6 Million Square Feet


Join host AJ Paron in an enlightening conversation with Jennifer Kolstad, the Global Design and Brand Director at Ford Motor Company, as they delve into the fascinating world of design and its profound impact. Despite her limited background in healthcare design, Jennifer took on the monumental task of spearheading the six-million-square-foot Kuwait Children’s Hospital project with HKS. Together, they explore the intricacies of this ambitious endeavor and touch on themes of innovation, empathy, and the lasting influence of design on our world.


AJ: welcome back to Once Upon a Project. I’m your host, AJ Perrone, Design Futurist with Sandow Design Group. Once Upon a Project prides itself on not just looking at the pretty pictures of a finished design, but reveling in the process to discover the story behind it. Our guest today is a force of nature.

I first met Jennifer Kolstad at an ASID event several years ago. She is a striking, tall, redhead with a very cool wardrobe, funky glasses, and an undercut. My immediate reaction was, I want to be cool like her when I grow up. Mind you, I’m older. Jennifer has had a diverse career in architecture and design, from all types of building projects to now working [00:01:00] for Ford Motor Company, bringing design to all aspects of their company. She is a woman who pioneers design, but her influence extends far beyond the design industry.

She is a woman who pioneers design, So I wanted to know from this distinguished designer, what design project she considers the biggest in her career. But I’ll let Jennifer tell that story herself.

Jennifer: My name is Jennifer Kolstad and I’m currently the global design and brand director at Ford Motor Company. , but I have been in the design industry for almost 30 years now. Which I can’t believe. it has really been a cumulative process starting with art history and art and then moving up into interior design.

Then finally architecture. now I’m doing a doctorate. So school never stops. I’ve had all of these kind of commercial gigs along the way. I’ve been very lucky to work at some incredible firms like Gensler and HKS. Oh my God. My first [00:02:00] internship was at HLK a million years ago with Joe Petipa, who I work with now.

He’s one of our consultants at Ford Motor Company. The world just spins and collides and keeps going, but it’s just been a really long, wonderful path.

AJ: See what I mean? You are just getting a snippet of the magic Jennifer can bring. All right, let’s get into the good stuff. We’ll start at the very beginning. Where did Jennifer grow up? And how did she get into design and architecture?

Jennifer: I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. , and I often find myself having to tell Americans that that is north of Montana. And if he knew where it was, I’m sorry, sorry to insult you, but I do get that question. Where is it So I grew up in Calgary and I usually describe it as, a lovely kind of vanilla upbringing, not too much trauma or stress, but also extremely conservative.

I mean, now when I look at my life, most of my friends are gay, We are in the [00:03:00] design profession. It’s an extremely colorful place. We love it. We love each other. but that was not my childhood. And, I knew I had an interest in the arts, but I don’t think I was terribly exposed to it.

Certainly not through my schooling. So that’s why I say it was a cumulative path to get to where I am today, because I kind of had to like discover little bits as I went along myself. My parents actually kicked me out when I was 17. They were like, girl, you got to go to school. They didn’t kick me, kick me out, but they were, they sort of enrolled me on the sly.

 my parents basically enrolled me and like, and you will take things like entomology. And so I did, but then I found this department called art history. And I thought, well, maybe I’ll try that. And it was, wildly interesting to me and off we went.

 But I didn’t even know about interior design. Really. I just started working in galleries as soon as I graduated, , selling art. And then I found my way to Ryerson in Toronto, moved there did that degree and that blew my mind. That was it. God, [00:04:00] I love doing design. But I had a feeling it was architecture I was after.

And another thing about being, you know, young girl growing up in the seventies and eighties was that we just weren’t conditioned to believe that we were good at math and science. , because we learn in a, you know, we know now girls and boys learn differently and the educational system, probably favored the way that boys learned and the classrooms were set up so that, boys raised their hands and spoke more than girls did.

And so I just sort of kept my head down and believed I wasn’t good at math. So architecture was kind of put to the side, like, I can’t do that. I’m just not good at math, but the, so it took a lot of years and a lot of confidence building to believe in myself, understand that I probably could do it.

And then when I got there, it’s all about contextual learning. the math and the calculus meant something, they became moment diagrams that represent any of the buildings and visually my brain clicked. I was like, I can, Absolutely do this and actually be very successful at it. And so [00:05:00] architecture was kind of a breeze.

 the school that I went to was IIT in Chicago. was very lucky to win a fellowship at SOM. So it basically came with a job, a graduate fellowship and a job at Skidmore. And man, that’s where, that’s where the magic happened. I started working at SOM with some of the greatest practitioners we know today.

Jaime Valez, Peter Ruggiero, Nada Andrick, who’s a giant. Gordon Gill and Adrian Smith. I started in their studio working on the Burj Dubai. I mean, it was like bananas. The exposure that I had to these incredible projects, that was it. That I’d never looked back.

AJ: Okay, amazing! But how did this lead her to her current role at Ford Motors? And honestly, what does the Global Design and Brand Director at Ford Motor Company do? Does Jennifer design cars? She’s definitely an anomaly. There’s sort of a prescriptive path for commercial designers for their career.[00:06:00]

So let’s learn how Jennifer took some interesting turns in hers.

Jennifer: Over time I have pulled myself off the path. Like there is this very linear organization that is about the design profession. Even the way that we progress through commercial practice. You’re a junior designer, then you’re a mid level designer. You’re a CEO, you’re a design direct, you could be a partner.

 you just sort of like, plunk your way through this you move your way up. It takes a lot of time. You’ve got to do a lot of project work. It’s hard. And then voila, at the end, maybe you’re an equity partner and that’s great, but that?

wasn’t for me. So, I took myself off the path and started exploring other topics, probably things that we would say are adjacent to design, absolutely integrated, but adjacent. And those became very exciting to me. Oh, maybe 15 years ago, things like integrated research, working with scientists, imagining or dreaming up roles or contributions that we as designers can make in different [00:07:00] organizations.

 I remember sitting on the national board with ASID and the group were sort of lamenting the fact that CBRE were starting, was starting to move into our space as one example. Oh my God, they’re coming like JLL, those to me aren’t threats so much as they are opportunities because we should expect that an industry would evolve.

It ought to evolve to keep us relevant and productive and paid, , and you know, the cusp of. Of topics, which is where we ought to be as innovators. , I was hearing all of this, this threat based conversation, and I was like, I’m going to do it a different way. I’m going to harness that and prove to my industry, that you can be very successful at design sitting in a seat that nobody else has occupied before.

And that is how I came to work at Ford Motor Company. but you know, it always takes somebody, there’s always a champion. And mine was Jim and if, any of your listeners know him, wow, talk about a giant. Jim Hackett used to be the CEO of [00:08:00] Steelcase.he and James Ludwig together are probably commended with bringing Steelcase to where it is today, which is one of the leaders in commercial furniture.

 he later became the CEO of Ford Motor Company. He had a tenure there and is responsible for bringing design thinking to Ford Motor Company. Love it or leave it. It has absolutely changed the culture and probably the trajectory of that fortune 10 company. All thanks to Jim Hackett. So, you know, Ford Motor Company has about 200 million square feet of property of space.

Not many people understand that, but Jim had the sense to say, we probably need a head of design that can bring some continuity to all of that, all that area and really bring us the point of view that we’ve been missing until now, historically. , and so the word sort of went out, like, do you know somebody, do you know somebody?

And it just happened to filter through ASID actually is Eddie Schmidt from, Steelcase, who’s one of their senior executives who said, yeah, I know a girl. [00:09:00] It’s always like, I know a guy, but in this case I know a girl. my day to day at Ford it’s a bit all over the place as you would expect because the spatial categories that my team operates in are everything from workplace to retail, the hospitality, master planning, there’s municipality issues in play. So it’s kind of everything, everything. I always tell people, I don’t design cars, so don’t tell me about your Bronco order.

And the fact that it’s a year late, I don’t want to hear about it. However, anything that is about a human beings interaction with our brand. So physical connectivity to brand, that’s our realm. we really excel in that category. and there’s so many different categories now there’s CX and UX.

 it’s hard to keep up. Ours definitely, crosses over with UX. inevitably, we’re touching on experiences digitally, physically, all of it, but we’re very good at crafting a clear point of view that unifies all of these different space type categories. [00:10:00] And that’s what we’ve been doing for the last, Oh my gosh, five years almost now.

AJ: I agree wholeheartedly with Jennifer, breaking beyond our border In the design industry. For us to evolve, We must understand what is happening globally to business, human needs, and what innovations are underway that will impact design.

As one of the most creative humans I know, I asked Jennifer, what is her philosophy on innovation and design?

Jennifer: We should be clear on the definition of innovation and specifically innovation versus invention. So innovation, is. reconnecting dots points of data that exist in the world today. it’s looking at a system, what are problems set, and basically, rescaling, adjusting, breaking it apart and putting it back together.

But those pieces, the parts and pieces exist. Invention is creating something from nothing. It didn’t exist before. [00:11:00] So I’d say the majority of our time really grapples with innovation. And that’s not just physical stuff. You know, we definitely innovate processes and points of policy and all of it, like a lot of anything that really impacts our ability to thrive in space.

So for example, post COVID our wish was to innovate return to work. But , that is a point of policy that really belongs and lives with people management. But definitely design impacted that. So we innovated policymaking together, but we do also want to invent. So you kind of want a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

And the magic is, the equation,. So maybe we want a whole lot of innovation and a bit of invention, but you know, there should be something every time that pushes the needle so that we are in a constant state of evolution. And that doesn’t have to be like a rocket launch.

It can be incremental. you’re not pushing forward unless you’re bringing something very new to the table. A novel idea as [00:12:00] well.

AJ: Jennifer has worked on some of the most amazing projects all over the world. So I was excited to hear which one she chose for our episode today. And this one may be our biggest project yet, at least when it comes to square footage.

Jennifer: When I think back through my career, I usually connect to projects, as representing points in time. they certainly impact your experience. and I have some favorites definitely. I mean, there were a lot of them, but a few, There are a few that stand out. The one that I think of, maybe most fondly, is the Kuwait Children’s Hospital that we tackled in 2015, 2016, like it’s been a minute, to be honest, but it was a beast and it was so complicated.

I just remember this team very fondly that did an exceptional job. to tee it up a bit, the Kuwait Children’s [00:13:00] Hospital, is meant to be the largest children’s hospital in the world at 6 million square feet and the first model to offer tertiary care to the region., so this was going to be the place that, people would bring their sick kids to across the GCC,

the Gulf Corporation Council and it’s, comprised of seven Arab countries all around the United Arab Emirates. So Kuwait is obviously one of them, Qatar is another.

 together they, they have a council, they come together, they share ideas and basically, a co leading membership.this hospital was meant to be really a point of pride for the nation of Kuwait and also for those for those membership countries So at six million square feet Imagine the scale of the team and never mind that Kuwait had never built a project of this scale before You know certainly not in the health care category

AJ: Let’s just stop there for a second. Six million [00:14:00] square feet. Now, if you’re not the type of person that can imagine how big that is, let’s take a standard football field. It’s approximately 57, 000 square feet, which many times can be the size of a large commercial project.

Jennifer’s project is 105 football fields of space. They need to design every single element it’s gigantic!

 More about the project right after this short message.


AJ: So how did this enormous, international, life altering project end up on Jennifer’s desk?

Jennifer: I had just joined HKS. I moved there from Gensler in 2015. And the first project that fell on my lap was this Kuwait Children’s Hospital. And I [00:15:00] don’t want to say it was like the project nobody wanted, but it kind of was, it was like that project that was not going well.

 and I guess it was probably like, give it to the new girl. She’s excited to be here. She’s going to love it. Oh, she used to live in Abu Dhabi. Yeah, this is perfect. Perfect. So I get this project and our partner, in the Middle East, they’re extremely competent, but not super kind. So it wasn’t exactly like a marriage made in heaven to begin.

The whole thing just, I mean, if I went back in time now and looked at it, I would have been like girl one for your life, but fast forward, it ended up being a brilliant project, and I’ve got to give a shout out to a few people. I met two architects, two directors of different offices, one named Dan flower in London and the other one, Michael Borg at the time was in Tampa, Florida.

And the three of us together were sort of like the design directors that were going to lead this project through. Of course, we had. Medical planners and all the rest with us. But, Oh my God, these guys are [00:16:00] going to be friends for life now. Cause we got the war wounds.you know how that goes in project work and we would fly to Kuwait all together and make presentations to the ministry.

 the first couple of times it didn’t go well, So, we had to figure out, How to kind of change our language and work with this client group who was prickly expectations super high. I mean, this is a point of civic pride for them. , but this was like a get to know your audience.

You remember that lesson in design school?

AJ: I do remember that lesson in design school, but I don’t think anyone ever learned how to tackle something as complex as what was in Jennifer and her team’s So I wanted to know more about what wasn’t working in those initial client meetings.

And how did her team improve the relationship?

Jennifer: As it turns out, the client group in QA were mostly women, young women. not an assumption you would make, you know, stepping into a group of [00:17:00] ministers, all their staff and then the designated, experts that we’re going to receive and run this building. So these are doctors, surgeons, caregivers, head of health, policymakers, women, young women, mothers.

 you know how we are in architecture and engineering. We’re a little rough and we come in gun blazing. Like, like we know the answer. Let us tell you, let us tell you the answer. , not a lot of listening. I don’t think it’s like so much like that now, but we have a reputation.

You know, as an industry, and that is what happened. The project team and the client team just didn’t connect. I was leading interior architecture for this project. , And the other thing that typically happens is that interior design, isn’t introduced to the team sometimes until a bit later.

So, you know, medical planners have already started their work. Project teams have, begun. Engineers are usually running and then comes the interior designer. And, when we [00:18:00] arrived, I think it was refreshing , for the client team. And I was the only female in the room.

So, you know, this was something we probably should talk about. but suddenly the ladies, the women on the client side of the table had a female to talk to on the consultant side of the table who was also a mother and who could connect with them.

, from my perspective, the language, the tone of the room fundamentally changed. We did form a connection and, , it seemed like that helped us get on a different path for the project because when I said it wasn’t going well, I mean, it was really prickly and then it wasn’t, and then we started talking about different things like scale research led design that human scale thinking that is about in this case children and patients and caregivers and how they would feel and behave and perform and, and the client team kind of got that like it really resonated for them and they connected with the project.

Suddenly there was [00:19:00] human scale conversation. They could get their head around. That was a beautiful moment for me that taught me a lot about, how to connect with people in the right way. Clients or otherwise, it doesn’t matter, clients, partners, all of it, but what a lesson in, people skills.

AJ: Unfortunately, this story is told too often. The interior design decisions, especially around people, tend to come into the conversation when you’ve already missed the opportunity. To make the impact the client wants. Listening to the user’s specific needs may break from typical design standards or designing it just like you did for the last hospital.

So I understand why listening might be difficult as the client is not the expert. You are, and this is just at the start of the project. From technical obstacles to language and cultural barriers. In the seriousness of [00:20:00] designing for healthcare, I can only imagine how many challenges presented themselves.

I asked Jennifer to walk us through the most difficult aspects of this project.

Jennifer: , if you tallied up the challenges, the list would be long. When I received that project, when it fell in my lap and I was like, what the hell is this? How do you design 6 million square feet? I remember actually having a conversation with Anna Pinto Alexander who leads health today.

She’s a global health leader at HKS and has so much experience. , and she was like, Oh, 6 million square feet, honey. Don’t worry about it. Once you do your first million, the rest are a piece of cake. She said that to me. You know, she has this like very sweet calming way. She’s like a calming goat of just sort of like, break it down.

My mom used to say to me, how do you eat an elephant?  when I was a kid, one bite at a time, it’s like that. That’s true. So if you looked at the architecture of this building, it was [00:21:00] four American football fields in length. one running side, a single elevation of the project. And remember the scale of the patient.

We’re talking about little babies, children. and so, you know, our role as practitioners is to do what? Well, first shall do no harm, but also, dismantle any fear and vulnerability, , that our patients, that our visitors bring to a facility. So you’ve got this little kid and their family, everyone’s scared.

They’re coming in for care. And now they’re faced with a four football field length elevation. You know, so your job is to Eat the elephant. You go one bite at a time. But we, as designers, coming in from different space categories, I myself was a hospitality designer. It was like, I got this, just let me do my thing.

And I’ll come back to you and show you some ideas. Let me start to clear out some points of arrival turn this big building into a whole bunch of little buildings conceptually. , And so, we like created, , four points of entry that [00:22:00] broke the scale down and, through art programming, big sculptural installations, material strategy, signage and wayfinding, like all of it happening together. I think that’s another kind of a key lesson here, which is that you design with all of those components working at once, it’s like, put it all in the, , soup bowl and let it just all simmer.

There’s none of this sequencing, . medical planning, then the engineer, then the architecture, then the interior designer, then comes FFAD, then comes art. It’s not like that. For these projects to be successful, they become magical cause it all happens at once. So I’ll give it to HKS. They sort of did let me get in the sandbox and make a mess.

Maybe it’s cause I was the new girl and they didn’t know me well nor my process, but you know, I was like, no, no, no, I need some artists. No, I need a bit more of that. And, they were like, okay, let’s see what she, let’s see what she’s got.

 I had done health care before, but not really like this is girl. You get yourself [00:23:00] into that deep end and jump off the platform. Not, Oh

not the, not the little one go to the top and jump in. Do that. I had done this teeny little healthcare project while I was at Gensler called the fetal center.

And this was at, Dallas children’s hospital. Think of it like a sales center, for condos like that, but for, high risk pregnancies. So women who are in duress, who are about to enter in system, it was a way for children’s health to introduce them to their network of doctors and all of their services.

So a no touch facility. It’s not a clinical environment. It sounds awful, but it was basically a cell center. Like welcome to our network. Please allow us to care for you and give you all the billing that comes with that. , and we designed it really successfully. And there was a gentleman who was my client in that project who was a friend of a guy named Jeff Stouffer.

Jeff Stouffer, if you know him, don’t you love the name game in our industry? But anyway, so Jeffrey Stouffer was it, I think still the head of health globally for HKS. [00:24:00] And this gentleman Judson was like, listen, I know a girl, this is self familiar at this point. I know this girl. If you get her, you can have all my business.

So you know, Jeff and Anna were like, Oh, we’re going to get her. And that’s actually how I moved over from. So when I got there, they’re like, Oh, apparently you’ve done some healthcare. Judson said so. I mean, it was like 3000 square feet. So we got this 6 million square foot, hospital. We think you’re going to be great at it. And that’s how it began. I mean, now I’m a healthcare expert. So they say, but then, you know, God bless Ana. I mean, she had a lot of trust.

AJ: Ana Pinto Alexander. She is another strong woman who has paved the way for so many interior designers. So I can absolutely see her encouraging Jennifer along the way.

 [00:25:00] So Jen has the trust of her firm and the trust of her client, which anyone knows is half the battle in a project of this size. What were some of the client’s biggest concerns and goals for this project and what kind of risks might have been involved?

I mean, you’re playing with the civic pride of a nation and all.

Jennifer: When you are doing work in the Middle East, there’s a lot of risk. It’s very fun. The pace and scale are different and everything is a first. I mean, not everything, but you know, I used to live in Abu Dhabi. I lived there for five years. I worked on projects when I was an SL member. I worked in the Burj Khalifa.

I mentioned that before. And that did bring us to the middle East, but I built the Yas hotel, the race day hotels, the formula one track, with this huge team of people. And we built that hotel in 18 months. It too, was a point of civic pride. The shake, For the, , the region of Abu Dhabi, , wanted to complete and show the [00:26:00] world that they were present and in and competitive.

 It’s not like the way we build projects here. , we strive for excellence. We want to be the best or it’s business decisions, but there it’s more than that. And this QA project was the same. So when I say it’s a point of civic pride, I mean, there was a conscious decision to build the largest children’s hospital in the world in the nation of of Kuwait.

It’s the first, it means a lot to them. It’s all riding on the success of this project. And even as a client team, for them, it’s personally riding on satisfying the ministry, moving up through the Shaykhs to the monarchy, like everybody needs to feel good about?

this, like they’ve done something.

 It’s more than just. These like business KPIs that we marched to the drumbeat here. It’s not like that. We’re doing things that are the first for the nation, first for the people. And you feel that as a practitioner, you kind of become a part of these projects, these legacy building [00:27:00] projects, and you want to do right by them.

Jennifer: It’s a different kind of motivation.

AJ: Indeed it is. With this motivational energy fueling the team, how did they come up with the right solutions? How were they able to get to the right end result?

Jennifer: The thing that I love about interior design is that, , it sounds biased to say we bring more to the table, but we literally bring more to the table. We bring stuff with us. I mean, we bring materials and tactile things and all the good fun stuff. And, , I have seen this so many times where, , a project is ticking along.

It’s packed with expertise. the solutions are brilliant, but it is not until you get to the interiors. That the project really comes to life and you know the team like gets their hands on things I mean the client team and they start to understand the project because Tactility does that that’s why we love practicing interiors Many of us, that is exactly [00:28:00] what happened with Q8 children’s hospital.

We showed up with our stuff. It’s like, you know, Mary Poppins, tickle trunk. You start to lay it out. You bring the models, you’ve got like rendered colorful diagrams. and now the team can get their hands on things and go, Oh, I see what you meant when you said now my brain is starting to fire and I’m connecting with things, you know, and I’m starting to imagine my way through this project.

That is such a powerful moment in every project, but certainly in this one. , shoot, I even remember we made so many models, because we had built this like really charming narrative around the sea shanty , like children’s sort of like nursery rhymes, but drawing on historic, traditional poetry that seamen used tell stories to one another at sea, , because they’ve got this rich heritage of, , pearl diving in their region.

So we built this beautiful story about like sea creatures and then thought through the building sectionally. Like if I’m a child at one of these points of entry, I’ve sort of immersed myself in this [00:29:00] watery scene. I’m standing on the sea floor looking up and these sea creatures are all around me.

So it was this like very tactile scaled experience. I have like jellyfish suspended overhead. So I’m a part of this watery scene. Some are illuminated, some are kinetic, they’re all artisanally created. , so we would roll up with these models of sea creatures, like 3D printed jellyfish or turtles or whatever.

and that helped, anything that you can do to tell the story better more directly helps. , we used every tool we had at our disposal. And back to the ladies on the client team, you know, I remember them like grouped around holding things, touching, grabbing the models and asking if they could take them home to their children like toys.

And of course I’m like, yeah, take everything. It’s fine. I’m so happy you love the project, but really these are like 60, 000 models you’re about to take home and throw on the floor, but enjoy it.

 It is funny how some of the tools we use [00:30:00] in design are seen as playthings or fun objects to toy with, but I agree with Jen. The process is the fun part of our job. So let’s hear more about their design concept and how that would transition into a better experience for the children that would be the most important client of this new hospital.

Jennifer: how do you bring an idea to life? especially over a 6 million square foot building. You know, when you come from hospitality, you’re really used to building around a narrative. trick seems to be that, if I’m to sort of construct a mental diagram, there’s a big conceptual idea, and then it moves across the spectrum to something that.

The conceptual idea is super abstract and that might impact like core and shell, the massing and shaping of the buildings. , and as I mentioned, , we pulled on this kind of sea shanty string, but we were also into like parametric sort of [00:31:00] crystalline shape things that we find in the sea, like beach glass or whatever.

And so , if you ever look at , the shape of the building, it does sort of look crystalline. So here we’ve got this idea in its most abstracted form, impacting, , pushing it against the kind of like the formal architecture stuff when we’re starting to like sculpt. At the same time though, you have to pull the string and come along to something that’s very much a literal representation of that.

So, you know, I just described to you like turtles and, jellyfish. And yes, the two relate, but one is very abstract and the other one is very literal. And the literal representation of that idea is extremely useful when it comes time to do things like make art, , move into sales and marketing pitch.

Phase of work, signage and way finding who are your brand ambassadors. The magic happens when you do that stuff simultaneously, you don’t wait, you don’t work on the architecture and stay abstract. And [00:32:00] then, a year from now, Oh, we’ll get to it.

My experience has been that actually doesn’t work. There’s a failed proposition that you’ve got to work all of those ideas simultaneously. I think that’s new for healthcare. Like in other space categories, we’re very good at it, but healthcare, as you know, has a more rigid system in place.

It’s getting better. I mean, you see now, even from Sandown Media’s perspective, you can see healthcare is coming along, , with hospitality, workplace, retail, whatever. It’s actually getting a voice and that you can, you can look into these projects and go, Oh my God, that is beautiful design. That was not the case even a decade ago.

, and I’m certain it’s because you have designers who’ve had incredible experience in other types of projects, who’ve been invited into healthcare. It used to be a very rigid process that was kind of like for the medical planners. And if there was an interior designer involved, they were usually groomed through healthcare and they stayed in that, they stayed in their lanes in that category and so they didn’t have the [00:33:00] exposure to these different ways of working.

, and I’m so happy to see those barriers come down. That is a message around collaboration, isn’t it? That’s how we all should be working.

AJ: You can hear how this concept is taking shape in the space. As Jennifer describes it, but what will the impact be? I asked Jennifer to reflect on what were her highest hopes for the user experience, namely six children and their concerned parents

Jennifer: My highest hope for the user, let’s say the patient and their caregivers, their parents and families, my highest hope is that they would want to be there because hospitals are not places we want to be. But this building, this project was special because it was designed more like,, a sports and entertainment venue or like a five star hotel or like, I don’t want to say Disneyland, but like, you know, a place that children want to be in.

 They don’t just survive. They thrive. Their [00:34:00] families want to be there. So we designed it consciously with that in mind. If you’ve ever been to a hospital in the Middle East that was designed, I don’t know, let’s say 20 years or back, they’re not lovely., so what an opportunity to introduce a new paradigm to healthcare, to a whole region.

And I’ll tell you, we designed every touch point with intentionality, like every Vista, you know, not just a point of entry, but , the path from exterior all the way to patient bed , was designed with intentionality. Oh, so much life and, the art programming, like I, I can’t say this enough.

You bring your spaces to life because you’ve got great people that come along with you. But in healthcare, the art programming is so critical we put a lot of love into that as well. and the patient room my goodness. We studied the view from every patient room to the exterior, 850 patient beds.

Every room was examined to make [00:35:00] sure that the view was okay because we had a grid shell covering the building, which was meant to be like a performative shading structure to keep that harsh desert light off the building. It’s sort of like being in the Hancock Tower, you know, and you’re looking through an exoskeleton grid.

And it means that your view is inevitably impeded, but maybe that’s okay because if you feel like you’re part of this experience and that experience is good, Like, we have, you know, sections of metal are dichroic, like a fish scale, and the way that the light sort of bounces off it makes it more beautiful and might reflect and pepper a colorful light into the patient room, maybe that’s okay then.

Every room was, was looked at, , to ensure that the patient experience was great.

AJ: As many of us can attest, we often learn the most through doing, getting our hands dirty often when there’s no choice but to rise to the occasion. So what lessons did Jennifer take from this project, and how did it [00:36:00] change her?

Jennifer: So this was the first project, where I had a team moving around the clock over multiple continents to keep a project moving 24 seven. So it wasn’t just scale of building, but scale of team scale of workforce that sort of blew my mind. you’ve got me really thinking about what I learned during this time.

 When I say words like collaboration, it’s sort of understating what I learned on projects like this, which is the ability to work with a huge team. , many of whom don’t speak English, around the world in different time zones and continents working to one goal. everyone contributing their different parts and pieces.

And, a clean example of that, even simply the interface between the medical planner and the designer. And when you’re a designer like me, you’re kind of an unknown, like, Oh my God, what is she going to do? People sort of hold their breath and they hope for the best, [00:37:00] but they don’t really know what you do.

They’re like, I hope she brings the magic like that, but let’s see while working alongside, not just alongside, like you need your medical planners. They’re essentially putting a functional hospital together right under you. They’re the most important people on the team. They’re building 30 surgical theaters.

You know, they’re making sure that 11 helipads are in the right place and working hats off and respect to medical planners. And then for them to allow you into their space, , to come into that zone where you could really do some damage. Not in a good way. Wow. You’ve got to establish a trusted network of people.

The relationships needed to pull this off are incredible. So , you learn about diplomacy, you learn about playing well in the sandbox. That is an understatement too, but just, , really respecting your team members. , and I’ll tell you, there was a hero on this project. Her name was Amy Gilkey and she is the woman at HKS who handled [00:38:00] the BIM drawing.

She was the global manager, I can’t believe what she was able to do , which was that every day on the cycle, every few hours, these teams in different locations are uploading their work. And that one, that single person, a woman is making sure that it’s all Okay.

She’s running the clashes and the checks, ensuring the models are loaded correctly. She’s managing the architecture, the BIM model for a 6 million square foot building. these jobs you don’t know exist. That one was probably the most important.

I definitely became a more confident designer after this project. As exciting as a process as it was, it really did scare the hell out of me. You know, to be in a room where you knew that the environment wasn’t really, , great and to present work and sort of be called on as the person at times, it was like, just, let Jennifer present it.

It’ll be okay. Let her do it. They’ll listen to her. It’s sort of like, Oh my [00:39:00] God, I’m carrying the project and hoping that the client responds well because , everybody’s handing me their parts and pieces. Like I was presenting structural engineering solutions because of Jennifer says it, it might be better received, I guess, but you know, I had no business speaking to some of these components.

But that is the role , now I know in the seat that I’m in here at Ford, that is the role of the chief creative or of the design director. You do speak to all of these parts and pieces. You have a team behind you. They’re incredibly skilled. It’s fine. And yes, I actually did have every right to, you know, present the work wholly.

So I learned a ton probably about leadership more than even design in that project.

You always wish that you had designed things differently, or you had done more. You know, even looking back now, I would have designed it differently. I think at the time we were very proud of the work and, , won several awards, AIA, , Berlin festival of architecture. It did really [00:40:00] well.

 I don’t know what’s happened in terms of, , building it., completion, any of it. I wish that I. I always feel happiest I, when I see people functioning in our spaces. And So that’s sort of disappointing to me that, you know, I never knew how the story ended. I would love to have known that, the children were happy using this space.

, we’re mothers. We want to take care of everybody. And I would love to have known some little ones. They had been taken care of, but , some of our projects are unbuilt

AJ: I think that in itself is challenging. So often, we revel in the success of a project once it’s built or published in a magazine. But as you know, on Once Upon a Project, we celebrate the journey.

We find success and lessons throughout the process. And for me, Jennifer’s expedition was a magnificent success. But how did her time on the project come to an end? And did she [00:41:00] feel like it was a feather in her cap?

Jennifer: Our scope expired. , our partners SSOE in the region were always meant to be , NDD, the usual split, end of DD, , technical drawings, CA onward because they, they were local regional. And so HKS was always meant to fall out and then just do peer review. So basically , my scope ended.

There was not a need for me anymore. But what’s funny is that, several of the folks on that project management team, like they were hard at man. They were really difficult to work for and work with. We stay in touch to this day. We built a rapport and a level of respect that has endured.

And I even see where they are today. It’s extremely collegial. Which tells me we did do a good job because you don’t earn the respect of your colleagues. around the world without, you know, doing right by them.

 I would never have found myself at Ford had I not been comfortable working in these massive [00:42:00] complex projects. . Because when I took my job at Ford, Ford was the project. Sometimes I need to explain that to people because they’re like, well, what are you working on? And my answer is Ford.

I’m building the brand. So I wasn’t intimidated at all coming into Ford Motor Company, not the politics, not that like none of it I’ve experienced it, , 6 million square feet, not an issue. Now, you know, somebody gave me that project today. I’d be like, how do you eat an elephant?

 Yeah, we just start. We’ll just start everybody, but yeah, the complexity of Ford, the departments, the people, the work streams, the funding mechanisms, the contract writing, everybody has a different timeline. It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s like, all right, let’s sit down and organize this.

AJ: Jennifer has done so much with her career, from working in different countries, to tackling large, difficult projects, and she admits, Her path to her career was quite unusual. I asked Jennifer, [00:43:00] what advice would she give to younger designers from her point of view?

Jennifer: If I were visiting a class of designers today, what I would tell them that is different than I learned honestly not to be so rigid in terms of defining themselves or their skill sets by design vocation. Like they don’t need to self identify as an interior designer or an architect or a planner or whatever, because that puts guardrails around you so fast.

, And listen, you got to be good at something, but , that doesn’t excuse you from becoming excellent, but projects now are very complex. They have more variables, , asking them to do different things. There’s more performance criteria like sustainability. And so designers seem to be better served when there is a degree of fluidity to their practice.

. God, actually. If a Dean heard this, they’d be like, what you’d be messing with my [00:44:00] curriculum now, but yeah, maybe I am because for me, a designer needs to be able to function in architecture as they do interior architecture, as they need to do in sustainability, they need to be, you know, comfortable listening to, or participating in conversations around human science.

 They need a interest in research. They need that. , they need to be a little bit dangerous. In business. So they need, at least an ounce of business acumen coming out of school, things like this. So there are probably skills missing that they would be better served having, but this idea of adaptability, , and not having to self define, like, do you remember those conversations we used to have that were like, well, what studio do you sit in?

Oh, I’m an interior design. Oh, well, I’m an architect, sort of like , well, I sit there, , then you don’t do these projects. You only do those projects. It is crazy to me because I can take a team of five designers doing anything, like I don’t care what you do in a firm and we probably can [00:45:00] put a band together and make some music on any topic oh, and I’ll, double down on this, this idea that I am a healthcare designer versus I am a hospitality designer has got to stop because there’s usefulness with all of those subjects.

So, to co influence, to co mingle and co influence, a healthcare designer will do very well influencing hospitality and vice versa, higher education, laboratory, any sort of area of expertise is well served to go into somebody else’s category and do some damage. And back to innovation and invention.

And that is how we move the needle, isn’t it?

AJ: We all need to move the needle in our industry. so now do you believe me when I say Jennifer Kolstad is one of the coolest designers around? She challenges the status quo in design, but in a way that puts humanity first. Which makes her [00:46:00] also one of the kindest people I know as well. We all can’t wait for the next chapter in Jennifer Kolstad’s career.

Whatever that is. I’m sure it will be amazing. Once Upon a Project was produced by Surround, a podcast network by Sandow. Special thanks to our producer, Hannah Vitti. Thanks for listening, and I can’t wait for you to hear our next story.


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AJ Paron

AJ Paron is EVP and Design Futurist at SANDOW Design Group and host of the podcast Once Upon a Project

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