Resilience Through A Collaborative Global ResponseBy Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Mon, 12/13/2021 - 18:18
Q: How would you describe HKS’ global experience of the pandemic-fueled market contractions and alterations in 2020?
A: One of the interesting aspects of our experience is that the regions that saw the first reactions to the crisis and its corresponding slowdowns were also the first to begin recovering, such as the Chinese market. Transfer of technical and operational knowledge as we adapted to the situations that the year presented was constant. This proved crucial when it came time to offer concrete and effective solutions to our clients. I was a part of all of this as I assumed the responsibilities of my current position in Mexico almost exactly one year ago, so I experienced the entirety of the pandemic from this perspective.
I aligned the response of our Mexico office with the global template that we were setting out to adapt to this situation. We continued a portfolio diversification process that had begun before the pandemic and we developed our multidisciplinary capabilities. Despite market contractions, we were able to expand our project portfolio as well as geographically diversify our client base throughout the country and in the larger Latin American region, which we manage through our office in Mexico. We also developed new services and areas of expertise. These are results that we were able to replicate, to some extent, throughout our global network of offices. Although in-person contact with our clients had to be, for the most part, suspended, we actually increased the depth of our communications with our clients, and clarified our service offering to provide added value to potential customers. Of course, countries in the Latin American sphere recovered at a different pace but we were already used to that from our experiences in Europe. Despite the different rates of development, we are witnessing a strong recovery in both cases.
Q: Developers and designers are currently prioritizing “internal climate” and “wellness” in their structures. How do you define these concepts and their importance?
A: We believe that the pandemic strongly highlighted the existence of these trends but did not create them; they precede the pandemic by a few years. The pandemic has also accelerated the development of the technologies that enable a faster implementation of all these trends. Wellness and, in a more literal sense, health have indeed become paramount objectives in the development of new buildings and structures. We spent a large part of the last year assessing the degree to which we are implementing these concepts in our designs and surveying our clients to see how they would like to see these concepts prioritized. We have tested and implemented these trends while balancing them against the commercial and financial capabilities of each project and of our clients. When defining these concepts, they cannot escape the social context in which they are placed. Physical social distancing needs to be balanced with structures that remind inhabitants of the mutual support that a nurturing social environment can provide. You cannot define wellness outside of that.
Q: As designers and developers of open gathering spaces, how have you adapted to safety requirements and concerns?
A: This also has had to be achieved while adhering to our clients’ budget. The additions and extra measures can quickly amount to unmanageable expenses. Constant communication has proven to be the key to success here. We want our clients to know that we base our approach to our designs on the latest CDC guidelines and the most recent applications made by prominent consultants and advisers. We have been thankful for the fact that housing and development authorities in Mexico, along with international authorities and regulators beyond the CDC, have been responsive to our requests for information and have published updated versions of their guidelines with sufficient regularity despite managing a backlog of approvals and revisions given their working circumstances.
At the same time, we have had access to separate banks of information that have been based on the experiences of staff who have been on the ground throughout all of this, such as doctors and nurses. They understand better than anybody the high-stakes nature that the design of these spaces and environments has adopted. By combining all of these sources, we are able to craft safety guidelines for our designs that are adapted to the highest demands and can inspire a sense of safety in their users while sacrificing none of the comfort that they are supposed to offer. We have a very strong relationship with government projects and, in fact, many of these open spaces fit within that category, so we have been in the right place to know everything that we need to know regarding safety standards throughout the pandemic. We need to think about spaces that will remain safe once the masks come off. We need to make sure that the lessons from this pandemic become permanent.