2020 is an exciting year for the team at B+A Architecture. The company is celebrating 25 years of successful practice. To mark the occasion, Principal Dennis Bradley shared his insights into what has enabled the firm to survive and thrive for so long, as well as what’s in store for the next five years.
What does the firm’s 25th anniversary mean to you? Is it a significant milestone or just another multiple of five?
It’s a significant milestone. This is the third firm I’ve been a partner in and this one has by far exceeded the lifespan of the other two! Over the years we’ve gone through some major ups and downs in both the industry and the economy, so getting to this anniversary is really significant.
Could you talk a little bit about the origins of B+A Architecture and what it is that has helped the firm to last for so long?
The firm grew out of the fact that the other partner and I at my previous firm were going in different directions. There came a point where I decided to set up on my own, with the goal of founding a firm that would be more involved in designing significant architecture.
I didn’t have any other work lined up when I left the firm, but I had built up many professional contacts over the years. I reached out to that network and slowly got involved in their work developing properties. From those humble origins, the firm began to grow organically, picking up the pace over the years.
Have the firm’s ethos and principles changed at all over the years?
Absolutely. There’s been a pretty significant evolution of the ethos. When I started, I was just looking for work. It was a matter of doing the design work and processing projects. The firm grew over the years, but it wasn’t until about seven years ago that we saw a step change in our ethos.
That came about as a result of the addition of Thong Thai (who became a partner in 2019) to the B+A team. With Thong on board, we began to focus not just on taking on additional staff to get the work done but specifically very talented and skilled people who would fit and grow the firm’s culture with a more worldly view. Thong bringing a Vietnamese perspective of architecture to the team laid the foundations for this. The value of diversifying in our search for talent quickly became embedded in our approach and we now have staff from Ecuador, Iran, India and China, as well as Vietnam and the US.
That diversity means we have opinions and input from people from around the world in our office, which has really strengthened the approach that we take and the work that we do. Our current team speaks nine different languages, with staff from different cultural backgrounds bringing on different aspects in the design process.
Could you please provide an example of a couple of projects that have been real turning points over the years or that might be extra meaningful to you in some way?
It’s funny, some of the projects that we expected to be game changers never turned out to be, as they either didn’t get funding or ended up going in a different direction. The designs we provided for those projects were exceptional; we are presenting some of them on our website now in a portfolio of “what could have been.”
Right now, we’re working on an exciting project in a significant location in Kansas City: Plaza West Flats on Southwest Trafficway. Construction is due to start this fall and the project is going to generate a lot of exposure. That’s one of two game changers that we’re working on right now.
The other is Midtown Plaza, which is located on Broadway in Kansas City and we’ve already had a lot of recognition for our work in converting this existing office building to high-end multifamily accommodation. The drastic changes that we’ve made to the building have brought a lot of attention.
In terms of previous game changers, the redevelopment and restoration of the Gem Theater really stands out. The original building was a shell – there wasn’t even a roof when we got involved – and we took that and created a stunning performing arts venue for the 18th and Vine Historic District. This was the last project I designed under my previous partnership.
The Walt Disney Museum that we worked on in Marceline, Missouri was another major project for the B+A Architecture team. We worked with old documents to restore much of the design of the interior that had been lost over the years, as well as recreating the look of the exterior from old photographs. That garnered quite a bit of recognition for the firm.
Another project that meant a lot to us was the redevelopment of the site of a deadly fire on the corner of Independence and Prospect Avenues. We were humbled to have the opportunity to work on a project that would include a memorial to honor the two firefighters who lost their lives when the original building was destroyed.
Avoiding another tragedy was top of mind during the design process. As such, our design leverages durable and reliable structural framing and fire protection. The building is split between retail units, including an outdoor dining patio to enhance the streetscape, and upper floor apartments designed to provide modern, compact homes for students, single professional workers and young couples. We are delighted that the project will bring much-needed improvements to the area and provide opportunities for local businesses to enhance their exposure, while also contributing to the diversity of the community’s rental market.
What have been the biggest changes in the firm over the past 25 years?
The diversification of the firm has been one major change over the years. The other has been technology. When I started out 25 years ago, I was just getting started using AutoCAD. We’re generations beyond that now, using virtual reality and a whole host of other technologies. So technology has definitely been a major change, both in terms of how productive we can be and also in the greatly extended services we can offer the client. We now have the ability to clearly show the client how the project will appear, both the interior and the exterior. The advances in Building Information Modeling (BIM) and all it can provide are just superb.
Is it a constant learning process to keep pace with the rate at which technology is developing?
It certainly is. That’s an emphasis we embrace, to keep up with how the industry is changing and fit new technologies into what we do. It’s a constant challenge but an opportunity at the same time. We are always looking at any new technology that will enhance our clients’ experience in the design process.
What has been a constant with the firm over the past 25 years?
Design. We still approach design in the same way. We also take the same approach with our clients. The projects are the clients’ projects and it’s up to us to deliver on what they want, while also educating and informing them if there’s a better way to do things or a more appropriate design. It’s about influencing without dictating!
What are the plans for the next 5 years?
To keep finding better projects – both in terms of exposure of the firm and design opportunities. We held a retreat at the beginning of this year, where we talked about the firm’s five-year plan.
One thing that we aim to do is to take on more global projects. We employ staff from around the world, so it would be good to connect with their home countries and undertake projects outside of the US.
We’re also aiming to tap into the senior living, affordable housing and co-living sectors – those are going to present some interesting opportunities over the next few years as well as longer-term.
How will the firm be marking the 25-year milestone?
We’re working on plans for that at the moment. We’re certainly looking at having some type of celebration and doing something for some of our clients, friends of the firm, staff, and families. We’re not sure what form it’s going to take yet, but 25 years is a milestone worth celebrating, so stay tuned to find out further details!