We’re committed to our role in securing a bright future for the next generation and stand alongside our industry partners to advocate for the urgent change needed to get there. This change requires constant and intentional learning by all parties involved–and transparency of lessons learned and impact achieved to help us get to smarter and more sustainable solutions faster. Our High-Performance Hot List leverages market research and project expertise for a holistic overview of the major high-performance strategies driving our collective response to climate change in hopes that today’s firsts become tomorrow’s standard. So read up, meet up, and let’s do this–together!
Stay tuned for latest info and efforts changing the way we work for the health of our people and planet. Want to learn more? Connect with us today.
Passive House is a thorough and comprehensive certification process designed to reduce a building’s energy consumption by an average of 40-60% over its lifetime. Contrary to what the name suggests, Passive House isn’t just for single-family homes and offers a greater potential for energy reduction in large multifamily and commercial projects. Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC®) Kate Braswell addresses the certification’s biggest misconceptions and what developers interested in leveraging its principles should consider instead.
Having seen its potential for the environment and our client’s bottom line, we’re eager to mainstream mass timber in the building industry. Senior Designers Tom Corrado and John Lang describe what’s next for this sustainable material and why local government is crucial to securing its future.
Tour 80 M Street with Senior Designer Tom Corrado for insight into the project’s design and development process. Watch as Tom describes the deciding factor that ultimately led to creating Washington, DC’s first mass timber office renovation.
A net zero energy (NZE) building maximizes energy efficiency, consuming only as much as energy as it produces through renewable sources. To deliver the first net zero energy renovation in the District, Senior Designer and Director of Sustainability and High-Performance Design Gui Almeida worked with the American Geophysical Union project team to test dozens of sustainable strategies before landing on a custom mix, ideal for the headquarter’s urban environment.
Embodied carbon accounts for a significant portion of the building industry’s greenhouse gas emissions yet remains an afterthought in most climate action discussions. As building policy and code evolve to include more stringent sustainability requirements, our partners share what the industry can do to move the needle towards carbon neutrality and net zero carbon projects today.
It’s generally assumed low carbon materials, including alternatives to steel and concrete, come at a premium–but we weren’t convinced. Design Director Elba Morales and Senior Project Architect Kerron Miller set out to test the true cost of embodied carbon on a real project site in Washington, DC. What they discovered has challenged their approach to material selection entirely.
Passive House is a comprehensive certification process designed to significantly reduce a building’s energy consumption over its lifetime by an average of 40-60%. Detailed modeling of energy gains and losses takes into account a project’s location and climate, envelope area, occupant density, and other factors to determine the best strategy to achieve PHIUS certification goals.
Though the number of Passive House projects continues to rise, the certification process is not yet considered mainstream. Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC®) and Associate Kate Braswell is on a mission to change that. In honor of Earth Month, Kate shares five common myths about Passive House and what to consider instead before pursuing PHIUS certification on your next project.
MYTH #1: Passive House is just for single-family homes
The term Passive House is actually a misnomer. While the certification can be applied to single-family homes (and is all over the world), it has greater potential for energy reduction in larger commercial and multifamily projects—even high-rises.
In fact, Passive House strategies are very well suited to small-to-medium density multifamily projects, with wood-frame buildings offering a unique advantage over their more thermally conductive steel or concrete counterparts. Likewise, the utility structure of affordable housing projects lends itself well to centralized systems with an efficient distribution. Many jurisdictions have gained a lot of traction by offering tax credits or similar subsidized funding strategies for sustainable and equitable housing.
MYTH #2: Passive House only benefits the environment
Stringent construction and quality assurance processes are inherent to Passive House certification. This includes a precise combination of envelope detailing and ventilation strategies to reduce the need for extraneous heating and cooling products while improving durability. While this might present a challenge for the architectural team (one we’re up to!), it creates a series of unexpected benefits for building occupants, including premium indoor air quality, unmatched comfort regardless of exterior conditions, and more predictable utility costs.
MYTH #3: It’s more expensive than typical building processes
The cost of Passive House has reduced significantly thanks to a recent expansion in market adoption and will continue on that path as more owners and developers adopt it for their buildings. Furthermore, market demand for increased energy-efficient window and door options is driving down cost premiums. To date, the overall cost increase in multifamily is only 0-3% over a building built to Energy Star baseline.
Passive House design principles—including an airtight envelope and a balanced heat-and-moisture recovery system—produce a durable building that’s resilient to extreme weather conditions. Subsequently, Passive House buildings require minimal long-term maintenance and system replacements, providing owners with impactful cost savings over time.
MYTH #4: Passive House and Net Zero Energy are the same thing
Net Zero Energy is more of an umbrella term used to describe the balance of a building’s energy use. Passive building principles focus on reducing operational energy through envelope and ventilation strategies at the building scale. From there, the road to zero is much shorter. In fact, PHIUS now has a PHIUS Zero certification to provide a roadmap for energy independence.
MYTH #5: Passive House certification is too complicated
Well, this isn’t exactly a misconception. As with any new endeavor, achieving goals is best done when all parties are present early. The first step is to engage a Certified Passive House Consultant (like Kate!) to act as the tour guide and liaison with PHIUS throughout the design and construction process. From there, getting all parties—the owner, architect, engineers, and general contractor—to align and test strategies together is key to a cohesive process from design to delivery.
INTERESTED IN PURSUING PASSIVE HOUSE CERTIFICATION FOR YOUR NEXT PROJECT?CONNECT WITH KATE.
Our iLAB microgrant program exists to promote research and innovation by investing in our team’s passion and curiosity to inform our Design for What’s Next culture. More a creative outlet beyond project work, iLAB explorations have served as the spark behind some of our most forward-focused work, including the net zero energy renovation of American Geophysical Union’s headquarters and the mass timber addition at 80 M Street—both major milestones for us and our region.
After a short hiatus (thanks, COVID), we’re proud to say that iLAB is back and better than ever. This year’s applicants inspired us with renewed energy and a shared focus on work that matters across a variety of scales. And after our traditional all-staff vote, the people have spoken and selected two winning topics with the potential to change the way we look at what goes into our projects when it comes to materials and uses. Without further ado, we are thrilled to announce this year’s iLAB winners. We invite you to learn more about their research in their own words and follow along with us all year as they make progress towards their goals.
In her iLAB, Emily Everhope will explore manufacturing standards in the interior design marketplace, with a particular focus on ethical and Fair Trade practices to uncover the standards and stories behind the products we use. Emily’s goal is to establish a methodology that empowers the design community to discern and uphold best practices in material manufacturing and selection.
We forget that people are part of the natural environment and the more that we can connect with that, the mores sustainable everything will be.
Emily Everhope, Interior Designer
Leveraging their research on building types, zoning, and program adjacencies, iLab teammates Katherine Dorseyand Jack Lynch seek to define the future of vertical mixed-use developments. Katherine and Jack plan to create two market-specific prototypes that apply strategies designed to consider all stakeholders and support adaptation and building resiliency as needs evolve.
It’s valuable to do this kind of work because it gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to pushing the firm forward and to feel a sense of ownership.
Just last month, over 1,300 tons of mass timber arrived on site at 80 M Street in Washington, DC’s Capitol Riverfront district. Having completed its journey from the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Canada, the timber was hoisted atop the commercial office building and, over the course of a few short months, will result in 105,000-SF of additional leasable tenant and amenity space. The 80 M Street renovation, the District of Columbia’s first mass timber and glass vertical expansion project, is a triumph for a number of reasons, the most crucial of which is its signaling to the real estate industry the possibility for further development of its kind.
The culmination of extensive research and a lengthy entitlement process including the approval for code modifications and community review, 80 M Street came to fruition under the guidance of a client with vision and the collaboration of an invested project team who saw the sustainable material’s long-term potential. And the potential is endless, insists the senior designer behind 80 M Street, Tom Corrado, LEED AP, who, in partnership with John Lang, AIA, a senior associate at Hickok Cole, has been exploring the next opportunity for mass timber development in DC.
“We’re at a point where every conversation we have with a client begins with mass timber,” Tom stated. Having witnessed the rise in remote workers this past year, and well aware of the housing crisis in the District, Tom and John venture that timber could reconcile these issues.
“Residential construction is primed for timber, especially when you need housing fast,” comments John. Having specialized in residential design throughout his tenure at Hickok Cole, John is an advocate for affordable and attainable housing and sees it as timber’s next step. “The module for housing is smaller than office and timber construction excels on shorter structural systems. Better still, mass timber comes in pre-fabricated panels that speed up construction and reduce the amount of labor on-site. Consequently, that usually means improved quality control.” With labor costs skyrocketing and skilled labor dwindling, this could ultimately help drive down or at least steady rent prices, he pointed out.
“Not to mention the biophilic element and connection to nature these residences would provide,” adds Tom. “Humans are not meant to live in these 600-SF boxes. We need access to greenery and sunlight. And just being surrounded by wood accomplishes that – it’s definitely better for you than concrete and dry wall.”
With the increased attention to health and wellness due to the pandemic, John explains, it’s obvious that the housing industry will require a shift as well. “That includes everything from better HVAC systems and ventilation to availability of outdoor amenities and remote work accommodations. But, we’ve also seen how drastically our presence impacts the planet. With nowhere to go this past year, the roads were clearer and so were the skies – we can’t ignore that.”
It’s true that our definition of a healthy lifestyle has expanded to include a focus on climate change and reducing our carbon footprint – and that of buildings. It’s especially true when you consider that the construction and building industry accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions annually. Not only is wood the only building material that is 100% renewable but as they grow, forests actually sequester nearly 13% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions per year. As a result, buildings made from wood store that carbon throughout their lifespans.
The case for timber is clear and has been made countless times. So, if it seems so obvious, then why has it been so challenging convincing developers and building owners to pursue mass timber construction? As is usual with the early stages of any new technology, the biggest hurdles are cost and the associated risks (including a decent learning curve in this case) with being the first. But, as Tom points out, we’re not the first. We’re not even close – at least not globally. In fact, most of Europe and Canada, and even parts of Asia, including China despite its robust steel economy, have been investing in the material for some time now. In West Coast states like California and Washington, where timber is easily accessible and often cheaper, experimenting with timber in a variety of project types including schools, hotels, and even entertainment venues began almost a decade ago.
“We’re looking into medical office buildings as well,” Tom added. “There’s been a shift in the medical community away from single practitioners occupying a portion of a larger building towards several providing care under one roof. We predict folks will be going to a single location for all their health and wellness needs in the future so why not create a better environment and improve the user experience holistically?” Mass timber can improve air quality and acoustics, and has been proven to elicit a positive human response from occupants.
Now that timber has made it to the nation’s capital, the question remains: how can we propel the timber movement forward? Cutting down costs is one way – but that comes with increased supply. One of the biggest factors contributing to the premium on wood is limited resources on the East Coast. “We need to make the case for forests on this side of the country. Areas in the northeast like Maine and Vermont are well suited for it,” says John.
The next step is understanding the International Building Code and navigating jurisdictional zoning laws and safety regulations. “Form your project team early on, involve local representatives and jurisdictions right away, and educate the community,” Tom suggests. “Every project is different, but it only takes a few early adopters to remove uncertainty from the equation.” From there, he says, the knowledge is public, and you now have a pool of experts who can take the lead on the entitlement process or negotiating code modifications, as needed.
“It’s true that sustainability alone isn’t enough of a motive for development to occur, especially if the dollars don’t lean in your favor,” says John. “And developers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of these costs. That’s why it’s crucial to have an open dialogue with your jurisdiction.” Putting your cards on the table and seeing how your goals align can prompt the introduction of sustainable incentive programs, tax credits, grants, and other forms of government support.
“The results are in on timber. We should no longer be concerned with early adoption,” Tom contended. “In fact, our biggest risk is being last to get on board.”
Want to explore mass timber for your next project? Contact Laura Roth, Director of Business Development, to schedule a conversation with the team.
High-performance housing is on the rise and, with it, an overwhelming number of green building certification programs designed to target specific standards and sustainability measures. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, for the real estate community, the strategies outlined in these programs have more tangible advantages too. Commitments to green practices can differentiate properties from a design perspective and establish a market edge, resulting in less long-term investor risk. Beyond fulfilling code requirements, pursuing certification status substantiates mission and brand values, communicating an authentic culture to stakeholders. Finally, they deliver residents and tenants with a healthy interior environment, one that positively impacts their overall happiness and wellbeing – essential qualities in the post-pandemic marketplace.
So, whether it’s meeting local sustainability guidelines, reducing energy consumption (and cost), or prioritizing the health of occupants, there’s a program to meet your building’s needs. Here’s a rundown of the basics to get you started.
Run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Star certification program focuses on energy efficiency and reducing waste in buildings. The government-backed program offers consumers and building-owners a catalog of information on cost-effective products, services, and tools that help measure and improve building performance. Energy Star certified buildings feature high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, complete thermal enclosures, water protection systems, and efficient lighting and appliances that provide cost savings to building owners and residents alike.
Originally created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and U.S. General Services Administration, Fitwel is a leading certification system that integrates scientific and sustainable solutions into the design process to promote health and wellbeing in buildings and communities. The Fitwel Standard is a tailored scorecard that provides a path towards certification status for existing and new buildings and sites. Projects can achieve three levels of Fitwel status based on a point system addressing Fitwel’s Seven Health Impact Categories—including, Impacts Surrounding Community Health, Supports Social Equity for Vulnerable Populations, Enhances Access to Health Foods, etc. Points are awarded according to which Fitwel strategies are applied. Strategies coincide with the Health Impact Categories and are categorized into 12 sections from location and outdoor space to water supply and vending machines/snack bars. The program is designed to be user-friendly and customizable with all strategies voluntary and no prerequisites required for eligibility.
Recognized worldwide, LEED is one of the most commonly used programs, providing a comprehensive framework for achieving healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. LEED places emphasis on the end-user and urges the building community to focus on their health and safety as much as improving construction practices, efficiency, and material use. A flexible set of metrics allow all building types and phases, including interior fit outs and core and shell, to target various levels of certification status depending on energy and water usage, waste, maintenance, air quality, and comfort. Additionally, LEED engages occupants to contribute and decrease consumption. For example, encouraging they take the stairs over using the elevator by placing them in a convenient location or accommodating bikers with storage options to reduce the number of residents commuting by car. Each LEED level – from certified to platinum – makes greater improvements to promote building, occupant, and environmental health.
The RELi rating system and leadership standard takes a proactive and holistic approach to resilient design, specifically in relation to the increased frequency of natural disasters and changes in weather as a result of climate change. Used by companies, developers, city planners, architects, bond insurers and more, RELi involves the entire community to assess and adapt vulnerable structures, taking preventative measures to ensure building’s can physically withstand natural disasters. In addition to mitigating hazards to buildings, the RELi system takes the preparedness of entire communities into account. Success is measured according to how quickly they can recover following unplanned events (including economic disruption and resource depletion). From preparing emergency supplies and acquiring back-up renewable-powered generators to thoughtful site selection and durability, RELi outlines the necessary steps building owners and leaders can take to future-proof communities and improve quality of life in a changing world.
WELL is a globally recognized performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being. WELL identifies 100 performance metrics, design strategies, and policies that can be implemented by owners, designers, engineers, contractors, users, and operators of a building. Consisting of eight categories—air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind—the WELL Building Standard bridges the gap between human and environmental health, recognizing that a strategy benefiting one will likely benefit the other. For example, increasing access to natural sunlight reduces energy consumption while improving productivity, mood levels, and circadian rhythm. While similar to FitWel, WELL places greater emphasis on the built environment and how it impacts human quality of life. Unlike Fitwel, to be eligible for WELL certification, projects must fulfill a set of prerequisites including several addressing air quality and filtration, water quality, ergonomics, and accessibility. Additionally, the documentation process is more rigorous with several strategies requiring applicants meet target measurements and produce data to support claims. Finally, to achieve WELL certification, the space must undergo an on-site assessment and performance testing by a third party.
The Passive House Institute US., Inc. (PHIUS) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. Its certification program, PHIUS+ is the leading program in North America and the only one that combines a thorough passive house design verification protocol with a stringent Quality Assurance/Quality Control program performed onsite. The high-performance building standard challenges the industry to construct buildings that can maintain a comfortable indoor environment with very low operating energy. Certification indicates an energy efficient building design modeled using location-specific climate data and occupant behavior based on three pillars: limits on heating/cooling loads, limits on source energy use, required air-tightness and other prescriptive requirements. The latest version accounts for how occupant density and envelope-to-floor-area-ratio influence heating and cooling load limits. While the program is stringent and requires precertification review as well as third-party on-site quality assurance checks, PHIUS+ is considered a legitimate path to achieving net zero energy and offers tremendous long-term benefits to the occupant and owner. Its air-tight construction reduces moisture and mold issues, while heat recovery ventilation systems improve indoor air quality, while no thermal bridges make for a comfortable interior environment.
Developed by the International Living Future Institute, the Living Building Challenge is a performance standard for buildings that uses a regenerative design framework focused on maximizing positive impacts specific to a project’s place, community, and culture. Described as regenerative and self-sufficient, the ideal living building is informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, generates all of its own energy through renewable sources, captures and treats all of its water, and operates efficiently while being aesthetically beautiful. The Living Building Standard is continuously informed by current realities and project work as Institute staff monitor and make adjustments based on changes in the field and market. The Challenge assumes typical best practices are currently instituted for a project to begin the certification process. To achieve certification, projects must address aspects of all seven performance categories, known as Petals, which are subdivided into twenty Imperatives, including energy and carbon reduction, net positive waste, education and inspiration, access to nature, etc. Alternatively, projects can achieve Petal Certification for completing all imperatives under a specific Petal or category.
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC),LEED Zero moves beyond LEED certification to provide a framework for high-performance buildings and spaces and reduced greenhouse gas emissions through a comprehensive set of strategies impacting land, waste, materials, and more. There are four categories of LEED Zero including Carbon, Energy, Water, and Waste. To pursue certification, projects must be LEED certified under a BD+C or O+M rating system. Under USGBC, LEED Zero Carbon certification recognizes buildings operating with net zero carbon emissions over the course of the past year. LEED Zero Energy recognizes buildings or spaces that achieve a source energy use balance of zero over a period of 12 months. LEED Zero Water recognizes buildings that achieve a potable water use balance of zero over a period of 12 months.LEED Zero Waste recognizes buildings that achieve GBCI’s TRUE Zero Waste certification at the Platinum level.
Interested in pursuing green building certification for your space? Contact Laura Roth, Director of Business Development to speak with our high performance design experts.
Set to begin immediately and completed by September 30, 2021, the grant will facilitate early design assistance supporting the analysis of embodied carbon for Building Number 2 on Parcel 17 at Saint Elizabeths. Embodied carbon will be tracked and priced in three structural systems and building envelope details, thereby providing Redbrick LMD with sufficient data to minimize embodied carbon in the project at hand. Long-term, these insights will offer members in the local development community a model for assessing embodied carbon in their own projects. The ultimate goal is to establish a broader framework for future building valuation, including the development of carbon neutrality resources, policies, and code.
“We’re honored to be the recipients of this grant and to have the support of the DOEE once again. It’s a privilege to be selected to contribute our research and insights towards achieving DC’s progressive climate goals,” said Holly Lennihan, RA, LEED AP, Senior Associate and Director of Sustainable Design at Hickok Cole. “We’re especially thankful for forward-focused partners like Redbrick who are committed to promoting sustainable development and pursuing decarbonization strategies to secure a bright future for this historic campus.”
The project team includes structural engineers from Arup and high-performance construction experts from DPR. Arup will take the lead on documenting the structure with low embodied carbon concrete and cross-laminated timber; Hickok Cole will generate building façade details with similar criteria. Data will be managed using modeling software, One Click LCA. Following this study, DPR will conduct a cost comparison of the three structural assemblies. Final project deliverables include a report summarizing the activities undertaken in pursuit of reducing embodied carbon, a copy of the Life Cycle Analysis, and standard information contribution towards an official case study.
The announcement comes following Holly Lennihan’s appointment to the Advisory Board at the DC Building Innovation Hub, where she will act as one of the primary high-performance design experts. Under her leadership, Holly and her team have won a series of state and federal grants focused on sustainability, resilience, and urban ecological systems including a $20,000 grant to explore net-zero energy potential for 800 9th Street in July of last year.
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 some of the area’s leading sustainable projects, including the American Geophysical Union’s net zero energy renovation and 80 M Street SE, the first mass timber commercial renovation in the District.
Much like the rest of the world, the coworking industry had a tumultuous 2020. Coming off the heels of WeWork’s collapse in 2019, it entered straight into a pandemic that didn’t exactly welcome strangers working in close quarters. But, over a year later, with vaccine rollouts moving at warp speed, coworking’s future is bright once again. The pillars that make up the original model – community, flexibility, and convenience – are exactly what the workforce is seeking in their return to the physical. In fact, according to CBRE, 82% of companies will favor buildings that offer flexible office space and shared meeting space, especially as they test out long-term hybrid work policies.
That’s not to say coworking won’t look different upon our return. The original model provided tenants a standard set of amenities designed to appeal to a wide audience, a catch-all strategy that didn’t consider industries requiring more tailored solutions. This next generation addresses what the modern workforce craved throughout the pandemic and accelerates the trends driving coworking well before: hyper-niche, hyper-curated spaces that attract and cater to targeted tenant types.
Communities seeing some of the most exciting new offerings are smaller markets like Richmond responding to the ongoing influx of mobile workers and creative talent migrating out of major cities. Our local team of coworking experts – Studio Director, Jessica Zullo, NCIDQ, IIDA, Senior Designer, Patrick Gegen, and Interior Designer, Jordan Camp, IIDA – share some of the trends and providers helping shape the post-pandemic flexible office landscape in RVA.
The Home Grown Hero
Beyond serving as office space, coworking is leaning hard into its ability to foster a sense of belonging within communities, seeking to expand opportunities for member bonding outside of the 9-5 window – especially for those new to the area. Convenience, inspirational design, and dynamic programming that serve member interests are key. At Gather, the Richmond-based coworking platform, each location pays homage to the city with design details specific to the individual neighborhood and its history. Programming caters to their membership of start-ups and entrepreneurs while engaging with the community through cross-promotion of local brands or Richmond-based services. Some examples include headshots by a local photographer or pop-up gallery events that feature local artists and provide a unique venue for members to meet with clients.
Following a year (or what feels like decades) in near isolation, many are anxious to make up for lost time. Richmond’s Common House, a local gathering and social hub, offers a coworking model emphasizing exclusivity on top of convenience and shared interests. Their members-only cultural experiences are designed for entertainment – spa and fitness services, wine tastings, live music, fine dining – all offered under one roof. These curated environments act as third places for both business and social pursuits, injecting creativity and lifestyle into the work experience to expose clients and colleagues to an additional layer of brand identity, status, and personality.
The Test Kitchen
Though essential to a typical coworking environment, the standard combo of open office, private huddle rooms, and shared conference amenities overlook the needs of entire industries – industries whose membership would benefit from specialty tools, technology, and spaces they don’t bear the brunt to finance and maintain. One of our favorite new examples is food hall, Hatch Local at The Current, a Richmond-based residency program catering to a rotation of food and beverage startups under one roof. Off the heels of a pandemic that made the restaurant industry particularly vulnerable, this coworking concept allows up-and-coming chefs and entrepreneurs to conduct market research and gather intel from consumers in a high-traffic area before committing to a retail front of their own. Members also have access to a commercial kitchen, office, and storage space as well as mentorship and advisory opportunities.
Beyond physical resources, the networking and mentorship opportunities available in a coworking environment grow ten-fold when offered among like-minded professionals. At the Collaboratory of Virginia (CVA), nonprofit organizations work alongside each other in a neutral shared space designed to facilitate innovation and collaboration among members and prioritize efficient use of networks and resources. In addition to receiving consultation or mentorship, members benefit from the exchange of information and experiences of others within a shared community which helps build stronger platforms by uniting support around similar causes.
Remote work has granted us an unprecedented level of flexibility – in our schedules, our furniture, and just about every inch of our lives. Untethered to our desks, we can work from anywhere, in our beds or at the beach. Even as we return to the physical workplace, that level of independence remains of paramount importance and some professionals will maintain the transient habits they’ve grown accustomed to. To accommodate those workers, we anticipate a greater need for coworking locations that offer daily or even hourly rates for drop-in guests.
On-demand services like LiquidSpace, connect professionals directly with a temporary desk or office space in the city of their choosing, including our fan favorite, Gather. This agile model serves mobile professionals with tasks that require focus like participating in an interview or when they need specific tools like photocopiers. Even workers who do have a designated office space may look for a third-space or touch-down location for off-site collaboration or retreats. Finally, short-term rentals allow coworking brands to capture unleashed space while exposing them to a new set of clientele, ones that could easily convert to long-term members down the line. Because now we know that so long as there’s Wi-Fi, nothing can stand in our way.
From visioning with clients and designers to coordinating with fabricators and artists, Rebecca Kelly, Art Director for Hickok Cole Creative, and our resident Experiential Graphic Design (EGD) expert, orchestrates a team of creatives to bring delightful, educational, and emotionally compelling content to every project. Today, Rebecca shares her insights on the value of thoughtful EGD strategies and why right now is an excellent time to reevaluate how brand is expressed throughout your space.
Understanding Experiential Graphic Design
Simply put, Experiential Graphic Design is the intersection of graphic design and the built environment. By communicating through a variety of static and digital graphics and content solutions including signage, wayfinding systems, and artwork, EGD brings environments to life with engaging and memorable experiences.
Whether it’s through a welcoming reception experience, interactive exhibits, or a colorful mural, the main driver behind EGD is to improve day-to-day experiences for the end-user. In a corporate environment, EGD contributes to overall satisfaction and improves retention by reminding employees of their value and the many ways they contribute to their organization’s overall mission and culture.
As employers look towards a return to the physical office, Rebecca recommends they reflect on their evolution over the past year working remotely and whether the incorporation of EGD strategies could make the transition back more comfortable for their team. “Think: How has this time away changed our culture and what can we do to re-unify and motivate employees?” she suggests. “This is an opportunity to generate excitement and give them something to look forward to. Something that makes them proud when they step back into the workplace environment. Being back will feel like a luxury.” She adds that it’s okay to start small like, “procuring new art that supports your company culture or prominently displaying your mission statement in a high-traffic area.” However subtle, what’s important is that these visual cues connect to the brand and evoke a sense of place and community.
Likewise, EGD can help distinguish multi-family properties. A branded lobby is an expression of the residence and provides a glimpse at a potential lifestyle. “There’s definitely a cool-factor associated with certain design concepts,” Rebecca adds. “You’re signifying a brand and creating a place that resonates so that by the third or fourth apartment tour, prospective residents can easily recall the details that made your property special.”
Going Beyond Signage
A common misconception is that EGD focuses solely on graphics and signage but it’s really the whole experiential package and can extend to the subtlest of details. Often, the EGD team seeks elements from the interior design they can respond to in their marketing materials and collateral. Sourcing inspiration from the texture and materiality of a design concept and re-interpreting them for graphic assets creates another touch point that reinforces or complements the brand.
In some instances, uncommon materials can be woven into experiential design. Patterns, tactile elements, and origin all have a story to tell. Rebecca recalls working with a GSA client to source fabrics from the various countries that they serve as a way to layer authenticity into the project. These colorful textiles became featured elements in an exhibit design, creating an emotional connection for teams to their shared purpose. Other examples of expressing your brand include using sustainably sourced, recycled, or local materials. “These small details combine to tell a cohesive story and a tangible articulation of your brand. It’s about practicing what you preach,” she adds.
While EGD is an effective storytelling tool, sometimes it’s a matter of bringing beauty into a space, making it a cooler and more enjoyable experience. A parking garage is the perfect blank slate and often-missed opportunity to bring a brand to life. To complement the multifamily marketing package for Kingston McLean Crossing, hand-painted botanical murals were located at each level for wayfinding and improved resident experience.
A Cohesive Story: From Start to Finish
For maximum impact, plan to engage a creative team early in the design process. “When we work together with the design teams early on, we’re able to weave storytelling opportunities into the design in a more integral way,” explains Rebecca. “Each decision informs another and through collaboration, we’re able to trigger creative innovation and expose opportunities to strengthen the entire experience.”
Each touch point serves a purpose. Throughout the design process, think about the end-user and envision their perception of the environment. Consider how they might interact with it and how each touchpoint might make them feel. The most effective EGD projects are human-centric. Whether attracting a future resident, communicating with an employee, or welcoming a guest, EGD serves to immerse people in an engaging and custom environment designed to educate, orient, inspire, and entertain.
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.”
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, Buying Art: 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.”