Women Leaders

Hana Kassem, Kohn Pedersen Fox

Hana Kassem

A Collaborative Approach

Editors’ Note

Hana Kassem joined KPF in 2001. She is an active member of the AIA NY chapter where she serves as co-Chair of the Global Dialogues committee. She is also a Board member of the Van Alen Institute. Kassem has served as invited critic at Pratt, Parsons, RISD, Columbia University, and Yale, and as guest lecturer for Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Company Brief

Operating as one firm with six global offices, KPF (kpf.com) is one of the world’s premier architecture firms with approximately 600 staff members from 42 different countries, together speaking a collective 40 languages. The firm’s diverse portfolio comprises corporate headquarters, office buildings, hospitality, academic, medical, research, civic, museum, transportation, residential, and mixed-use projects both in the United States and abroad. More than 100 projects of the firm’s completed projects are certified, or pursuing, green certification.

What has made KPF so special for you and a place that you’ve wanted to stay all this time?

I wasn’t sure that I was going to stay this long. I wanted to try to work in a very large office.

What is really fantastic about KPF, beyond the caliber of people in terms of their intelligence and talent that constantly elevates one’s game, is the range of projects, in both scale and type, that we are involved in – everything from hospitality to science/research, and luxury residential to public housing, and masterplans for cities to small university buildings.

It exercises different parts of one’s brain on a daily basis and that kind of stimulation is really priceless.

We also have a wide reach worldwide, which is important to me. I grew up in a very international environment, and I feel like a citizen of the world. Being able to use my multicultural background and do work for projects in France, Mumbai, Brazil, Brooklyn, Shanghai, and Kentucky all in the same week is unbelievable.

Is the structure more of a collaborative team approach?

This is definitely a place where collaboration is one’s greatest asset, and a place where I have learned how to listen, be receptive, and have conversations with other talented people. The best way in which we can serve our clients and obtain the best product is through sharing a vision and letting other people have ownership of that vision.

Is there still value in a pen and paper or has technology really changed how design is done?

It has changed how design is done, but there is nothing like being able to sit in a conference room with a client and pull out a paper and pen, and listen to them, and turn around that paper with your sketches on it and ask them if that’s what they’re thinking.

That immediacy of response is very gratifying and efficient, and is a powerful tool for an architect to have. One can’t do that with the digital interface as readily.

How important is it that the diversity within the client base is mirrored within the KPF workforce?

We are in six offices worldwide, and currently, we’re working in 42 countries, which are completely reflected in our demographics and in the languages spoken in the firm. It’s very important for our clients to see that we are, in a way, citizens of this world, and we pay special attention in terms of mentoring and grooming the younger staff. We allow them to spend time in our other offices and travel to the projects they’re working on so they understand those cultures and can produce work that is sensitive to its context.