McKinney York 40 Years of architecture that engages, inspires and belongs
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Celebrating 40 Years of Design!

In celebration of our 40th anniversary, we take a closer look at each word of our mission statement that influences our approach to practice. We create spaces that belong to people through mindful placemaking, identity, and connection.

headshot of Brian Carlson

“As architects we are tasked with meeting the needs of our clients, but we also have a calling to respond to the wider community. We are continually in a posture of listening and learning to create a sense of belonging for those who experience our work, and have found that a project receives its vitality through the contributions of everyone involved – the clients, the users, the community, and members of the design team.”

– Brian Carlson, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal


The Montopolis Recreation and Community Center is the centerpiece of the community serving as a central gathering and activity space, and a gateway to the Montopolis neighborhood. Through its materiality and reserved integration into the site, the design reflects the relaxed, unpretentious attitude the neighborhood sought, while providing connectivity and identity through communal spaces such as the gym, multipurpose rooms, and boxing center.

upstairs lobby with view of railings in foreground, building's front windows to the left, and exercise room with boxing punching bags to the right

Montopolis Recreation and Community Center View Project


In celebration of our 40th anniversary, we take a closer look at each word of our mission statement that influences our approach to practice. We create places that inspire people to do and be better through optimistic, thoughtful architecture.

headshot of Al York

“Most of our lives are spent within and around a built environment that shapes our lives and colors our thoughts and feelings. It seems to me that architects have an obligation to elevate that experience. We endeavor to create architecture that lifts and transforms lives by inspiring big ideas and bold actions, or quiet contemplation and simple wonder.”

– Al York, FAIA, RID, Principal


The McGarrah Jessee, an iconic building in downtown Austin exemplifying mid-century architecture, is home to the award-winning advertising and brand development agency. The renovation breathes new life to the building while delicately balancing historic preservation with a level of creative innovation that pairs with its occupant.

image of McGarrah Jessee building looking into red tunnel entrance opening to stairs and escalators towards geometric mural on back wall

McGarrah Jessee Building View Project


In celebration of our 40th anniversary, we take a closer look at each word of our mission statement that influences our approach to practice. We create places that engage people by inviting thought, stirring emotions, and awakening senses.

headshot of Will Wood

“One of our responsibilities as designers of the built environment is to engage our clients and the people that may experience our work. At the most ambitious level, we do that by developing concepts in each of our projects. Through careful planning, we hope our design decisions feel as though they are self-evident, ultimately creating opportunities for that engagement to occur.”

– Will Wood, AIA, RID, Principal


The Rox, Duke, and Danay Covert Admissions Welcome Center is the “front door” for prospective students at the University of Texas at Austin, designed to entertain, educate, and engage visitors while sharing the energy, sprit, and possibilities of the university.

image of Welcome Center at the University of Texas at Austin, wood slat panel wall with longhorn logo detail

Admissions Welcome Center View Project


Over the last four decades, we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on hundreds of projects, each rooted in our desire to connect people to each other and the world round them by creating architecture that engages, inspires, and belongs.

headshot of Heather McKinney

“We believe our work is better when all voices are heard, and we are deeply committed to improving the built environment through inclusive and sustainable design. As we look ahead to the next decades and our continued growth in central Texas, we remain committed to our mission to create architecture that resonates across the full breadth of people’s humanity – their minds, their hearts, and their senses.”

– Heather McKinney, FAIA, RID, Founder


residence exterior at dusk with lighted interior looking through glass windows into foyer with winding stair

Winter Park Residence View Project

You can explore the studio to gain insight into our design philosophy and approach, or see our ideas come to life by viewing our work.

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Design Elements that Engage & Inspire

Create a sense of belonging and reinforce brand identity through thoughtful furnishings and finishes

Thoughtfully designed spaces draw people to them, encourage them to spend their time there, support human productivity, and create connections that deepen our relationships. In higher education and workplace environments, integrating brand identity into the architectural design and furnishing selections creates a strong sense of place by reinforcing organizational culture and values. Likewise, the design concept and benefits to the users can be made more powerful and effective when the furnishings and architecture work in harmony. While the spaces in which we work and learn continue to evolve, there are four common elements that we seek to incorporate into successful spaces across these project types:


Welcoming environments that set the tone

Visitors’ impressions of an organization or business are shaped upon entering the building, often in the lobby or reception area. The design of these spaces can provide visual cues to visitors and users about what’s important to the organization, help communicate its values, and tell a story about inclusivity and belonging.

The University of Texas at Austin Admissions Welcome Center is the ‘front door’ for prospective students and visitors. The Center seeks to create a memorable experience from the moment you open the door, drawing visitors in toward a reception desk that evokes the UT Tower. Vibrant hits of the University’s iconic burnt orange color are incorporated throughout the furniture and displays. Brand identity is further expressed through the integration of the Longhorns logo into the oak cladding around the central theater, where guests learn about the University. A range of seating around the lobby provides a comfortable place to briefly wait for an appointment with an admission counselor or tour guide.

The motto of the Texas School for the Deaf is ‘Learn. Grow. Belong.’ The lobby at the School’s new Administration Building and Early Learning Center creates a sense of belonging by incorporating principles of DeafSpace in the design – clear sight lines, spatial connection between floor levels, and wider circulation spaces for signing while walking. Inclusive, curved forms are found throughout the serpentine lobby furniture, reception desk, and sweeping balcony, the railing of which hosts the motto itself.


Opportunities for collaboration

The best work and academic spaces provide opportunities for people to come together and connect with one another. The formal and informal interactions these spaces foster can inspire ideas, solutions, and friendships.

At the heart of the Texas Restaurant Association Headquarters sits a large table which can be viewed from nearly anywhere in the suite. Glassy shared offices and workstations with low partitions look onto this central space, reinforcing the idea that decisions and policy are best made in collaboration–befittingly, with everyone gathered around the table. Smaller, informal team huddles are held at a nearby round table in lounge chairs adorned with cocktail shaker upholstery, a nod to the foodservice industry.

The huddle rooms for the University of Texas at Austin College of Education provide space for faculty, staff, and students to collaborate. Integrated videoconferencing technology facilitates a seamless connection between colleagues, even when they’re meeting remotely. Custom glazing manifestation on the rooms’ glass partitions preserve transparency and connectivity, while also screening incoming views to provide a degree of privacy. The word cloud graphics feature bilingual messaging which communicates the College’s core values in both English & Spanish. To aid wayfinding, one wall of each huddle room is painted a different color, and in recognition of the teaching profession, is adorned with an oversized letter of the alphabet. The huddle room colors are also reflected in the upholstery selections of the chairs. Rounded corners encourage gathering around the meeting table.


Places for focused productivity

While interaction and collaboration are often beneficial, sometimes all that’s needed is a quiet space for focused individual work where students or employees can touch down while on campus or in the office.

At the Texas Health & Human Services North Austin Complex, unassigned hoteling stations provide temporary spots for staff who normally operate elsewhere to plug-in and connect. As this agency’s focus is on health, the workplace design sought to promote health and well-being; these workstations have lower height partitions to reinforce the feeling of connection to the rest of the office and provide mood-boosting views of the exterior and access to natural daylighting, while still providing a degree of visual privacy. These biophilic design elements extend to the nature-inspired blues, greens, wood tones, and vegetal patterns and textures of the upholstery and finish selections.

Similarly, in the lobby of the Jesse H. Jones Communications Building, a bank of semi-enclosed individual workstations creates visual separation and provides students with places for deep focus even in a public setting. In campus and university environments in particular, this type of amenity is especially beneficial as students often do not have a dedicated, private space of their own to retreat to during downtime between classes.


Spaces that connect to nature

In Austin, we are fortunate to live in a climate where we can spend time outside in relative comfort for much of the year. We’ve found that outdoor patio spaces or indoor spaces with a strong connection to the outdoors are perennial favorites in both academic and workplace settings. These spaces satisfy our innate need to engage with the natural environment. This need was underscored by the pandemic, which reinforced how valuable these outdoor spaces are to our wellbeing.

Our project at the William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center Courtyard reinvigorated an underused green space by creating a series of outdoor rooms that is arguably one of the most sought-after places to be on campus. We utilized a range of seating types–café tables and chairs, wood benches, rocking chairs, and hammocks–and created a variety of microclimate-like spaces for relaxing, socializing, lunch breaks, and studying. Plants and flowing water provide natural sensory experiences to help students recharge in the midst of a bustling campus environment.

We designed the Holland Family Student Center at UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences as a casual study space with ample natural daylight and views of a tree-shaded courtyard. We utilized several types of stone in the design to create an inspiring student-centered space for lovers of rocks. A custom mosaic in the terrazzo floor appears to flow from inside to outside, where it emerges as rock garden featuring specimens from the school’s collection. Indoor lounge seating in warm, natural tones provides a softening effect in contrast to the hard stone surfaces. Casual, café-style seating is dispersed among the rocks throughout the courtyard, creating a popular study and break space near an active pedestrian promenade.

With recruitment competition, real estate prices and construction costs all posing challenges for commercial and higher education enterprises, property owners require spaces which will attract and retain users while supporting their diverse needs. Spaces need to be hardworking, versatile, and flexible. Thoughtful, fully integrated branding and furnishings can maximize user performance and satisfaction while creating places with unique, engaging, and marketable identities.

If you or your organization would like more information on this topic, please email us.