Rachel Knox’s appreciation for architecture began with the houses in the small town of Marksville, La., where she grew up. “I loved to look at the exterior and try to guess what was happening on the interior,” she says. “In the fourth grade, I had a wonderful teacher who taught a class on architects and architecture. There was no looking back.”

And while she did become an architect, her early love of residential design later met some competition. Shortly after joining HKS 15 years ago, she took on a project for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “I was so humbled and inspired at the thought that we could positively impact the lives of such a vulnerable patient population, as well as their families,” she says. “I didn’t intend to specialize in [pediatric design], but one project led to another.”

A few years ago she was named pediatric practice leader for HKS’ health group and has recently led projects for McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple, Texas, and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, La. (At right: Rendering of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., which is expected to be completed in 2019; credit: HKS.) “I find that I’m more and more fascinated with each one, so why stop?” she says.

Job before joining HKS

I waited tables at a steakhouse in college. Perpetually smelling like Cajun ribeye and salad dressing was great motivation to do well in school.

First healthcare design project

Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker, Colo. I did a lot of the roof details and still keep a piece of ballast on my nightstand.

Lesson I learned on that project that I carry with me today

Carefully organized drawings are important through all project phases. To this day, I have no tolerance for unaligned text or sloppy leader lines.

Three words my coworkers use to describe me

  1. good listener
  2. passionate
  3. empathetic

(I would have included “sarcastic.”)

How I use design to lighten the load of parents with hospitalized children

During each project, we hold focus groups with families using that hospital, and strive to let their voices be heard throughout the process. As designers, I think we place a lot of emphasis on creating beautiful spaces, which is certainly important, but giving parents plentiful outlets in a day surgery waiting room to keep their phones charged or allowing them to try out different sleeper sofas before a selection is made has the ability to profoundly transform their hospital experience.

On industry trends …

Thumbs up: Clients who are rethinking traditional private offices as a must-have in hospitals. There’s nothing worse than taking dollars and square footage away from the clinical environment to create private offices that largely sit empty.”

Thumbs down: Concealable medical gas cabinets. They’re a pain to design and are always open anyway.

Three items on my desk

1. Family pictures

2. A Mr. Potato Head with a goatee. We conducted a Lean Bootcamp at Akron Children’s. One of the activities was a “factory simulation” game where we had to assemble a number of Mr. Potato Heads in a set amount of time. Our table got docked points because we installed the mustaches as goatees, which became a running joke throughout the project.

3. A mug that says: “Only you can prevent scope creep”


Biggest pet peeve on a project

When no one schedules lunch. I. Have. To. Eat.

Outside the office, you’ll likely find me…

Spending time with my husband, son, and our two crazy Jack Russell terriers. We once hired a dog whisperer to work with them, and he said they were two of the most headstrong dogs he had ever encountered.

Favorite …

Architect/designer: Lake Flato, Mies Van Der Rohe, and Tadao Ando

Quote: “If a picture’s worth a thousand words, use a picture.” (From my co-worker Bernita Beikmann.)

Vacation spot: Maui. Mmmmm…

Piece of furniture in your house: I have a fantastic marble-topped, inlaid sideboard that folds out into a full bar. My grandmother purchased it decades ago with her pin money and gifted it to me before she passed away. My grandparents threw the best parties, and I hope that I do it justice.

Line from a movie: I’m a good Southern girl and can quote ‘Steel Magnolias’ by heart.

Snack: Cheese!

Way to unwind after a long day: Pre-baby: Relax with a good book. Post-baby: Go to bed at 8 p.m.

Weekend activity: I take my son to a Little Gym class every Saturday morning, which I, of course, count as a workout.

On a lifetime of adventurous eating

My first solid food as a baby was boiled crawfish. My dad thought this was a fine idea for a 6 month old. My mom was horrified, but apparently I liked the taste. I absolutely love to try new foods, especially when I travel. I also collect menus from restaurants that do laughable interpretations of Louisiana food—just don’t. Please!