specifically to contrast the office design.”

Whether or not you’re remodeling or just moving into a new space, Regan said to embrace the white space and be patient until you find something that you love to fill it. “I might sit with a dining room table without chairs for six months before I find the right fit. And that’s the same way I approach art.” She emphasized how possible it is to make an impact with just one special piece. “Back up in the space, look at your focal points and really work with that. You can have an entire room centered around just one piece if it elicits joy, especially if you’re working from home. Everything in your space should feel meaningful.”

Art’s Role in Commercial Real Estate

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond our doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world—from curators and artists to developers and more—with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our first panel, Art’s Role in Commercial Real Estate, focused on the convergence of private and public art to aid with communicating brand identity, distinguishing neighborhoods, and adding tangible value to properties and the communities that surround them. Host Sarah Barr, Principal and Director of Hickok Cole Creative was joined by Stacy Skalver, President of ArtMatters, Ryan Stewart, Senior Development Manager at Grosvenor Americas, and Robin-Eve Jasper, President of NOMA BID. 

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art’s Role in Commercial Real Estate.

Communicate brand identity and make a good first impression

When trying to appeal to a particular target market, art can serve as a striking differentiator. Commissioned work in particular allows you to have more influence over what goes into your space and helps create an authentic environment. Stacy Sklaver, President of ArtMatters shares that her process begins by asking clients about their vision and mission. “Art is the first thing you see when you walk into an office or lobby and it’s the last thing you see when you’re leaving, so it should speak to who you are.” 

The right kind of piece can make a long-lasting impression and contribute to a unique experience for clients or visitors. Sarah Barr, Director of Hickok Cole Creative works frequently with artists on her projects. “Art can be used as a means for storytelling, especially when working on a repositioning project and trying to find ways to renew the space or make it feel different,” she says. “It’s important to think about what the experience will be like for people in the building but also how it impacts the streetscape and passersby.” 

The Belgard residence located in DC’s NoMa neighborhood

Invest in the community to ensure long-term success

A decade ago, graffiti was considered unappealing and devaluing, but in today’s urban landscape murals and even graffiti art have become ubiquitous. In fact, choose any city and a guided tour of street art is certain to be available — visibility that would be attractive to any developer. So what’s changed? For one, the convergence of private and public art in the form of lobby art galleries or entrance plaza sculptures has helped turn ordinary buildings into landmarks. 

“The value of these kinds of art pieces help to place properties psychographically in the public mind. They experience a place in a way that’s emotional. Pow! Wow! DC has really come to characterize NOMA, making it known as the mural capitol of DC,” says Robin-Eve Jasper, President of NOMA BID. And that’s translated into a positive for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. “It’s impossible to value at the art piece level but generally, NOMA has contributed well over a billion dollars in fiscal revenue to the city over the past 14 years or so and if there was no identity here, I think we would have seen a much smaller effect. What’s great is that we can enable artists to really express their authentic vision while improving the connectivity and make unappealing spaces appealing.” 

Start early to tell the right story (and stay within budget)

As liaison to the gallery or artist and the client, consultants assist with many of the logistics — including installation and maintenance — associated with having an art program and are equipped with the knowledge and network to do so efficiently. They are responsible for sourcing artists and curating works that accurately reflect their client’s brand while adhering to their budget. But all of that takes time. Ryan Stewart, a Senior Development Manager at Grosvenor Americas suggests getting a consultant on board as early as possible to ensure the greatest return on your investment. “The longer the lead times, the more flexibility you have to commission pieces and the easier it is to work with the interior designers to ensure the artwork complements their design and vice versa,” says Ryan. 

Cost is an unfamiliar factor for many people purchasing artwork and one that usually goes underestimated. Stacy added that “too often what goes on the walls is the final consideration on a project which usually means there’s little budget left for what the client is trying to achieve.” Stacy stated that the earlier consultants get involved the better. “For many of our clients, this is the first time they’re doing something of this nature. Every medium is different and as consultants, we can advise our clients as to what things cost. We’re educators.”

Hickok Cole’s Richmond Studio Re-Locates to the Arts District Neighborhood

The 1,500 square foot space reflects the firm’s confidence in the revitalization of downtown Broad Street and commitment to securing a successful future for Richmond.

RICHMOND, VA – November 16, 2020 – Hickok Cole announced the opening of its new Richmond studio at 20 E Broad Street in the city’s Arts District neighborhood this fall. Since launching Hickok Cole RVA in 2016, designers had been operating from the Gather coworking space in Scott’s Addition but had consistently grown in size and were in need of a new space that could support their vision for the future. The new 1,500-SF location offers greater flexibility and improved collaboration with room for a material library and display drawings as well as a wellness room and dedicated meeting space to host clients.

“Our team is deeply rooted in Richmond and passionate about the Arts District neighborhood. We’re invested in this city and wanted our new space to communicate that,” says Jessica Zullo, Associate Principal and Director of RVA Studio. “A ground floor retail setting allows us to interact with pedestrians and contribute to the neighborhood experience. We’re urban designers at heart and relish being a part of this flourishing creative community in Richmond.”

The ground-floor storefront features large windows that showcase the open studio environment inside, which includes shared tables and seating. The hospitality-inspired design features artful lighting, open shelving, and the strategic use of carpet tiles as area rugs to showcase the original wood flooring.  A hospitality pantry featuring modern glazed brick tiles, concrete quartz countertops, and matte black plumbing fixtures serves as a sophisticated showroom for clients.

The team discovered the storefront while designing the adjacent Someday Shop and worked with Gareth Jones of JLL to negotiate lease terms. Arts District presented itself as the ideal location due to its proximity to galleries, Virginia Commonwealth University, and other design studios and small businesses. Construction began in April of this year and completed in September. Currently, all Hickok Cole staff are encouraged to work remotely with team members coordinating to phase schedules and following CDC guidelines should they need to be in the office for any reason.

“We’re so impressed by what the Richmond studio has been able to achieve in its four years of operation. Under Jessica’s leadership, they have truly integrated themselves into the community and developed the kinds of relationships we’ve built our DC office on,” said Mike Hickok, Senior Principal and Co-Founder of Hickok Cole. “Having recently announced plans to move our headquarters location to DC’s Union Market neighborhood, it’s fitting that our Richmond office would find itself moving to a creative community as well. The Arts District embodies our firm culture and poses an excellent opportunity to expand our long-established commitment to the arts.”

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. Headquartered in Washington, DC for over 30 years, Hickok Cole expanded its presence beyond the DMV area to open a Richmond Studio in 2016. After nearly five years, Hickok Cole RVA is proud to have designed some of the area’s most sophisticated interior projects including multiple Gather co-working locations, The Current, Brenner Pass, and the Wellsmith at Libbie Mill Midtown.

Hickok Cole Celebrates Fall 2020 Awards

Awards season is upon us, with many national and local program announcements postponed to the fall due to COVID-19. It’s been one of much celebration at Hickok Cole as we’ve seen projects recognized across services and markets, including a few for our marketing team. Of note are two of our most recently completed mixed-use projects, Baltimore’s Liberty Harbor East and 700K at Anthem Row, both of which took home multiple awards, including Best High-Rise from Multi-Housing News and Best Whole Building from retrofit magazine’s Metamorphosis Awards respectively. In total, this season marked 15 awards, shared here in alphabetical order. Congrats to the our teams and partners on this exciting and well-deserved recognition!

Anthem Row – The Meridian Group

  • First Place, Whole Building – retrofit 2020 Metamorphosis Awards  
  • Award of Excellence, Best Renovation – NAIOP DC|MD Awards of Excellence

Art Night 2019

  • Award of Excellence, Special Event: Mixed Media – SMPS National Marketing Communications Awards
  • First Place, Special Event – SMPS DC Marketing Communications Awards

Gather Arts District – Gather

  • Honor Award, Best Interiors – AIA Richmond Design Awards

Liberty Harbor East – Harbor East Management Group and The Bozzuto Group

  • Best High-Rise, Development and Design – Multi-Housing News’ Excellence Awards
  • Best Washington/Baltimore High-Rise Condominium Community – Delta Associates Awards for Excellence
  • Best Baltimore High-Rise Apartment Community – Delta Associates Awards for Excellence

National Geographic Interiors – National Geographic

  • Best New Workplace Solution: Design Excellence, Core Net Global Mid-Atlantic Chapter Awards of Excellence

NOVEL | South Capitol – Crescent Communities and RCP Development

  • Best Marketing – Multi-Housing News’ Excellence Awards

Penn Eleven – Perseus Realty and Javelin19 Investments

  • Merit Winner, Project of the Year: Mixed-Use – MFE Project of the Year: Mixed-Use

St. Thomas Parish / 1772 Church St – May Riegler and St. Thomas Parish

  • Best Adaptive Reuse – Multi-Housing News’ Excellence Awards
  • Award of Excellence, Best Institutional Facility – NAIOP DC | MD Awards of Excellence

The Highlands – Penzance

  • Best Unbuilt – Multi-Housing News’ Excellence Awards

Together Campaign

  • First Place, Social Media Campaign – SMPS DC Marketing Communications Awards

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. We’ve called DC home for more than 30 years, and are proud leaders of some of the area’s most exciting new projects, including National Geographic, 800 K at Anthem Row, the International Spy Museum, and the American Geophysical Union’s net-zero headquarters renovation.

Hickok Cole Celebrates 20 Years of Art Night with Over $115K Raised in Support of the DC Arts Community

Art Month 2020 re-imagines Hickok Cole’s annual fundraiser for the virtual landscape with an online event series and art gallery. 

WASHINGTON, DC – November 2, 2020 – Hickok Cole, the forward-focused design practice based in Georgetown, raised $115,470 in partnership with Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) during their annual Art Night fundraiser. Challenged to re-imagine the event to accommodate safety guidelines protecting against the COVID-19 pandemic, Art Night became Art Month, marking the event’s 20th anniversary with a socially-distant, yet highly-connected virtual celebration spanning the entire month of October. Over the course of 20 years, the event has raised more than $1.4 million in support of WPA’s mission and the local arts community.

In a normal year, Hickok Cole hosts over 800 members of the DC design and real estate community, as well as collectors and Hickok Cole staff at its Georgetown headquarters for a four-floor art show and sale curated by a member of the local arts community. In honor of the event’s 20th anniversary, past Art Night curators were invited to recommend up to ten artists for inclusion in the show. Each artist submitted work to WPA for consideration to be included in this year’s extensive collection. This year’s online gallery opened for two-weeks and showcased over 200 works at a variety of price points – bringing together compelling and affordable pieces for experienced and aspiring collectors alike. New this year was a series of virtual programming exploring art’s crucial role as a unifier in society through the lens of Art Night’s core supporters: the real estate community, art buyers, and artists.

“We realized early on that this wouldn’t be a traditional Art Night but in no way could we have anticipated the turnout and the level of generosity we received this year,” said Mike Hickok, Senior Principal and Co-Founder of Hickok Cole. “The virtual nature and duration of this year’s event provided us with the opportunity to expand the visibility of local DC artists beyond our office doors. We’re in awe at the response from our community and their ability to support WPA’s mission to the tune of $115K. Having celebrated Art Night for 20 years, we always knew it was more than just a party, but this is utter proof.”   

VIP sponsors were offered a preview of works on display prior to the gallery’s launch.

Art Night has established three tiers of sponsorships: Art Devils, those committing to purchase at least $5,000 worth of art; Art Angels, who pre-commit to spend $2,500; and Art Cherubs, who pre-commit to spend $500 in support. The Art Cherub program was developed in 2017 to attract the next generation of art lovers and supporters, while the Art Devil program was added last year. Both programs grew to exceed past numbers in support of Art Month 2020, attracting nine Art Devils and eleven Art Cherubs. This year, Devils, Angels, and Cherubs collectively pre-committed $90,500 to the purchase of art at Art Month. 

“Who could have known that 2019 would be our last Art Night in Georgetown? But it was one for the books: we broke record sales, surrounded by our closest friends, clients, and partners, sending 1023 31st Street off in style,” reflected Yolanda Cole, Senior Principal and Co-Founder of Hickok Cole. “We’re thrilled with what we were able to accomplish virtually this year, but given that Art Night was a major consideration throughout the design process for our new Union Market location, we are very much hopeful that we will be celebrating in person next year.” 

Vigil for RBG, Supreme Court by Colin Winterbottom

Each year, Hickok Cole commits to purchasing a work of art for the firm’s collection. Employees vote for their favorite, and the piece with the most votes at the end of the night wins. This year’s selection is Vigil for RBG, Supreme Court by Washington, DC photographer, Colin Winterbottom. This is the third piece by Winterbottom that Hickok Cole has added to its collection over the event’s history. 

The 2020 Art Month campaign was designed and executed by Hickok Cole Creative and Hickok Cole’s in-house marketing team. In addition to a month-long email series, the campaign included a VIP package distributed to all sponsors in advance of the gallery launch, and a multi-channel social media campaign featuring exhibiting artists expand its reach further than ever before. 

Art Month graphics designed by Hickok Cole Creative

2020 Art Devils
Jennifer & Brian Coulter
Douglas Development
Foulger-Pratt
Michael & Marilyn Glosserman
Grosvenor
Grunley
Anne & Ray Ritchey
Michelle & Rick Scurfield
Kathryn & Rob Stewart

2020 Art Angels
Above Green
ALKS | SIENA
ARUP
Betsy Young & John Benziger
Bognet Construction
Clark Construction
Rose & Bob Cohen
DAVIS Construction
Equity Residential
GPI
Herman Miller
Hickok Cole
HITT Contracting, Inc.
Knoll
KTA
Lincoln Property Company
Snell Properties
Structura

2020 Art Cherubs
Anthony Balestrieri
Jennifer Baxter
John Bisch
Regan Billingsley & Eric Dinges
Laura Ewan & Mark Palmer
Courtney Hansen-Richards & David Richards
Rob Holzbach & Jamie Underwood
Deirdre MacWilliams
Rory & Lauren Pillsbury
Brant Snyder
Katie Wiacek

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. We’ve called DC home for more than 30 years, and are proud leaders of some of the area’s most exciting new projects, including National Geographic, 800 K at Anthem Row, the International Spy Museum, and the American Geophysical Union’s net-zero headquarters renovation.

About Washington Project for the Arts
Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) is a not-for-profit visual arts organization that supports artist-driven projects, advocacy, and dialogue so that artists can live, work and flourish.

The Employee is Always Right! Why Your Workplace Has More in Common With Malls Than You Think.

Whether it’s a 20-person start-up or a solo-preneur, Gather Art’s District provides tenants the flexibility to grow and scale within the same four walls.

How many times have you heard that “the mall is dead”? One quick Google search using this phrase churns out several hundred haunting visualizations of abandoned storefronts, eerily vacant food courts, and pastel wallpaper curling off the walls. 

Recent conjecture about the demise of the office triggers a similar sense of dread among commercial real estate brokers and tenants as they envision a post-pandemic future. In reality, retail—just like any other industry succumbing to the wiles of the virtual landscape—isn’t going anywhere. It’s merely evolving, and the office is no different.

Office design has matured since the turn of the twentieth century, taking on various models like Taylorism circa 1904 and Cube Farm in the seventies and eighties with the dawn of the cubicle. The most popular and commonly used today is known as the Networking model. Often referred to as the flexible or open office, Networking has flourished in the past decade with movable furniture, semi-divided workstations, and seating arrangements designed to address the need for collaboration, privacy, and overall efficiency of space.

Flexibility has taken on new meaning since the start of the pandemic as employees working at home appreciate new-found independence in the way they work, when they choose to do it, and where. Likewise, employers have witnessed how efficient and productive remote work can be. Still, only 24% of professionals have said they want to work remotely full-time, though they don’t want to give up the flexible work option that technology has granted them at home. We surveyed our own staff and found only 5% would want to telework full-time if the option was available but none expressed an interest in returning to the office full-time either. It seems the most preferred option is somewhere in between, with the vast majority (85%) hoping to spend 1-3 days working remotely in the future.

“We have to give people a reason to come back to work,” says Patrick Gegen, Senior Designer at Hickok Cole. “When retail first saw a shift in sales coming from online channels, some brick and mortar sites shut down as a result, but eventually the industry learned to appreciate the value-add of in-store services and pivoted towards offering customers curated, branded experiences that made it worth their in-person visit.”

In-store activations and events like Instagram pop-ups or massive dance classes caused a resurgence in brick-and-mortar. So much so that even direct-to-consumer brands (those who sell their products online) like Warby Parker and Rothy’s have launched physical storefronts of their own. So, what’s the office equivalent? 

“People want a personal touch, they crave human interaction,” explains Patrick. “We’ve all proven that we can work from home and we enjoy it to a certain degree, but we’ve erased the impromptu catch-ups and run-ins, both of which stimulate and contribute to the creative process. Video calls and virtual conferences can’t replace the social experience we derive from the workplace.”

Bully Pulpit Interactive offers a variety of workstations that cater to the individual needs of each employee.

Company culture, networking, and social interactions with co-workers may be enough to drive workers back into the office building. But, according to Patrick, that shouldn’t mean employees return to the same space. Instead, he envisions a future landscape catering to employees who have the option to work remotely but who typically choose not to. That means the new office will be designed with fewer designated desks and more public spaces that facilitate connection while serving a breadth of functions: fewer private offices and more divisible space; multi-purpose rooms that break down for additional, smaller conference spaces or semi-private workstations instead of just hosting large group meetings; and amenity spaces equipped with charging stations and enough table space for several workers to set-up as needed. With the ability to work from home for heads down or quiet work, more centralized workstations will allow employees to congregate and collaborate easily while private spaces will serve those looking to retreat from distractions at home or who feel more productive in the work environment. 

“One thing that’s likely to affect how we interact with the office is our sense of balance and well-being,” said Melissa Brewer, Co-Director of Interior Design and a Senior Associate at Hickok Cole. “We’ve clearly grown accustomed to the flexibility in our schedules and the extra hours we’ve gotten back without our commutes. So how can we replicate this level of convenience in the office?”

A study conducted by FlexJobs identified work-life balance as the top consideration for professionals evaluating new job prospects, even outweighing factors like vacation days and salary requirements. The same study found that Gen X (40%) and pet-owners (28%) represented the top tiers of workers who wanted flexible work options – and that was before the pandemic. It’s clear that flexibility and convenience are top priorities for the next generation of workers and driving factors behind why employees today prefer working from home.

Melissa argues that convenience is the holy grail of office amenities and suggests office owners and employers take that into consideration when designing a new space or re-integrating their workforce post-pandemic. Offering services that benefit employees by allowing them to optimize their time at home makes them feel valued while allowing them to focus on work when in office. In fact, one survey found that providing employees with onsite clinics not only reduces medical care costs but the time they spend away from work traveling to and from their physician. Likewise, offering in-house services like onsite daycare and dry-cleaning contribute to greater productivity and comfort. 

Discovery, Inc. offers employees on-site access to medical clinics helping to improve productivity and job satisfaction.

“Employers that are ahead of the curve were already providing the things in life that help employees save time and feel appreciated–either directly in their building or adjacent neighborhood–before the pandemic,” Melissa continued. “Now that employees feel like they’ve achieved higher levels of work-life balance during quarantine, they’re going to want to preserve that when it comes time to return to the workplace. And I think employers understand that. They have lives too.”

Offering benefits that go above and beyond the standard packages will help entice new talent and a younger generation post-quarantine, as well as help retain current employees by demonstrating they care. Employers and office space will adapt to emphasize convenience and service so people can maximize their time spent at home as well as their time spent at work.

The pandemic has taught us that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our work week anymore–and maybe there never was. Our internal survey shows that parents desire increased flexibility in order to devote more quality time to their families, while staff who live alone prioritize connection to their team members and the social side of work. Retail has adapted into a highly personalized experience and so too should our workplace. Each individual’s needs, tasks, and life circumstances vary greatly, and our new challenge is to design a space that allows each employee the flexibility to make it their own.

The French novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said it best, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In short, like retail, the office isn’t going anywhere, it’s simply evolving.

Principal Leadership Group Expands with Summer 2020 Promotions

Hickok Cole Elevates David Wahl and Sarah Barr to Principal and Stefano Sani to Associate Principal

With the announcement of promotions this summer, additional staff rise to Senior Associate and Associate positions.

WASHINGTON, DC – September 3, 2020 – Hickok Cole today announced a new round of promotions and additions to the principal leadership group including David Wahl, AIA, Director of Project Operations and Sarah Barr, Director of Hickok Cole Creative as Principals and Stefano Sani, LEED AP BD+C to Associate Principal. This news follows the firm’s recent announcement to relocate its headquarters to DC’s Union Market neighborhood in the spring of 2021.

“We are thrilled to see David and Sarah elevated to their new roles as Principals and welcome Stefano as he joins the firm’s senior leadership group,” said Mike Hickok, Senior Principal and Co-Founder of Hickok Cole. “This decision reflects the dedication and commitment they have demonstrated as advocates of the firm. We are confident that their leadership will help secure the future of the firm as we look towards starting our next chapter in the Union Market neighborhood.”

David Wahl – David has over three decades of professional architectural experience, both in the United States and in Asia in a wide array of building types including high-level designs for residential, commercial, schools, churches, and master planning projects. Prior to joining Hickok Cole, his entrepreneurial spirit led to the founding of his own practice, Wahl Architects, which specialized in residential work in Jakarta and Bali, Indonesia, Canada, and the DC metro area. In addition to serving as Director of Project Operations, through which he spearheaded the reorganization and streamlining of internal project management processes, he is an active participant in the firm’s mentorship program, a member of the American Institute of Architects, and a registered architect in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. His most notable work of late includes Building O at Walter Reed, several projects at Libbie Mill, and Reunion Square.

Sarah Barr – As Director of Hickok Cole Creative, Sarah has over 20 years of experience in creative strategy for print, digital media, and experiential design. Sarah leads a talented team of designers and thinkers that cross-collaborate across the firm layering brand strategy and story into projects to create richer experiences. Sarah originally joined Hickok Cole in 2004 as an addition to their award-winning in-house marketing department and, following a hiatus during which she started her own business, was offered the opportunity to launch Hickok Cole Creative. In the last seven years, she has grown Hickok Cole Creative into a profit center for the firm, with a focus on comprehensive branding packages for the commercial real estate industry. Notable projects include branding for DC’s Hepburn Apartment Residences, Tyson’s Silverline Center, Ballston’s 4040 Wilson, and The Wellsmith, Richmond’s newest multifamily in Libbie Mill-Midtown. Internally, Sarah led Hickok Cole’s 2018 rebrand and is currently overseeing the creative ideation and design process behind Hickok Cole’s first-ever virtual Art Night.

“Sarah has been an asset to our firm, having launched and groomed Hickok Cole Creative into the powerhouse branding and marketing agency it is today. Likewise, David has made the contract, proposal, and project management process efficient and effective in his position as Director of Project Operations,” said Yolanda Cole, Senior Principal and Co-Founder of Hickok Cole. “They have both contributed to the development and expansion of our Richmond portfolio and their new roles are sure to drive the firm towards even greater success beyond the DC metro area.”

Stefano Sani – Originally from Trento, Italy, Stefano moved to the United States in 2014 and joined Hickok Cole a year later. Prior to working at Hickok Cole, he directed his own design firm, Studio Artemis in Italy, worked for two years in Paris, France where he focused on 19th-century building renovations and worked for three years in San Francisco. As an Italian licensed architect with 25 years of international design experience, his portfolio includes a diverse set of building types including civic, commercial, hospitality, housing, K-12 schools, and infrastructure. He has been a LEED Accredited Professional for over a decade and has contributed to the sustainable vision for many world-class projects, such as the Public Utility Commission Building in San Francisco and the green incubator hub of Progetto Manifattura, Rovereto, Italy. His most notable recent projects include the award-winning 1701 Rhode Island Avenue and St. Thomas Parish in Dupont Circle.

“Stefano’s work has had a true impact on our firm, and his enthusiasm for innovative design solutions has allowed him to meaningfully connect with clients and bring their visions to life,” says Laurence Caudle, Principal and Director of Housing at Hickok Cole. “I look forward to seeing how his voice will shape future design decisions and influence the firm’s projects moving forward.”

Additional promotions include John Lang, AIA, Todd Martin, Peter McCarthy, and Kerron Miller, RA to Senior Associate as well as Tanya Ally, AIA, Andrew Bickel, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Katherine Braswell, NCARB, RA, Zahira Crespo, Associate AIA, Rebecca Kelly, Kirsten Lytle, NCIDQ, LEED Green Associate, Tony Maiolatesi, and Emily Rickman, LEED AP to Associate.

About Hickok Cole
Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities. We’ve called DC home for more than 30 years, and are proud to have designed homes for some of the area’s leading organizations, including National Geographic, the International Spy Museum, and American Geophysical Union’s net-zero headquarters renovation.

Could the Solution to Our Housing Crisis Be Your Corner Office?

There’s no question we are re-evaluating the role of the office. Telework was already on the rise prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but now opinions are more conclusive. Companies are discovering remote work to be remarkably successful and sometimes even more productive. In response, discussions around offices downsizing, or decentralizing into multiple, smaller spaces have picked up speed. Some are calling into question the need for a physical office at all. Like many metropolitan areas, the DC office market has taken a hit, with vacancies reaching an all-time high of 15.2% in the second quarter. Meanwhile, supply has continued to increase with the delivery of new office buildings. As companies begin to downsize or sublet unnecessary space, it begs the question, what will we do with these empty buildings?

With a looming housing crisis and general lack of affordable housing impacting major cities across the country, an often-proposed solution is to convert older, underutilized office buildings with more modest floor plans – usually constructed in the 1950-1960s – into residential buildings. In cities like New York and Baltimore, these types of conversions are well underway, but DC had been slow to jump aboard the trend. However, since Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her goal to build 36,000 new units – 12,000 of which will be affordable – by 2025, the DC government and several local organizations, including the Downtown BID and the Golden Triangle BID, have begun to seriously explore conversions as a potential remedy to address affordable housing.

According to Gerry Widdicombe, Director of Economic Development of the Downtown DC BID, “Office vacancies are likely to continue given the current two million-plus square feet of office space under construction or renovation. In Downtown DC, our office vacancy rate is at 15.3% as of July 30, 2020. And we’re expecting it to rise to over 17% over the next 12 to 24 months.” The competition for owners to lease vacant space will be fierce in the foreseeable future, which could lower effective rents “either directly or by increasing rent concessions, tenant improvement allowances, and months of free rent,” he explained. Leona Argouridis, Executive Director of the Golden Triangle BID shared that her district is up to 17.4% vacancy as of last month. Adding that the neighborhood has 34 million square feet of office space, but less than 50 units of residential. “Given the current office rents for leased spaces, office renovation pro formas will show office net operating income per square foot to exceed residential net operating income.” But this might not hold true if rents decrease and, if they do, older office buildings will remain vacant until office demand picks up or we identify another use for them.

Laurence Caudle, Senior Principal and Director of Housing at Hickok Cole, asserts that this is an opportunity to prioritize diversifying and creating more walkable, activated neighborhoods. “Market conditions and previous zoning preferences have limited diversification in the Central Business District, creating dead zones outside of the regular 9-5 work hours, something that may be exacerbated by more people working from home in the future,” he says. “More mixed-use developments, with three-plus uses – like office, residential, and retail – would not only pave the way for more residential units and subsidized housing but create more economic opportunity and make neighborhoods more diverse and financially resilient.”

This is especially prevalent in the Central Business District and along K Street NW, a notoriously rigid area known for its abundance of office space. For decades, K Street housed some of DC’s more prominent companies but has conceded several leases in recent years to the newly developed waterfronts in addition to Northern Virginia, the city’s long-time competitor for new office tenants.

In other areas of the city, like 14th Street NW and Adams Morgan, zoning gives preferential treatment to residential buildings over offices, creating an imbalance between daytime and nighttime traffic. “These neighborhoods have a thriving nightlife, predominantly dominated by bars and restaurants because so few people are there during the day,” adds Laurence. “That’s fine, but wouldn’t it make for a more stable economic landscape if there were more offices in the area? That would ensure restaurants and other retail had patrons 24/7. Instead, activity along 14th Street dies down during work hours. That’s income lost for anyone with a storefront.”

Historically, the operating cost for offices has been less than housing operating costs so, in office-designated zones, the main way in which developers can see a greater return through a conversion is if they add more density and create additional rentable square footage. But a combination of height, and in some cases floor area ratio (FAR) restrictions in the city makes that a far more challenging task. Furthermore, some office owners have never owned residential properties or are not allowed to own them because they are office-owning real estate investment trusts or office restricted investment funds. In that case, Gerry pointed out, “There are the transaction costs of selling to a residential developer. City incentives could help cover this cost and others, including buying out a few office leases, installing plumbing for dozens of kitchens and bathrooms per floor, and possibly cutting out some density to achieve better lighting required by the residential market.”

Last year, a city-assembled task force developed the Office-to-Affordable Housing Task Force Report, identifying ideal locations according to vacancy rates, while summarizing the barriers keeping developers at an arm’s length. Until recently, the DC office market was thriving and relatively stable, making vacant buildings ripe for conversion few and far between. Though challenges remain, including a lack of financial incentive, the good news is that recent zoning changes allow a mix of uses, including residential, in downtown zones.

“A demand for activated environments has climbed to the top of many tenants’ wish lists. More and more of our projects are going outside of central DC because tenants are enticed by the energy of The Wharf and Navy Yard, neighborhoods that pretty much have it all,” says Laurence. “Now that it’s become more apparent how much time we waste in our cars, on public transportation, and commuting around the city, people value walkability more than ever – whether that be walking to work or the grocery store.”

The pandemic has accelerated behavioral trends across the board and fundamentally changed the way we live and work. DC can use this opportunity to capture underutilized space and meet market needs more efficiently by reimagining downtown areas that are remnants of old market trends and zoning regulations that discourage walkability in addition to offering incentives that make conversions more attractive to developers. These changes would create new jobs and attract new residents to DC’s core, ultimately stimulating the economy for a post-pandemic recovery. More housing, in general, would drive down prices and encourage more of the population to settle down, through a development strategy that prioritizes diversification over gentrification of existing neighborhoods. The District is – and has been – evolving. As members of the real estate and design community, let’s take advantage of available infrastructure and invest in a development program that will help DC thrive.

The Power of Purchase: Investing in Consumer Values for Long Term Success

With the internet at our fingertips, consumers are highly aware of their purchasing power and attuned to the policies, principles, and values of the brands they support. When it comes to major social issues, consumers don’t just want companies to address them in a statement. They demand action and accountability, expecting to see radical improvement throughout the supply chain. And they’re applying this level of scrutiny to most aspects of their life: from what they eat to who they vote for. 

The narrowing gap between commercial real estate (CRE) firms and the end-user suggests that our industry is no exception. While most CRE firms have adopted a value-based approach for their corporate branding strategy, according to Sarah Barr, Director of Hickok Cole Creative, “The movement towards informed consumerism requires firms to embody their mission, wholeheartedly through philanthropy, hiring practices, and partnerships.” She adds,  “This is an opportunity to reflect on core values, improve processes, and embrace transparency for future growth and success.” 

When done effectively, CRE businesses can build brand equity and cultivate deeper connections with their end-users, who in turn serve as brand advocates, and valuable outlets for sourcing ideas and keeping abreast of major trends. Most importantly, purpose-driven brand strategies can influence how residents select their apartment communities or how tenants select their workplace. 

Comparatively, potential residents and tenants may look beyond unit and office layout, pricing, and amenities, to conduct their own research into the property development teams, construction materials, and how the building is marketed.

“Consumers want to see commitment,” says Sarah. “How are you evaluating your supply chain to ensure your building’s brand purpose and story stack up? And once the building is complete, how does it live that purpose on a day-to-day basis?” 

She references NOVEL South Capitol, co-developed by Crescent Communities and RCP, and managed by Bozzuto, whose brand strategy centers around being a community-driven and community-focused third place. The apartments sit above Chef Erik Bruner Yang’s ABC Pony, which at the onset of COVID, pivoted to help keep restaurant workers employed preparing meals for healthcare heroes, firefighters and those in need through a project called Power of 10 Initiative.

NOVEL publicly aligned itself with the project on social media and provided Erik an extended platform to promote the effort with an Instagram takeover and ongoing social media integrations. Through the takeover, followers and residents were able to connect with Erik’s story, learn more about the initiative, and if compelled, donate. “Though NOVEL is not directly tied to Power of 10 Initiative, Erik is part of NOVEL’s community and it’s who I think about when I think of NOVEL. The project aligned with NOVEL’s community-focused strategy, creating a sense of pride for current residents and interest for potential residents who want to be part of something bigger,” she concluded. NOVEL has continued to have programs to support their community through this strange time that goes beyond the traditional experience, as well as promoting the unique benefit of Erik’s restaurant just downstairs for a full work-from-home menu.

Apart from growth potential, your decisions can drive real change. Take LEED for example. At the start of the certification program, LEED played a major role in differentiating buildings in the marketplace. Organizations who identified as sustainably-focused began to seek out LEED-certified buildings as one way to solidify their commitment and live out their purpose—helping LEED grow in popularity and pave the way for other sustainability and wellness programs like WELL, Fitwel, and the Living Building Challenge.

It won’t be long before most tenants take into account what their broker, building owner, and property management team stand for when their lease is up for renewal. Whether you define the end-user as an association, commercial tenant, resident, dog-lover, decision-maker, social advocate, or a good neighbor, their decision-making process lies with the collective stories you tell and live. “This is no longer walking the walk,” Sarah adds. “It’s running an ultra-marathon.”