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23 June 2016

WAN Infrastructure Q+A with HOK’s Amit Khanna, Regional Leader of Engineering

Khanna AmitWAN recently spoke to Amit Khanna, PE, LEED AP, vice president and regional leader of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering practice in HOK’s San Francisco office and a WAN Infrastructure Award 2016 jury member.

HOK won the WAN AWARDS transport category last year with the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center against stiff competition. What impact does winning this type of award have for the project team and the company as a whole?

AK: The award is a recognition of our sustained commitment and passion toward transforming drivable suburbs to a walkable urban development model.

How important is infrastructure as a sector within HOK?

Since the beginning of civilization, the definition of infrastructure has continually evolved. I like to divide infrastructure into three broad and yet interconnected categories. Physical infrastructure includes roads, bridges or tunnels, rails and aviation. Virtual infrastructure supports data movement and communication. Environmental infrastructure supports clean air and water and resource utilization. Built environments cannot exist in isolation of the local context. All of these are important for our built environment to serve people, processes and movement that supports their personal well-being and professional growth.

For us, infrastructure is not just important as a sector. It is key to how we connect the built environment. We design to the rest of the world and keep it sustainable for future generations.

Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center

You joined HOK as regional leader of MEP engineering in San Francisco at the start of this year. How are you finding your new role and can you reveal any of the projects you are currently working on?

HOK has historically strived toward an integrated practice that includes architects, engineers, planners and other disciplines. This allows us not to be just architects and engineers to our clients, but their advisors. We truly have a talented, creative and diverse team of engineers. This makes my job easy. What makes it more satisfying is that we are surrounded by so much talent in other disciplines, too, whether it’s architecture, interiors, planning or strategic consulting. All of these bring forth the best in us and then together we can push the boundaries.

Our portfolio of projects is diverse and include large projects such as the Salt Lake City International Airport Terminal Redevelopment Program, as well as smaller projects in the corporate interiors market. I am proud of our ongoing effort with the Stanford University on the design of the new Clinical Excellence Center, which will be a vanguard of sustainable and biophilic experience.

Salt Lake City Airport

Delivering mass transit projects in our growing cities is a complex process. What do you see as the most significant challenges facing architects designing these hubs today?

Existing infrastructure is aging while budgets to replace them are already stretched thin. This is worsened by the fact that procurement and management policies are maintained in silos. With rapid urbanization, especially in the developing world, solutions have to be designed and implemented at a quick pace.

For us, the solution lies in integrated infrastructure that employs and exploits modern and timeless technologies in all three facets: physical, virtual and environmental.

Today’s solutions are customer-led, with knowledge and information at their fingertips via their connected smart devices. Our process allow our solutions to come from them. The rapid growth of Uber is a classic example of this thinking.

What type of infrastructure project gets you out of bed in the morning?

What excites me is the potential of tapping the value offered by integrating existing and new infrastructure networks within and across cities—with resources, transportation, data-communications or others.

Your career has been quite diverse with a background in architecture, engineering and sustainability. How important do you feel all three of these elements are in modern infrastructure design?

Grounded in my Indian roots of maximizing results with minimal resources, I have dedicated my career to creating resource efficiency in the built environment. Having been a designer and engineer lets me not only appreciate the wide range of challenges, but how they can work together and create better solutions than possible from discipline silos.

Design and engineering solutions need to be kept as simple as possible by using climate-responsive and progressive technologies that are timeless. This philosophy would allow us to create new infrastructure that stays relevant and efficient over time, culture and geographies.

It has been said that looking back over recent history, a new mode of mass transport has been developed for each generation: trains in the late-19th century, cars in the early-20th and aviation in the mid-20th. What do you see as the next breakthrough in transport?

In the generations you mention, innovations came once a generation. Now they come once every three to six months. So I don’t believe there is one such mode in today’s complex world and that makes it exciting.

If we break past the current mental model of physically constrained time-consuming transportation, imagine the potential of the integration of smart technology, data-driven sustainable technologies for travel that shrinks time and space. Asimov predicted we would have flying cars by 2015. We’ve gotten to connected vehicles, driverless cars, the Hyperloop and even a commute to Mars by 2025 that may even be less challenging than my metro commute into work. Just with today’s technology, if you combine drones, driverless cars and Uber, we have our commute where we can relax and read a book.

We have already received many exciting entries into this year’s WAN Infrastructure Award. As a member of the jury, what type of projects are you hoping to see?

I would like to see a diverse range of solutions. I’d like to see progressive technology that enables the implementation of local, timeless and sustainable solutions that improve efficiency. I’d also like to see today’s designs be creative while being insanely empathetic to emotions, goals and the work-life balance of the people that adopt their transport. The human factor should never be lost. In fact, it should remain foremost.

This interview was reprinted courtesy of World Architecture News.

If you are interested in entering this year’s WAN Infrastructure Award, click here. The award is open worldwide to all completed infrastructure projects within the last three years across a range of different sectors. Deadline for entries is June 30, 2016.