No One Knows As Much As Everyone

Collaboration is a key part of BNIM’s culture and practice that initially grew from within and has expanded through the years to define how we work with our clients, other designers and the building community. BNIM is not unique in having robust collaboration within the office and projects; however what may distinguish our approach to collaboration with other architects (landscape architects, planners, urban designers) is that we have developed three different models that we have employed over the past decade.

Design Peers

The University of Texas asked BNIM to submit on a new nursing school at the Houston Medical Center Campus in 2000. The university wanted a high performance building uniquely suited to Dean Patricia Starck’s pedagogy and Houston’s harsh environment. The first and only Texas partner that we really considered was Lake|Flato of San Antonio. We developed a model of co-lead designers for the project with David Lake and me leading our respective firm efforts. The project was and remains very successful. Both firms reflect on that project and appreciate the many ways that working together made each better. We recognize that through that collaborative process we became more scientific in evaluating designs during the project and elevated critical and integrated thinking and dialogue resulting in better design.

School of Nursing and Student Community Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston with Lake|Flato

Since that time we have continued to pursue and win work with Lake|Flato and have developed other peer design or co-lead design relationships with other firms including Moore Ruble Yudell, Andropogon Associates, Gensler, el dorado, Page Sutherland Page and others.

Henry W. Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation with Moore Ruble Yudell

Client Collaborations

Fifteen years ago, a long-term client approached us with news that they had formed a relationship with another developer to co-develop real estate projects in downtown Kansas City. Much like our client, this other developer had a long-standing relationship with a local architectural firm, and the request to both architects was to consider collaborating to serve this new partnership.

The key to the collaboration was utilizing a one-studio approach. Each project was performed by a single team of individuals from each firm and was housed the offices of one firm or the other. The mantra was to leave company colors at the door. For whatever reason it worked and the projects achieved design, financial and technical success.

We agreed and formed a new company, BNIM 360, which remains a Missouri Corporation today and has completed millions of square feet of new and historic preservation/adaptive reuse development. The clients include the IRS/GSA, United States Postal Service, Kansas City Southern Railroad, State Street Bank, DST Systems, Americo Insurance, Kansas City Public Library, JE Dunn Construction, NYSTERS and of course the original partnership.

Steven Holl Architects + BNIM

Steven Holl Architects (SHA) won the international competition for the design of the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Prior to the completion we had decided that we would not pursue the executive architect role if that opportunity presented itself. Our primary reason was that we did not want to be perceived as a service focused architect. However, two things happened that shifted our position. Holl’s design was more compelling than any of us had imagined (and I had been a long-time follower of his writings and work). Secondly, he approached BNIM with a simple and direct description of what he wanted in a partner—precision. Our minds were changed, and we began working together on a series of projects including the new building and parking structure. The relationship evolved with SHA being the design lead on the Bloch Building and Garage and BNIM having the lead on a series of interventions in the existing building. The Bloch Building has been honored by the AIA (Honor Award) and many other organizations and publications.

The Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with Steven Holl Associates

SHA and BNIM continue to work together today at Princeton University and the University of Iowa. Holl believes that the collaboration with BNIM improves his work beyond our contribution in precisely executing the work. We are currently planning to have BNIM staff work in his office in New York. The offices become one studio on each project with the entire team collaborating and contributing ideas that Holl edits and refines to achieve his vision.

What’s Next?

Currently BNIM is working with Hanley Wood and ARCHITECT magazine to develop a concept for the “office of the future.” Understanding that the traditional office environment is increasingly shifting into the digital realm, our concept, the "Open Source Office," (OSO) takes collaboration to a global level. It is the ultimate collaboration. Appearing at this year’s AIA Convention Expo in Washington D.C., the OSO exhibit provides a physical space that serves primarily to invite participants into a highly active digital realm. This virtual environment is designed to be a place where ideas are shared, and – most importantly – where the best ideas thrive. The OSO is intended to reach well beyond the convention floor, removing barriers of time and distance as it unites individuals from varied backgrounds and demographics into catalytic dialogue.

Stewarding and nurturing the best ideas is the responsibility of each person on a team. It is a question of, “How do I make the concept or idea better and continue to elevate the design?” In order to help our teams best answer this question and continue to elevate the individual and collective efforts BNIM must continually investigate how we work internally and externally and create the right collaborative model, which sometimes results in collaborating in one of the models described above.

No one knows as much as everyone.