Clark Nexsen https://www.clarknexsen.com Architecture & Engineering Wed, 15 Dec 2021 20:57:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 K-12 Design: Career & Technical Education Spaces that Improve Student Outcomes https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-k-12-design-career-technical-education-spaces-that-improve-student-outcomes/ Tue, 23 Nov 2021 00:29:49 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=20188 According to a 2019 study by the U.S. Department of Education, students who focused on career and technical education (CTE) during high school had higher annual median earnings eight years after graduation than students who did not. That compelling statistic…

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CTE spaces; Clark NexsenAccording to a 2019 study by the U.S. Department of Education, students who focused on career and technical education (CTE) during high school had higher annual median earnings eight years after graduation than students who did not. That compelling statistic foretells the importance of CTE experiences and the valuable skill sets these programs help students develop. In the following, Clark Nexsen’s K-12 experts Becky Brady and Julie Leary share key considerations for designing successful CTE environments:

Career and technical education classes have been around for a long time, but don’t be fooled – these are not the woodshop or home economics programs of the past. To coincide with current and future student needs, today’s CTE programs constantly evolve and range widely from computer and automotive technologies to cosmetology, agriculture, and culinary arts. While many students graduate from these programs ready for in-demand careers, the critical problem-solving and communication skills that are developed through CTE add tremendous value across all future education or career plans. Designing successful CTE spaces requires a thorough understanding of program needs and how those impact location, infrastructure, systems – which all coalesce to provide an ideal learning experience for K-12 students.

Optimizing Program Adjacencies & Locations

The physical environment heavily influences the success of CTE programs based on how well it accommodates students’ needs and addresses important design considerations like adjacencies and future flexibility. Many factors need to be considered early in design, including location, size, and infrastructure.

Capitalizing on natural program synergies by locating class types that can work in tandem near each other is one of the most powerful ways to elevate the CTE experience for students. This methodology leverages the proximity of labs and classrooms to engage students in meaningful project-based learning. For example, a student may develop an idea in drafting class, construct it in carpentry, and learn how to market it in yet another class – a technology-enriched collaborative experience that brings their skill set full circle. By locating these labs, classes, and collaboration spaces close together, students benefit from a cohesive and cross-disciplinary learning experience. The relationship of these program elements within the school promotes creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication: the 4C’s of 21st century education.

Similarly, separate CTE programs with potential for collaboration can also leverage natural synergies to the benefit of their students. At Apex High School, a “farm-to-table” program capitalizes on a partnership between the agricultural and culinary arts programs. Vegetables grown in the school greenhouse are incorporated in recipes, which are shared with students and staff at the Palm Leaf Café: a student-run eatery that markets its goods to the cafeteria and courtyard lunch crowd. The agriculture and culinary arts classrooms flank the cafeteria and both open onto an active courtyard. The proximity of these programs and their locations within the school enhance the learning environment and student engagement.

CTE spaces at Apex High School; Architect: Clark Nexsen

The greenhouse and commercial teaching kitchen support Agricultural Technologies and Culinary Arts programming at Apex High School.

The location of CTE spaces and hands-on learning labs should be looked at holistically in the greater context of the school and based on the programs’ individual requirements. For example, programs such as firefighting and automotive technology are best suited to ground-level spaces, as are those with heavy equipment or regular deliveries of raw materials. These ground-level requirements typically have a substantial impact on site design and should be considered early in the design process.

Fire protection technology space at Innovative High School.

Fire protection technology space at Innovative High School.

Considering Spatial Needs & Infrastructure

Spaces that support career and technical education generally have more stringent spatial requirements than typical classrooms, calling for dedicated areas for teaching and hands-on experimentation. Machinery, equipment, and lab activity influence the volume and floor area necessary.

For example, a structural high bay space is necessary to support an automotive technology program with auto lifts and other large equipment. From a structural perspective, the weight of program equipment should be considered, as heavy equipment could require additional support. Understanding which CTE programs involve noise-producing activities is important, as well. Higher volumes like high bay spaces can also help dissipate excessive noise for louder programs. The appropriate mitigation of sound transfer ensures that other, nearby learning activities in the school can go on undisturbed.

Planning appropriate and flexible infrastructure is also critical when designing CTE spaces. The equipment and materials needed for each program will vary, and the space provided should be specific to the needs of the individual program. Some may require dedicated mechanical or plumbing equipment, for example, while dust collectors are often required for programs that create dust and debris to ensure healthy air quality is maintained.

CTE spaces; Clark Nexsen

Left: High bay automotive technology space at Apex High School. Right: Students preparing electrical circuits in Carpentry lab at Apex High School.

The mechanical, electrical, and plumbing requirements are demanding for CTE spaces and must provide maximum flexibility for current and future connectivity requirements. In a typical classroom, power and data outlets are often located on a wall closer to the floor, but this may not be appropriate for a computer technology class with various equipment, or a carpentry class where cords could be tripped over. More appropriately, these should be located higher on the wall for easier access, or better yet, power supply through overhead busbar or cord reels can offer even more flexibility to move equipment or establish different work zones. Enabling Wi-Fi is another way to maximize flexibility, connectivity, and reduce tripping hazards. Technology will continue to advance during a school building’s lifecycle, and the design of CTE classrooms and labs should be able to adapt to these changes.

Leveraging Design to Elevate CTE

K-12 school design plays an important role in improving the visibility of CTE programs, which is key to increasing awareness and encouraging active participation in hands-on learning. Placing windows along interior and exterior walls serves dual purposes of providing transparency into the lab activities and introducing natural light. This strategy showcases the exciting opportunities and hands-on learning offered by CTE programs.

Intentionally exposing a school’s systems for students to witness how building components work together enables the building to function as a teaching tool. For students of all ages, this visual connection to functional design reinforces a solid understanding of the important systems and technical skills needed in our world. At Conn Elementary School, in addition to exposed systems, the design integrates a window into a mechanical room that is labeled with descriptions of equipment and functions, enabling teachers and students to discuss how the system works in detail.

Window into a labeled mechanical room at Conn Elementary School.

Window into a labeled mechanical room at Conn Elementary School.

Starting Early with Hands-On Learning

While CTE classes have traditionally been available at the high school or post-secondary school level, a call for more hands-on, project-based education has moved into middle and elementary grade education as well. In recent years, a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), STEAM (STEM + arts), and STREAM (STEAM + robotics) programs influenced the inclusion of dedicated spaces for discovery in elementary and middle school designs. Maker spaces and learning labs in elementary and middle school form the foundation for future engagement in CTE and build critical thinking skills.

At the elementary level, maker spaces include various types of technology, building sets, laser cutters, 3D printers, robots, and basic tools for critical thinking. Students are often working together in groups, which develops communication skills while engaging with technology. At the middle school level, these active labs for hands-on learning may include more sophisticated tools or technologies to further student exploration. Like high school CTE spaces, it is important to ensure classrooms and hands-on, collaborative spaces are in close proximity. In educating the whole-student, these hands-on spaces reduce barriers to creativity and exploration while developing cross-disciplinary soft skills.

Maker space at Conn Elementary School.

Maker space at Conn Elementary School.

Improving Student Outcomes

Today’s CTE programs are inclusive of all students and have expanded beyond traditional programs to include culinary arts, agricultural technology, firefighting, mechatronics, robotics, drone aviation, and more. This rich variety of focus areas and the skill sets imparted by CTE prepare students for success regardless of their future path. Working with other students in a group setting with heightened hands-on learning develops universally applicable “soft skills” like communication and teamwork, in addition to exposing students to a variety of trades that may inform career interests. The strong foundation of collaboration and critical thinking supported by CTE increases social skills and problem-solving skills for students who enter the workforce immediately or after college.

Partnerships with local businesses and community colleges also position CTE students for success. Strong relationships with local industries and businesses often lead to material donations, apprenticeships, and permanent work opportunities. Some schools also offer services from CTE programs to the public, such as getting an oil change from an automotive technology student or a manicure from a cosmetology student. These opportunities give students the chance to “earn while they learn.”

Many high schools offer opportunities to earn college credit before graduation, typically through collaboration with nearby community colleges. For CTE students, close connections to community colleges with similar programs can also highlight a path to higher education. Reflecting the strong relationship between Henderson County Schools and Blue Ridge Community College, Henderson County’s Innovative High School is located directly on the BRCC campus. Through its Career Academy and Early College, Henderson County students have gained increased ability to earn college credit and seamlessly transition to BRCC’s programs following graduation. The results have been dramatic, with the Career Academy experiencing a 58% increase in graduation rate and an increase in the number of graduates who have earned college credit.

Innovative High School; Architect: Clark Nexsen

Exterior view and shared early college and career academy commons at Innovative High School.

We view all types of project-based and hands-on learning as invaluable for students, and CTE is the ultimate culmination of those strategies. Our K-12 practice leverages the ideas we’ve shared here to develop supportive learning environments that encourage exploration, inquiry, and manipulation. It is our goal to see all K-12 students thrive in their schools.


All photos by Mark Herboth Photography.


Becky Brady, AIA, CDT, LEED AP BD+C, is a senior architect and associate at Clark Nexsen with more than 15 years of design experience. Specializing in K-12 and educational design, she is passionate about school safety and served as a member of a national taskforce created by the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE) to study, vet, and consolidate school safety concepts.

Julie Leary, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a senior architect at Clark Nexsen with more than 10 years of experience largely focused on design for K-12 and higher education. She is recognized for her conscientious attention to detail at all scales, and her recent projects include Apex High School, South Lakes Elementary School, and Conn Elementary School.

 

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Designing Successful Renovations for Federal Clients https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-designing-successful-renovations-for-federal-clients/ Wed, 03 Nov 2021 04:58:01 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=20117 Renovation presents the opportunity to reimagine existing buildings, giving them new purpose and creating a better occupant experience. With President Biden emphasizing the United States’ responsibility to address climate change at home and abroad, renovation will be an important tool for…

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Naval Branch Health Clinic Medical Homeport in Groton, CTRenovation presents the opportunity to reimagine existing buildings, giving them new purpose and creating a better occupant experience. With President Biden emphasizing the United States’ responsibility to address climate change at home and abroad, renovation will be an important tool for reducing the carbon impacts of the built environment. Renovation reduces energy consumption in a number of ways: the embodied energy in the original structure, the energy used to demolish it, and new energy and materials to rebuild from scratch. Renovating federal facilities challenges design professionals to deliver needed square footage, functionality, and energy efficiency within a design solution that reflects the importance of the work taking place inside.

There is little more rewarding than transforming an existing space that isn’t functioning well into something unexpected and successful. Being ready for the complications of working within an existing building, understanding historic preservation, and getting creative when it comes to adding amenities are among our top tips for renovation success:

Working within an Existing Structure

From updating building infrastructure systems to meeting both the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, it is essentially universal for renovation projects to run into challenges related to designing within the existing structure. Modern accessibility and equipment require clearance space that can be hard to come by in older buildings. Conflicts in construction with unexpected as-built conditions are common, too. It is critical for the design team to be prepared to find speedy, creative solutions to these types of challenges.

In our work with the Veterans Administration, we often perform electrical coordination studies for VA hospitals, and the electrical distribution system architecture tends to require near full distribution replacement of NEC 700 and 701 systems to meet separation of systems and Selective Coordination requirements. One of the biggest challenges of working in existing facilities is being able to separate out the distribution branches into their respective systems and finding the physical space in the building to do so.

Preserving Historic Buildings

Historic buildings have stories to tell. Ensuring we preserve and honor those stories is critical to the success of historic renovation or preservation projects. Some instances may require a preservation specialist, but we also approach historic renovation projects armed with substantial knowledge. Our renovation of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Administration Building, which was designed in 1905 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, involved substantial historic design considerations.

Our design included repairs to the exterior façade, restoration of the original wood windows and doors, and repair and replacement of slate roofing and copper work. By working closely with the City of Annapolis and Maryland’s Historic Preservation Office, we were able to ensure this significant campus building will continue serving the USNA for years to come.

Meeting Sustainability Goals

From a sustainable design standpoint, renovation offers a long list of pros. Reimagining existing buildings typically preserves the existing structure, enabling designers to substantially reduce construction waste and new material demand. In terms of reducing embodied carbon, this is particularly impactful. As the Biden administration emphasizes efforts to reduce carbon emissions and fight global warming, reuse of the built environment through renovation will have an important role.


Learn more about embodied carbon in Tips & Tools for Law Carbon Lab Design


Having renovated hundreds of buildings for federal clients, we have found certain design considerations contribute the most to sustainability goals for a renovation project. Improving an existing building’s thermal envelope, integrating occupancy and daylight sensors, and implementing efficient new building systems are all key to reducing energy demand and operational cost. Rooftops also present opportunities to add features like solar photovoltaic panels to generate energy on site and green roofs to reduce the heat island effect.

sustainability in federal buildings

Pictured left, the Davis Barracks at West Point; Pictured right, the Defense Logistics Agency Headquarters.

We view sustainable design as simple best practice and have made it an integral part of all projects, joining high profile environmental initiatives including the AIA 2030 Commitment and the SE 2050 Challenge. Our Integrated Design approach and building science group are central to informing decisions that lead to high performance buildings.

Transforming Existing Space to Meet New Needs

While some look at an existing building and see constraints, we look at an existing building and see possibilities. Renovation can do remarkable things to reimagine existing spaces with new amenities that meet modern needs. Our portfolio includes renovations of federal office and administrative facilities, auditoriums, training, and healthcare spaces. For example, the Medical Homeport Clinic renovation at NSB, New London, is creating a more welcoming and efficient outpatient facility designed to prioritize patient-centered care.

In the case of the NAVSEA Humphreys Building renovation, the most critical project goal was to mitigate the emotional impact on the returning workforce following the tragic shooting on September 16, 2013. Our design team had primary responsibility for key design elements impacting this goal, including the creation of an interior memorial dedicated to those lost and affected by the tragedy, the enclosure of four existing atria, the cafeteria renovation, and the selection of new interior finishes.

federal renovations

To create a warmer, more welcoming environment and meet dual objectives for enhanced security, the historic atriums – previously open to the interior – were enclosed with a combination of glass curtainwall and wood veneer paneling, allowing transparency and minimizing noise and glare.

Coordinating Construction Phasing to Minimize Disruption        

In a renovation, construction is happening where people live, work, dine, or train, making careful phasing of the utmost importance. This involves helping clients determine the right swing space, which areas can be occupied and when, and providing connectivity for spaces that may remain occupied while others are being renovated. A NAVFAC project we recently wrote the RFP for involved renovating a large, five-story warehouse into an office building for roughly 1,500 people. In certain areas of the building an existing tenant was to remain (which already had full generator backup and large UPS system for their portion of the building). Reconnecting the existing tenant’s emergency systems while replacing the whole facility with an upgraded building service entrance switchboard and emergency system with two generators created quite a phasing challenge and life safety code analysis for new and existing occupant egress.


Contributors: Rachel Domencic, AIA, LEED AP; Sam Estep, PE, LEED AP; Chris Ankeny, PE, LC, LEED AP BD+C. To learn more about our federal design expertise, please contact Sam Estep at 757.455.5800 or sestep@clarknexsen.com.

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Q&A with Clark Nexsen Computational Designer Ryan Johnson https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-qa-with-clark-nexsen-computational-designer-ryan-johnson/ Thu, 21 Oct 2021 03:19:34 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=20077 Ryan Johnson, AIA, LEED AP, has been a champion of technology in architecture since teaching himself how to create a script in 2013. Today, as a dedicated computational designer, he believes great design ideas come first and the application of…

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Fitts-Woolard Hall at NC State: Architect & Engineer: Clark NexsenRyan Johnson, AIA, LEED AP, has been a champion of technology in architecture since teaching himself how to create a script in 2013. Today, as a dedicated computational designer, he believes great design ideas come first and the application of computational tools can elevate those ideas. Ryan is recognized in the industry as a practice technology expert, serving on AIA’s Technology in Architecture National Advisory Group since 2015 and as the chair in 2020. He shared the following thoughts about computational design, its value to clients, and what emerging tools interest him:

Q. How would you explain computational design to someone who is unfamiliar with it?

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A. In essence, it’s automating aspects of architectural design and our process by writing a computer script, or code. By building this type of logic into our design process, we gain the ability to rapidly access substantial project data and, more importantly, efficiently develop unique design solutions that are aligned with the client’s design goals.

Detail of a computer script used in computational design

Q. You led right into my next question – how does the use of computational design benefit our clients?

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A. There are a lot of ways computational design can benefit our clients. Cost is one; it enables us to find efficiency in design and use of materials. There is always a budget, so if the client is interested in a unique design feature, keeping the cost down on that part is critical while still doing something noteworthy. Computational design enables us to be very specific and accurate with quantities, which results in better pricing.

The benefit of a good data set is, in essence, that you don’t spend much time looking at it. You can answer the client’s question immediately and keep things moving.

data used in computational design

Computational tools benefit our clients in design – which is what I enjoy the most. Computational design enhances our ability to create better designs that are unique, buildable, and efficient with materials. And many computational tools plug into or are related to analysis – energy, daylight, and carbon analysis, which is information that influences the design solution and results in a more efficient building for the client.

Being able to use data to communicate information to clients and the design team is another big benefit. For example, in the programming phase, we have typically arduously worked out square foot allotments for different space types, and the process involves a lot of compromises. The data from computational design gives us the ability to show a stakeholder very quickly and clearly that they’re getting what they were promised in terms of space. On a large, complex project, this is especially valuable.

The benefit of a good data set is, in essence, that you don’t spend much time looking at it. You can answer the client’s question immediately and keep things moving.

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CASE STUDY: FITTS-WOOLARD HALL PUNCH LIST

Fitts-Woolard Hall at NC State: Architect & Engineer: Clark Nexsen

For the Fitts-Woolard Hall punch list, we leveraged data and data visualization to help us identify which rooms still needed to be punched and what items still needed to be completed in what areas. When you’re punching such a large building, it requires managing a team of architects, and realistically, you are going to have to skip around. It helped us and the contractor (SKANSKA) stay on top of what still needed to be done, and for NC State, it ensured nothing would be missed.


Q. If you had to pick one benefit of computational design that you feel is most important, what would it be?

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A. Because I’m an architect, it’s the architectural design aspect. Taking an idea, creating a script, and bringing that idea to life through computational design is what is most exciting to me. The tools enable us to deliver a design that is unique, aligned with the design intent, in budget, uses materials efficiently, and is verified as constructable. It also supports strong collaboration with contractors to understand and refine how that design element will be fabricated and ultimately work out issues in the field.

Right now, I’m working on an atrium design feature for one of our commercial clients. It will be the feature in their lobby, and the idea was inspired by their work. Of course, there’s a specific budget for it, so a lot of what I’m doing is figuring out what it actually looks like – how to make it align with the precedent idea – and then how is it buildable, how does it fit in budget. Using computational design, I can identify exactly how many linear feet of aluminum I can use, for example, and still be in budget. It really enables us to break down specifically what is achievable, which is a tremendous value.


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CASE STUDY: WAKE TECH PARKING DECK

Parking Deck 2 at Wake Tech: Architect: Clark Nexsen

When we designed the parking deck at Wake Tech, we designed this metal panel skin that was really striking visually, but when the project bid, we needed to find ways to bring the line item cost for the façade down. Because it was designed computationally, working with the contractor (SKANSKA), we were able to figure out how many square feet of stainless steel we could afford and then determine exactly how many panels that translated to. It saved weeks of redesign, and we hit the budget dead on while visualizing the look in real time. We were able to quickly explore different options, and ultimately added the fade out on the back side to reduce to the total number of panels but still achieve the design intent.


Q. Are there certain tools you prefer over others?

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A. The most commonly used tools are Grasshopper, which is the computational design tool in Rhino, and Dynamo, which is the computational design tool in Revit, and then Excel and Power BI. I prefer Grasshopper, but that’s because I’m an architect and I like to use computation for architecture. Dynamo is very useful for the documentation and data aspects of computational design, and the same is true of Excel and Power BI. Power BI in particular I like for creating visuals that help us communicate with our clients.

Q. Are there any emerging tools that you see adding a lot of value in the future?

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A. Yes. There are three I’ll mention because we are actively exploring them now. The first is Testfit, which is a tool that allows us to rapidly complete – you guessed it – testfits. If we’re looking at a site, for example, and we know we want to put 50,000 square feet of office space, 200 residential units with a specific mix of bedrooms, and adequate parking – you can input the information and this program will tell you, in minutes, in 3D, how big all that is going to be. It’s a day zero type of solution that makes it much faster to get a handle on the big picture.

The other two are somewhat similar. They are tools that are meant to connect other tools. For example, Speckle is trying to create a bridge between softwares. If I’m able to push my Revit geometry and Rhino geometry into a central database, that is a huge time saver.

Rhinoceros has created something called Rhino.Inside, which is really interesting. As I mentioned, Grasshopper is the computational tool inside Rhino, and Dynamo is in Revit. With Rhino.Inside Revit, I can launch Rhino from inside Revit, and because they’re now connected, I can pass information back and forth rather than using a go-between (like Excel).

Q. As a computational designer at Clark Nexsen, what does a typical day look like for you?  

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A. It varies quite a bit, but I would say there are three areas that I focus on. The first is supporting projects with whatever they need computationally – data, design, etc. This takes priority. A big part of my role is also automation and research; focusing on things that make our processes faster and more efficient. And the third is moving the needle in the firm for how we use and understand computation. Sometimes that means trainings or presentations, but often what helps other designers the most is working one-on-one and walking them through how to use certain tools. I’ll be working on my computer, while they work on theirs, which helps their understanding and competence with computational tools grow.

Ryan Johnson's desk

Q. Is there an optimal time in the design process for computational design to be leveraged?

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A. Computational design can add value to any project from the beginning, typically starting with data that helps us validate the program and communicate information. In design, it starts with an idea for an interesting element or façade, and then you refine that idea and sketch out scripts using precedent images. I like the following timeline for conveying how computational design can and should be integrated throughout the design phases:

timeline integrating use of computational design through the design phases

Once you’ve validated that the concept meets the project’s design intent, then you research how it will be built, what it’s made of – all the intricacies of making something constructable. I refine my scripts working with the construction manager and/or product reps. The last phase is confirming and validating the design.

Q. Do you have any advice for architecture students or young designers who are interested in computational design?  

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A. Ask yourself: why are you using it? Computational design should support the design concept and process, but it should not drive it. It can be easy, when you are adept with technology and appreciate it, to let the tech lead, but I think it’s very important that the idea, the design, comes first – then the tools augment that. I have found the most success when computation was the only way to achieve the design intent – whether to meet the project deadline, in how the design needed to be visualized and studied, or in how it was best documented.

Learn More About Ryan

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Top: Computational design was used with both the design of the monumental stairs and wood feature wall at NC State's Fitts-Woolard Hall. All project photos by Mark Herboth.

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Achieving Resiliency Through Integrated Design https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-achieving-resiliency-through-integrated-design/ Thu, 30 Sep 2021 16:56:47 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=20013 The latest report on climate change from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that our planet is warming faster than anticipated and is now on track to hit 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by early to mid-2030.…

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The latest report on climate change from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that our planet is warming faster than anticipated and is now on track to hit 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by early to mid-2030. What does that mean for the built environment? The world doesn’t end if we go past 1.5°C. However, every additional tenth of a degree makes extreme weather, sea level rise, and climate impacts on nature and people worse. Resilient design is becoming an imperative.

Planning for and responding to the effects of adverse shocks and stresses is typically what architects and engineers have always thought of as good standard design practices. These are generally defined by local building codes or through best practices. However, predicting future conditions raises a different set of challenges. Many localities have started to introduce new requirements for design parameters to account for climate change. For example, the District of Columbia recently published “Resilient Design Guidelines” to provide agencies, planners, owners, architects, and engineers guidelines for increasing the resilience of both new construction and renovations for buildings and other infrastructure. In general, the buildings and infrastructure at the greatest risk are those in vulnerable regions that are more likely to experience the effects of severe environmental changes.

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Although the concept of resilient design might seem straightforward, having an effective process for assessing risks, evaluating risk exposure, and making cost-effective, risk-informed decisions is the key to actually achieving a resilient built project. We apply an iterative approach (Integrated Design) to involve the entire team and develop effective strategies and solutions for our clients.

The following steps provide insight into the assessment, evaluation, pricing, and integration process that helps deliver more sustainable, resilient projects:

1. Assess risk exposure and prioritize risk.

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Both the design team and owner should be active participants during this process and provide insight regarding insurance and disaster recovery. At a minimum, code requirements for basic threats such as wind, fire, earthquakes, and flooding must be met. This process should also include a preliminary evaluation of shocks (hurricanes, earthquakes, heat waves, flooding, etc.), stresses (sea level rise, global warming, increased pollution, etc.), and their impact on infrastructure. Going deeper, it is important to identify areas where predictive measures can evaluate future climactic conditions.

For example, FEMA defines both 100-year and 500-year flood zones. Notably, FEMA’s flood modeling does not consider increased precipitation or sea level rise expected due to climate change, which could be upwards of six to seven feet by the year 2100 in some highly populated coastal areas.

Keeping new buildings out of flood hazard areas will eliminate or reduce the costs and environmental impacts of repairs and renovations resulting from flooding. Prioritizing risks from “most likely to occur” to “least likely to occur” over the asset’s lifespan can help identify vulnerabilities and assess prospective consequences.

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With 50% of the U.S. population living on the coast, sea level rise is and has been one of the highest profile environmental topics. The Hampton Roads area has been deemed the second most vulnerable location in the nation, after New Orleans, in terms of effects of sea level rise due to climate change. Here, the Climate Central Risk Screening Tool shows the land projected to be below annual flood level in 2090 for the Hampton Roads region.

2. Evaluate mitigation alternatives.

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Develop adaptive, alternative measures that consider feasibility, ability to recover, continuity of operations, sustainability, effectiveness in mitigation, and life cycle cost. This step includes considering the costs to continue the operations and maintenance of each strategy and compare it to the costs of the first resilience measures.

Some examples of discipline-specific mitigation measures may include:

  • Architectural: Site selection, placement, and elevation for storm resilience, wet and dry floodproofing for storm resilience, higher roof albedo and better building insulation for extreme heat resilience, higher wind rated roofs.
  • Electrical: Elevation of switch gear and equipment to accommodate flooding/sea level rise, watertight sealing of duct banks, conduits, or other penetrations to a structure below the SLR DFE, whether vacant, occupied, or abandoned, for storm resilience to mitigate pathways for floodwater intrusion, power redundancy, location of emergency generators and fuel supply.
  • Civil: Vertical alignment of roadways and railways to accommodate sea level rise, drainage capacity to manage increases in precipitation and/or sea level rise, adjustment of hydraulic grade line to accommodate sea level rise, watertight manhole covers and alternate venting for flooding/sea level rise.
  • Mechanical: Equipment elevation to accommodate sea level rise, system redundancy for increasing frequency of extreme weather, stronger equipment supports for wind loads, submersible pumping systems for flooding/sea level rise, adaptation for water supply pressure drop during power outages, drain sizing to manage increased precipitation.

3. Integrate resilient design strategies.

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Develop resilient design alternatives for the project and engage stakeholders for evaluation and feedback.

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With its location just a few hundred yards from the Atlantic shoreline, the Fort Fisher Visitors Center is situated in a high wind and hurricane impact zone. By raising the first-floor slab approximately three feet above the existing grade and incorporating a roof capable of withstanding up to 160 mph winds, the building will be more resilient to coastal erosion, storm surges, and gradual changes to the shoreline.

4. Perform a cost/benefit analysis and adjust resilient strategies.

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Perform a cost/benefit analysis to measure financial return on an investment relative to the investment’s cost. From there, if there are any solutions or cost/benefits that warrant strengthening, incorporate the upgraded solutions into the final design to lessen the chance of failure and increase recovery time. Adjust and reanalyze risk, levels of resilience, risk profiles, and threats.

Cost is always a factor and accounting for environmental unknowns may be prohibitive. It is rarely possible (or advisable) to plan and design for the worst-case scenario, with the exception of facilities like dams, where the consequences of failure could be catastrophic. However, designing buildings and infrastructure so they can adapt over time to varying physical and climatic conditions adds to their life cycle functionality. Cost/benefit analyses are key to striking the right balance.

5. Finalize your resilient design strategies.

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Develop a resilient design project checklist and finalize the determined resilient design strategies. Despite the potential cost, a core benefit of designing buildings and infrastructure for greater resilience is the ability to withstand and quickly return to an acceptable level of service after experiencing an extreme event, making these strategies particularly valuable for certain project types and locations.

Designing for resiliency is not an exact science – it is an iterative process that requires careful judgement derived from a variety of local factors. By gathering input from agencies, planners, owners, architects, engineers, and emergency responders, you can develop the most informed design solutions for a more sustainable and resilient project.


Chris Stone, PE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE, LEED AP is a senior principal at Clark Nexsen with ​more than 40 years of experience in design and management. To learn more about resilient design or to speak with Chris, please email cstone@clarknexsen.com.

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How Design Can Support Student Wellness on Higher Ed Campuses https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-how-design-can-support-student-wellness-on-higher-ed-campuses/ Tue, 28 Sep 2021 19:17:16 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19998 Over the last year, the pandemic has spotlighted the importance of promoting student well-being through a holistic system of environments and resources. In the following, Clark Nexsen’s Chris Brasier, FAIA, leader of the firm’s Higher Education practice, looks at how…

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Edens Quad at Duke University; Renovation & Addition: Clark Nexsen

Over the last year, the pandemic has spotlighted the importance of promoting student well-being through a holistic system of environments and resources. In the following, Clark Nexsen’s Chris Brasier, FAIA, leader of the firm’s Higher Education practice, looks at how we can make wellness integral to facility design and what types of spaces offer the most benefit:

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Students today describe high stress levels, a need to disconnect from technology, and the desire for more opportunities to connect with others. Unquestionably, wellness has emerged as an imperative consideration during the design process. It is also a broad topic, encompassing mental health, physical activity, nutrition, and the impact of the surrounding environment.

So how do we as designers ensure we’re creating spaces and experiences that reduce stress and support overall wellness for students? When I think about how designers can address those needs, I see them falling into three intersecting categories: spaces that support mental health, spaces that support physical health, and an overall design approach (such as WELL) that integrates wellness in every aspect of design and material selection.

Supporting mental health with spaces to unplug and spaces to socialize

Beyond the campus wellness centers and newer initiatives like mental health apps, designing a mix of spaces that promote belonging and quiet reflection is critical to supporting the whole student. Creating intentional spaces to unplug, read for enjoyment, and allow the mind to rest provide students with the opportunity to return to academic and social realms refreshed.

Wellness has risen to prominence on college and university campuses, becoming a distinguishing factor as prospective students look for a well-rounded, supportive higher ed experience.

As we look to restore a sense of connection and community, Ray Oldenburg’s idea of the “third place” offers valuable lessons. The third place on a college campus may be found in the classic coffee shop example – a place where students can gather and socialize free of hierarchy and academic pressure. Inspired by the traditional neighborhood porch, the emergence of “mid-door” spaces also create a zone that bridges the public and private realms and links indoors to outdoors. Convenient to the flow of foot traffic, these spaces offer exposure to nature, opportunities for socialization, and quiet reflection – all things that support mental well-being. Mid-door spaces allow us to connect and engage with biophilic elements like the natural flow of air and movement of the sun, reinforcing our sense of place. By being intentional as we design mid-door and outdoor environments to create strong connections, we can leverage the power of the outdoors to reduce stress and improve cognitive performance.

student gathering places

Pictured left, the rooftop terrace at Clemson’s Douthit Hills Student Community offers students an outdoor space to gather and socialize, with views to campus. Photo: Brad Feinknopf. Pictured right, The Castle is a dining and social space in the McCormick Road Houses at UVA and serves as a vibrant community hub for the first-year residential community. Adding nooks and seating along common campus paths, integrating casual dining options, and creating pedestrian streetscapes are all ways to promote a strong sense of community through designed spaces. Photo: Mark Herboth

Supporting physical health with spaces for activity and good nutrition

Physical health and mental health are inherently connected, and as schools increasingly prioritize wellness, it becomes important to weave nutritious food options and fitness spaces throughout campus. While the large campus fitness center and main dining halls are unlikely to disappear, we are often collocating convenient, healthy dining choices and exercise studios in residence halls or along main campus pathways.

Edens Quad at Duke University features a yoga studio with the ability to open its doors to the outside – blurring the lines between inside and outside while promoting physical activity. Creating walking paths on campus, offering 24-hour fitness studios, and designing buildings that promote movement are all ways to support active lifestyles. Photo: Mark Herboth

Being more intentional in facility design includes addressing nutrition. Maker spaces are taking on new meaning, with kitchens for guided food preparation playing a role in helping students make healthier choices and cook independently. The quick, convenient dining options offered in residence life complexes are also an opportunity to feature healthy, whole foods. In general, the lines between living, learning, dining, and a healthy lifestyle continue to blur and we see demand for facilities that serve students on multiple levels.

Supporting wellness through material selection, access to daylight and views

Certifications like WELL approach the entire facility from a holistic point of view, seeking to address nourishment, movement, daylight, mindfulness, healthy and natural materials, and air and water quality. Anna Traylor, AIA, WELL AP, notes, “We spend 90% of our time inside. Air quality, water quality, daylighting, movement, healthy materials – they all matter and have a tremendous cumulative impact on our well-being. For students, these considerations only become more important as we think about ways to reduce stress and support the optimal learning environment.”

While spaces for mental health and fitness are important to well-being, treating the whole building as a wellness tool can also have significant impact. For example, promoting movement through the building is a priority in WELL design. NC State’s Fitts-Woolard Hall integrated daylight along primary circulation paths, along with opportunities for visual connection to the outdoors, which encourages movement along those paths with the added benefit of natural light.

Daylighting at NC State's Fitts-Woolard Hall; Architect & Engineer: Clark Nexsen

Ensuring access to natural light in a large building presents unique challenges. The 225,000 square foot Fitts-Woolard Hall features a skylight above the monumental stair, which cascades natural light down through the building core. In addition, extensive curtainwall on the exterior offers exterior views through offices, labs, and classrooms. Photo: Mark Herboth

Outdoor plaza at the Biotechnology Center of Excellence at Alamance Community College; Architect: Clark Nexsen

The Biotechnology Center of Excellence at Alamance Community College will integrate an outdoor plaza with casual and tiered seating. This new green space offers students a relaxing place to study or socialize. Rendering: Clark Nexsen

As we look to the future of wellness on campus, it will be critical to take an integrated approach that considers how every aspect of programming, space types, and materiality contributes to student well-being.


Chris Brasier, FAIA, is Clark Nexsen’s Higher Education practice leader and the firm’s Chief Practice & Culture Officer. To learn more about wellness on higher ed campuses or to speak with Chris, please call 919.828.1876 or email cbrasier@clarknexsen.com.

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5 Questions with an Expert: Jennifer Heintz on Community Centers https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-5-questions-with-an-expert-jennifer-heintz-on-community-centers/ Tue, 21 Sep 2021 15:40:56 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19967 For this installment of 5 Questions with an Expert, I caught up with Jennifer Heintz, a senior architect and associate principal with Clark Nexsen, to talk about the importance of community centers and how they are evolving: w 1. What…

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For this installment of 5 Questions with an Expert, I caught up with Jennifer Heintz, a senior architect and associate principal with Clark Nexsen, to talk about the importance of community centers and how they are evolving:

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1. What are our municipal clients most interested in right now with regard to their community and recreation centers?

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One of the most frequent requests we get from clients is for pools. Every community wants a pool! More specifically, pools that are inclusive, accessible, and contain minimal barriers. For example, zero entry pools have become very popular and offer a fully interactive experience for all ability and play levels. Instead of the traditional climb down pool ladder, they provide a gradual transition, and assistance if necessary, for easy entry. They also permit wheelchair access without a physical barrier or machine element.

In addition to physical accessibility, many communities want different pools for focus activities, lap swimming, and dive training. It’s a matter of options for people of all ability levels and interests to have a space they feel comfortable in.

Watauga Community Recreation Center; Architect: Clark Nexsen

The aquatic offerings at Watauga County Community Recreation Center check all the boxes, providing swimming and play options for varying ages and abilities. Generous use of glass fosters transparency throughout the interactive spaces and out into the surrounding landscape.

2. What are the major trends impacting community center design?

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A major trend we are seeing is the incorporation of natural play areas. Also known as nature play, these are park features made of natural materials that blend more with the surrounding elements and landscape. In a shift away from the standard plastic and metal structures that most modern playgrounds are comprised of, the natural play spaces include things like stumps, boulders, sand, ropes, and water pumps – providing a more sensory, imaginative experience for kids to be kids. Research indicates that when children are able to connect to the natural world through physical activity, they are more likely to have reduced stress levels, improved sleep, and an overall happier mood.

Similar to the zero entry pools, we are also seeing more barrier free, inclusive play spaces that allow people with varying degrees of physical ability to participate. For example, sensory play focuses on providing quieter or less visually/audibly stimulating play experiences for people with autism or other sensory disabilities. By designing inclusive spaces, we make it possible for all community members to enjoy the rec center.

3. How has COVID-19 impacted community center design and/or the way community centers function? Do you foresee long term impacts?

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Indoor/outdoor connectivity has become extremely valuable within community and recreation centers. Pivot spaces that provide outdoor, indoor, or a hybrid of flexibility have been a popular design intervention that I foresee becoming a new staple. Implementing this type of flexibility means we are looking at things like how we detail our building envelopes to be energy efficient when they are closed, but also provide power, speaker systems, lighting, and other flexible amenities when they open up. A successful pivot space blurs the line between indoor and outdoor and can adapt to needs on the fly.

community center rendering by Clark Nexsen

An airnasium can act as an extension of the interior gymnasium, offering the flexibility to flow seamlessly between indoor and outdoor spaces and supporting occupant wellness.

4. Are there any recent innovations that stand out in your mind as having impacted community center design?

Virtually all municipalities today are focused on developing more sustainable facilities – either to reduce operating costs or to push toward local net zero goals, or both. Innately, community centers are tough in terms of energy usage. They generally have a large, lofty footprint so it can be tricky to meet energy goals while creating and maintaining a comfortable environment for people. Innovations like “airnasiums,” reclaimed water, systems, solar and thermal panels, and even composting to serve a community garden are all methods that contribute to a more sustainable, energy efficient facility.

My tip for municipal clients looking to design a more sustainable facility is to emphasize this goal as early as the master planning phase, which makes the entire process more seamless, and budget for enhanced efficient systems and sustainable materials.

Abbotts Creek Community Center in Raleigh, NC; Architect: Clark Nexsen

Creating a new, health-focused facility for residents, Abbotts Creek Community Center features a wide variety of fitness options, including a studio for group classes.

5. Can you share a recent project and the immediate impact it has had on tis community?

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Joyner Park Community Center is a project that has been very well received by its community. The Town of Wake Forest Parks, Recreation, & Cultural Resources Department came to us with a vision of creating a community center in the town’s beloved E. Carroll Joyner Park. Wake Forest is one of the fastest growing suburbs of Raleigh and they wanted a resource that would provide gymnasium, indoor recreation, and multipurpose space for its residents, in addition to the existing walking trails, historic structures, and popular outdoor amphitheater.

Community members valued the park’s rural feel, so upholding the integrity of its pastoral landscape was an important factor that informed our design. We used rustic materials like wood, stone, metal roofing, and glass to complement the surrounding hills and greenery and align with the park’s agrarian context. The community has embraced the facility as a result and we’ve seen it become an active resource for schools, churches, and individuals, as well as a home for local pickleball enthusiasts.

Joyner Park Community Center in Wake Forest, NC; Architect: Clark Nexsen

The facility’s full-size courts, walking track, fitness spaces, and indoor reception space delivered on goals to complement the existing park amenities.

My favorite aspect of working on community centers is how it recalls my own memories of times in these spaces. Architecture is about meeting needs for people and I think community centers are essentially as close to that definition as you can get. It makes my work even more meaningful.


Photos: Mark Herboth


Jennifer Heintz, AIA, LEED AP, is a senior architect and associate principal with Clark Nexsen. Over her 24-year career, she has focused on public facility design including higher education, K-12 education, and community buildings.

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Adding Value for Port Clients with Waterfront Engineering, Materials Handling Under One Roof https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-adding-value-port-clients-with-waterfront-engineering-materials-handling/ Thu, 05 Aug 2021 16:15:09 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19798 Ports are a critical economic link for their surrounding regions, accommodating the import and export of a wide variety of goods and materials. Having solid waterfront infrastructure, off-loading processes, and warehousing makes a port more appealing to the industries and…

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Ports are a critical economic link for their surrounding regions, accommodating the import and export of a wide variety of goods and materials. Having solid waterfront infrastructure, off-loading processes, and warehousing makes a port more appealing to the industries and organizations who rely on maritime transportation.

Through annual service contracts at multiple ports on the East Coast, our waterfront engineers and industrial mechanical engineers are adding value for port clients by providing a single, cohesive source of specialized expertise. I spoke with Dave Pryor, PE, Clark Nexsen’s Director of Waterfront Engineering, and David Robinson, a Senior Project Manager in our industrial and process engineering practice, to understand what enables us to best serve port clients:

Breadth of expertise – from being full-service to the ability to complete specialized tasks – is Clark Nexsen’s greatest value to port clients.

“It’s rare for a firm to have civil engineering, process engineering, and vertical design expertise under one roof,” Dave shared. “A port can contract with us and have access to expertise in waterfront engineering and bulk and liquid material handling in one firm.”

David Robinson added that there is substantial overlap between projects that might begin on the industrial or materials handling side and require waterfront work. “If we’re designing a materials handling process to receive product from a ship and load it to a warehouse, for example, we may need a new dock or dock extension,” commented David. “A typical materials handling group would need to outsource the waterfront component, which takes time to do, but we can just call our own waterfront team.”

With multiple locations in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, Clark Nexsen is positioned to serve East Coast ports exceptionally well. Sometimes, David noted, we join forces on specific projects from the beginning, but most often, our appeal to port clients is the convenience of having a master contract and gaining access to broad expertise. While waterfront engineering and industrial process engineering are high profile needs, our other services add value, too. A good example is our current work with Balfour Beatty Construction to renovate a cold storage facility at the Wilmington, NC port, which has involved architecture and a range of vertical engineering services.

Norfolk International Terminal improvements to the North Gate Complex

At the Norfolk International Terminal, our civil, structural, and transportation engineers designed improvements to the North Gate Complex that enhance accessibility and efficiency for the port. Improvements include an automated truck gate, heavy-duty paving, and five new buildings including a 16-lane inbound canopy, a 10-lane outbound canopy, inbound and outbound OCR (optical character recognition) portals, and a driver assistance facility.

Breadth of expertise – from being full-service to the ability to complete specialized tasks – is Clark Nexsen’s greatest value to port clients. For example, our industrial team also completes hazard analyses, which can be very useful for port authorities when dealing with warehousing of materials that are classified as hazardous. “For ports that do bulk material handling, it’s one stop shopping,” David concluded. “Clark Nexsen is unique in the scope of what we can offer a port authority.”

Dave Pryor, PE, leads our Waterfront practice, specializing in marine structures, coastal engineering, shipbuilding, and management. With more than three decades of experience, he is focused on guiding waterfront clients through critical projects that are impacted by resiliency, sea level rise, and the global economy. To learn more about our Waterfront practice or to speak with Dave, please call 757.455.5800 or email dpryor@clarknexsen.com.

David Robinson is a senior project manager in our Industrial practice with a substantial background in bulk materials handling and the pulp and paper industry. David established our Brunswick, GA office in 2005 to serve industrial clients in the coastal regions of GA and FL. To learn more or to speak with David, please call 912.805.3155 or email drobinson@clarknexsen.com.

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Strategies for Commercial Office Design that Contribute to Economic Development https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-strategies-for-commercial-office-design-that-contribute-to-economic-development/ Tue, 27 Jul 2021 05:49:12 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19779 Every city has economic development goals, and a strategy behind them. And while each city is unique, those that thrive tend to share intentional connections between commerce, recreation, community, and culture. Attracting diverse but complementary industries is critical for local…

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Every city has economic development goals, and a strategy behind them. And while each city is unique, those that thrive tend to share intentional connections between commerce, recreation, community, and culture. Attracting diverse but complementary industries is critical for local economic growth, and for organizations looking to expand or relocate, well-planned and designed commercial office facilities are a pivotal factor.

Highlighting the City of Newport News, VA as a case study, Clark Nexsen’s Commercial practice leader Chad Poultney, PE, shares the following key strategies for designing commercial office facilities that support economic development goals:

Historically known as an industrial and maritime hotspot, the City of Newport News has devoted its economic development efforts to the continued retention, revitalization, and expansion of its core industries by creating an attractive center for people to work, live, and play. Beginning with targeted master planning, this focus has been instrumental in rejuvenating the city as major projects work together to establish an ecosystem between business, education, and cultural opportunities.

Master planning that targets specific industries

For cities looking to attract specific industries, targeted master planning can be a powerful tool. For example, technology is among the fastest growing sectors of the Newport News economy. The development of Tech Center Building One and Tech Center Research Park serve as a catalyst for ramping up the city’s tech industry and strengthening the connection between the academic community and private industry. Located in the city’s only area zoned for research, Building One is the result of a partnership between W.M. Jordan, Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, and Clark Nexsen and is a vital arm in the long-term plan to create a world-class research park with urban qualities.

The first of 11 buildings outlined in the master plan, Building One facilitates partnership and collaboration both within the campus and beyond. Tapping into local universities and neighboring research centers like Jefferson Lab, Tech Center Research Park will foster an incubator environment for students, start-ups, and other local or prospective tech businesses. Its proximity to Jefferson Lab and NASA Langley provides an opportunity for private firms to turn research into practical applications and commercial ventures, completing Newport News’ vision for new technological infrastructure.

Attracting employees with appealing spaces and experiences

Businesses go where the talent is – making attracting top employees through great office space a priority. Office design today is driven largely by employees’ desire for increased collaboration, flexibility, and openness. For example, Ferguson’s new HQ3 is an amenities-rich, collaborative campus for their associates. Driven by goals of breaking down barriers, encouraging collaboration, and fostering community engagement, the new, 260,000 square foot HQ3 building is designed to attract professionals looking for an urban setting.

HQ3 integrates large, flexible training rooms, a modern café, a “genius bar” for IT support, and a variety of casual collaboration and flex spaces. This balance of environments enables employees to work in the manner that is best for them, while the amenities act as a draw.

Driven by WELL objectives and accelerated by the pandemic, we are seeing an increased demand for outdoor green spaces to be integrated into the workplace. Ferguson associates have the option to work or take a breather outside on the sixth-floor green rooftop terrace as well as the ground level plaza and fountain area.

Prioritizing adjacencies between spaces that facilitate public-private connections, support workforce development

Today’s most successful offices, particularly in urban areas, are including shared or adjacent spaces intended to facilitate the connection between public and private spheres. By collocating learning environments for skilled training in close proximity to the work of private industry, communities and businesses benefit from a stronger, more connected workforce and innovation spurred by serendipitous encounters.

Located within a larger mixed-use development, the new Brooks Crossing building is home to a transformed headquarters for Newport News Shipbuilding and serves as a hybrid of technology, shipbuilding, workforce development, and STEM outreach spaces. The facility houses the Brooks Crossing Innovation and Opportunity Center and STEM Digital Innovation and Fabrication Lab on the first floor and the information technology, engineering and design, and integrated planning and production control departments of Newport News Shipbuilding on the top three floors. This proximity fosters an important synergistic partnership between the shipbuilding industry, STEM centered disciplines, and the community at large.

Pictured above, the Innovation Lab and project-based learning space…These centralized hubs offer free career awareness, skill development, wealth building, training and employment, and other support services.

Strengthening community connections

Communities aren’t built from scratch – but rather, they emerge organically when people have access to resources, economic opportunities, and cultural hotspots. Newport News’ development efforts serve as a stimulant of what already exists by supporting the community’s leading organizations such as Ferguson Enterprises, Christopher Newport University, and Huntington Ingalls, and threading important links between corporations, expanding industries, and the local population.

At Ferguson HQ3, large, flexible training rooms with customizable functionality as well as open and back of house space offer associates and partners a creative, versatile area for assembly. The facility’s design also reflects its connections to the community, retaining public access to the main plaza and integrating a variety of training and meeting spaces that may be reserved by local organizations.

Rather than walling this site off from the city, a pathway leads under the building and into the plaza allowing for employees and the public to enjoy this connected outdoor space.

The ability to see the “big picture” and work with collaborative partners is critical for any municipality as it pursues economic development goals. As we have worked with developers, contractors, and the City of Newport News to connect the dots between industry, commercial office space, and the local community, we have seen the momentum that can be achieved when all parties are invested and share a unified vision.


Chad Poultney, PE, LEED AP, is a principal with Clark Nexsen and leads the firm’s Commercial practice. To learn more about how we approach commercial projects, please contact Chad at cpoultney@clarknexsen.com or 757.455.5800.

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Top 5 Considerations for Effective Sidewalk Design https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-top-5-considerations-for-effective-sidewalk-design/ Thu, 15 Jul 2021 00:45:15 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19745 Sidewalk design is a central focus for municipalities looking to improve pedestrian safety and the pedestrian experience. Even before COVID-19 dramatically increased the number of people walking and biking through our towns and cities, there had been a growing emphasis…

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Academy Street Improvements; Clark NexsenSidewalk design is a central focus for municipalities looking to improve pedestrian safety and the pedestrian experience. Even before COVID-19 dramatically increased the number of people walking and biking through our towns and cities, there had been a growing emphasis on creating connected networks of sidewalks to better accommodate foot traffic.

New sidewalk design and existing sidewalk replacement provides municipalities the opportunity to address basic needs, such as ADA accessibility and safety concerns, while going beyond to create a walking experience that reinforces the local sense of community. On the surface, a sidewalk design project might seem simple, but in reality, there are a number of factors that can add complexity:

Enhancing Pedestrian Safety & Accessibility

Establishing a safe, accessible space for all pedestrians is the number one driver behind new sidewalk additions or existing replacements. Connecting sidewalks to ensure a constant path is critical for both ADA standards and overall safety.

In new sidewalk design, meeting ADA standards is typically seamless, but replacing an existing sidewalk can present challenges. Older sidewalks often aren’t wide enough, requiring a new footprint and potential right-of-way acquisition, or existing utility poles may encroach into the sidewalk space. Depending on the circumstances, overcoming these obstacles requires a balance of innovative design and working with multiple stakeholders to develop a solution.

Academy Street’s wide sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks support pedestrian safety and accessibility.

Academy Street’s wide sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks support pedestrian safety and accessibility.

Working in Historic Districts

For cities and towns with historic areas, sidewalk design and replacement must align with the aesthetic context. The surface materiality, retaining walls, utilities, and more will generally require approval by an architectural review board.

In our work with the Town of Leesburg, VA to replace the sidewalk along historic West Market Street, we improved pedestrian safety and preserved an existing retaining wall by elevating the road to the sidewalk height, rather than lowering the sidewalk by the required three to six feet, which would have negatively impacted the historic retaining wall. We also designed a new retaining wall on the other end of the sidewalk, which went through the town’s approval process.

This rendering of the West Market Street sidewalk captures efforts to preserve the historic retaining wall and install a wide, safe brick paver sidewalk that is consistent with the historic surroundings.

Facilitating Public Engagement

Public engagement is a critical aspect of virtually every transportation project, and sidewalk projects are no exception. We work with clients to conduct extensive public engagement sessions and gather community feedback. Ultimately, the goal is to develop the right solution for each particular community and generate support for that solution. When right-of-way acquisition is part of a project, this becomes even more important as property owners are impacted.

Addressing Utility Conflicts

Underground utilities are frequently impacted during transportation projects of any type. Above ground utilities can also conflict with design objectives, as mentioned previously with regard to utility poles potentially interfering with ADA accessibility. Coordinating with the impacted utilities companies early and often is key to success with sidewalk projects. If the design is unable to avoid utilities, such as meandering the pedestrian path around a utility pole, relocation may be required and needs to be coordinated early in the design process.

Stormwater Design

Stormwater management must be accounted for on every transportation project, including sidewalks. The linear nature of transportation design, with site and budget constraints, can make it challenging to meet stormwater requirements. Our engineers are continuously exploring new ways to implement stormwater management and apply low impact development features. These features include innovative infiltration practices, rain gardens, wet swales, and permeable pavement.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the demand for active transportation projects, which prioritize alternative modes of transportation like walking and biking alongside vehicular traffic. After going home for lockdown, we all began spending substantially more time walking and biking around our communities, and we’ve undoubtedly become more familiar with what makes for a good pedestrian experience. Sidewalk projects seem simple on the surface, but they can be transformative when executed thoughtfully.


Whitney Duffy, PE, PTOE, LEED AP is the transportation department head in Clark Nexsen’s Vienna, VA office. She brings more than 15 years of experience in transportation planning, traffic engineering, and active transportation design to her role. To speak with Whitney, please call 703.822.4846 or email wduffy@clarknexsen.com.

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Higher Ed STEM Design: NC State’s New Engineering Building Puts Research On Display https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-higher-ed-stem-design-nc-states-new-engineering-building-puts-research-on-display/ Tue, 29 Jun 2021 22:45:42 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19714 Premier research universities are powerful economic engines in their regions – they drive innovation, support industry partners, and educate the future workforce. As STEM industries have evolved, so have education and research environments on higher education campuses.

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Research on display at Fitts-Woolard Hall at NC State University; Designed by architecture and engineering firm Clark NexsenPremier research universities are powerful economic engines in their regions – they drive innovation, support industry partners, and educate the future workforce. As STEM industries have evolved, so have education and research environments on higher education campuses. Goals to prioritize integrated problem solving and collaboration have converged with the need to highlight programs for prospective students, donors, and industry partners – and putting research on display has emerged as a key solution for both objectives.

By creating views into research spaces, students and researchers are exposed to new ideas, often from different engineering disciplines.

From day one, exposing its cutting-edge research and learning laboratories was a priority in the design of Fitts-Woolard Hall, North Carolina State University’s newest engineering building. The result is a facility that greets students, faculty, and visitors with views into active research and learning spaces.

Putting research and learning on display fosters interdisciplinary collaboration

Interdisciplinary collaboration is increasingly recognized as key to new discoveries and innovations, and one of the central goals behind revealing Fitts-Woolard’s research and teaching labs was to drive this type of integrated problem solving.

“Fitts-Woolard Hall is an engineering hub that provides critical infrastructure for catalyzing new innovations and developing tomorrow’s workforce,” comments NC State chancellor Randy Woodson.

By creating views into research spaces, students and researchers are exposed to new ideas, often from different engineering disciplines. In Fitts-Woolard, similar to commercial STEM facilities, this strategy is complemented by adjacent areas for casual interaction and collaboration, allowing students or researchers to leave the lab but continue to work together.

One of Fitts-Woolard’s distinguishing characteristics is the wide variety of lab types collocated in one facility. The new building is home to two of NC State’s engineering departments, the Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering – translating to labs for everything from soils and aggregate labs to bioengineering. This diversity of disciplines intersects with the goal to expose the research taking place and support the cross-pollination of ideas.

Advanced manufacturing lab at NCSU's new engineering building, Fitts-Woolard Hall.

This view into a large advanced manufacturing lab demonstrates how locating interesting research spaces along main circulation paths and at entries reveals lab activities to those inside and outside the building.

Prospective students, donors, and industry partners gain insight into what education and research at NC State looks like

With the Dean of Engineering’s offices located in its halls, Fitts-Woolard is a high traffic facility for visitors of all types. From the beginning of visioning sessions, the emphasis on “engineering on display” was intended to reveal and celebrate the accomplishments and aspirations of engineering at NC State. This emphasis led to a design that acts as a presentation in itself, highlighting the university’s research capabilities and contributions.

Transparency into a classroom and lab at NCSU's new engineering building, Fitts-Woolard Hall.

Transparency into teaching classrooms and labs offers prospective students insight into how they will learn at NC State. For industry partners, putting research on display reinforces NC State’s reputation as a leader in engineering education and research.

Located on NC State’s Centennial campus, the design of Fitts-Woolard Hall reflects the campus’ vision to be a destination for collaboration between leaders in business, research, and education. Putting research on display for a variety of engineering disciplines cultivates the cross-pollination of ideas that is necessary to innovation.

The facility itself becomes a teaching tool for professors and students

The commitment to the “on display” design strategy is evident beyond education and research labs. Throughout the facility, structural elements and building systems are revealed as an additional instructional tool. As the campus returns to in-person learning, the way the building systems are exposed can be actively used as a teaching tool by professors. In addition to plaques explaining different systems, the facility includes an area where the mechanical, electrical, data, telecom, plumbing, and gas systems are color coded and labeled. Beyond application as an active teaching tool, the exposed structure and mechanical systems are intended to foster curiosity among students.

Exposed stair truss at Fitts-Woolard Hall, the new engineering building at NC State University.

The exposed stair truss provides the opportunity for students to see the real world application of truss design, reinforcing principles learned in the classroom. The weaving form of the stairs also creates a variety of gathering and collaboration spaces.

Reflecting the building’s disciplines in its design

The architecture of Fitts-Woolard Hall reflects its identity as an engineering building through a variety of design elements. Among the most prominent are the expressive gestural columns, reminiscent of civil and structural disciplines, which are defining elements marking the two primary entrances.

Fitts-Woolard Hall at NC State University; Designed by architecture and engineering firm Clark Nexsen

The gestural columns support the third and fourth floors, contained in a floating volume, and highlight the exterior views into lab spaces including a structural testing lab, senior student project space, and large-scale driving simulator.

Fitts-Woolard Hall at NC State University; Designed by architecture and engineering firm Clark Nexsen

A striking wood feature wall was created using computational design and represents the diverse engineering studies housed in the building.

Together, Fitts-Woolard Hall’s emphasis on transparency, views into interesting teaching and research labs, and plentiful spaces for collaboration converge to deliver a facility that will positively impact students and faculty for years to come.


Photos of Fitts-Woolard Hall in this blog are by Mark Herboth and courtesy of Clark Nexsen. 


Shann Rushing, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal at Clark Nexsen with more than 20 years of experience focused on higher education and civic design. His design leadership has been instrumental in creating meaningful education environments, including both Fitts-Woolard Hall and the Hunt Library (in collaboration with Snøhetta) at NC State University. To speak with Shann, please email srushing@clarknexsen.com or call 919.828.1876.

Ryan Johnson, AIA, LEED AP, is a computational designer and associate at Clark Nexsen. His dual interests in architecture and technology drove the design of the feature wall in Fitts-Woolard and are central to technological innovation within the firm. To speak with Ryan, please email rjohnson@clarknexsen.com or call 919.828.1876.

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5 Questions with an Expert: Julie Leary Shares Insights on K-12 School Design https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-5-questions-with-an-expert-julie-leary-shares-insights-on-k-12-school-design/ Tue, 22 Jun 2021 15:06:31 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19691 I sat down with Julie Leary, a senior architect in our Raleigh office, to talk about current trends in K-12 design and the future of adaptive, inclusive spaces for school communities. w 1. What are our clients talking or asking…

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I sat down with Julie Leary, a senior architect in our Raleigh office, to talk about current trends in K-12 design and the future of adaptive, inclusive spaces for school communities.

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1. What are our clients talking or asking about most right now?

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Our clients are acutely aware of the impact COVID-19 is having on education. The built environment is being asked to do more as it supports a wider range of classroom activities and they are asking us to offer innovative solutions. Although wellness and sustainability were issues before COVID-19, we are seeing an even greater call for K-12 school design that is both environmentally responsible and healthier for occupants. This can take shape as more spaces with connection to outdoor environments, healthier building materials, outdoor ventilation, and ample natural daylighting, to give just a few examples.

The past year has also highlighted the critical role schools play in their communities. They serve more than just the primary educational function – they are also a social and emotional connection, a support system, and resource for things like meals, counseling, and other mental health services. This means that thinking about design from the perspective of the whole community is crucial. For example, rethinking spatial needs of the classroom and designing a hybrid for both in person and virtual learning better equips school communities to handle any unforeseen challenge, not just a pandemic.

Apex High School in Apex North Carolina; Architect: Clark Nexsen

Flexible, tech-outfitted instruction spaces at Innovative High School accommodate a variety of learning styles and provide options for group work, independent study, dining, or social time.

2. What are the major trends in K-12 design?

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A major trend right now is blended learning, combining the best of face-to-face and online experiences. It relies heavily on adaptive spaces and flexible furnishings to support students and teachers as needs evolve. Virtual learning opportunities extend where and when students may learn, which means support spaces such as labs, libraries, outdoor areas, and collaboration spaces are becoming even more important. As students return to school, we are carefully considering how furnishings and access to appropriate technology can reinforce social interaction and limit isolating experiences many have felt during the pandemic. The built environment must encourage active, engaged learning and support a variety of learning styles.

We also continue to see an increased focus on project-based, immersive learning experiences that apply STEM principles. At the lower grade levels, this might take shape as more collaborative environments like maker spaces. At the higher grade levels, we have been incorporating more specialized career and technical education classrooms with hands-on learning opportunities. There is definitely more of an emphasis on interdisciplinary and collaborative project-based learning. These strategies inherently develop problem solving, presentation, communication, and technology skills to prepare students for careers and post-high school success.

3. What is the most innovative thing you’ve seen come to the market in the last few years?

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Adaptive furnishings that integrate technologies, mobility, and flexibility are some of the most impactful elements that directly engage students. There are some furniture vendors that are really pushing the envelope on developing products that are a deliberate response to research around current educational practices. These efforts mirror our initiatives as building designers as we work to understand what’s driving those changes in education and the implications of the research. Incorporating flexible furnishings and infrastructure within adaptive spaces allows students and teachers to manipulate their space, increasing engagement and loosening spatial limitations.

At Edneyville Elementary, students have the option to choose seating that best suits their needs (i.e., soft seating, mobile stools, varying height work surfaces) for learning. Collaborative technology makes it easy to share information or review work with peers or instructors.

4. Is there a recent project that stands out in your mind for its impact on students, faculty, community, etc.?

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A project that immediately comes to mind for me is Apex High School, where community engagement and collaboration played a major role. Throughout the assessment, planning, design, and construction process, input from alumni, students, teachers, and staff was highly valued and allowed the design team to embed and reflect the existing school’s rich history into the new design.

Located in the “heart” of campus, Apex High School’s new courtyard is used as both a social hub and outdoor learning space. Photo: Mark Herboth

Located in the “heart” of campus, Apex High School’s new courtyard is used as both a social hub and outdoor learning space.

They wanted spaces that generally aligned better with current educational demands including more flexible spaces, collaborative environments, natural daylighting, and technical laboratories for hands on, project-based learning. Their existing courtyard was very important to them, so we wrapped the new school building around an active and inviting courtyard that has become the heart of the new school. This arrangement allows a lot of natural daylight and connection to the outdoors and became a welcome nod to the school’s past. The school colors, the gymnasium, all the way down to details like art and murals – all of it was developed by working closely with the Apex community. The result is a dynamic educational facility that both supports modern learning styles and stays true to what students and faculty loved about their school.

5. Do you have a favorite thing about your work?

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For me, engaging with each school community and having the opportunity to interact directly with the end users is the most eye-opening and rewarding experience. It really helps us understand the problems with an existing space and the vision for what it could be when we speak directly with those that will use the space. There is also a powerful sense of accountability when you’ve made a personal connection – you want to do everything in your capacity as a designer to develop a school that makes a positive impact and serves them exceptionally well.


Photos: Mark Herboth


Julie Leary, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a senior architect at Clark Nexsen with more than 10 years of experience largely focused on design for K-12 and higher education. She is recognized for her conscientious attention to detail at all scales, and her recent projects include Apex High School, South Lakes Elementary School, Edneyville Elementary, and Conn Elementary School.

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What’s Next for Workplace Design: Balancing Personal Space & the Need for Collaboration https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-whats-next-for-workplace-design-balancing-personal-space-the-need-for-collaboration/ Thu, 27 May 2021 01:51:41 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19579 As humans, we need to connect with each other – and not merely on a screen. While remote work has offered a variety of benefits, we are seeing strong indicators that people want to get back to the office –…

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Image courtesy Teknion – Teknion.com

As humans, we need to connect with each other – and not merely on a screen. While remote work has offered a variety of benefits, we are seeing strong indicators that people want to get back to the office – as long as it feels safe and there is no loss of newfound flexibility. In the following, Clark Nexsen’s workplace experts Anne Bradley and Megan Chorley discuss what a responsive workplace looks like:

With a light appearing at the end of the pandemic tunnel, employers and employees are shifting their focus to how the workplace will look moving forward. Workplace design was already shifting toward more dynamic, collaborative spaces, and the pandemic will only accelerate that trend. In-person collaboration and the opportunity to socialize are main drivers of the push to get back to the office, and we believe the following components will make a return to the office successful now and long term:

  • Expanding definition of workplace safety that encompasses minimizing disease spread
  • Creating a seamless experience for employees shifting between WFH and the office
  • Rethinking space layouts to accommodate collaboration and heads-down work
  • Growing demand for different types of workplace amenities

See our Best in Show video submission for the CoreNet Post COVID Workplace Competition on how the office of the future will need to balance a sense of “continuity” with the comfort of home and offer “complementary” spaces and experiences to appeal to employees.


Our definition of workplace safety is expanding

As organizations look to bring employees back into the office, a main focus must be on ensuring people feel as safe as possible while being in close quarters with coworkers. Workplace safety will likely drive shifts around cultural attitudes about coming in while sick vs. staying home, and some companies may opt to continue providing masks and hand sanitizing stations. In particular, while mild coughs and colds might have been tolerated in the office prior to the pandemic, the reality is that companies will need to enforce a stricter policy for the foreseeable future.

Client impressions of workplace safety and COVID-consciousness will also have new significance. As we resume travel and in-person meetings, having policies that align with client expectations is critical. You never know who may be immune-compromised and will appreciate a higher degree of caution.

Employees will expect a seamless experience shifting between WFH and in the office

From the employee perspective, there have been a series of trade-offs between the pros of working from home and the pros of being in the office. With many companies prioritizing expanded flex and remote work policies for the long-term, the experience of shifting back and forth between home and the office will need to be seamless.

Technology is the key here – and we all know it does not always work flawlessly. Laptops allow maximum flexibility, but companies should ensure IT support is readily available to troubleshoot any issues with internet connectivity, docking stations, speakers, monitors, etc. when employees come into the office. Up-to-date systems and effective training for employees will also help keep tech running as smoothly as possible.

Senior executives who regularly give presentations or appear on camera experienced a unique set of WFH challenges. Most responded by creating a professional set up at home – possibly even better and easier to use than what existed in the workplace. For employees in this category, the office will need to accommodate better video and presentation spaces.

Alongside technology, creating continuity between the experience of WFH and the office will be important. This is partially about amenities, but it’s also about ensuring there is a sense of warmth and comfort in the office to make it feel as welcoming as home. Below, we do a deeper dive on how layouts and amenities can accommodate these preferences. The ability to work outside and to choose different spaces within the office to work are just a couple of examples.

Rethinking space layouts for collaboration and heads-down work

When the COVID-19 pandemic began and a large-scale remote work transition took place, we saw dire predictions about the end of the office. The reality is much more moderate – the office will change, but it isn’t disappearing. Instead, consideration in the immediate future must be given to adequate space for each person, and longer-term to what makes workers happiest and most productive. Workplaces were already shifting to offer a variety of work spaces and seating types, and the return to work post-pandemic is likely to accelerate that trend. Some people have learned that they focus better in the office, with activity around them. Others have discovered they focus better at home – or it may vary by task or home set up. Providing more acoustical pods in the workplace, for example, offers an ideal, quiet work environment for those who need it.

As people look for a balance between interpersonal space and socialization, workstations can’t be crammed together. One solution is to intersperse workstations, collaboration areas, and private work spaces to create natural opportunities for distance. We also predict there will be less free touch-down space and a growth in reservation systems to allow for cleaning and distancing.

Image courtesy Landscape Forms - landscapeforms.com

Image courtesy Landscape Forms – landscapeforms.com

With nicer months upon us, welcoming outdoor work spaces will be very appealing to employees. Shade, different types of seating, and power will be critical to making these as attractive as possible. Expanded internet access points to make internet connectivity seamless both outside and inside the office will also be invaluable. Investing in the right spaces is a start, followed by leadership setting the tone and using casual breakout space, working outside, and generally demonstrating the behaviors they hope to see employees adopt.

Demand for workplace amenities will grow, and change

Our Workplace Interiors team is anticipating that employees’ preferences will have substantial impact on workplace design as companies develop return-to-office strategies. For example, mental health has received a new spotlight over the last year. Colleagues and supervisors are more aware – and hopefully, understanding – of the realities of each other’s personal lives thanks to Zoom and Teams video calls. Many of us have struggled with isolation and anxiety, and we expect to see growth in amenities that support mental wellness in response. Supporting mental health may take shape through private spaces like meditation rooms, or big-picture solutions like better daylighting, outdoor workspace, biophilia, or mental health support staff.

Working parents were significantly impacted by the pandemic, particularly during large scale childcare and school closures. A large body of research showed women leaving the workforce or reducing work hours as they struggled to balance work with caregiving and supporting school at home. Thinking about family-friendly amenities and policies will be crucial to better support and retain parents in the workforce. Some large employers (Patagonia is one example) have historically prioritized offering childcare on-site, and this is an amenity that will likely take on new appeal for employees. For smaller companies, an easy way to support working parents is to evaluate office locations in part based on the number of nearby childcare options.

Fundamentally, as organizations think about their future office space, it comes down to empowering more choice around when and how people work. Working during the pandemic has been a universal challenge, offering new insights and a deeper understanding of our colleagues’ personal lives. The workplace must reflect this understanding through the experience it provides. Long term, these design decisions will help attract and retain talent and reinforce company culture.


Anne Bradley, IIDA, is vice president of workplace interior design for Clark Nexsen. She offers her clients 20 years of experience focusing on corporate and commercial interiors. To speak with Anne, please call 919.815.7564 or email anne.bradley@clarknexsen.com.

Megan Chorley is a workplace interior designer at Clark Nexsen with an extensive background designing workplace solutions for science and technology companies. To speak with Megan, please call 919.828.1876 or email megan.chorley@clarknexsen.com.

 

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5 Questions with an Expert: Whitney Duffy on Transportation Design https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-5-questions-with-an-expert-whitney-duffy-on-transportation-design/ Thu, 20 May 2021 03:39:23 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19638 For this installment of 5 Questions with an Expert, I sat down with Whitney Duffy, the transportation department head in our Northern Virginia office, to talk about trends in transportation design and how COVID-19 has impacted our clients: w 1.…

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For this installment of 5 Questions with an Expert, I sat down with Whitney Duffy, the transportation department head in our Northern Virginia office, to talk about trends in transportation design and how COVID-19 has impacted our clients:

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1. What are our clients talking or asking about most right now?

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A hot topic with our clients pre-COVID was active transportation and the need to view roadway projects more holistically – to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles safely alongside vehicles. The pandemic only magnified this need. People began walking, biking, and generally utilizing outdoor space in urban and suburban areas even more than before. We are seeing an intense focus on complete streets, placemaking, sidewalk design, trails, and creating gathering spaces.

Another major topic is how to secure funding or grant opportunities to complete projects, and we often help our clients through this process. One of my colleagues, John Parkinson, leads our Grant & Funding Committee, which is specifically focused on identifying opportunities and creating strategies for pursuing funding.

2. What are the major trends in transportation design?

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Active transportation, intelligent transportation systems, and alternative and innovative intersections are the three trends we are seeing most in our projects. As I mentioned, active transportation was already a hot topic and is only more so today. Before, projects often focused on widening the road for vehicles, but now the focus is on “complete streets,” which integrate all modes of transportation.

We also do a lot of intersection design, and some of that is still traffic signal design, but there is always an evaluation process where we work with our clients and consider alternative or innovative intersection solutions. Roundabouts, for example, are popular for safety and efficiency reasons. The main drivers behind alternative and innovative intersections are capacity and safety. Super streets, restricted crossing u-turns, and reduced conflict intersections, among other examples, have all grown in popularity for how they can improve traffic flow and vehicular and pedestrian safety.

I think intelligent transportation systems, or ITS, is a tremendous area of opportunity for roadway design. Using advanced technology to reduce the footprint of our projects has a positive ripple effect for communities and our environment by minimizing the impact to surrounding properties and the land itself.

The ability to widen Wythe Creek Road in Poquoson, VA was in question until ITS was proposed. In this case, implementing ITS reduced the number of private properties VDOT needed to purchase for Right-of-Way from four to zero, benefiting not only project cost but also community relations.

3. What is the most innovative thing you’ve seen come to the market in the last few years?

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Placemaking has really changed the way people view and experience roadway design. I think people always think “technology,” when they hear innovation, and not everything is about that! When you’re working with a municipality, giving meaning and creating a sense of place for their community is what elevates a transportation project to the next level. 18th and 19th Streets in Virginia Beach, and Academy Street in Cary, NC are really good examples of what it means to design more than a road or a sidewalk – those designs are unique and reflective of those specific communities.

4. Is there a recent project that stands out in your mind for its impact in its community?

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I have to go back to the way projects like 18th and 19th Streets in Virginia Beach impact their communities – it is very powerful. These streets are in the ViBe District, which is a cultural arts enclave that also serves as a connector from municipal facilities to the oceanfront. One of the early strategies to spur economic development in the area was to create a walkable urban district with wide sidewalks, seating, bike racks, and environmental canvases for local artists.

The integration of art with a great multi-modal experience makes these streetscapes expressive and playful. They truly brand the environment and reinforce what the community is known for – in this case, a vibrant, fun beach town.

5. Do you have a favorite thing about your work?

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I really love that when I talk about transportation, whoever I’m talking to doesn’t have to be an expert to understand what I mean. Any citizen can have a great idea or help solve a transportation problem. Because the public experiences our solutions in a very direct way, they can understand our work more easily. I also enjoy thinking about trends and creative solutions. I didn’t expect it when I was starting out, but I’ve discovered that I can do the technical work and follow transportation standards, and there is also plenty of opportunity to be creative with our solutions. I really value that.


Whitney Duffy, PE, PTOE, LEED AP, is the transportation is the transportation department head and primary transportation contact in Clark Nexsen’s Vienna, Virginia office. She offers her clients more than 17 years of experience with transportation planning, traffic engineering, and road development projects. To speak with Whitney, please call 703.822.4846 or email wduffy@clarknexsen.com.

 

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5 Questions with an Expert: Peter Aranyi Talks Student Housing https://www.clarknexsen.com/blog-5-questions-with-an-expert-peter-aranyi-talks-student-housing/ Sat, 17 Apr 2021 21:45:02 +0000 https://www.clarknexsen.com/?p=19552 I sat down with Clark Nexsen’s Student Life practice leader, Peter Aranyi, to talk about how COVID-19 has impacted the student housing market and to discuss the issues that are top of mind for our higher education clients as we…

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I sat down with Clark Nexsen’s Student Life practice leader, Peter Aranyi, to talk about how COVID-19 has impacted the student housing market and to discuss the issues that are top of mind for our higher education clients as we emerge from the pandemic.

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1. What are our clients talking or asking about most right now?

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Student housing has been very impacted by the pandemic, so there is a lot of conversation around what this experience has been like and what’s ahead. While colleges and universities are in session for education, many students opted for remote learning, which means a lot of residence halls aren’t full, and schools are feeling that loss of income. Many schools we work with – Clemson and UNC Wilmington are just two examples – designated one residence hall on campus as a “sick hall” for students who are diagnosed with COVID-19.

Having said that, I’m hearing a lot of positivity for next year and years after as we move out of the pandemic. We’re seeing quite a few design RFPs coming out, which reinforces that sense of enthusiasm. There is significant pent-up demand for new student housing, and our clients realize that the completion of new facilities is still a couple of years away after design kick-off, so now is the time to get started.

2. What are the major trends impacting student housing?

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In the big picture, a major trend is the focus on building new student housing for first- and second-year students. For a long time, we were designing apartments and suites to appeal to upperclassmen, but in recent years the need has shifted to developing residence halls that attract incoming students.

There is also an increased emphasis on allotting space and funds for commons spaces. Student rooms are getting smaller, and commons are becoming larger and more specialized. Maker spaces, classrooms, and collaborative spaces are all examples of how residential colleges and the idea of living-learning is much more mainstream now. These spaces are being designed with flexibility in mind, enabling them to be used more frequently and for different functions so schools get the most out of their investment. Quick food service like coffee shops, gelato stands, and convenience stores with a prepared food option are also increasingly popular.

student housing at UVA

The renovation of the McCormick Road Houses at UVA included the transformation of “The Castle,” a dining and social space along the main pathway to campus. By opening the exterior walls, The Castle and its surrounding plaza have become a vibrant hub of activity. Photo: Mark Herboth.

Capturing outdoor space as an amenity is also a priority. The goal is to draw students to social space outside, with pedestrian streetscapes, a variety of seating types, and easy access to the coffee shops and quick food service I mentioned. These spaces create outdoor rooms that, when carefully planned, enhance the overall student experience on campus.

And, the ‘spa bathroom’ concept, which was a new idea when we originally did it for Penn State on South Halls, is now a common feature in most of our designs. All of these elements align with goals for supporting the social experience for underclassmen.

3. What do you think the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on student housing design is likely to be, in the immediate future and longer term?

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I do think there will be impacts, but perhaps not as large-scale as we might have thought in the early days. For example, the RFPs we’re seeing are still calling for double occupancy rooms for freshmen and sophomores – the economics of building means schools can’t afford a single room for every student. We are developing ideas for increased privacy even in a shared room through elements like partial walls, but as construction prices escalate, cost will continue to impact design decisions.

I do think certain changes are here to stay, in the sense that touchless technology in particular will become much more common. Touchless faucets, electric sensor hand dryers, possibly touchless doors, etc. will become the norm.

One of the pandemic’s main impacts today is the escalation in construction costs. It’s not the sole reason for rising costs, but the impact on raw materials, manufacturing, and logistics is a contributing factor. Another issue is the pent-up demand for new or renovated facilities, which is causing a labor shortage on top of the rising material costs. These factors are impacting what schools can afford to build. There is no doubt in my mind that costs will continue to rise over the next couple of years.

4. What is the most innovative thing you’ve seen come to the market in the last two years?

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For student life, it has to be the integration of data into all facets of daily life. It’s well beyond Wi-Fi and gaming. For example, electronic systems are now used to deal with touchless deliveries, whether it be food, groceries, or Amazon. Virtual classroom and collaboration environments have exploded this past year and the ability to Zoom anytime and virtually anywhere has really changed the daily lives of the students and faculty.

5. Can you share a recent project and its immediate impact for students or the university?

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It’s hard to pick just one. New construction, I’d have to say our new project at UNC Wilmington. The first phase opened last fall and the next phase will open this fall. It’s transforming that entire section of campus by creating a new Quad and enlivening the area. It has some of the best of today’s trends – the ‘Hawk Walk’ is an outdoor space that’s intentionally activated, like a pedestrian streetscape; there are maker spaces; a classroom; and a coffee shop and convenience store.

As the student housing village completes, the Hawk Walk will be an active pathway to campus and an outdoor amenity for socialization at UNC Wilmington.

In terms of renovation, Edens Quad at Duke University remains an outstanding example of the impact renovation can have. Punching new openings in old buildings and turning what had been very closed off into a gateway took those residence halls from the least desirable to some of the most desirable.

We’re leaving a long-lasting mark on campuses with these projects, and they are significant and influential. Hearing from our clients about how these projects have positively impacted them is what makes this job so rewarding.


Peter Aranyi, AIA, leads Clark Nexsen’s Student Life practice. He has worked with clients including Virginia Tech, Penn State, and UNC Chapel Hill to design dynamic student life environments. To speak with Peter, please call 704.377.8800 or email paranyi@clarknexsen.com.

 

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