Designs on Architectural Excellence
Designs on Architectural Excellence
Designs on Architectural Excellence
7 minute read

There's striking architecture, and then there's striking, effective architecture. Half of the beauty comes from helping clients figure out what they need, then making it accessible and practical.

There's striking architecture, and then there's striking architecture that creates better spaces.

Even the most extraordinary designs are wasteful if they don't serve the intended purpose of the facility. That's why attention must be paid to creating functional, strategic assets.

"It's about more than a great, beautiful design," says Joel Jacobsen, architectural director at Burns & McDonnell. "The projects we design need to be energy-efficient, performing assets that contribute to our clients' goals and objectives. That it will be a beautiful project is a given."

Burns & McDonnell architects have contributed to projects around the world for an array of clients, from commercial to research facilities, from municipal to federal structures and beyond. With more than 120 architects, interior designers and landscape architects working in Kansas City and across the country, Burns & McDonnell is designing innovative and productive sites from the inside out.

"We serve our clients as trusted advisers, advocating for a design that will make their organization better," Jacobsen says. "That means we need to understand their organization, how they do their work, what their long-term goals are, and collaborate with them on how the design of space can help make that happen. It's a fun process. You really get to know your client.

"Regardless of the facility type, we design it to be a performing asset that makes their organization better than before the project."

Elsewhere, design-build projects typically are performed by multiple firms working in a prime/sub relationship, usually with the general contractor serving as the prime. But at Burns & McDonnell, architects work side by side with engineers, construction specialists and consultants on projects big and small.

"We're the only firm in the Midwest, and one of the few nationally, that offers that kind of integrated package," Jacobsen says. "Everyone comes to the table as equal participants. We provide services holistically."

Even when Burns & McDonnell is brought in exclusively for design work, the company still uses the construction group.

"They are such a great asset for us. They have real-time cost information, construction scheduling, sequencing and more that help us make better design decisions and provide valuable information to our clients," Jacobsen says.


When Enogex was still an Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OGE) subsidiary, its leaders started to think about designing new corporate headquarters. Burns & McDonnell was brought in on day one. Enogex would be making a move to the Oklahoma City downtown core from the suburbs. Its new home would be on six floors of a landmark high-rise office building, Leadership Square.

"Enogex was interested in current office space trends, and we were able to show them what their peers in the industry were doing," says Robert Beeson, project manager on the design-build project. "The new image that Enogex wanted to convey would assist them greatly in staff recruitment, one of their goals."

The 127,000-square-foot project was designed and built out in 10 months, with Burns & McDonnell providing architecture, interior design, engineering and construction services.

"Moving your headquarters after 25 years is a daunting task," says Steve Merrill, chief operating officer for Enogex. "However, our long-term partners at Burns & McDonnell worked with our leadership team and facilities planning team to design a top-of-the-line workspace that is both functional and signals our increasing prominence in the industry."

The work included placing all of the commonly used services, such as human resources, on the entry level on the ninth floor, with no single group "owning" the entry. Office space was developed with light-filled, open floor plans to enhance collaboration, while preserving privacy for individual work. Break areas are strategically located between departments to encourage information-sharing.

An important feature of the design was the development of a high-security trading floor for dealing in the oil and gas commodities market. The floor was designed specifically for the physical act of trading, including access to multiple monitors and screens.

"We worked with them early on to help them understand how they wanted their organization to work now, and in the future. Even as we were designing, their organization was changing. Because of our integrated team approach, we were able to address all the changes, keep the project on track and create a great space that really works for them," says lead architect Jennifer Dickson.

Burns & McDonnell's construction experience enhanced the decision-making process from the beginning. The new Enogex corporate headquarters is a source of pride for its members, the Enogex leadership team, the OGE facilities planning team and Burns & McDonnell.

Higher Education

The University of Kansas School of Engineering is in the midst of significant expansion efforts. The university is raising the level of its research capabilities and increasing the capacity of the program.

As part of KU's ongoing Learned Engineering Expansion Phase 2 (LEEP2) project, Burns & McDonnell is providing full-service structural engineering as well as MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) construction-phase on-site representation for the 135,000-square-foot main campus facility. In addition, Burns & McDonnell is providing architectural design and structural engineering services for a new research facility planned for KU's west campus.

The 26,000-square-foot west campus building includes a 10,000-square-foot high bay for civil engineering research. The spacious bay encloses a 40-foot-tall strong (or reaction) wall and a 7,000-square-foot strong floor.

"It's a pretty significant structural element," says senior architect Amy Slattery. "The reaction floor is 3 feet thick with ‘reaction points,' holes to tie projects down to the wall and floor for testing.

"It's a really cool, unique structural system. The amount of force that can be put on it is pretty significant. There are very few such equipped research facilities in the country."

The wall, which is twice as tall as initially conceived, is more than a design challenge. It's a piece of research equipment.

"There has been a lot of dialogue with the researchers as we've refined the design of the reaction wall. It's been fun to work with them as they work through the design process," Slattery says.

University officials are excited about the potential of the new facility.

"The Learned Hall Engineering Expansion on west campus will provide hallmark facilities for large-scale structural testing and student project work," says KU School of Engineering Associate Dean JoAnn Browning. "With this space, engineers will be able to test structural systems and components at the scale that is necessary to adequately capture true material and system performance under realistic loads. 

"And the student project area provides versatile spaces for curricular project and engineering student competition teams to design, build and test their solutions to new engineering problems."

One of the biggest challenges with higher-education facilities is not knowing where the research might lead next.

"These facilities have to be immediately usable, but they're also a long-term investment," Slattery says. "Flexibility is important, as are maintenance and efficiency. But it needs to be cost-effective from day one."

Although the facility has a more industrial design, fitting the west campus aesthetic, it's a very elegant solution, Slattery says. The light-filled, glass-fronted student fabrication area and research wing highlight the work of the students for anyone passing by the building. The project is energy efficient as well, with insulated, precast concrete walls and high-performance glass.

"We're doing real-time pricing of alternatives as we develop the design and documentation," Slattery says. "We're careful with changes and checking options against costs so the university can make better decisions."

Construction on the west campus facility is expected to be complete by August 2014.


Working for the federal government and the military brings unique challenges. Security concerns rise to the forefront, and the large scale gives architects an opportunity to look for the elements that bring creativity to big-box projects.

"We can be creative in anything we're given," says Wendy Hageman, department manager for federal architecture. "It's a different kind of challenge with the federal government, turning an ordinary building into something cool without the perception that it costs more."

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Continental United States (CONUS) acts as the communication networks center for the military and for high-level dignitaries, but its array of organizational divisions is scattered among three sites at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. The agency is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, to develop a 164,000-square-foot, world-class facility to house its collective mission under one roof.

"We worked with DISA during the design charrette, but before that we conducted client interviews to get a good feel for what each group's role was in the larger picture," says senior architect Amy Kruse. "Then we went in and talked with senior leadership about natural arrangements based on information from the various groups."

The goal was to improve efficiencies within the building. By exploring several ways it could be laid out, Burns & McDonnell was able to create an environment that will motivate the staff and get them excited about coming to work.

"Senior leadership wanted to keep it a maximum of a one- or two-story building. They felt they'd lose too much connection between groups if the building was any taller or had more floors to travel," Kruse says. "The building is definitely a form-follows-function project. We laid in blocks of space to function optimally, then let the building form around it. That really helped us develop the best building plan we could, rather than developing an outside concept first and squeezing the work groups into it."

One of the most prominent internal elements is the Operations Center, which serves as the 24/7/365 nerve center for DISA CONUS. There are no columns throughout the monitor-filled, 1,600-square-foot room, leaving clear lines of sight.

"What do you do with the space inside the Operations Center to make it seem less massive for workers?" Kruse says. "The interiors group constructed soffits and a circular central desk area with groups arranged around it to create a futuristic look. They designed rings over each group to support all the monitors. Breaking up the ceiling and echoing it with the carpet tiling created an interesting workspace without adding expense."

The Operations Center doubles as a storm shelter — critical in the Midwest — and is designed to withstand 250-mph winds while remaining online.

"The design team has exceeded expectations and has continued from day one to stay ahead of the design curve on this very large and complex project," says Craig Shumate, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District. "Burns & McDonnell has been a pleasure to work with due to their superior focus on meeting the customer's needs. The design team has demonstrated exceptional technical competence, maintained 100 percent of all commitments, and has been very professional and proactive in tackling all challenges."

The location of the new facility prompted more design considerations. It is on the opposite side of the base from restaurants and many other features, so designs included a full-service cafeteria and patio area that will be accessible to all base personnel. That enhances the building's value but adds to the security considerations.

Secure support systems were another tricky piece of the puzzle. The team used an under floor air distribution system, but the need for secure walls that go all the way to the floor slab made planning more complicated. DISA also supported the use of a cutting-edge communications technology called G-PON (gigabit passive optical network), which allows one wire to be split a greater number of times, letting it serve a greater number of workstations. That results in more plug-and-play flexibility without having to run a lot of new wiring.

Design work was completed under budget — even more helpful during a time of sequestration budget cuts — in April 2013, with construction expected to begin early next year.

From Start to Finish ... and Beyond

There's striking architecture, and then there's striking, effective architecture. Half of the beauty comes from helping clients figure out what they need, then making it accessible and practical. The goal is always to create a beautiful, functioning facility that brings out the best for the client.

"We come in with no preconceived ideas, and listen to the client first," Hageman says. "Our work is not based on some award we need to get. The designs ultimately come out of that collaborative process with our clients, what they say, and design solutions that make them better."

The upshot of that collaborative process, with the customers and within Burns & McDonnell, is striking, functional designs that make the client successful for the long term, no matter how large or small the project.

"We aim to make sure they can be just as proud of their project several years from now as they are at the completion," says Neal Angrisano, associate architect and project manager. "This is about projects that can stand the test of time and prove their worth as they go into service."

For more information, contact Joel Jacobsen, 816-349-6783.

View other architectural projects at Read about other related projects in online extras here and here.

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