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Alvarado Jr High studying Huckabee Texas

Q & A with Konrad Judd

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Konrad-Judd-ColorFor 48 years, Huckabee has helped our clients achieve innovation and excellence in educational design, and as our company has grown over the years, we’ve continued to add best-in-class expertise to our team. In 2013, Huckabee welcomed Konrad Judd, an international thought leader in educational design, as our Director of Design. Together, we’ve continued our commitment to Texas students and Texas schools, providing innovation, value and flexible designs to meet emerging trends in educational delivery.

Konrad’s first project with Huckabee was the design of Alvarado ISD’s new junior high school. Konrad and his team helped the district realize their goals of merging project-based learning strategies with a traditional learning environment. The result is a modern facility that will act as a benchmark for future projects in the district.

The Huckabee team joined Alvarado ISD for a special ribbon cutting ceremony in August, opening the doors for the community to explore their newest instructional facility. The new building is exceptional, and we sat down with Konrad to talk about the project and how Huckabee’s design team is making an impact in education.

Q1: The district started off the conceptual process with the idea of designing a traditional learning facility; however, Alvarado JHS is anything but. How did Huckabee work with the district to re-envision their goals?

Huckabee’s planning and design process is very collaborative—with involvement from each of our design disciplines. We work with districts in their schools, scheduling design charrettes onsite with administrators, faculty and other stakeholders to talk through their educational delivery goals and present concepts and ideas for design. When we started talking with the district, we realized their goals leaned more toward modern, project-based learning strategies.

Our design team put together several concepts for the district’s review, and we decided to move forward with a facility that included innovative learning elements. The selections aligned well with what the district wanted to accomplish, long term. The process was a game-changer, and elements that are found in the junior high school will be used in future facilities.

Q2: Innovative elements are found throughout the facility. How did your design team incorporate these elements into the design?

The broad philosophy in educational circles right now focuses on breaking down schools into smaller environments, providing a shared and more personal experience for groups of students. Often, students feel overwhelmed in larger school environments.

In Alvarado ISD, staff and administrators decided to break down the junior high by grade level, creating two distinct spaces for 7th grade on the lower level and 8th grade on the second level. Each grade level is then separated into smaller academic pods that contain classrooms and labs that are centered on a living room or shared space. The shared space is connected vertically with the other grade level by a stairway, creating opportunities for students to interact and for 8th graders to mentor their younger counterparts.

Notably, the classrooms in each academic pod have a section of glass walls, creating transparency from classroom to the shared space. This concept of transparency is trending right now as schools are moving toward active learning environments that incorporate smaller doses of traditional stand-and-deliver teaching. Transparency enhances an active learning environment and mimics many aspects of the workplace, better preparing students for their future.

The team also incorporated outdoor learning courtyards for each grade level. These courtyards connect to the academic pods and feature comfortable seating and planter boxes that can be used for science experiments. Finding ways to connect the indoors with the outdoors, an important feature for student development.

Q3: One of the unique features in the facility is a Genius Lounge. But, what exactly is a Genius Lounge?

Huckabee’s Genius Lounge is a combination of Apple’s Genius Bar and a lounge you’d find at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. The space is found inside the library and features soft seating and an open concept. As today’s students are using libraries differently than generations before them, we must find ways to maintain the value in these types of spaces by encouraging scholarship and collaboration. The Genius Lounge accomplishes this, providing a comfortable space where students act as peer-to-peer geniuses as they problem solve together.

Q4: The facility has a modern aesthetic. How did your team’s selections fit into the district’s design goals?

Alvarado ISD was open to a design that was more progressive and sophisticated, blending professional with academic aesthetics. We used glass, steel, metal and masonry on the exterior to create the modern look, while incorporating wood, soft seating and pops of color inside to make it comfortable and suitable for the students and the academic environment.

Throughout the building the design team also placed brightly colored way-finding “portals.” These portals are intended to help students, teachers and visitors easily find areas of importance such as the entrance to the media center and academic pods, as well as other collaborative learning spaces. They also provided an opportunity to add visual interest and incorporate the school’s colors into the design.

Q5: What’s next for Huckabee’s clients?

Huckabee’s design department is working on some really exciting projects right now that are changing the way our schools think about educational delivery. We are working hand-in-hand with our planning teams to research the learning environment and design transformational spaces. In Dripping Springs, Georgetown, Killeen and Kaufman ISDs, as well as others, we are changing the design of learning spaces to support the way instruction is being delivered with today’s modern activity strategies and open-concept / flexible environments. Alvarado ISD’s new junior high is a great example of how we’re partnering with schools to enhance instruction and build a future for our kids.

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Huckabee Opens New Corporate Digs

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Huckabee has been voted “Best Place to Work,” numerous times—just ask our employees, and they’ll tell you why. We have passion, we have incredible work environments, we are committed to our craft and most importantly, we have amazing coffee (a critical factor when working with architects, engineers and creative types).

Over the past five years Huckabee has been in growth mode, growing our staff, our services and our offices—now with locations in Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Waco and Dallas, where we can provide personal services to our school district clients. And, with growth, comes innovation, and with innovation, comes an idea to design our workspace around what being a “Huckabeean,” really means. And what it really means, is really awesome.

Huckabee’s corporate headquarters relocated to its new, state-of-the-art office this week. Located in downtown Fort Worth, the 2-story Hucka-cool space embodies the firm’s commitment to excellence, designed to address the needs of our employees so they can focus on the needs of our clients. Walk in, and you’re greeted by Corey, our corporate barista. Take a seat in the Huckabean Cafe and he’ll make you a cup of coffee to start your day. Stop by on a Tuesday or Thursday at 3:30 p.m. and join in on the double shot happy hour (coffee only, thank you).

The lobby and coffee bar are the central hub of the office, offering flexible use space (and sweeping downtown views) for impromptu meetings, creative sessions, client meetings or a game of ping-pong in between marathon design sessions. The Huckabee brand is seen everywhere, from the custom-designed logo lights that highlight the staircase to color selections throughout and even in the tile selection for the magazine-worthy finishes in the restrooms.

“Each and every space in the office was tailored to fit the needs of our employees and to personify our brand,” said Chris Huckabee, CEO of the firm. “We are constantly on the move, constantly thinking and seeking inspiration. The office was designed to ignite this passion—providing a space that our employees can share with each other and share with clients.”

Sit-to-stand desks are used at each workstation and an open concept environment promotes teamwork. Collaboration pockets and workspaces are located throughout the building, featuring comfortable chairs and situated with the best views of downtown. Large, open workrooms are a designer’s dream, with wide expanses of counter surfaces, storage and natural light for Huckabee’s interior designers to select finishes and for the architectural and structural teams to review plans and drawings.

Modern and technology-rich, Huckabee’s new office is nothing short of incredible (according to Ken, an architectural intern, the only thing missing is a slide). Even more incredible, Huckabee’s offices across the state (in Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Waco and Dallas) feature similar environments, making Huckabee feel like home regardless of where it’s located.

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Huckabee Earns Top Industry Nods

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Huckabee was named a Zweig Group Hot Firm for 2015, being noted as one of the 100 fastest growing architecture firms in the United States and Canada. The list recognizes firms in the architecture, engineering, planning and environmental consulting professions that have “outperformed the economy and competitors to become leaders in their chosen fields.”

The firm was also recognized by Zweig Group as a Best Firm to Work For in 2015, placing number three on the list for architecture firms and number one for structural engineering firms. The Best Firm award recognizes excellence in workplace practices, employee benefits, retention rates and feedback from employees.

This summer, Huckabee was also named one of Engineering News Record’s Top 500 Design Firms, jumping to 360 from 421 in 2014. In the regional Texas-Louisiana edition, Huckabee ranked 43, up three spots over last year. This is the fourth consecutive year Huckabee has been recognized on these lists.

New Report on Texas School Construction

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The Fast Growth School Coalition and Huckabee have developed and released a school facilities report entitled, “Texas Schools Aren’t Average,” which is in response to information that has been disseminated by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. While the comptroller’s information averages the cost and sizes of school buildings across the state, “Texas Schools Aren’t Average” provides a more accurate portrayal of potential cost differences based on:

  • Regional differences such as climate and soil type
  • Construction considerations such as foundation types and local building codes
  • Input by local community members regarding the type of facility they want for their students

The report consistently emphasizes that “in Texas, decisions regarding public education are made by local communities, and since local communities are all different, that means decisions about educational programs and school buildings are going to vary considerably across the State of Texas.”