BNIM looks outside KCMO for new living HQ project

BNIM worked for three years on a plan to convert an old warehouse on 16th and Main into a new living headquarters incorporating the most sustainable building design standards today. That plan fell through when an incentives package was not approved, so the firm is now looking for other sites to carry out a similar plan.

BNIM worked for three years on a plan to convert an old warehouse on 16th and Main into a new living headquarters incorporating the most sustainable building design standards today. That plan fell through when an incentives package was not approved, so the firm is now looking for other sites to carry out a similar plan.

BNIM is striving to create a new headquarters that will meet some of the most stringent building standards on the planet today. Although years of work were poured into a comprehensive $9.4 million plan for a potential new home at 1640 Main in the Crossroads Arts District, the city ultimately rejected a $2.5 million incentive package that would have made the project possible.

Despite the disappointing turn of events, BNIM is still hoping to incorporate many of the sustainable initiatives it developed for the site. Now, the firm has expanded its search for a new building or location to house a one-of-a-kind living headquarters.

BNIM’s Craig Scranton addressed members of KCRAR Commercial last week to share some of the design initiatives for that project and encourage others to adopt new building standards. It’s all part of BNIM’s core goal to “deliver beautiful, integrated living environments that inspire change and enhance the human condition.”

“Our goal is to have a showcase for the future of the built environment – a learning laboratory,” Scranton said.

BNIM is expanding its search beyond downtown Kansas City, and is looking for 25,000 square feet it can temporarily call home until it finds a new site. The firm must vacate its current home in the TWA Building by November and is immediately looking for a short-term lease until it can complete a new development project.

The EcoDistrict

Craig Scranton of BNIM addresses members of KCRAR Commercial.

Craig Scranton of BNIM addresses members of KCRAR Commercial.

BNIM’s project plan wasn’t focused on just the building itself; BNIM planned to expand into the community create an entire “eco district.” The EcoDistrict aims to take the firm’s sustainability research to a larger scale and incorporate its surrounding environment to better understand how buildings and other urban infrastructure impact the environment. It would examine and scrutinize the surrounding environment to a high level of detail, understanding its impact on human health and wellbeing.

“We were donating our planning services to create an eco district around 1640, which would include the entire watershed that building lived in. With that planning effort we talked about how to communicate, how to bring light to different social environmental issues within our zone, and how much energy each building is using in order to help this whole district raise itself in terms of sustainability,” Scranton said. “It was not just about us, but the community, but giving back and helping people within our office and beyond… We’re still going to continue to do that work and finish the eco district because that’s what we promised.”

The Living Building Challenge

BNIM also hoped to incorporate a living building initiative – the highest level of sustainability possible today, Scranton says. It’s an innovative process with a holistic approach centered on creating an environment that’s best for people. Its guidelines include focus areas like creating a healthy interior environment, achieving net-positive water and energy, using responsible construction materials, living economy sourcing, net positive waste, and among other items, building a beautiful place that inspires and educates.

Kansas City provides a challenging climate to accomplish net-zero energy, because designers have to account for both the very cold and very hot weather. But by incorporating aspects like radiant cooling, BNIM had combined a number of strategies to achieve that.

BNIM’s planned living headquarters aimed to transform this old warehouse at 1640 Main Street, which Scranton calls “the ugliest building on the block.”

BNIM’s planned living headquarters aimed to transform this old warehouse at 1640 Main Street, which Scranton calls “the ugliest building on the block.”

Water features

Another interesting facet of the design included a partnership with the KC Water Services to create a geo-exchange with the water line running in front of the property, in which BNIM would tap off water from the water main and running it through a heated chamber and back into the water main. The close looped system would change water in the city water main by less than one degree so it wouldn’t affect city water, but would significantly reduce BNIM’s energy usage. It’s an opportunity for a demonstration project that both BNIM and the City of Kansas City hope to see in the future.

The plan also called for net-zero water strategy, which means that one hundred percent of the project’s water needs must be met by captured precipitation or other natural closed loop water systems, and purified without the use of chemicals. The resulting strategy was $100,000 ecological wastewater treatment system that would capture and sanitize storm water using a reverse osmosis machine that would ultimately produce water that’s even cleaner than the city’s.

BNIM’s plan for 1640 Main included a community park that would showcase different aspects of sustainable design.

BNIM’s plan for 1640 Main included a community park that would showcase different aspects of sustainable design.

Making the numbers work

Accounting for these and a slew of other aspects of the design, Scranton said the total cost fell at about $200 per square foot. Tenant improvement costs were about $50 per square foot, with the total construction cost at $9.4 million. The incentive package was valued at about $2.4 million, he said. To plug those numbers into the equation without incentives, BNIM would have been paying more than $30 per square foot, which “is out of our range as an architecture firm,” he said.

“That’s why the incentives were so important to us,” he said. “We tried to make the project as economical as possible so others could do this project, or parts of it. That was our goal, and it’s still our goal.”

BNIM is eager to find a site that will enable a similar project of this scope, whether it’s a redevelopment opportunity or ground-up construction.

“We’ll just look for the next opportunity to do the exact same thing,” he said. “It took us three years to get here and we spent lots of money internally to get to this point, so we hope to go fairly quickly in terms of the process and finding a location for a long-term strategy.”

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