KnowledgeWorks is a highly regarded, national organization that champions personalized learning for all students so they’re better prepared to flourish throughout their lives. It was our firm’s challenge—and pleasure—to design the non-profit’s new workplace in a manner that would support and advance its important mission.

While this project kicked-off pre-COVID, the design solutions we employed turned out to be eerily prescient, explained Project Lead and Vice President of Architecture at SHP, Jeffrey Sackenheim. “The new KnowledgeWorks space is particularly interesting and timely because it reflects what many organizations are grappling with: how to embrace remote work models as a post-pandemic standard,” he noted.

Remote work is nothing new to KnowledgeWorks. Throughout its 20-year history, the organization has had both central office staff and remote employees around the country. The organization currently employs about 50 people, with roughly one-third of them based at the company’s headquarters in Cincinnati.

“Since the entire staff gathers at headquarters several times a year, we designed the space to accommodate everyone, while still feeling comfortable and manageable for the smaller group who work there all year,” said Sackenheim.

The end result is a beautiful, mission-inspired workspace—one that was accomplished within the agency’s budget parameters.


A Design that Drives an Important Mission Forward.

Through its proprietary, multi-phased process, SHP guided KnowledgeWorks’ leaders to their four key “Design Drivers.”

“These captured what KnowledgeWorks most needed its new space to be and do in order to achieve its strategic goals and propel its mission forward,” said Brady Mick, SHP’s Director of Strategic Design. “The Design Drivers then influenced all the creative decisions.”

Here’s an overview of the four Design Drivers, along with some examples of how they influenced our design choices in service to KnowledgeWorks’ laudable mission.


Create a Strong Sense of Place.

The KnowledgeWorks space has to feel comfortable and appropriately sized when everyone is in the office and when only the roughly 20-25 HQ-based staff is there. Our design solution accomplished this in a number of ways.

For the HQ-based staff, we created two team-centered “neighborhoods.” These feature workstations and four traditional offices. By concentrating the headquarters staff into the same general vicinity—versus spreading them throughout the nearly 13,000-square-foot space—our design solution helps foster a sense of community and avoids any feelings of isolation.

In addition, there are a host of “Zoom Rooms” that make it easy for on-site staff and their remote colleagues to communicate and collaborate, allowing those not at HQ to feel a sense of connection with the main office.


Create a Learning-Centered Workplace.

As an organization deeply committed to the power of personalized, lifelong learning, KnowledgeWorks needed its workplace to both enable and encourage the discovery and sharing of knowledge. So, we designed the agency’s space with several “Nested Learning Places,” which are a diverse cluster of settings designed for mentorship and knowledge transfer among policy, practice, foresight and research experts.

In addition, since KnowledgeWorks regularly hosts professional development programs and other workshops for its staff and partners, we designed the office to easily accommodate such gatherings. For instance, the boardroom features a garage door that opens to create an even larger space for keynote presentations. In addition, the area near the boardroom includes eight rooms that are ideal for small group and other breakout sessions.


Create a Feeling of Home.

For the HQ staff, the remote staff when they’re visiting, as well as for various guests, KnowledgeWorks wanted its workspace to capture some of its brand essence, the kind of things reflected in their logo: energy and optimism, for example.

The office features some high-energy colors. And one of the more engaging features is a gallery wall along the main circulation path that allows for the display of artwork that KnowledgeWorks has curated over two decades.

We created a lunch area that could accommodate the entire staff when they’re in for planning and training. But to ensure things felt more intimate for the HQ staff when they’re without their other colleagues, the design includes a cozy café-like area. Ample windows let in lots of natural light and the main community space provides panoramic views of the Ohio River, a reminder of the many paths our children might forge with access to a high-quality education.


Create a Space for the Future.

KnowledgeWorks is always looking years out to spot and help shape coming educational trends. The non-profit knows from first-hand experience that the technologies, tools and techniques for remote communication and collaboration are certain to continue evolving.

As such, between the two team-based neighborhoods sits an area called “Mixed Reality Park.” This space facilitates video discussions and teamwork among the headquarters-based and remote staff. And it was specifically designed to flex, as new ways to communicate and collaborate become available, which some suggest will take on the look and feel of interactive, multi-player video games using augmented and virtual reality. Whatever it is, KnowledgeWorks will, per usual, be ready to adapt—and its new workplace will flex right along with them.

A flexible, future-focused and attractive headquarters that caters to both office-based and remote employees is likely to become the aspiration for many companies and organizations. It was deeply rewarding to design such a space for KnowledgeWorks, all the more so knowing that enabling the agency’s mission means a better education—and life—for so many.


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