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Prototype Concept
3,200 sf (avg)

Key Objective

Underwhelmed with a batch of stale design studies for exterior improvements from their corporate design team, Hardee’s Food Systems engaged us to provide a high-level prototype concept for their capital-expenditure category, major remodel. The creative brief began with a simple challenge,
“Wow us with something fresh, exciting and unexpected.”


Eat like you mean it!
For Hardee’s, this tagline is more than a bold call to action.  It is a vision for a fast-casual dining experience which is on-trend, yet authentic.  It is a vision for operational efficiency that is obsessively focused on the customer.  And it is a vision for a brand always looking to shake things up a bit.


What began as a 1-week exercise to pitch new concepts became a request to expand our concept thru schematic design.  We were provided base plans for their most common existing building type (H42 and H42x), and tasked with applying the concept onto an actual building. The design had to be flexible enough to accommodate variations in location, cost-effective enough to fit their capital expenditure target and implementable within their tight remodel schedules.  All without losing the spirit of the original idea.


A review of various Hardee’s restaurants over the last 50 years reveals an architectural expression and evolution that often reflects the zeitgeist of each decade.  Note: check out the relationship between the automobile styles and architecture in each photo.


‘60s – ‘70s
Starting with the streamlined modernism and structural expressionism prevalent in the early sixties, to continued explorations of form and function well into the seventies, the relationship between the building, the customer and the automobile was very much intertwined. Visibility, efficiency and materiality were key design factors in this evolution of the drive-in diner.

‘80s – ’90s
With the explosion of fast-food consumption in the eighties, the drive-in transformed into the drive-thru; shifting priorities away from expressions of form and place towards concepts of mass standardization. Buildings became bloated, internalized volumes, resulting in the introduction of what the Hardee’s corporate design team admits was the worst dining feature ever; the window-less “cozy corner”.

‘00s – present
The beginning of the 21st century signaled shifts in social attitudes, requiring an evolving strategy in the battle for fast-food supremacy. Hardee’s chose advertising to separate themselves from the pack.

Using a clever visual metaphor (top, left photo) they promote a focus on the basics; stripping their menu down to its breakfast and burger-based core. More recently, they’ve harnessed the power of sex appeal to target their primary customer; the 18-25 year old blue-collar male (not the top, left photo).

Eat like you mean it!


Architecturally, this meant developing forms which reflected the integration of these two distinct concepts – operational efficiency (via simple volumes and transparency) with a dash of design flare – in an effort to reflect the modern era, much the same way earlier designs did.

Key design strategies included:  Visibility (transparency), Sensory (color and texture), Materiality (cost-effective), Efficiency (reuse existing building), Technology (LED lighting)

With the majority of existing buildings dating back to the mid-eighties, our proposed solution had to bring the brand forward while being both flexible and implementable. An existing building in Rock Hill, SC was provided as our model facility.

First, we needed to develop an exterior concept which would be flexible. Over 95% of existing locations are franchises – most of which were built as countless, undocumented variations of the H42 and 42x prototype.


Next, we needed to provide a solution which could transform the internalized ‘cozy corner’ into a modern space without impacting the existing building structure – which wouldn’t meet current seismic codes.

Beyond these functional issues, we also had to consider the impact of 2-3 week construction window. Every day lost to remodeling was lost revenue in the eyes of a franchisee.

Primarily cosmetic in scope, the only structural modification proposed during demolition was to remove the loadbearing CMU front corner walls, typical of most ‘cozy corner’ locations.

Careful analysis of this modification was done to ensure the most efficient retro-fit possible, resulting in a negligible impact on the remaining existing structure.


The critical component of this exterior refresh requires new footings and steel surrounding the existing building.

A primary consideration was that the new ‘exoskeleton’ had to function completely independent of the existing building. This was done to avoid having to bring the existing building into compliance with current structural and seismic codes.

Extensive computer data models were used to analyze and maximize steel efficiency under “worst-case scenarios” while accommodating variations in existing conditions.


With the primary structure in place, light framing (either metal or wood) provided the next layer of shape to the facade and canopy.

Fabrication of the ‘wave’ canopy was developed in collaboration with an international sign company who was well-versed in retrofitting existing fast-food restaurants with panelized fascia systems that are both light-weight and cost-effective.

The canopy skin was designed as a prefabricated kit of metal components which could be clipped onto the framing, allowing for adjustment through on-site modifications.


A simplified exterior material palette of wood, metal and glass allows the design to meet the primary challenges of being cost-effective and implementable.

Much like the ingredients of any recipe, each element in the composition expresses both function and texture as part of the greater whole. Materials are layered against each other to provide a richness to the design missing from most fast-food franchises.

The goal was to provide an interior dining experience which invites an extended stay, while accommodating the speed and efficiency expected in today’s food-service industries.

The concept establishes a direction that is both a nod to Hardee’s history while also casting a bold vision for the evolution of the brand.




We have continued a high-level design relationship with Hardee’s, collaborating on ways to incorporate elements of the concept into other proposed locations, including mid-town Manhattan.


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