HKS has expanded its senior living practice with the addition of senior living specialists at D2 Architecture (Dallas). Former D2 president David Dillard, principal Grant Warner, associate principal Siobhan Farvardin Winfrey, and associate principal Keith Wilson have joined the firm, while the remaining D2 staff will join HKS’ Dallas office in the coming months as projects in progress are completed.

Fresh off the news of their partnership, Kirk Teske, global director at HKS (Dallas), and Dillard shared their thoughts on where they see the industry heading, the impact of COVID-19 on senior living design, and what trends are having the biggest impact on the industry—and which should go away.

Environments for Aging: Both your firms recently shared news that D2 Architecture is merging with HKS. What started this discussion and why did you think it was the right direction for these firms?
Kirk Teske:
HKS recently completed a new strategic plan and had identified senior living as a growth area. I had known David and his team for quite a while and was impressed with their knowledge and portfolio. We began talking about working together, and their joining HKS was an offshoot of those conversations. We think this will be a great addition to our firm, and it will allow us to broaden the geographic reach of D2’s work to all 24 of our global offices.

How will the set-up work—will you be consolidating offices?
Yes, D2 will become a senior living practice within HKS’ Dallas office. Because we already have several projects on both U.S. coasts, we will likely establish additional senior living design studios in Florida and California.

Will it operate under a different name?
It will operate as HKS.

For HKS, this is an opportunity to add senior living to your portfolio. Why was that important?
We have completed several senior living projects at HKS, but we haven’t had the depth of experience that David, Siobhan, Grant, and the other D2 staff bring. Their collective expertise will be very complementary to our health, hospitality, and residential mixed-use practices. This building typology is ripe for innovation and change. We believe we can deliver new creative solutions that a growing number of clients and developers are seeking. There are also opportunities in the education practice with new senior living communities being planned for university campuses.

What was the driver for D2 Architecture joining a global design firm?
David Dillard:
We really wanted to expand the scale and reach of our work, and joining HKS allows us to do that. Also, the focus on research and depth of talent in multiple practice areas at HKS will allow us to stay in front of what’s happening in the industry and expand our offerings to clients. It’s particularly exciting to work with HKS’ excellent interiors group.

From a business perspective, where do you see senior living heading in the next 10 years.
The “silver tsunami” is real, and it’s both a challenge and an opportunity. A variety of developers are entering the market. As a result, we envision a variety of new options for our aging population that break the mold of what we’ve historically seen. Intergenerational solutions, urban mixed-use solutions, and affordable prototypes are just a few of what we hope to influence in the years to come.

What’s the biggest challenge you see in the senior living market today?
The uncertainty of the capital markets—particularly the timing and the pace of our country’s emergence from the pandemic. No one seems to have cracked the code on what will be hot and what will not across the spectrum from independent living to skilled care. Indications are that the former, not the latter, will fare better at the outset of recovery. Another immediate challenge is the economy’s reflection of political turbulence, always a factor in pre-election windows. But this year the white water is particularly choppy.

How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will change the conversation about senior living design in the long term?
The health and safety of residents have always been a prime concern in senior living. COVID-19 intensified the need for infection control strategies, air quality, respite areas for residents and staff, and other operational issues that can be addressed through design like isolated service and visitor areas. I think we’ll continue to fear the “next pandemic” for years to come. That said, a large part of our conversation should be about overreacting—how not to. Who wants to live in a hospital-like environment for the rest of their lives? Designs will need to be cleaner and smarter in every sense, but no less hospitable, no less residential.

What design/architecture trend in senior living design do you think is right for the sector?
“Compartmentalization” used to be a dirty word in senior living communities. Now, it literally saves lives. The kindest and gentlest template for compartmentalization is the small house or neighborhood concept, where subcommunities of 12-16 residents are gathered into neighborhoods, each with its own kitchen, living spaces, and back-of-house functions. The Green House Project has collected statistics that demonstrate dramatically better results in disease control inside communities built under these guidelines in contrast to the conventional models where more people share more spaces.

What design/architecture trend would you like to see go away forever?
Massive dining rooms and common areas intended for all levels of care to be together in one space. Also, thoughtless paths of circulation that build in unnecessary intersections of residents, visitors, and employees coming and going.

What’s a common misconception about senior living design that you’d like to dispel through your projects/work?
One of my greatest pleasures in this business is when someone asks incredulously, “That’s a senior living community?!” Particularly, when that someone is 40 years old and is envious of the seniors who live there. The misconception is that senior living communities are all alike and they are the last place—literally—that you would want to live. I always go back to Apple’s famous 1984 Super Bowl ad introducing the Macintosh. Our intention at HKS is to dramatically enhance the world of architecture for seniors no less than Apple completely disrupted the computer industry in the 1990s.