HKS Approach Towards

Design Innovation, Research and Development


For 78 years, HKS has embraced a culture that is centered on innovation and customer focus. HKS is a worldwide network of professionals, strategically located and working seamlessly as one firm. HKS operates from 24 worldwide offices. Our project experience includes corporate headquarters, office buildings, healthcare facilities, sports facilities, hotels and resorts, banks, government, aviation facilities, convention centers, religious, public buildings, multi-family housing, educational facilities, science and technology, retail and industrial projects located in over 1,500 cities throughout 92 countries. The firm employs more than 1,350 dedicated and experienced professionals with specialty experience as well as building-technology savvy. Integrating our in-house R&D teams, we grow your interests through in-depth, knowledge based practices.



At HKS, our attempt is to constantly innovate to keep building on and bettering where we are currently. Innovation for us is not just innovation in design but also innovation in the processes employed to deliver design solutions. Examining a design afresh in terms of its context, constraints and desired performance levels allows us to come up with solutions that, although they are informed by our experience, are in no way restricted by our past or current knowledge. This thrust on innovation becomes even more imperative in an ever-evolving profession to remain relevant, to remain aware of the changes around us and to constantly adapt to market fluctuations and changes in discourse.


When HKS set up base in India, there were visible and obvious challenges that the Indian market presented. These were typically related to construction techniques, weather conditions, cost points, material availability, finish quality, information management, etc. Most of these could be handled through robust documentation, detailing and vendor selection, which are inherent strengths with HKS. Cost points and designing for relatively severe weather conditions were ones that really allowed for a tremendous opportunity to bring in design innovation.


We took India and its vast heritage as a starting point. The country historically hasn’t really been very resource-rich for the most part. What it has been, however, is immensely frugal in the way it has used its limited resources and very inventive in terms of how it has used them. Given the extremely high temperatures that most of the country reels under during the summer season, achieving thermal comfort is one of the key drivers for most buildings, or at least it used to be. To demonstrate this, if we were to look at typical dwelling units in the north and central parts of India — say, about 100 or 200 years back, we would find a few typical characteristics. These would include high ceilings, pronounced shading devices, thick walls, high-level ventilators, step wells, etc. These were passive, less-resource-intensive techniques of lowering temperatures without dependence on mechanical methods of cooling. Interestingly, this was done not because of choice but, rather, for the lack of it because mechanical methods were not available for the most part, or when they were, they simply were too expensive to be implemented on a mass scale.


Fast-forward to the early ’90s: the opening of the economy coupled with the emergence of a relatively more aware, more traveled average Indian who was aspirational in all that he pursued. This resulted in a demand for design that emulated the developed world with large glass façades, aluminum cladding and enormous atriums with skylights to achieve the “developed world” aesthetic.


What was forgotten in this attempt to achieve notional design prosperity was that a large glass façade that may work well in the relatively colder climates of Europe may not actually transcend very well when placed in Gurgaon, which would see summer temperatures that reach 45 degrees Celsius. It would be safe to say that there was a sheer disregard for the centuries of building in a context-sensitive manner that respected where the building was placed and the climate. What we now called passive design was simply just sensible design not too far back.


We at HKS understand this condition and constantly apply design innovations that are informed by the traditional building methods designed to mitigate the effects of a harsh environment and limited resources. Basic design considerations like the right orientation, south and west façades being more solid, use of evaporative cooling, double-skinned façades, employing adequate shading devices, use of local materials, etc., all find their way back into our design approach as more contemporary interpretations of these tried and tested techniques.

One such project that is a large extension to an already sizeable built mass is situated in New Delhi and embodies various such design innovations. The site sits across an urban village on an extremely tight and busy road, which imposes serious challenges related to traffic movement, air quality, functional parameters, etc. Our approach was to be able to not just study the site but also its surroundings to understand the impact that the proposed development would have in the long term. The client brief was to create a landmark building that would serve not only as an urban marker but also as a benchmark for all such future developments. This also meant creating design that is forward-looking and reflective of the future in terms of form, functionality and the use of materials.


Working with the client, the design team could successfully create a built environment that not just ticked all the right boxes aesthetically but also was able to employ innovative methods to make the sure the building performed well. To address the concerns imposed by the climate, light and ventilation requirements, etc., there was a conscious application of techniques like evaporative cooling to bring down temperatures around the main concourse, strategically located shading devices, and a façade that was lighter and more transparent in the right places to allow for adequate daylight penetration and heavier where we required thermal buffers, just to name a few.


This resulted in not just bringing down temperatures but also, in effect, reducing the requirement of HVAC systems in the building, which, in turn, reduced the power consumption, the requirement of power backup and, in effect, the power panels. More daylight penetration resulted in fewer light fixtures, all of which translated into not just lower capital costs but also significantly lower operational costs. Due to these interventions, it is projected that we can bring down the overall predicted energy use intensity (pEUI) by close to 50 percent.


This is just one small example of how we at HKS constantly take local knowledge and pair it with our design sensibilities and robust delivery mechanisms to develop approaches that are truly innovative.



The post-liberalization India became an attractive investment option for global multinational companies, and U.S.-based corporations took the lead in this. Starting in the late 1990s with a few giant corporations taking the lead, we saw many more from all industry verticals setting up a base in India. As the 2000s progressed, most large global corporations started looking at India and their investments from a strategic viewpoint. Progressively, U.S.-based conglomerates realized that India can be looked at as a potential destination for setting up their R&D departments, due to the availability of highly trained manpower at competitive costs.


Research Helps Create Better Design

Good research enables us to constitute a blueprint for the collection, measurement and analysis of data, and it helps the design team make an informed decision, unlike the traditional practice of relying on unfiltered data from varied sources and based only on personal experience and judgment. Earlier, research and development has been limited to independent centers and academic bodies. The need and value of measured decisions has increased with change in the client perspective of placing value over money, increased awareness, an expanded ecosystem and a growing market. Successful research provides knowledge and supports a solution, and it tells our clients that choices have been based on evidence rather than unfiltered information. It helps to add both tangible and intangible value to our design and the built environment. The tangible aspects include the return on investment by reducing operational costs, whereas the intangible ones include enhanced human efficiency, sustainable design, and better organizational value and comfort for the users.


How HKS Supports Research & Development

The research entities and initiatives at HKS are merged within the design decisions and practice. It includes:

  • CADRE (our nonprofit research group that conducts deep dives into research focused on enhancing human and organizational well-being
  • HKS LINE (our research and design team that focuses on cross-pollinating design thinking laterally, across all sectors, by the study and application of emerging technologies and methodologies)
  • Design Fellowships (our fellowships that cultivate emerging design talent, providing a forum for stimulating new ideas and processes to deepen the relationship between research and design)


Our R&D efforts focus on evidence-based design, workflow innovation, high-performance exterior design, parametric design, maximizing efficiency and software application. Our uniquely structured approach facilitates our designers to integrate this investigative effort into the design process. This enables our clients and designers to create more value and revenue.


At HKS, our approach is to treat every design problem as a springboard to investigation and research. The impacts of these decisions on the buildings are tracked and tested post-occupancy and during the buildings’ life cycles. We are committed to education through our research and development activities by publications and presentations through both print and online media.


We firmly believe that:

Research is creating new knowledge.”

— Neil Armstrong