Over a decade ago, Dwell published its first Modern Across America issue, devoted to discovering good design in unexpected places such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Louisville, Kentucky. Coastal snobs that we were (I was a founding editor of the San Francisco-based magazine and was its Editor in Chief from 2002-2006), we thought this would be impossible.
Of course it wasn't. What many architects knew—and what our roving creative team soon discovered—is that working outside top tier cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco actually accords you the freedom to shape a city. I don't necessarily mean places like that veritable museum of modernism, Columbus, Indiana, which features more than 70 buildings by such internationally noted architects as I.M. Pei, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and Richard Meier. Those buildings could not have existed without Columbus's benevolent patron, Irwin Miller. But in cities with a little more space and a little less bureaucracy, an individual architect can make her mark in a way she never could in The Big Apple or the City by the Bay.
Case in point is Dan Maginn of El Dorado, Inc., whose 5 Delaware project in Kansas City, Missouri, graced the cover of Dwell's 2006 issue devoted to modernism in the middle of America. The firm would prefer you call it "eldo." Their Delaware building is decidedly contemporary, dispensing quickly with any long-held notions of Kansas City identity being inextricably tied to BBQ. There's no shortage of nostalgia for the architecture of yore in Kansas City, but as Maginn explains, there's not too much traditional vernacular to fight against either.
"In general, folks here are pretty straightforward and thrifty and pragmatic, perhaps an extension of rural roots," says Maginn. "One thing that's nice about the straightforwardness is that as long as your designs are hyper functional and efficient, there seems to be an openness to aesthetic issues. You can talk to an industrial client or residential developer about sustainability or pre-engineering, and pretty soon they are totally on board with modern design."
5 Delaware in Kansas City
That flexibility lets a firm like eldo tackle an amazingly diverse spectrum of work from high-end lofts to Habitat for Humanity homes, bridges to breweries, and even a truck stop. At a time when billings are at an all time low for architects, the versatile eldo office has its hands (and drawing boards) full. It doesn't hurt that eldo is made up of terrific communicators who have a great sense of humor about their own work.
Few firms have architects who would write an essay titled, "Your House, Your Sandwich," wherein eldo principal Dan Maginn admits that the difficulty in architecture comes not from "bricks and mortar, but in the metaphoric sweat lodge of the architect-client relationship." (If you're curious what the heck that has to do with sandwiches, click here.)
In another winning treatise on design, "Costumes, Grain, Lizards, Bones and Vacuum Cleaners," Maginn's fellow eldo architect Josh Shelton declares that he likes his urbanism "messy." Let's see what that looks like:
The TWA Building
Designed to be the home of a large advertising firm, the TWA Building features state of the art office space served by an under floor HVAC and data distribution system, energy efficient traction elevators and window systems, abundant natural light, improved vertical circulation and a recrafted “Moonliner” rocket. The project was an exercise in balancing accepted historical preservation practices while seeking to engage contemporary environmental design issues. At 25,000 square feet, the TWA Building features one of the largest planted roofs in the region. The roof features fields of native grasses and wildflowers as well as an outdoor deck area. These elements not only help to control runoff and reduce impermeable surface area, but provide a welcoming and natural environment for workers to enjoy.
Habitat for Humanity Prototype Housing
eldo partnered with Heartland Habitat for Humanity and Public Architecture to design new Habitat prototype housing. Public Architecture’s 1% for Habitat Initiative matches innovative architecture firms with Habitat affiliates to design and build a home that surpasses the organization’s already strict design and sustainability standards.
A contemporary art and performance space located in a Hispanic neighborhood in Kansas City, La Esquina is the result of a creative design partnership between eldo and Charlotte Street Foundation, a grass-roots nonprofit arts organization. The gallery serves as a neighborhood cultural anchor as well as a leading regional voice for contemporary art in the Midwest.
Echo Ridge Duplexes
The Topeka Housing Authority got a $10 million grant from the federal government in a highly competitive process to develop a resource-efficient affordable housing development. eldo designed two of the duplexes and the community center. The duplexes were designed with a focus for single moms. There is a safe communal sandbox easily monitored from all unit porches. Unlike most duplexes, all primary rooms get windows on three sides and each has a walkout balcony on the second level, overlooking planted roofs and the surrounding site.
The Broadway Overpass
"Lots of towns of Kansas City's scale have a similar issue we have—Interstates cut thru town and create huge swaths of area that are totally vehicle-centric and non-pedestrian," Maginn says. "The Broadway Bridge project, done in collaboration with Derek Porter, tries to do a couple things. First, it enlivens the pedestrian experience, to the point that you find yourself actually interested to be hoofing it across the bridge, rather than being frightened or overwhelmed with mundane-ness. Second, it provides an interesting experience from below, to the cars passing from here to there at 70 mph. It's the sixth bridge we've done in collaboration with local artists, the thought being: Until there is the will to cap or relocate the interstates, we need to do all we can with what we have in order to connect the neighborhoods."
This new-construction residence in Kansas City’s Westside Neighborhood combines clean lines and durable materials (concrete, corrugated copper, glue-laminated timber, chain link fencing and ipe decking) into a dynamic form that respects both the scale of the neighborhood and the energy of its new residents (an eldo architect and his family). It used a Structural Insulated Panel System (SIPS), which saved labor and material costs during construction and has resulted in significant energy savings throughout the year.
Hyde Park Bus Shelters
Further proof of the firm's commitment to bring design to their city are these bus shelters in Kansas City’s Hyde Park neighborhood. These were part of the historic renovation of five 1920s apartment buildings, as well as site improvements for an entire city block. eldo was responsible for the site work and one of the buildings, Park Central Apartments, as well.
All images courtesy eldo