19 July, 2018 | Helix People, Recognition

Andres Alfaro, AIA

We are excited to announce that another one of our team members, Andres Alfaro, is officially a licensed architect! In May, Andres passed his final Architectural Registration Exam (ARE), has logged all the necessary Intern Development Program (IDP) hours and can now officially be titled “architect.”

Andres joined us in 2016 when Blackbird Design Studio merged with Helix Architecture + Design. Over the past two years at Helix, he has been instrumental on some of our biggest and most prominent projects: McCownGordon Construction Headquarters, Michael Smith’s new restaurant Farina, and the renovation of the historic Corrigan Building and WeWork tenant improvement. Andres is currently finishing up the his involvement with AIA Kansas City’s Pillars Leadership Program, which is leadership training program for AIA Kansas City members, the purpose of which is to prepare the chapter’s emerging leaders for their role in shaping the future of both the architectural profession and the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. In addition to being a talented architect, Andres is one to always liven up company meetings with a joke or invite the whole office out for happy hour.

We asked Andres to shared some of his ARE exam secrets:


Q: How long did it take to pass all of the exams?

A: I took my first test in February of 2014, and my last in May of this year.


Q: Where was your favorite place to study?

A: My front porch, weather permitting.


Q: Any studying tips?

A: Like Nike, just do it! Like anything else that’s new, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. If you don’t pass an exam, just get back up and try again.


Q: What’s one surprising thing you learned while studying for your exams?

A: Process and procedures, contracts


Q: Any good study music or favorite snacks?

A: Nope. I can’t multitask so reading by myself in a quiet place was ideal.

We’re proud of all the work Andres has put it — congratulations to our newest architect!

17 July, 2018 | Academic, Design, New Construction

The “Poster Child for the Future of Health-Care Education”: KUMC Health Education Building Featured in Architectural Record

The July issue of Architectural Record magazine prominently features the new University of Kansas Medical Center Health Education Building (HEB). Designed through a partnership between Helix and CO Architects, the 172,000-square-foot, six-story building is at the forefront of health education and has national implications for interprofessional and interdisciplinary team learning. 

As the primary teaching facility for students within the KU Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professions, the building redefines health science education at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The building provides technology-enhanced environments for experiential learning, including large learning studios, active classrooms, a medical simulation center, clinical skills labs, study areas, and spaces that enhance the social and collaborative aspects of learning.

Located at the prominent intersection of 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard, the Health Education Building was designed to be an iconic gateway to campus. The building design was inspired by key facets of the building’s purpose: connectivity, identity, a sustainable environment, and transparency.

At the heart of the building are the medical simulation and clinical skills floors. These spaces are housed within a cantilevered glass structure that becomes a beacon of light at night. Terracotta baguettes wrap these floors, creating the visual effect of a ribcage wrapping the heart within.

In the article, John Gaunt, former dean of KU’s School of Architecture, Design & Planning, who acted as a design consultant for the university shared his perspective on the design concept: “The soaring space between the transparent enclosure and the functional ‘box’ within is flooded with light, creating architectural delight without compromising a sense of institutional purpose.”

In addition to providing dedicated space for the education of their students, KUMC wanted to create a hub for student life that encouraged informal interaction among students, faculty and staff from all three schools. The 250-feet-wide walkway that connects HEB to buildings on the south side of 39th Street provides an informal social/study space at the heart of campus. Additional spaces for individual and group study are interspersed throughout the building.

The partnership between Helix and CO Architects was instrumental in the successful delivery of the project.  Helix Architecture + Design was the architect of record and interior designer; CO Architects was the design architect. From the outset, we established clearly defined roles for each team member and put communication tools in place to operate seamlessly between our offices in Kansas City and Los Angeles. The project was delivered on time and achieved the client’s fast-track schedule in order to open for the Fall 2017 school year.

Ultimately the impact of the building will be felt throughout our community and the region through enhanced patient care. As the article shares, “The university’s focus on providing students with the highest-caliber learning facilities ultimately benefits a group of people unlikely ever to set foot in the new HEB: the future patients of the KU-trained doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.”

To say that we are proud of the results would be an understatement.

You can learn more about the Health Education Building, including a detailed list of spaces within the building, sustainability initiatives and the artists that contributed commissioned works for the building on KUMC’s website.

Photography by Bill Timmerman. Video by Blackburrow Creative.

12 July, 2018 | Academic, Art, Design, New Construction

KCAI Breaks Ground on Student Residence Hall and Dining Center

The Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) broke ground this morning on a new student residence hall and dining center. Located along Warwick Blvd south of the campus gates, the building will house a 244-bed residence hall, the Wylie Dining Center and the Nerman Café. The residence hall went from wish list to reality following a $10 million lead gift by an anonymous donor, given through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation last year.

Helix designers Doug Stockman and Alissa Wehmueller, along with Christopher Carvell of Christopher Carvell Architects, designed the new building to look beyond traditional student housing models and nurture the creativity and wellbeing of art students. Featuring double-occupancy semi-suites with private baths and cozy gathering spaces, plus a student gallery, large living room and gaming center, the building celebrates the unique individuality of each student while creating a sense of community. Kansas City-based JE Dunn Construction is the general contractor for the project.

“The contemporary student coming to KCAI to study deserves the best possible living space and the residence hall will be exactly what the students and their parents want – a home that is comfortable, relaxing and safe, with high connectivity. After a day of working in the studio, they can return to a supportive community and a place they can make their own,” said The Nerman Family President Tony Jones.

The residence hall is paired with the Wylie Dining Center and the Nerman Café. Both will be a welcoming first impression to prospective students, their families and the neighborhood. The dining facilities will serve a wide range of menu options and healthy alternatives and will be open to all.

The building is designed to create an iconic new gateway to campus that responds to the surrounding historic context while conveying the forward thinking vision of KCAI. An infusion of transparent public spaces along Warwick Boulevard creates connectivity between the student experience within and the broader arts community that surrounds it.

Window “apertures” vary in size, reflecting the uniqueness of the individuals housed within while maintaining privacy within living spaces. The warm gradient of colors along Warwick Boulevard were selected to energize and activate the streetscape and reflect the changing seasons. Within the courtyard, the color gradient includes cool, calming hues of blue, creating a place of relaxation and rejuvenation.

The interior environment is designed not only to provide a welcoming home but also a be source of inspiration for freshman students. Elements of the mediums they will be studying are interwoven throughout the design and we have carved out places where students can use the building as a canvas to showcase their own work. Spaces are designed to celebrate the individuality of each student while building community around the journey they are sharing together.

We are thrilled to be working alongside one of Kansas City’s great arts institutions to bring this project to life and look forward to seeing the building bustling with the creative energy that these young artists will bring!

Groundbreaking from KCAI Communications on Vimeo.

Mid-Continent Public Library Launches $113M Capital Plan

Serving more than 800,000 people in Jackson, Clay, and Platte Counties, Mid Continent Public Library (MCPL) is the largest library system in the Kansas City Metro Area and one of the largest in the country. Over the last year, the design team of Sapp Design Architects and Helix Architecture + Design has been working with MCPL to prepare for the official launch of their capital program, which kicked off in May.

Funded by the overwhelming passage of Proposition L in 2016, MCPL is investing $113 million dollars into enhancing all 31 existing branches and constructing two new locations. Of the 31 existing branches, MCPL will be replacing four with new buildings, expanding three with substantial building additions and renovating all 24 others. While the upgrades at each branch vary based on individual community needs and the building’s current condition, the improvements will help ensure that branches serve the needs of modern library users.


Sapp and Helix are working collaboratively to bring the firms’ combined expertise with 21st century libraries, architecture and interior design to each branch. As technology has increasingly become our conduit to knowledge, public libraries are evolving into community centers and cultural hubs that offer a wide variety of services and programs. MCPL and design team members from Helix and Sapp held a series of 29 public meetings to gather input from library users. These meetings helped inform the programs, spaces and technologies that will be most impactful for each branch and the community it serves.


MCPL and the Sapp | Helix design team worked closely with Construction Manager, JE Dunn Construction to develop a phased approach to construction. Phase I projects, which kicked off in June, include the Blue Springs South Branch, Excelsior Springs Branch, Antioch Branch and Midwest Genealogy Center. Additional Phase I projects will kick-off this summer, including the Oak Grove, Weston and Platte City branches. During the renovations, customers will be directed to alternate locations to conduct their Library business.

Phase II is anticipated to kick off in Fall of 2018 and Phases III and IV in 2019. The library is targeting completion of all upgrades by 2022. The latest updates on projects can be found at www.mymcpl.org/community.

19 June, 2018 | Art, Community, New Construction

Artwork Integrates Community into KCPD Leon Mercer Jordan Campus

How do you translate traditional quilt-work into a building facade? Collaborating with renowned fabric artist Sonie Joi Thompson-Ruffin was one of the most rewarding aspects of our work at the KCPD Leon Mercer Jordan Campus, home of the East Patrol and Regional Crime Lab.

As part of KC’s long-standing One Percent for Art Program, and the larger goal of creating a police station where the neighboring community felt welcome, the Helix team collaborated with Sonie to design and install an architectural interpretation of her African American quilt-work. From here, Community Dignity and iNeema were created.

Community Dignity represents the connection between the police and the neighboring community, measuring 30-feet by 16.5-feet. While iNeema, meaning Grace in Swahili, offers a message of inner peace, measuring at 42-feet by 11-feet.

Once the final designs were selected, our design team began translating Sonié’s concepts in architectural terms, in this case glazed brick. Our team then developed construction documents, which were later used by masons to build each quilt pattern. These brick and mortar quilts are prominently displayed at the entrances of both the police station and crime lab, connecting the police to the community they serve each day.

Completed project photography by Aaron Dougherty.

Corrigan Building Renovation Receives LEED Silver Designation from USGBC

The renovation of the historic Corrigan Building recently achieved the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification. Helix worked closely with co-developers Copaken Brooks and 3D Development to develop a design that preserves the historic character of the building while achieving their goals for a sustainability. The renovation of the Corrigan Building was the first phase of the larger Corrigan Station development.

The Corrigan Building was built in 1921 and is located prominently along the new Kansas City streetcar line at 19th & Walnut. The 10-story, 123,000-sq,-ft. building  houses nine stories of office space with one story of ground level retail. The client’s vision of rehabilitating this nearly 100-year-old building into modern, flexible workspace has resulted in a 100% leased building at completion, attracting tenants such as WeWork, Hollis & Miller and Holmes Murphy.

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is an ecology-oriented building certification program, concentrating its efforts on improving performance across five key areas of environmental and human health: energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials selection, sustainable site development and water savings.

In addition to maintaining and reusing 97.8% of the existing structure and envelope the renovation also reduced CO2 emissions by 41%, reduced water usage by 24.3% and reduced overall building energy usage by 35%, all over a baseline model. Additional sustainability features include: integration of an efficient VRF (variable refrigerant flow) HVAC system, low-flow plumbing fixtures, daylighting and efficient all LED lighting and a solar panel array canopy on the roof.

“Corrigan Station’s LEED certification demonstrates tremendous green building leadership,” said Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC president and CEO. “The urgency of USGBC’s mission has challenged the industry to move faster and reach further than ever before, and Corrigan Station serves as a prime example with just how much we can accomplish.”

Construction is currently underway on Corrigan Station Phase II, also designed by Helix. Phase II includes an adjacent three-story structure at the corner of 19th and Main Street that provides additional retail space and covered parking on the first floor and office space on the second and third floors.

Helix had an incredible team of partners on the project — Straub Construction, Rosin Preservation, Lankford Fendler, PMA Engineering, SK Design Group and Vireo — that were instrumental to successfully delivering on the success of this large project. Congratulations to our clients on the revitalization of this historic gem and successful LEED Silver certification.

Photography by Bob Greenspan.

Kansas City University Breaks Ground on New Center for Medical Education Innovation

Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCU), one of the top 10 educators of physicians in the U.S., broke ground this morning on a new state-of-the-art Center for Medical Education Innovation (CMEI). Designed through a partnership between Helix Architecture + Design and CO Architects, the 56,000-square-foot facility will provide the latest in virtual reality, haptic technology and simulated clinical experiences for educating the next generation of physicians and health sciences professionals.

The $33 million facility will be built on four levels and will feature multifunctional “future-proof” space that will allow for changes and emerging technologies in the coming years. It will also serve as a resource for students and health care professionals throughout the region, offering opportunities for continuing medical education, inter-professional education and active research in academic collaboration.

The building will feature standardized patient rooms (where trained actors play the role of patients), high-fidelity simulation rooms (where medical robots display a variety of disease processes), a skills simulation deck that utilizes the latest in virtual reality and haptic technologies, and a simulation command center. It will also include nearly 13,000 square feet of classroom space and an advanced physical diagnosis and Osteopathic Manipulation Medicine.

“The CMEI will be much more than a building. It will redefine our campus, our neighborhood and the Kansas City medical community, just as the Center’s latest technology will redefine medical education,” commented Marc B. Hahn, DO, president and CEO of KCU. “Our students will have the opportunity to practice over and over in virtual scenarios until they are confident and prepared when it comes time to treat actual patients, thus reducing medical errors and improving health outcomes for the communities we serve.”

The University has collaborated with the city of Kansas City, Missouri, to build the CMEI center adjacent to the Paseo Gateway project, which will reconfigure the intersection of The Paseo and Independence Avenue to improve safety and traffic flow, as well as reestablish a grand entrance to the Northeast neighborhood.

The construction of the Center for Medical Education Innovation is possible in part because of a $1 million challenge grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, a $1 million grant from William T. Kemper Foundation, and lead gifts from Sunderland Foundation, J. E. Dunn Construction Company, Victor E. Speas Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee, and Jack and Glenna Wylie Foundation. JE Dunn will serve as the general contractor for construction.

We are thrilled to continue our work with Kansas City University and our design partners at CO Architects to create a facility that puts the university on the forefront of health education.

Virtual tours are available online of the forum, simulation deck, standardized patient lounge and OMM loft.

16 May, 2018 | Design, New Construction

New Healthcare Concept Reimagines Patient Care in Kansas City

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC)  recently launched a new, innovative offering, Spira Care, which combines health insurance with a primary care experience. The first of its kind in the Kansas City market, Spira Care Centers, were designed to create an atmosphere of hospitality, while providing easy access to comprehensive primary care services for members, such as routine preventative care, behavioral health services, lab draws, X-rays and more, with no additional cost for procedures received at the Care Centers.

Spira Care started as an exploratory research and innovation project in early 2016. When asked about the genesis of the project, Jason Spacek, Blue KC Chief Innovation Officer shared with Forbes:

“We started with a very simple premise, ‘what if we could start all over as a health insurer?’ We looked at the complexities of the industry and the multiple parties involved and began to explore whether a “fresh start” could be a viable option. As we thought about this notion of ‘starting fresh,’ we initially focused our attention on the Millennial segment, as they were coming of age as the future consumers of healthcare. We thought that their needs and wants should be our focus if we were truly going to entertain the idea of beginning anew.”Blue KC used ethnography, focus groups and qualitative research to create a plan for Spira Care. Through the process, they identified six, key “design sprints,” like arrival, check-in and seeing the doctor. Using the data collected, Helix collaborated with Blue KC, integrated marketing agency, Barkley,  and healthcare architecture firm, Pulse Design Group to reimagine the patient experience. The project team also worked closely with customers, incorporating their feedback and using it to create the foundation of the Care Centers’ design.

In less than 24 months, those ideas have been translated into working Care Centers. The entry features bold welcoming graphics, a large bar-height reception, soft-seating lounge and coffee bar. Member experience and comfort were central to the design of the exam rooms, which include built-in bench seating and a small consultation area to discuss care with your provider. To truly welcome guests, the design team used materials and furniture not typically found in healthcare facilities.

Care Guide rooms, which are used for post-appointment conversations with a knowledgeable member of the Care Team, allow patients to coordinate further care, understand costs or review plan benefits. Other key spaces include provider and administrative workspace, conference and break rooms, and clinical support areas.

The first Spira Care Center opened in January 2018 with three more to follow by the end of the year. Photography by Michael Robinson.

8 May, 2018 | Hospitality, Renovation

The Sundry Shares Sustainable Vision with Local Entrepreneurs

The Sundry  recently opened the doors to its new, 3,300-square-foot home in the annex building at Westport Commons, one of Kansas City’s latest co-working spaces. The Sundry owner, Ryan Wing selected the location for its proximity to like-minded entrepreneurs and partnerships that can help them expand their business.

As Wing shared with Startland News:

“Our goal is to scale up the availability of sustainable and local food, so that means we need to work with a lot of partners to make it happen. The more people you get in the space together, the more ideas enter the door.”

Having designed The Sundry’s original location in the Crossroads, Helix Architecture + Design was asked to lead the design of their new location. A local gathering space, The Sundry sells groceries, food and drinks to those working in the building as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. At The Sundry, guests have access to a full coffee and cocktail bar perfect for meetings or unwinding with friends. They can also take advantage of made-from-scratch, prepared meals at the on-site market.

The focal point in the new space is a open kitchen and bar, reflecting the company’s vision of transparency and commitment to local, sustainable food. Custom shelves suspended over the cooking area provide additional storage and allow guests to see ingredients on display. A large bar, traditional tables and lounge area offer seating for 100. To gain additional seating, Helix designed a lofted area above the private dining room.

In addition to serving restaurant goers, The Sundry has expanded their offerings with the new space. With direct access to a wide-range of entrepreneurs, they have already seen an increase in catering business and are planning future partnerships with other organizations housed within Westport Commons.

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