Amy Latimer: Transforming Cities with Leading-Edge Food and Hospitality

  • May 8, 2019
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

Amy Latimer’s day-to-day responsibilities read like a career resume. As president of TD Garden, Amy directs and oversees all operations at TD Garden, home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics and host to many of the world’s most popular music and entertainment acts. The dynamic center hosts 150-plus events and millions of guests each year.

She’s also critical to The Hub on Causeway – a 1.5 million sf retail, office, hotel and residential development, being built on the parcel of land directly adjacent to TD Garden and the original site of the old Boston Garden. The project brings new hotel and residential spaces to the area, along with a 20-concept food hall, new restaurants and the largest below-grade grocery in Boston. All to say, every day, around the world and across oceans and time zones, Amy is leading some of the most dynamic food, entertainment and development projects in the industry.

Kind enough to spare a few minutes for our team, Amy recently connected with me to talk about The Hub on Causeway, trends in food and hospitality development, and more.

Delaware North’s efforts span the globe; what trends are you seeing that will shape food and hospitality for the decade ahead?

My work takes me around the globe, but Boston’s definitely home. And one thing we’re seeing in our city that’s happening all over is that landmark restaurants that have been around 50 years are now closing. Nobody can believe it, but at the same time, it’s very predictable. You have to evolve or you risk irrelevance. The days of the same people coming every Friday are over. That’s not a sustainable model.

Today, success in food and hospitality comes down to numerous factors. At the core, you have to deliver excellent, high-quality food. The market is so competitive, that anything less won’t survive. If you can do that, you still have so much else to navigate. Technologies like Uber Eats mean fewer customers may walk through your doors, but you can still reach them if you embrace that shift. New generations crave experience, so you can’t just build it and they will come. How do you connect with customers via entertainment, happy hours, free fitness classes – this is part of a food operator’s world and business plan now. We’re taking all of that into consideration inside TD Garden and also with The Hub on Causeway project. We know it’s going to be transformational for the neighborhood, but I think it’s also going to be a leading-edge model for urban food and hospitality development.

The Hub on Causeway is such an incredible opportunity. In what ways will it transform the neighborhood?

Just five years ago the area around TD Garden had no real residential component and its culinary scene was essentially pubs that happened to sell food. That’s all begun to shift, and The Hub on Causeway is going to push that to an entirely new level. This project alone introduces a new hotel, more residential space and commercial space. And, when it comes to food, we’re opening a food hall with authentic Boston concepts, new full-service restaurants, Star Market (the largest below-grade grocery in Boston) and a 1,500-peron live music venue – it’s night and day.

This project takes the place of the original Boston Garden, which had been a parking lot for the past 19 years. The Jacobs family’s vision, the idea to have this incredible mixed-use retail and new front door for TD Garden, I think we’d have been the first sports arena to have that had we opened when they first envisioned. After several years of thorough planning, we’re well on our way to realizing the transformational benefits this project will have on the immediate neighborhood and city of Boston as a whole.

You reference residential, commercial, entertainment. That rolls off the tongue, but those are different types of customers with different needs. How do you serve them all?

That’s a good point. The project also sits on a major transportation hub for Boston, so there are 50,000 people walking through each day besides the 400 apartment units, and the hotel that doesn’t really offer any food or beverage. So, you’re right, we need to come at it on all different levels.

Star Market (the grocery store) really embraces prepared food for those who seek healthy options they can grab and take upstairs quickly. So that really serves many of the residents and local employees. The approach our Delaware North and Patina teams have taken in the food hall and restaurant is going to foster community. I think sports are still one of the last real communal experiences in our social fabric. You go there with your family – it’s a multi-generational experience – and food is a huge part of it. The Hub on Causeway will foster that communal experience directly outside the building as well.

There’s definitely a line with all the different types of people who will be our customers. But, I think with the food hall, restaurants, entertainment offerings, we’ve created a scaled system. And, then you add the grocery store – I just think we’ve created a 360-degree ecosystem of food that will allow us to take care of every single person who comes through.

You said new generations crave authentic food experiences. Whether it’s an airport, TD Garden, The Hub, how do you create them?

[Laughing] That’s the secret ingredient; you want me to give it away? In all seriousness, authenticity is now a business strategy. So, when we’re selecting operators for our spaces, we search high and low to find ones that are unique and help create that experiential component. There is no tried and true anymore; you have to put in the effort to create something truly original.

We’ve certainly done our research and have several of these authentic Boston concepts planned for the food hall. We can’t share the plans just yet, but fresh, local seafood is most definitely an anchor for the space. I think there are thousands of entertaining, delicious reasons to visit TD Garden and soon The Hub on Causeway will add nearly two dozen more.

Read more on HORIZON >

Kate St. Laurent: Brightening Boston’s Future

  • January 9, 2019
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

If you ever ask Kate St. Laurent to show you her resume or credentials as a lighting designer, don’t be surprised if she asks you to go for a late-night drive in and around Boston.

The “proof” that Kate excels as a stand-out architectural lighting designer surrounds the region and echoes in signature pieces of its built environment – the Novartis Institute’s BioMedical Research Campus, multiple Brigham and Women’s Hospital medical office buildings, Wellesley College’s Alumnae Hall*, UMASS Dartmouth Carney Library*, Wegmans in Natick, and Nantucket Cottage Hospital, to name just a few. The lights that illuminate these spaces and dot the night sky originated in Kate’s and her Lighting Studio team’s daily work.

“I’m not sure I’d actually take someone for a drive,” Kate chuckles at the idea. “But, there is something really rewarding about the tangible nature of our work. Architects, engineers, lighting designers – we contribute to pieces of the built environment that can stand for decades and centuries. We can walk by them. We can show them to our kids. We can talk to the people who live and work within them. There’s no doubt that motivates me.”

It’s a motivation Kate discovered after receiving her graduate degree from Suffolk University’s New England School of Art and Design in 2008 and taking her first job as a lighting designer. That job, and her initial work, served as an “a-ha” moment.

“The beauty of lighting design for me is that it perfectly blends creativity, math and science in a way that engages me on all fronts,” she adds. “From the moment I stepped into lighting design as a profession, I’ve loved it, and I can’t imagine ever stepping out.”

Kate and her team create lighting design solutions for healthcare spaces like Brigham and Women’s medical office buildings near Boston.

While Kate has no interest in walking away from the profession, it does allow her to leave footsteps around the world. Beyond the Boston region, Kate’s work also illuminates award-winning spaces across the country and globe including CJ Blossom Park in South Korea, Zurich North America’s HQ in Chicago, Carnegie Mellon’s Cohon Student Center outside Pittsburgh and soon, Pratt Institute’s Emerson Hall in New York City. For Kate, the global approach comes naturally.

Lab environments in CJ Blossom Park, an award-winning building in South Korea. Kate contributed to the building’s dynamic lighting design.

“Travel is part of my family’s DNA. I was fortunate to take three trips to Europe while in high school totaling nine different countries,” she explains. “I’ve visited China. My husband and I were able to visit New Zealand and have been to Europe multiple times. We took my son to California when he was one year old. My husband rock climbs recreationally, and that takes him and us all over the country. We prioritize travel and love all that it exposes us to.”

While the trips allow Kate to see the world, it also exposes her to different styles and approaches to lighting design.

“We were in Italy a couple years back, and they are doing things with lighting in retail design there that really push new boundaries. I remember a long narrow store in Milan that couldn’t have had more than 20 feet of street frontage.  It had this really interesting line of light from the exterior canopy which caught my eye. It continued into the store, down a soffit, under the lower ceiling in the back of the store that was interesting and mesmerizing,” she smiles as she remembers. “It made you stop and drew you in. It’s important to see all the ways people use light around the world, so we can bring new ideas back and always push the envelope.”

Auditorium space at Carnegie Mellon University’s Cohon Student Center

Around the world, but always back to Boston. Kate grew up in the area, studied at both Boston College and Suffolk University, and now lives in Sommerville Proper with her husband and two children. While her work pulls her to different states and time zones, Kate admits her heart is embedded in Beantown.

“I left Boston for a brief moment after high school, but quickly transferred back to Boston College. My husband and I, we want to be in the city. We want to walk to our coffee shop, community park and grocery store, we want to raise our kids here.”

Excitingly for Kate, much of her current work will enrich the Boston area and even her alma mater. She’s working on the lighting solution for Boston College’s new Connell Recreation Center set to open later this year. The 244,000 sf building will be an inspiring addition to the BC campus that integrates health and wellness offerings in bold new ways. Campus Rec magazine said the building stands to be a beacon for the university once it opens.

And, in her personal time, Kate and her husband are working to transform a “funky barn” on their property into a new play space for their children. They plan to equip it with solar panels, other sustainability design features, and of course, great lighting.

Once these projects are completed, they’ll be new markers for Kate to see on her evening drives or just when she looks toward the backyard. They’ll be testaments to her creative passion, and spaces that shed new light on both her own and Boston’s bright future.

*Asterisk notes projects Kate work on with former design firms

John Jennings: Enriching Boston Via Design and Family Ties

  • September 5, 2018
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

John JenningsJohn Jennings’ life is busy. As a project manager for our Boston team, he spends his days guiding important efforts like Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Yale University’s Sterling Chemistry Lab Renovation and renovating residence halls at Boston College while also writing thought leadership for local publications. In the evenings, on weekends, and 24-7-365 really, he’s a devoted husband and father – always trying to carve out time to help his community.

“Even as life has become more wonderfully busy with new job responsibilities and children, it’s important to me and my family that we stay connected with the community and give back,” Jennings explains. “I realized that in order to manage everything, I needed to be strategic and orient professional and career service around both my work and my children’s passions and activities.”

This approach has helped John build a diversified portfolio of community and professional commitments, including

  • He serves on a Fenway Alliance committee and helps the organization advocate for the future prosperity and growth of the Fenway Cultural District. This connection offers him the chance to connect with all types of organizations including several of the small colleges that call the district home.
  • Both John’s children participated in Future City Competition teams through their middle school years, and John helped as a mentor, guide and chaperone for the teams. With his children now in high school, John holds a similar role for his son’s robotics team, which advanced to the world championships two years ago
  • John donates time and effort to his local Family Promise chapter, an organization focused on transforming the lives of homeless families around the country. The organization delivers life-saving services: prevention, shelter and stabilization to families in need and ultimately works to help them new homes, jobs and opportunities.

“Family Promise is an important and inspiring organization,” says John. “What’s really great about our connection here is that a few years ago the organization was looking for a new space for its local chapter. I was able to help them look at a place or two and develop a space program, but they actually met another local designer who specialized on their needs during our Open Hand Studio Meet & Match event. I was thrilled we provided the platform through which that connection could happen.”

  • John and his children volunteer for an annual TEDx event in their home community of Natick, MA. The event takes place at the Natick High School, again bringing John closer to his children and community. The event is a major fundraiser for the Natick Education Foundation, which provides grant-based funding to local educators.
  • On the athletics front, John’s daughter is an avid softball player, playing for her high school’s softball team, club teams and other seasonal team. John frequently helps with coaching, scorekeeping and generally helping with the team management.

It’s a lot to manage, but John has stood out during his career for his ability to manage complex situations, design solutions and projects. It’s made him an incredible resource to our clients and project teams.

“People talk about work/life balance, but there’s really no way to have hard lines to define where one begins and the other ends,” adds John. “For me, it’s about integration. How can I find synergies between work, life, and community that help me be successful and give back to my community.”

Supporting Archeworks as it Engages Chicago Youth and Amplifies Diversity in Design

  • August 28, 2018
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

The Archeworks Chicago Studio mission and manifesto is an inspiring one.

“We believe good design serves the greater good,” it reads. “It can enhance the quality of life for all, not just the privileged few – yet too many members of our communities are not participating in the design process or being exposed to professional opportunities in design. Archeworks Chicago Studio, a design education program for Chicago’s high school students, aims to change that reality. We will teach, mentor and inspire students on the role of design in improving peoples’ lives.”

Archeworks shift toward addressing diversity in design is a seminal moment for the design education lab. Archeworks has spent most of its 24-year history advocating for public interest design. Having inspired change in the industry and seen firms across the country model its commitment, the project team decided to reshape their curriculum and focus on new ways to engage minority youth and students.

“Archeworks has driven change when it comes to public interest design and it was time to bring our efforts and focus to other areas of the design profession for enrichment,” said David Dewane Community Director of Archeworks. “We launched Chicago Studio to mark this change and create systematic momentum for introducing new students to the power of design. Our first year of programs has delivered exciting results, already helped change lives and has shown us what’s possible on this new path.”

The Archeworks team and students recently visited our Chicago office on Aug. 3 to share the results of its first year of programming. Students from four Chicago-area schools (Walter Henri Dyett High School for the Arts, Kenwood Academy High School, Epic Academy High School, Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School) all designed and presented conceptual exhibits for The Museum of Hip Hop. Exhibits included:

  • A History of the Zulu Nation
  • Knowledge
  • Public Enemy
  • JB Skating
  • The Cutoff
  • Hunids: Hip Hop and Language
  • Hip Hop Ambrosia
  • Inside Outside

“Our museum exhibit designs all were from our individual perspectives of what hip hop is,” said Jori Pilcher, a student in the Archeworks Chicago Studio. “Creativity sparked from our own views of hip hip and our everyday life experiences. The designs have no intention of being related to one another, but they work together to paint the bigger picture of what hip hop means to the people that do it, hear it, see it, wear it and live it.”

Inspired by the students’ work in the first year under its new focus on diversity, Archeworks is exploring how the Museum of Hip Hop may someday become a real temporary installation. More importantly, the design education lab is developing tools to fuel deeper understanding of how best to engage new students and magnify their reach and impact moving forward.

“What I love about our new mission is being around these kids – because they design with such fearlessness,” added Dewane. “Yes, we’re introducing them to design and hopefully opening new doors for them and changing their lives. But, they’re also going to open our eyes to new opportunities. They’re going to challenge norms. Diversity isn’t just about engaging more people for balance – it’s about opening us up to exciting new ideas from every corner of society.”

Andrew Balster, our Chicago Office Practice Leader, shared Dewane’s enthusiasm adding, “Our Chicago team is proud to back Archeworks and their mission. We share their passion for authentically engaging our communities to bring needed diversity to design. We want to see our office, and all design offices in Chicago, more reflective of Chicago’s wonderful, rich, complex and important cultural tapestry moving forward.”

Having wrapped its 2018 programming, Archeworks now has time to reassess, reboot and prepare for 2019. Given its proven record of using the power of design to challenge social, cultural and environmental challenges in Chicago and the design profession at large – those around the design education lab are right to be excited.

“I know they want to engage more schools, more students and more communities as they build on this year’s momentum,” added Balster. “Only good can come from Archeworks new mission and focus – we’ll be here to help them on their journey to strengthen the City of Chicago.”

Q+A: Cat Adams is Focused on Sustainable Paths Forward for Pittsburgh

  • January 10, 2018
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

Ever since Cat Adams first drove through the Fort Pitt tunnel to see Pittsburgh’s downtown core – full of buildings, bridges and bustle – she’s felt an unbreakable connection to the city. “I remember driving through the tunnel as part of my first visit to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU),” she recounts. “There’s something majestic about Pittsburgh’s skyline from that view. I was drawn to it instantly.”

Originally from New Hampshire, Cat made Pittsburgh her home when she decided to attend CMU and study architecture. Now, six years into her career with CannonDesign, she lives in the city and looks forward to seeing that skyline each day.

Beyond appreciating Pittsburgh’s beauty, Cat also has a vision for its future: how it can be more sustainable, more equitable, and more beautifully designed. As an architect and the sustainability leader in our Pittsburgh office, Cat is working to affect real change to propel Pittsburgh toward this stronger future.

We took time to catch up with Cat and talk about what she loves about Pittsburgh today and what she hopes it becomes in the future.

Let’s start with an easy one, how did you become interested in design as a career?

As a kid, I always had a creative spirit. I loved art, Legos and building blocks. I wanted to make things. These interests carried through into my education, and I was very fortunate to attend a high school with introductory architecture classes. I took all those classes and one of my professors encouraged me to consider pursuing architecture in college. That led me to attend CMU and I’ve just continued to fall more in love with architecture and the opportunities it can create ever since.

How do you see design playing a role in shaping Pittsburgh’s future?

A lot of ways, but I think urban design is going to be really important for Pittsburgh. Our city has a real tension between various forms of urban transportation. We have bicycles, cars, buses, pedestrians, etc. all trying to move about our urban core and they do not currently always play nice with one another. The ways are city streets are designed contribute to this disharmony.

In recent years, the city has been great about introducing new bike lanes to help ease this tension. They help, but they don’t fully resolve the issues. I think our city and the design community could work together more to design road systems that truly advocate for equitable design in Pittsburgh. It won’t be easy, the congestions issues are real and it’s tough to reshape behavior – but it’s doable, and it’s one of the biggest ways design could make a positive difference for Pittsburgh on an urban scale in the years ahead.

When did you realize you had a passion for sustainable design?

Right around when I moved to Pittsburgh, the city hosted the G20 Summit and I’ve always felt that helped uncover my interest in sustainable design. Throughout college, I spent a great deal of time thinking about design, building energy, water use, and how our built environment plays a role in climate change.

I take the role architects play in shaping our world seriously. The decisions we make about the built environment have consequences, and it’s up to us to ensure they are positive. Working at CannonDesign, I volunteered to be our Pittsburgh Office Sustainability Leader and that’s proven a great way for me to channel my passion for sustainable design into action.

How is sustainable design evolving?

I think more and more people are realizing sustainable design is also about social justice. I don’t know if sustainable design has fully evolved in that direction, but more people are thinking about it in that manner than ever before. The example I gave about Pittsburgh’s city streets – how can we make sustainable design decisions that also encourage equity? That’s the right way to approach the question.

It’s undeniable that the decisions made in corporate boardrooms and legislative forums often tend to disproportionately affect people with limited means. As a designer, we have a responsibility to advocate for these communities. We have a responsibility to design buildings and spaces that do no harm.

Is Pittsburgh a good city for sustainable design?

Absolutely, and there are multiple layers to this answer.

First, Pittsburgh has done a fantastic job of advocating for sustainable design and marketing to a global audience. I referenced the city hosted the G20 summit. Earlier this year when the President announced our country’s possible departure from The Paris Agreement, our Mayor Bill Peduto ensured our city’s commitment and fostered deeper partnerships with the City of Paris. We’ve hosted the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, we’re part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities coalition, we have numerous organizations and annual conferences focused on sustainability, the 27,000 multi-colored light bulbs on Pittsburgh’s Rachel Carson Bridge are all powered by wind turbines.

But beyond just those actions we’re taking, I think Pittsburgh is uniquely positioned to be an incubator for sustainable and resilient city solutions of the future. We face some dynamic challenges related to infrastructure, resources, climate, topography, social justice – and we should embrace the opportunity to lead the way in addressing these challenges. Given Mayor Peduto’s commitment to sustainability, the leadership and the will is there to be sustainable and resilient design pioneers.

Incubator for sustainable and resilient city solutions? Can you give an example?

Given the three rivers that define our landscape, Pittsburgh is a city challenged by maintaining its water. When we have significant rain events, certain areas flood, our sewer systems can back up, and this causes damage and problems across the city. Our water infrastructure is outdated and prompted several water quality advisories in 2017.

We’re also a city with an abundance of land, and as a result, we’ve built out over time as opposed to up. This has led to the introduction of lots of impermeable urban spaces like surface parking decks. To better deal with our water issues, we should convert some of these to permeable areas – gardens, bio swales, grass fields. If we can define a successful urban strategy for this conversion, we’ll not only help Pittsburgh, but we can inspire other cities. Houston is a city that also built out as opposed to up over time and their abundance of impermeable spaces exacerbated some of the flooding challenges in the wake of Hurricane Harvey this summer.

Okay, before we let you go, a few fun questions about yourself. What’s your favorite building in Pittsburgh?

That’s easy, I love Phipps Conservatory. A botanical garden building that is shaped beautifully. They have a butterfly room, fish ponds, gardens… just a beautiful space. It’s also on a campus that houses the first living building challenge certified building in Pittsburgh. Phipps Conservatory is a great asset for the city.

What do you do for fun in your spare time?

I like to be outdoors. I love to ski, I enjoy playing tennis and taking hikes. People sometimes don’t realize that Pittsburgh has a real wealth of nature and it’s a great city for exploring. During the summer, I volunteer with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to plant trees. It’s a great way to meet new people and get your hands dirty.

Best meal in Pittsburgh?

My favorite place to eat out is Chaya, it’s a Japanese restaurants in the Squirrel Hill part of Pittsburgh. It has a great vibe and the best sushi in Pittsburgh.

Learn more about our Pittsburgh team >

John Reed: An Architectural Lineage

  • March 31, 2017
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

john reedJohn Reed grew up in rural Carlisle, PA the son of an architect. Interestingly, John Reed’s father also grew up in rural Carlisle, PA the son of an architect. Collectively, the three generation of Reed architects — Paul, Richard, John — have designed a good number of the banks, courts, churches, schools and supermarkets that make up the fabric of Carlisle. Their lives’ work echoes and reverberates across their hometown.

Growing up the son of an architect is a powerfully unique experience. While other families vacation to beaches, yours heads to cities to visit buildings. Family homes are full of antiques and modern furniture. Parents care more about art classes than multiplication tables. Family friends are the local artists. John knows all of this very well. But, growing up an architect’s son doesn’t necessarily mean you dream of being one yourself.

“I always wanted to be Jacques Cousteau when I was a kid. I loved marine biology. I was on three swim teams. I was all about the water until one summer when I broke both my wrists and had to engage other interests,” says John. “Still, it wasn’t until my third year at Cornell until the light really went on. I spent time in Vienna and traveling across Europe. I saw amazing buildings and places. I fell in love with drawing. I fell in love with architecture.”

After school, John began following his family’s footsteps and spent time working with Fred Koetter, Thomas Phifer and Richard Meier. He completed work spanning the US and also in places like Seoul, South Korea. He taught at Syracuse University and lived in different areas of the world.

“I don’t think you can make good, valuable buildings until you’ve lived a certain amount of time,” added John. “I learned so much from the people I worked with, the students I’ve taught — it all adds up.”

Ultimately, it all led John to CannonDesign, where the familiar echoes of Carlisle, PA finally caught up with him. Learning that others in the firm were pursuing work at Dickinson College — a small, private college in Carlisle — John joined the team that ultimately won and designed the school’s new Kline Athletic Center.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. It was such a personal experience,” John reflects. “My father had passed, but I stayed with my mother the night before the interview. My mother assumed she was going to the interview with us. That’s how embedded our family is with Dickinson and Carlisle.”

A few years later, the rejuvenated Kline Center is standing and has earned design awards from the AIA and SCUP to name a few. Having left his mark in Carlisle, John has moved on to new work with colleagues like Phil Dordai and Demos Simatos at places like Syracuse University, Coppin State and Carnegie Mellon — the university where his grandfather attended architecture school.

Forever a third-generation architect, John will always spend his days working amidst the echoes. Now, however, he’s also able to spend his evenings inspiring footsteps.

“I have two sons, Mills (16) and Sawyer (13). Mills loves theater arts and sings all the time. Sawyer, he loves to draw. I give him notebooks and he’ll watch me and then he sketches his own buildings,“ John smiles. “We own this little house and the idea was always for me to design a new one for the property. I think Sawyer is going to help, I think he might be a fourth generation architect.”

Asked what he hopes he’s able to impart on his son, John’s answer—like so much in his life and work—spans generations.

“I think architecture is personal. You see the architect’s vision. I so wish my father would have been alive to seen my building at Dickinson,” John says, then pauses to settle his emotions. “If my son truly does grow up to be an architect, I hope I’m there to see it. I hope I’m able to walk through one of his buildings and see his vision of it all.”

Meet more CannonDesigners in PRISM

View our open careers here >

Colleen McKenna: Making a Splash in the World of Sports Design

  • June 1, 2016
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

Embedded within the early morning practices, coaching clinics and weekend meets are the very real life-long lessons you learn as a competitive swimmer. You learn what it takes to win. You learn what it feels like to lose by a finger length. You learn to be self-directed and independent. You realize the only thing you can control is what happens in your lane.

Colleen McKenna learned these lessons at an early age. She started swimming competitively at the age of seven and trained year-round for more than a decade. From local summer leagues in her home state of Virginia, to high school competitions, AAU leagues and even a stint at University of North Carolina, Charlotte (UNCC)—competitive swimming was an integral part of Colleen’s early years.

A love for the water

a passion for swimming and design“My whole life, I’ve been around the water. My family grew up on the beach and we would go to the pool all summer long. One day as a young girl, I was swimming at our local pool when a coach saw me and asked my mother if I would like to swim competitively,” Colleen reflects on how her swimming career started. “The passion I found for competition, aquatics, and athletics in general…it has really defined my life and career.”

Colleen’s success in such events as the 100- and 200-breaststroke helped her earn spots on junior traveling teams, which she credits as some of the best experiences in her swimming journey.

It was always great to hit personal bests and milestones, to shave a second off your time,” she says. “But, the team relays—when four of us would work together to win—nothing beats the camaraderie that came with those races.

Eventually, while a student at UNCC, it came time to focus on life beyond the pool. Colleen chose to enroll in the university’s undergraduate architecture program and stepped away from full-on competitive swimming. Not surprisingly, she eventually anchored her architecture studies in the world of swimming.

Related Content: Six CannonDesign Pools Make College Rank Top 30 List

Passion for sport and design

wall photo“I was so lucky to be able to use my graduate thesis as a platform to parallel my personal interests. I had the chance to travel to Atlanta and study the future aquatic venues for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. I met with members of the Atlanta Organizing Committee and learned so much about how to address the challenges of creating competitive spaces for an international competition. It was amazing,” she smiles. “When I graduated I took my thesis to architecture firms who specialized in sports. It helped me get hired and launched my career.” Her thesis and competitive spirit helped her secure a position with Bob Johnston’s firm in Canada, which eventually led to her joining CannonDesign and moving to Boston. Since joining the firm, she’s been able to design sports facilities for universities across the country and also helped with London’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. She’s worked with universities to create dozens of award-winning facilities.

Through it all, Colleen has never lost her love for the water and swimming. When she first moved to Boston, she coached young competitive swimmers. She still swims, and now she’s picked up rowing as another way to channel her love for water and competition. She credits traveling to the World Swimming Championships in Rome as one of the best experiences of her life.

And now, thanks to hard work and good fortune, Colleen will be able to help her alma mater design a new recreation center for their students. CannonDesign secured the opportunity with UNCC in mid-2015 partnering with Jenkins Peer Architects.

“I’ve kept in touch with many people at UNCC. While they’ve done a great job of growing their athletic facilities in recent years, I knew it wouldn’t be too long before they focused on campus recreation,” says Colleen.

The UNCC Student Health and Wellness Center project is now in the early stages of design. Colleen and the team will be meeting with students and staff to talk about ideas for the campus’ future in the months ahead. And, while nobody will be wearing goggles or swim caps during the meetings, the parallels between Colleen’s competitive swimming days and passion for sports architecture still run deep. The early mornings, the ups and downs, the power of camaraderie, and knowing that no matter what, it takes 100% effort to be successful.

Meet more CannonDesigners in PRISM

View our open careers here >

Offering an Open Hand: A Design Movement to Help Underserved Communities

  • March 19, 2016
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

Open Hand Studio SpeakersIn a world full of underserved people, organizations and communities, design needs to be a tool to empower people and affect positive change. This belief is infused into all CannonDesign efforts, but is especially apparent via our Open Hand Studio — a pro-bono design entity focused on bringing design services to those who need them most, but may not be able to afford them.

“As designers and architects we have these incredible gifts and skills, but we can’t view them solely as our own to covet. These are gifts and skills we need to share with our neighbors and communities,” says Tim Swanson, CannonDesign’s Chicago Office Leader while commenting on the power of Open Hand Studio. “When we start thinking about the real social implications of our work in that way, we can be more than designers. We can be designers who give a damn.”

Open Hand Studio exists to connect individuals with national and community organizations dedicated to providing design services for the public good, organize outreach activities and events benefitting the communities in which we work, and target pro-bono projects for clients that need design services but could not otherwise accomplish the work. Since its launch, Open Hand Studio has helped bring healthcare services to at-risk populations, create opportunities for individuals with disabilities, beautify cities, and elevate social justice, to list just a few efforts.

This desire to help enrich the world is infused in CannonDesign’s DNA. We became the first to pledge to A Billion + Change, the leading effort in the United States to organize pro bono and skills-based service on a national scale. We further advanced our dedication to public interest design through partnerships on a global and local scale with leading institutions in this arena including Public Architecture and Taproot Foundation.

Open Hand Studio is a program any and every CannonDesigner is able to take part in if interested. Here’s a look at some of the signature projects and efforts the pro-bono entity has taken on in recent years.

Advancing Social Justice in Chicago

As Next City stated during an article profiling our work with Cook County Central Bond Court in Chicago, “Cook County bond court is loud. Judges are hard to hear from the bench in the corner of the room and people entirely unrelated to procedures have to walk through the room to access other parts of the building. With judges ruling on up to 120 cases in two hours, averaging just 37 seconds per detainee, it’s chaotic and confusing for families, who may not understand whether their loved ones will be released on bond or not. In those 37 seconds, a judge could set a $1,000 bond that ensures a low-income, nonviolent offender remains in jail, sometimes for nearly a decade, simply because they can’t pay.”


The problem recognized by Next City was also recognized by numerous criminal justices, elected and appointed leaders who have stepped forward so state they believe Cook County bond court’s poor physical design negatively impacts how individuals are perceived, how bonds are set and how detainment decisions are made. Seeking help, the team of stakeholders turned to CannonDesign and Civic Consulting Alliance for help redesigning the space.

After extensive research, interviews and collaboration, our team created a new bond court design that achieves the following:

  • A new layout that eliminates the chance of outside staff walking through or interrupting proceedings and puts the judge front and center, facing three separate tables intended to clearly delineate the three separate and equal roles of the pretrial services, public defender and state’s attorney. These changes allow judges and defendants to solely focus on the case at hand.
  • The design also eliminates extensive background noise and introduces acoustical wall treatments, soft surfaces and sound absorptive materials — all making it easier for those involved in court proceedings to communicate.
  • The introduction of new infographics that help defendants and families understand who’s who in the courtroom and how proceedings will play out.

The problems that exist in Cook County’s Central Bond Court are representative of those found in court rooms and justice systems around the country,” said Delia Conache, a designer on the project. “We hope our design alleviates the challenge in Cook County and potentially becomes a model for change nationwide.”

Bringing Safe and Quality Healthcare to Haitians

In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 100,000 people and impacted the entire nation, it became apparently clear that better healthcare could save Haitian lives moving forward. Recognizing this challenge, our Open Hand team connected with the opportunity to design Hôpital Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart Hospital) to support the health and wellness needs of the Northern Haiti population for generations to come.

New Hospital Main Entry

New Hospital Main Entry

To best deliver for the Haitian people, our team modeled its approach to one we’d taken previously in Afghanistan — committing to deep understanding of the culture, climate and health realities of the region. Designers interviewed stakeholders, analyzed strategic plans, customized demographic projections, and validated marketing and institutional health data with special focus on addressing HIV, cholera and tuberculosis patients. The result was a design and plan that became the foundation on which a new 150-bed facility capable of future expansion was planned. The design is incredibly scalable, adaptable and modular to function in the context of unreliable power, water and sanitation infrastructure along with an environment prone to earthquakes, hurricanes and infectious disease epidemics.

Forging Connections Meet & Match Style

One of the trademarks of Open Hand Studio has become its Meet & Match events that take place all across the country. These events, which are organized annually, invite non-profits with design challenges and designers throughout the industry to come together over food, drinks and presentations to forge connections that lead to socially responsible design projects. In 2016, CannonDesign hosted its sixth Meet & Match event and over 100 Chicago-based non-profits gathered in our office for more than three hours of discussion and idea sharing.

Meet & Match events have become powerful platforms for civic connections. Having hosted them in Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo, Boston and other major cities, they’ve become opportunities for communities to come together and address challenges via design. The events receive strong positive feedback and can lead to partnerships, projects and more than drive stronger futures for cities and communities. Read more about our recent Chicago event here.

Creating Pipelines for Employment

St. Patrick Center in St. Louis is one of Missouri’s largest providers of housing, employment and health opportunities for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The group takes an action-based approach to service and offers programs that assist more than 8,000 people each year. Via Open Hand Studio, we helped St. Patrick Center renovate its McMurphy’s Café, the nation’s first restaurant for training those battling homelessness and mental illness to develop skills that help them find employment and opportunities for the future.

McMurphy’s Café has proved so successful, the organization expanded its reach into the downtown community by opening McMurphy’s Express. The two entities provide training while offering food and meals for the residents of St. Louis.

While each Open Hand effort is unique, all are united by our firm’s desire to make a difference in the world. We recognize design’s power to help people, provide hope and healing, and changes lives for the better. We try to unleash that power every day and Open Hand Studio is undoubtedly one of our best vehicles for making it happen.

Learn about our immediate career opportunities >

Entrepreneur: Workplace Design Inspired by Garages and Basements

  • December 7, 2015
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

Meg Osman, CannonDesign’s Executive Director of Corporate/Commercial, has authored and published her first piece for Entrepreneur: Dingy Basements and Cluttered Garages. How Startup Spaces Inspire Workplace Design.

Osman has been selected to regularly contribute articles to Entrepreneur on how workplace design and real estate strategies can empower business goals and growth for emerging companies. In her first post, Osman talks about the unique spaces (garages and basements) where companies like Apple, Under Armour and Amazon were built and how these unintentional creative hubs can influence corporate office design.

Here are two examples pulled from the article:

Flexibility of Choice is a Must

One of the more appealing aspects of these garages and basements is there are no pre-determined rules about how they should be used. The bold thinkers at the core of these companies are able to work as they see fit – they can stand for phone calls, sprawl out on a couch to decompress, hold meetings outside or close all the doors for focused work when they’re really motivated by a new idea. The flexibility and freedom these workplaces afford maximizes creativity simply because there are no set rules or space parameters to work within.

Historically, these ideals haven’t been widely translated to the design of corporate workplaces, since they’ve been dismissed in favor of efficiency and standardization. Not surprisingly, established companies are beginning to reverse this trend by specially creating spaces to encourage entrepreneurial and creative spirits.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Things Hackable

Another ideal aspect of start-up garages is they can change day to day. They can be arranged to accommodate research one day, and a meeting of minds the next. In addition, couches and chairs can be reorganized to provide private space, when necessary. Companies should seek out workplaces that capture this “anything goes” mentality and incorporate flexibility seating options. These options afford room for your company to grow, change and evolve.

Another cool idea – to incorporate spaces where walls, desks and tables can be written on – provides opportunities to brainstorm on the spot. This function also mimics that iconic startup garage where every piece of paper, napkin or cereal box gets turned into a sketch pad for ideas for the future that accelerate your employees’ creative engines.

Read the full Entrepreneur article online now, and be on the lookout for future pieces from Osman in the future.

Learn more about our Corporate / Commercial Expertise >

Talking the Future of College Recreation with Lindy Fenex

  • October 15, 2015
  • Author: Chris Whitcomb

Technology Infusion, Personal Fitness and Flexible Space

The revamped Student Recreation Center at University of California Riverside (UCR) has become a hub of positive energy – strengthening campus culture, promoting health and wellness across campus, securing design awards and also serving as a new campus icon for UCR. The new facility allows for key synergies across recreation, intramurals, student health services, counseling, housing, dining and other student resources while also boasting a striking swimming pool, bouldering wall and other amenities.

College Recreation Center Indoor Track

College Recreation Center Indoor Track

One of the drivers for this successful effort is Lindy Fenex, Recreation Director at UCR. Proud of the building’s success on campus, Fenex has joined our own Jenny Delgado at conferences (Including this week’s NIRSA Triventure) to talk about how they successfully partnered to achieve the project’s goals. Organizations like the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association have recognized UCR’s new center as a stand out effort.

 University of California Riverside Pool

Project: University of California Riverside Pool

Our team recently caught up with Lindy to talk about trends in recreation design, student engagement and personal fitness efforts.

CD: For starters, why are you passionate about collegiate recreation?

LF: There are two primary reasons I’m so passionate about college recreation. Firstly, I was a “gym rat” all through my college years and one of the most important things I loved as a recreation participant was how it was open to all – everyone could participate regardless of ability level. Recreation really brought people of many different backgrounds together in pursuit of common interests. I made a lot of friends through my participation in recreation programming and it really made my college years more enjoyable. Secondly, I wanted to do what I could to provide every student the opportunity to have the same kind of experience with recreation as I did, so getting involved as a recreation professional has been my way of giving back.

CD: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for college recreation in the next 5 years? 20 years?

LF: The biggest opportunity I see is that students truly value the facilities, programs and services that recreation provides and general students are not averse to funding it. This level of support from students can potentially translate into program and facility growth and, of course, more opportunities for us to serve our students’ needs. I think this is a trend that we as recreation professionals can take pride in and feel very good about.

CD: How do you think college recreation centers will be different 0 years from now than they are today?

LF: There are three significant ways I think recreation centers will be different. First, I think technology will drive a lot of change as it becomes a much bigger aspect of how recreation centers meet users’ needs. When I reflect on the amount of technology that went into our expansion project, I am literally astounded. College students today are so adept at the use of technology and their expectations on how it should serve their needs is an important trends we need to follow. Recreation center infrastructures will need to build in the necessary capacity for switches, cabling, raceways, wireless connectivity, etc. to meet this type of demand.

Secondly, flexible multi-purpose room spaces have become much more important as rising demand for spaces that can serve fitness classes, dance groups, martial arts and other activities requires a greater ability to maximize programming in limited space.

Thirdly, the rise of personal fitness and general wellness is another trend which I believe will drive changes in program and design concepts. For example, we more than doubled our fitness center square footage with our expansion project and included an instructional kitchen to allow us to stay congruent with this trend. I don’t know that kitchens will always end up in recreation centers, but having the ability to provide cooking classes on a variety of styles including healthy, ethnic, vegetarian, vegan and fun treats like cookies gives great opportunities to teach students about the importance of good nutrition and the impact it can have on students’ academic careers. Let’s face it, a steady diet of Top Ramen and fast food doesn’t contribute much to a good mindset for academics.

CD: What makes a stand out recreation center? Does design play a role?

LF: Design is absolutely critical to the making of a stand out recreation center. I believe that a stand out recreation center is one in which the design is thoughtfully crafted to meet the needs of its unique student body. I tend to think there is a template out there that if a recreation center has components 123, ABC, and XYZ then it will just be great. Certainly there are common threads which all recreation centers should have, but to really stand out the rec staff and the design team ought to make sure the program and associated design respond directly to the unique needs and desires of the students on that specific campus. Understanding the campus recreation culture is an important piece to get right as it should have a dramatic influence on both the program and of course, the design. If that is accomplished, then the center will “stand out.” Ideally, you want your students to walk into that recreation center and feel like it was designed just for them. After all, our students are going to be the primary users – that’s who we want it to stand out to and for always.

college recreation center

College recreation center

CD: How do you define success for your college recreation program?

LF: For me, success is rooted in student participation and positive outcomes. We want the vast majority of our students to be actively engaged in our facilities and programming and beyond that – we want their participations to have a positive impact on their lives. Our hope is that they develop greater personal fitness and health, make friends and connect with others who shave their interests, develop a greater sense of belong and community on our campus and achieve better performance in class – we just want to enhance their overall experience as a student here at UCR.

CD: What changes have you observed on campus since the opening of your new rec facility?

LF: Well, our usage and participation rates have increased by around 40%, which is incredibly rewarding. Also, the quality of our expansion project as well as its iconic design has made it both the “talk of the town” and a very popular place to bring visitors. The shine hasn’t worn off at all yet.

CD: Do you use the new recreation center? What’s your favorite part?

LF: I do use the new fitness facilities, although not as much as I would like to be able to use them. I have recently started to brush up on my racquetball game to satisfy my competitive spirit. My favorite part of our new rec center is the 28’ x 17’ giant video wall we constructed – it dominates the visual landscape when you come into the building and is just incredibly impressive.

Learn more about our recreation expertise >