By: Emma Ignaszewski | Writer at KSS Architects | May 26th, 2016

(Originally posted on

Many of the companies at the table for shared value are investing their financial capital to help remediate global issues. And that is absolutely fantastic. We’ve seen a lot of smaller companies try to emulate this with vastly fewer resources. We’ve tried too. And somehow, it always seems to not have the kind of impact we’re looking for. A $300 donation to Habitat for Humanity is $300 that Habitat for Humanity needs very much. But it’s very difficult to measure the impact of such a contribution, and in the grand scheme of things, sometimes it feels like a drop in the bucket.

So we’ve been working on another way for companies to frame participation in this shared value movement. And we’d like to offer ourselves as an example.

We are KSS Architects, a small business (~60 employees) based in Princeton, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA. We are a design firm focused on Architecture, Interior Design, and Planning. Our ideas are the shared value capital that we apply through design as we strive to create meaningful and lasting change. We make this investment through and on behalf of our clients as they transform themselves and their communities.

There are many ways to invest in design to create shared value. We can transform a 70s office building with stale cubicles and no daylighting into a place where people are engaged with nature, their work, and each other. Improving air quality, adding individual temperature controls and advanced ventilation all have proven returns on investment. These design measures not only benefit the company through increased human capital productivity (which is actually ~90% of a company’s expenses, compared to the 9% they spend on rent), but these design measures also make a tangible differenThe transformation of Matrix Corporate Campus into a collection of workplaces with collaborative, open-office, sustainable features has created shared value among companies, employees, and the surrounding community.

Take Matrix Corporate Campus, a dilapidated pharmaceuticals office park that KSS transformed into a vibrant corporate campus. By understanding the value of the existing infrastructure, we were able to use pieces of the old infrastructure, such as the pockmarked wall of a blast lab, to create a collaborative and modern environment that inspires engagement and well-being. 

These issues are not just for designers—designing for shared value is something we should all be considering. Take New York City. In places like Manhattan, where space is at a premium, we need to be constantly questioning how we are investing in design and how we can be better stewards of that valuable space. At KSS, we love creating spaces that look and feel beautiful, but we believe that if a building is to be truly successful, it needs to meaningfully affect positive change. Design isn’t just about visuals, it’s about solutions. It’s about meaningful change for maximum impact.

So when we design, we ask ourselves:

  • How can we make places that break down the barriers between learning, commerce, and community?
  • How is our client seeking to make positive change, and how can we foster that mission through the spaces we create together?
  • How do we unlock the potential of a project to inspire people to achieve more, businesses to work better, and cities to cultivate stronger communities?

But asking isn’t enough. We challenge ourselves daily, and depend on everyone on our team from individual contributors to leadership to push us further, faster.

Because at the end of the day, the U.S. economy puts over a trillion dollars into construction every year. And we need to make sure that investment has shared value. Just like CVS questioned their ability to call themselves a health company when they were selling cigarettes, we need to make sure we can call ourselves designers—designers who apply aesthetics and problem solving to create solutions. We need to make sure that we are building trust into architecture.

For any company or organization to truly affect meaningful change, it needs to identify how it can capitalize on its most bountiful resource to create shared value. For us, that resource, that capital, is design. It’s what we can offer the world.

So we’ll leave you with two questions:

  • What is your most bountiful resource?
  • And how can you use it to create shared value?

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