MKThink: Enhancing the Urban Environment

MKThink and RoundhouseOne team members prepare to deploy sensors on Market Street

MKThink and RoundhouseOne team members prepare to deploy sensors on Market Street

MKThink is working with the City of San Francisco to help re-establish Market Street as the premier cultural, civic and economic center of SF. We recently deployed 7 sensor devices at nodes around the ‘Whispering Dishes’ on 4th and Market to investigate pedestrian use patterns. This will help MKThink better understand and analyze the interactions between people and their urban environments as well as aid us in our quest to develop tactful and innovative strategies for revitalizing public space. The Better Market Street Prototyping Festival is Thursday April 9th through Saturday April 11th. If you find yourself walking downtown on Market Street, stop and have a look!

MKThink Collaborative Workplace Environments

Maximizing Utility + Potential in Workplace Environments


There is no universal solution to workplace design. MKThink’s award-winning architecture studio designs space that reflects and supports brands and the people that define them.  It’s an opportunity to use data and analysis to align organizational culture with  physical environment. MKThink’s unique approach integrates an extensive user engagement process to determine company and employee needs. Individual feedback at every level yields insight essential for effective space planning. Design must be driven by metrics beyond beauty and comfort.  Our designs support the activities and cultures that create value for your organization.

Maximizing Utility + Potential in Workplace Environments details the MKThink approach and features workplace designs that include Mozilla, The Nature Conservancy, and Stanford

On Site // Off Site: Cultivating Dynamic Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces


On Thursday, March 26, MKThink hosted its second panel in the “Transforming the Built Environment for Education” series, this time choosing to focus the discussion on the dynamic between physical and virtual learning spaces. We brought together educators working across the spectrum of learning, and to students of all ages including K-12 and higher education.

Prompted by questions from MKThink Senior Strategist Allan Donnelly, the discussion centered on how the digital realm has amplified and made more transparent the cycle of thinking regarding education. Lessons learned are no longer limited to the temporal and spatial constraints of the classroom, but rather are constantly provoked and questioned by students long after traditional lessons are over.

Panelist David Meckel, Director of Facilities for California College of the Arts (CCA), when asked initially about this new dynamic, noted, “no eighteen year old student would make a differentiation between digital and physical. At this point, they’re entirely enmeshed.”

“Technology shouldn’t be isolated to the lab,” echoed Amy Burvall, who added that from her twenty-year experience as a k-12 teacher,

“students are better served by going out into the world and making a movie than they are shooting one in the confines to the classroom.”

-Amy Burvall Vice President of EdgeMakers Academic Affairs

This isn’t to say that the physical environment in which students and faculty interact isn’t important; rather, it places more importance on an institution’s interpretation of which spaces are crucial to social and emotional education.

“We believe in the residential,” added Mike Wang from the Minerva Project, a new, accredited degree program that is founded on a model where students cohabitate but whose campus is the urban city environment itself. “We partner with the SF Symphony for a music class, or go see Ai Wei Wei at Alcatraz to see an installation piece. But students live and cook together so they can form bonds and develop interpersonal skills.”

“Relationships are more important than the room,” added Amy Burvall, again placing emphasis on the notion that the connection to the outside world is key in getting students to experience life outside of their smartphones and computers.

“Technology is a great way to share knowledge outside of school,” commented David Meckel, “so students should be encouraged to continue the discourse.”

To close the event, questions from the audience probed at these notions as they translate across grade levels, including how district educators can glean similar lessons from their higher education counterparts, and vice-versa.

Many guests continued the conversation well after the panel closed, eager to share their perspectives on the dynamic between digital and physical environments.

Watch the panel in full for yourself below, and sign up for our newsletter on the homepage for further events from MKThink!

Planning Schools as Teaching Tools


On Thursday, September 25, MKThink hosted an inspiring panel discussion examining how schools must evolve alongside today’s quickly changing curriculum, technology and students. We brought together folks from very different teaching institutes, to discuss how the brick and mortar schools that students enter every day should be seen as more than just a place to house learning, but as a living breathing part of the curriculum.

One of the first questions from MKThink Principal and moderator Nate Goore sparked a discussion about buildings influencing student motivation, creativity, and inspiration. Scott Doorley, Creative Director, and Scott Witthoft, Director of the Environments Collaborative of the Stanford University, chuckled and equated the walls to looking similar to the walls of a third grade classroom where finger-paint and macaroni art are proudly on display.

“The buildings reflect the current state of work. Ambient connections can happen when buildings allow people to demonstrate their progress.”

-Scott Witthoft, Environments Collaborative, @ Stanford University

Although it conjures up a comical image of elite, adult students admiring the finger-paint artwork of their fellow students, Doorley stressed the importance of students being able to see more than just their own project.

“It’s about putting students in a space where the focus is on what they are collectively creating rather than receiving,” said Doorley.

It’s beneficial for students to see how their fellow students tackled the same problem, often coming up with a vastly different solution. When the cloak is removed from what other classmates have created, students can begin to interact with, question and understand their classmates’ way of thinking.

“The buildings reflect the current state of work,” echoed “Witthoft. “Ambient connections can happen when buildings allow people to demonstrate their progress.”

Dr. Nick Cofod, Assistant Headmaster and Upper School Director at the Town School for Boys chimed in regarding the new Town School building, which was similarly developed. Cofod added, “the building is providing a framework for questions and inquiries by the students to the teachers. The building itself becomes a catalyst for students to ask more questions, ultimately learning more.”

Held in the MKThink Salon. L to R, Moderators Signo U. and Nate G. of MKThink, Scott D. and Scott W. of the @ Stanford, Dr. Nick C. of Town School for Boys, and Tim W. and Tadashi N. of the Oakland Unified School District.

Held in the MKThink Salon. L to R, Moderators Signo U. and Nate G. of MKThink, Scott D. and Scott W. of the @ Stanford, Dr. Nick C. of Town School for Boys, and Tim W. and Tadashi N. of the Oakland Unified School District.

A shift in the conversation came when the socio-economic disparity between schools, even those within the same system, came up in a discussion surrounding the state of national standardized tests. Said Tim White, Deputy Chief of Facilities Planning and Management of the Oakland Unified School District, “a 60-watt light bulb, overhead projector, chalkboard, even an Apple IIe is not going to cut it. [Test] outcomes are influenced by environments. You can’t expect a kid to be competitive if he doesn’t have the same access as that given in a more affluent community.”

White also acknowledged that emotional and social issues often plight and affect children from poorer families, and that dedicated unique building space can help tackle those problems.

Doorley agreed that learning is impaired, “if [students] are not in the right emotional state.” He continued, “they might as well not be in the building.”

“We’re a full service community district that serves the whole child,” said White. “And some kids come to us with social and emotional issues, so we have spaces for that too.” As space for education continues to evolve rapidly over the next decade, it seems that student health and wellness is a topic that will remain at the forefront of educational design and built environment transformation for years to come.

Most attendees lingered after the panel ended to further discuss how schools can evolve in today’s fast-paced, technology-led environment. In the same light, to continue the conversation, we’ll be hosting a second of four education-focused event in November. Stay tuned for more details and the topic to be discussed.

Rethinking Buildings to Heal Patients: The Shift Toward Energy Efficiency in Hospital Facilities



by Isabel Figueredo, Researcher/ Analyst


How do we maintain satisfaction among a growing patient population while decreasing the immense amounts of energy consumption in hospital facilities? The answer is complicated.

Energy consumption is one of the most prevalent problems facing U.S. healthcare delivery. U.S. healthcare facilities spend 8.8 billion dollars on energy annually. Individually, they use almost three times the amount of energy a typical office building requires (Bendewald and Tupper 2013). As a result, there has been a dramatic shift towards energy efficiency initiatives that can decrease operational expenses while allowing the facility to retain maximum operational efficiency and patient satisfaction.

Retrieved from:

Retrieved from:

Managing energy costs in hospital facilities is never straightforward. Almost all hospital facilities are open 24 hours and require cooling and heating systems that vary significantly by climate (Bendewald and Tupper 2013).

“In a typical hospital, lighting, heating, and hot water represent between 61 and 79 percent of total energy use depending on climate”.(National Grid 2014)

Although there are basic fixes and practices that can be conducted in order to decrease overall energy use, the tools for understanding space occupancy, activity, and energy requirements have yet to be effectively constructed or deployed. In other words, there could be an air-handling unit that is serving an unoccupied area at night, but how do we know it is unoccupied (National Grid 2014)?

By being more energy efficient, hospitals could assist in preventing greenhouse gas emissions, improve the air quality in their local communities, and serve as a lead example in their dedication to public health ( An even larger selling factor is that by being more energy efficient, hospitals would save a significant amount of money. As an example, the New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYPH) has developed diligent energy saving initiatives since 2003, and as a result saves $1.77 million in annual savings. Providence Health and Services, a Seattle-based healthcare system has made similar advances and has increased their energy savings from $700,000 in 2003 to $3.4 million in 2006 ( Even so, the majority of hospital facilities have made very little progress towards addressing these challenges and opportunities.

In order to holistically rethink systems that generate inefficiency, it is also important to consider other issues the healthcare system needs to address. For example, new policies and regulations have made health care more accessible to a much larger population (Anderson 2014). Because of this increase in access, healthcare organizations’ energy demand costs are dramatically spiking to meet patient needs. With volume increases, hospitals simultaneously struggle to maintain overall patient satisfaction, the basis for their Medicaid reimbursement revenues.

Hospitals view patient satisfaction as a key priority for various reasons. It has a heavy influence on revenue, cost, and government reimbursements. Hence there has been an abundant push towards studying what factors within the hospital environment can affect a patient’s overall experience. The majority of this research has focused on social environmental factors, such as the staff’s attitude and its effect on patients’ experience.

Even though there has been less focus on environmental and architectural design, there is still a significant amount of existing empirical research to suggest that properly designed hospital facilities can improve patient safety, satisfaction, and overall experience (Reiling et al. 2008; Joseph et al. 2011). Evidenced-based research has also found that properly designed hospital facilities can decrease the facilities’ energy consumption and energy costs (Bendewald and Tupper 2013). Regardless of the multiple studies conducted on each subject, there has been little to no research that suggests looking at the relationship between them.

Understanding the relationship between energy consumption and patient satisfaction and their influences on hospital productivity and cost can lead to essential information the healthcare system could use to decrease energy consumption while maintaining or increasing overall work functionality.

Fig 2. Energy consumption and its relationship to patient satisfaction. Graphic by Annie Liu

Fig 2. Energy consumption and its relationship to patient satisfaction. Graphic by Annie Liu

It is evident that further research is required to explore how physical structures and environments interact and shape cultural outcomes within hospital facilities. Understanding how the environment, culture, and facility structure may influence the overall experience of the patient is essential to helping hospitals meet their primary objective of customer satisfaction.

Architecture, Culture, and Assets all intersect to create a holistic understanding of how patient health is contingent on multiple factors.

Architecture, Culture, and Assets all intersect to create a holistic understanding of how patient health is contingent on multiple factors.

MKThink believes that opportunity for operational and planning improvements can be found through studying the relationships between physical and social structures. We have developed a framework that studies the overlaps of three dimensions: Assets, Environment, and Culture. This logic has been used to help give organizations the ability to increase human performance, use fewer resources through optimized resource use, and develop more effective investments in technology and energy efficiency. The initiative has already been supported through the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Asia-Pacific Technology (APTEP), and is in the process of expanding and becoming more accessible, non-technical, and efficient.

Implementing this unique framework could benefit hospital facilities in determining what decisions would be the most effective in order to decrease their energy consumption while retaining or even improving overall patient satisfaction.

With all this in mind, back to the original question: how do we maintain satisfaction among a growing patient population while decreasing the immense amounts of energy consumption in hospital facilities? It is still complicated. However, the first step is to reform the way we think about current issues within the healthcare system. Only then can we can use the rapidly developing technologies and preexisting cultural factors around us to determine what the most efficient, cost-effective decisions for the future would be.



Cited references:
Anderson, Amy. 2014. “The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on the Health Care workforce.” The Heritage Foundation, March 18. Retrieved September 8,2014. (

Bendewald, Michael and Kendra Tupper. 2013. “A positive diagnosis: How hospitals are reducing energy consumption.” Green Biz, November 21. Retrieved August 9,2014 (

Energy Star. Healthcare and Overview of Energy Use and Energy Efficiency Opportunities. Retrieved August 8,2014 (

Joseph, Anjali, Eileen Malone, Debajyotie Pati and Xiaobo Quan. 2011. “Healthcare Environmental Terms and Outcomes Measures: An Evidence-Based Design Glossary.” Tandus Flooring, November 2011. Retrieved September 8,2014 (

Reiling, John, Ronda G. Hughes and Mike R. Murphy. 2008. “The Impact of Facility Design on Patient Safety.” Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses, edited by R.G. Hughes. Rockville, MD/United States: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

National Grid. Managing Energy Costs in Hospitals. E Source Customer Direct. Retrieved August 9,2014 (

Other references: