iLab exists to promote disruptive innovation at Hickok Cole Architects. The firm crowd-sources the most compelling proposals, every employee votes, and the winners commence in an intensive research period. Through this exploration, we aim to stretch conventional notions about architecture, fabrication, work styles, and entrepreneurship. The result is a body of research that exemplifies our most forward-thinking ideas.

New Solutions for Senior Living

“The Baby Boomer Wave” refers to a generational wave of people who are just beginning to retire and starting to think about their next move in life. As one of the largest generations of Americans, second only to Millennials, this wave will have a profound impact on the housing stock across the country.

Why Senior Housing?: The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University states “Over the next twenty years, the population aged 65 and over is expected to grow from 48 million to 79 million.” What can we do as designers to be prepared for this change in demographic needs? How can we provide options for their housing which encourages engagement in urban centers, an ability to stay active as they age, opportunities for lifelong learning and the ability to maintain existing relationships to family and friends while also creating brand new ones?

Process: Hickok Cole benchmarked existing models for senior housing in the DC area and is improving the model in new ways to ensure healthy, active seniors stay involved in their communities. We identified a demographic that would prefer to continue living independently and we posit that there is a multifamily building typology and property management model that can thrive within urban centers. By accessing multiple transportation options, multigenerational programming, proximity to cultural institutions, health services and natural areas, these buildings can enrich people’s lives as they age while capitalizing on the housing development opportunity of a wealthy rent-by-choice demographic.

What’s next?: Research is currently on-going and we seek development and operator partnerships. If you are interested in a presentation, please contact Melanie De Cola.

High Performance Building Innovation and WELL Design

The Sustainable DC Plan, The Climate Action Plan, The Comprehensive Energy Plan, LEED v4, Living Building Challenge all point towards a future of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a larger role for buildings to play in a cleaner future. Global sustainable think tank Sustainia has analyzed the role of buildings in climate change and concluded that “buildings account for 1/3 of humanity’s resource consumption, including 3 billion tons of raw materials each year and 40% of energy usage worldwide.” This is a huge environmental footprint and we want to design buildings that are part of the solution.

Why High Performance and WELL?: As architects and designers we seek to have a positive impact on the world around us both aesthetically and physically. With the success of the designs for The American Geophysical Union we are undertaking an educational and design challenge to create more High Performance and Net Zero structures in the DC area. Using strategies from solar PV arrays, geothermal energy systems, dynamic glazing, active staircases and green walls, we aim to decrease the carbon footprints of our buildings. In addition to building innovation, it is time to seriously consider the health of their occupants, by utilizing pre- and post-occupancy surveys and the tenets of the WELL Building Institute we seek to enhance the experience of occupying the buildings we design and improve occupants’ productivity. Building health and occupant health go hand in hand as we continue to build for the future.

Process: In partnership with DPR Construction we created an educational presentation that explains the whys and hows of high-performance design and construction, and the quantifies cost and productivity savings. At the confluence of policy and environmental drivers, we believe that owner-occupiers stand to capitalize on high-performance buildings now.

What’s next?: We are currently giving out presentation to developer clients, owner-occupiers, brokers, property manager and tenants. If you are interested in a presentation, please contact Melanie De Cola.



Mercedes Afshar addressed the building façade beyond its traditional use as a barrier between “in” and “out” and into a multi-functioning, living, breathing object. A prototype hydroponic module design addressed three needs: attachment to an existing façade, horticultural life cycle, and illumination. Modularity of form was paramount for future replication and for a consistent aesthetic when installed on a building façade. The outward facing form mounts to a grid attached to an existing building façade. Within the form lie nutrient feeder tubes and a nutrient reservoir. Planters line cavities within the grid, allowing plants to receive the nutrients they need while being visible. The hydroponic form itself consists of layers of paint, resin, fiberglass, a gel coat, and a mold which conceal the façade’s functioning parts (air pumps, water pumps, grow mediums, vinyl tubing, and electrical components). Virtual applications of the module on various façades demonstrates the feasibility of the module’s design.

Fabulous Pre-Fab

Abigail Brown is applying modular construction to mid-rise residential projects in DC. Modular construction is a pre-fabrication system in which modules of a building are constructed offsite, then shipped to the site and assembled on a foundation. This system has not yet been widely used in Washington, DC, despite the cost, schedule, and environmental benefits it offers and the successful use of the system in other major cities.

This i-Lab project explores the application of modular construction to mid-rise housing projects in DC through both research and design. The research phase will gather technical and cost information about the system and applicable building codes. This research will be tested with a speculative design for a real site in Washington, DC, with the intention of introducing this technology in future projects.

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Virtual Reality

Immersive Environments will change the way architects experience and present design.

For a while now, we have been exposed to vaguely representative immersive experiences (video gaming/virtual simulations/cube projections) but that carried a high cost for implementation and a limit on the level of quality produced. With two recent advances, technology has progressed to a point that opens the door for an innovative approach to experiential design.

Howard Mack and Carlyn Luu will research and develop a system to create a connected environment where multiple people can seamlessly plug into and share in an experience controlled by a single user. This environment will then be capable presenting many things about a particular design project from early concept to final output to an audience. It will work similar to a power point presentation but will exist in a fully immersive environment that will implement a series of stills, overlay, transitions, animation, and movement.

Architects for centuries have tried to imagine their selves in their designed spaces. Now we can.

Augmented Reality

Peter McCarthy explored the concept of integrating Augmented Reality into the world of architecture and comparing it to a similar existing tool, traditional model making. Additionally, he investigated alternative uses for Augmented Reality within architecture, such as full scale holograms, marketing and fusion with real models. The generation of Augmented Reality models is much faster, allowing multiple options to be made. With the possibility of changing materials easily, it will soon be a regular design tool used at client meetings.

Beyond CoWorking

Lori Geftic & Kate Maxwell are determining the characteristics of a visually seductive and financially feasible co-working environment. The best technology-centric co-working organizations attract the brightest business minds by creating environments that stimulate interactions with like minded peers. This culturally-driven business model actually hinges on the design of the physical space; entrepreneurs seek stimulating offices to spark new ideas. By profiling existing co-working spaces we will identify the ideal co-working space design – both aesthetically and financially.

If you are interested in a presentation, please contact Melanie De Cola.

Living Building Challenge

Hickok Cole Architects participated in the 2015 DC Affordable Living Design Competition, a progressive and innovative challenge in the realm of affordable and sustainable housing. Sustainability and affordable housing are two vital issues currently being addressed by the District of Columbia government. The competition asked teams to design (and potentially build) 10-15 single family affordable townhomes that meet the rigorous criteria of the Living Building Challenge.

There is a real site for the project, owned by DHCD, located in the Deanwood neighborhood in Washington DC. There were four partners on our team – Mi Casa, a local non-profit provider of affordable housing, Skanska USA, IBC Engineering, and Halsall Associates.


Parametric Precast

The use of concrete in building construction is widespread. Concrete is appealing because it is cheap, durable, and malleable. Yet this material is predominantly treated like masonry and coerced into flatness.

Ellen Hearle is taking a different approach to the way we use concrete in building façades. Her iLab is an investigation into how far the material can be pushed to generate a façade that breaks away from the use of concrete as mass to create a three dimensional façade that provides abundant light and views.

Using parametric modeling and digital fabrication tools she will determine a module and generate precast concrete formwork that results in efficient construction and encompasses what concrete should be – a three-dimensional material.

Office Building of the Future

One of four winners nationally, Hickok Cole Architects presented its vision of the Office Building of the Future at NAIOP’s Development 2012 Conference.

The team worked from the smallest scale, the workstation, to the largest scale, the office market. We resolved to study office building design comprehensively and from the inside out. Through these sessions we explored new transit-oriented developments, issues of workplace design, energy efficiency, structural materials, construction techniques, leading edge technologies, demographics and a myriad of other issues, forces and market drivers.

Three critical issues emerged that we believed would drive the office of the future:

  • Human Need
  • Performance
  • Construction and Fabrication

Want to learn more? Visit our portfolio page.



ULI Millennial Survey

The results are in and the numbers are compelling. ULI Washington presents the results of an in-depth survey on the lifestyle choices and preferences of Millennials, also known as Gen-Y, inside the beltway. Yolanda Cole, Senior Principal and ULI Washington Chair of Mission Advancement led ULI Washington in its survey of 1,344 DC Metro Millennials.

Washington, DC has the 6th highest Millennial population in the country and this cohort currently makes up 38% of the DC area workforce. The ULI study was conducted to provide business, the real estate industry and local jurisdictions with data to help them craft strategies, policies to accommodate this population as they age and for families.

Click here to download a copy of the report.

If you are interested in a presentation, please contact Melanie De Cola.