History Behind Kansas City’s Pickwick Plaza – Opening Today After $65-Million Renovation

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One of Kansas City’s earliest and largest mixed-use developments, Pickwick Plaza has a rich history as a downtown destination and transportation hub. Although the structure was substantially underutilized throughout the late 20th-century, the renovation of this iconic structure to its former glory is celebrating its grand opening today.

The large mixed-use complex, located at 9-10th & McGee streets, originally housed the Pickwick Hotel, an office building, a parking garage and one of the largest bus terminals west of the Mississippi. Designed in 1929 by Wight & Wight, the building is one of many prominent civic buildings designed by the Kansas City firm – including City Hall, the Jackson County Courthouse and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.

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The mixed-use nature of the original building, including the hotel, office spaces, the bus terminal, retail — all within close proximity to the major governmental Kansas City buildings, anticipated a much greater future trend in mixed-use developments. The complex served business and government officials, locals and visitors, with many amenities all under one roof and a cohesive streetscape and exterior presence. In 1930, prominent radio stations KMBC and WHB relocated their operations into 11th floor penthouse addition atop the hotel building – broadcasting from that location until 1968.

The Pickwick Hotel was considered the place to stay when conducting business downtown or with government officials and was most notably known as a frequent retreat of Harry S. Truman during his early career with Jackson County government. His time in the hotel was largely spent writing what would later be known as the “Pickwick Papers” — a biographical mix of personal and political thoughts. The hotel remained operational throughout both World Wars and aided in Kansas City’s growth. During that period from the 30’s-50’s, the bus terminal saw nearly 5,000 bus departures per month.

Before_Shots_PickwickThe historic Pickwick Hotel lobby as it was in 1930, and the existing conditions at the beginning of our renovation & restoration process.

Many downtown buildings were torn down during the 1950-70’s, but luckily much of the exterior and primary interior spaces of Pickwick Plaza remained untouched. Following suburban flight and the national decline of downtown dwelling and public transportation in the 1960’s, the building was converted into subsidized housing in 1972. The 233 units were often under-occupied and eventually left empty until a fire took a toll on the building in 1996.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001 and ultimately purchased by Gold Crown Properties in 2013 with the intent of converting it into 260 market-rate apartments with amenities and rental rates that would attract young professionals.

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Helix partnered with Rosin Preservation to restore historic elements throughout the building. The lobby was restored to its original two-story height, allowing natural daylight to infiltrate the space. Large, historic windows maximize natural daylighting, reducing the need for artificial lighting in the units. To maintain consistency with the original character of the building and bring vibrancy to the surrounding area, Helix re-introduced street-side retail space, which has recently signed tenants such as UPS, a wine bar + restaurant concept by Cellar Rat and CityGym.

The new East 9 at Pickwick Plaza  apartments feature a combination of traditional and unique amenities that are targeted towards downtown dwellers: a workout facility, a salt-water pool (located where the bus depot once was), garage parking, an office center, community room, on-grade retail, rooftop green space, high-efficiency appliances, washer/dryer hook-ups and walk-in closets. In line with the current “sharing economy” trend (think Uber and Airbnb), the City of Kansas City and developers have partnered with Zipcar — a national car-sharing company, allowing tenants to pay a monthly fee for usage of shared cars.

With its combination of residential, retail and office space, this iconic structure is once again an anchor development within the government district. We are proud to work alongside visionary developers like Gold Crown Properties to restore this historic landmark and continue to propel downtown Kansas City’s redevelopment.


28 June, 2017 | Helix People, Recognition

Congratulations to newly certified interior designer, Kate Phillips!

We’re proud to announce our newest certified interior designer: Kate Phillips! Kate joined Helix in 2016 and has since worked with clients such as Academy for Integrated Arts, DEG and The University of Kansas Medical Center. When she’s not improving workplaces around Kansas City, she’s busy planning the next big office party. 

NCIDQ Certification is the highest level of certification in the interior design profession. The exam is taken in three sections, all of which candidates must pass to become certified.  We thought we’d take this opportunity to hear about Kate’s secret to success:

Q: When studying for your exams, what rituals did you have? Any pump-up music or favorite snacks?
A: During the summer I enjoyed “multi-tasking” by laying out at the pool while reading through my textbook. However, studying for the Practicum in the winter was far less exciting. My dining table disappeared under piles of trace paper, post-its, and practice tests. I also listened to a lot of alt-J and The Japanese House in those months.

Q: Did you find a particular favorite subject matter?
A: I really enjoy puzzling together a space plan.

Q: Now that you’ve passed exams, how do you plan on celebrating?
A: A bottle of Veuve and a nap.

Q: What advice would you give any designers out there studying for their certification?
A: Practice tests are key! You not only have to learn and memorize the material, but I found it was just as important to know how the test was formatted. Also, make a study schedule and routine that works for you and stick with it.

From your Helix family — Congratulations, Kate! We’re celebrating with you on achieving this incredible accomplishment.


Historic Warehouse Converted into Luxury, Boutique Apartments

Helix recently completed design of the adaptive reuse of 1509 Walnut, a historic warehouse in the heart of the Crossroads district. Built in 1902, the five-story, brick building was designed by James Oliver Hogg and was home to several businesses for over 100 years, including Grand Avenue Storage Company and Atlas Storage and Warehouse.

This historic building has Romanesque Revival elements, and the exterior had remained largely untouched other than alterations to the first story facade in 1958.

The original architect for the building, J.O. Hogg, was born in Wisconsin around 1858 and arrived in Kansas City in 1886. Throughout the course of his career, he designed mostly commercial and storage buildings. Some of his work included the Advance Thresher Company building at 1300 Liberty Avenue, the Harry Abernathy residence at 3600 Madison Street and the Daniel Dyer residence near the Blue Valley Industrial District, which was destroyed in 1940.

The building retained the majority of its historic integrity over the years, and with little opportunities to add parking, the space remained untouched after Berlau vacated. Jeff Krum, CEO of Boulevard Brewing Company, along with Sunflower Development Group and Helix Architecture + Design, determined the building could be converted into boutique-style apartments, if a parking deck was placed over an adjacent lot. With that decision, the team began work on the design of Atlas, which began leasing in May.

The 32,000-square-foot building now includes 16, one- and two-bedroom luxury apartments. Residents occupy floors one through five in apartment units that include large unique floor plans, high-end finishes, lots of storage and private balconies. The penthouse units feature spiral staircases, leading to rooftop patios with extraordinary views of the downtown skyline. Some of the other amenities include solariums, a wine cellar in the basement, fitness room and dedicated parking. Two street-level retail spaces occupy the street frontage.

While the interior has been completely updated, the design team worked to preserve the building’s past. The façade has been fully restored, and each apartment is designed to showcase the historic components, including exposed brick walls, original concrete floors, heavy timber beams and even an old loading dock and door in one unit. This adaptive reuse project was designed in accordance with National Park Service guidelines and qualified for federal and state historic tax credits.

The design team partnered with Carpenter Collective on the branding of the new development, creating external signage and wayfinding throughout the building.

We’re proud to continually restore historic buildings in the Crossroads, adding to the ongoing revitalization of downtown Kansas City. Congratulations to our development partners and the entire design team!

Photography by Bob Greenspan. Furniture provided by Plus Modern Design.


Helix Principal Takes Home Top Honor with IIDA

Alissa Wehmueller, Principal, was presented with the International Interior Design Association’s (IIDA) 2017 Member of the Year award at their Annual Meeting in Chicago on Sunday evening.

This award is given to an IIDA member whose commitment to the industry is visibly demonstrated through extensive volunteer efforts and dedication to the organization’s mission of advancing interior design and advocating for its excellence. The recipient receives $7,500, as well as a complimentary 2018 IIDA membership.

Alissa has served in various leadership roles within the IIDA Mid America Chapter, including Chapter president. She was also instrumental in helping the Chapter win two Chapter of the Year awards. Under her guidance, the Chapter has added mentoring opportunities, provided preparation for interior design licensing exams and advocated for statewide registration of the interior design profession.

“Every IIDA chapter needs and wants an Alissa Wehmueller. She celebrates accomplishments and then, asks what’s next. The Mid America Chapter has clearly benefited from her vision and ability to share it well.” said Erika Moody, Principal, Helix Architecture + Design.

Alissa’s work with Helix includes (top left going clockwise) the Boulevard Tours & Recreation Center, Blue Cross Blue Shield KC headquarters, Olson Performing Arts Center at UMKC and Service Management Group’s headquarters.


In addition to her service with IIDA, Alissa was also selected for this honor, because of her commitment to uniting the Kansas City design community. She co-chaired Kansas City Design Week  on behalf of IIDA from 2013-2015 and collaborated on the creation of the Center for Architecture and Design, which brings together design professionals across the city.

“My involvement with IIDA has truly been one of the most impactful things I’ve done in my career. The skills I’ve learned, the resources I’ve found, initiatives I’ve been able to see through and the relationships I’ve made in Kansas City, as well as within the national design community, are invaluable,” said Alissa.

Watch the IIDA 2017 Annual Meeting in which Alissa was awarded (1:20:00 mark):

Congratulations Alissa! We’re proud to work alongside you and look forward to what’s yet to come.


7 June, 2017 | Collaboration, Design, Helix People

Helix Principal Debuts New Furniture Collection with HighTower

For 15 years, Trevor Hoiland, Helix principal, has created custom furniture pieces for his clients. This year, he released his first collection with HighTower Furniture.

Trevor began working with HighTower seven years ago when he was asked to design a sign for the exterior of their building. Since that time, they’ve collaborated on numerous projects, including their award-winning showroom and offices at 18th & Main Street in 2014.

In his initial designs, he began by solving a simple problem – creating a coffee table that someone could comfortably rest their feet and set a drink on. He spent his time away from the office working on a design that would accommodate both.

He started with sketches and then moved those into 3D concepts. As designs were finalized, he worked with the HighTower fabrication group to fine tune concepts. Collaborating closely, the partnership grew from the design of a few pieces, an ottoman and coffee table, to a full line. From start to finish, the project spanned two years.

“We called the collection Story, because I convey designs and presentations through the art of storytelling. I wanted to create pieces where people could not only sit and tell stories, but also store them, which is why we incorporated storage for books and magazines,” said Trevor Hoiland.  

The original concept for Story was inspired by AMC’s headquarters, which Trevor designed in 2011-2012 . Outdoor terraces became storage areas, and glass and metal were exchanged for fabric and texture. The collection uses a mix of simple lines and open spaces.

Story comes in two heights and five sizes, with or without storage cubbies, optional shelves and throw pillows. Perfect for public spaces or common areas, it is a modular bench system that can be arranged and linked in a variety of configurations.

“The line is designed to be simple and flexible. I wanted to create something that would pick up the character of a space and blend seamlessly with whatever an interior designer imagined. I look forward to seeing the different variations of how it will all be used,” said Trevor.

All photos courtesy of HighTower Furniture


1 June, 2017 | Culture, Helix People, Recognition

Helix Employees Celebrate 5 Years with the Firm

We’re pleased to share three Helix employees are celebrating their five-year anniversary with the firm. In that group, you’ll find our resource librarian, Marcie Miller Gross; interior designer, Erin Stork; and our office concierge, Nina Grimes.

To thank them for their service and mark the milestone, they received a $1,000 voucher to be used for travel of their choice. These are given to team members for every five years of service. We capped off the festivities with a new tradition –  a celebratory lunch.

Thank you to Marcie, Erin and Nina, for your contributions, dedication and friendship. Helix greatly benefits from the gifts and talents each of you bring.


24 May, 2017 | Renovation, Workplace

KC Tech Firm Supports Rapid Growth with Flexible Work Environment

Valorem has been surpassing expectations with their rapid growth since they opened their doors in 2009. They recently completed their third headquarters expansion. A Microsoft partner, they have expanded beyond their Kansas City headquarters with offices in St. Louis, Missouri; Seattle, Washington; Kochi, India; and Herrliberg, Switzerland. With their remarkable rise, recruiting and retaining top talent is critical for this cutting-edge company.

When Helix principals Evan Fox and Alissa Wehmueller began working with Valorem, their goals were to provide room for growth and create a space that would attract top talent. They chose their building in the heart of the Crossroads, because it would help them achieve both. Our team has assisted Valorem as their headquarters has expanded three times, and the number of employees has more than tripled – all within their existing location.

Working with a rapidly growing technology company presents some unique challenges and opportunities, but like every workplace client, success is driven by thoroughly understanding and creating a space that responds to the culture, technical requirements and workstyles of the talent they want to attract.

Flexibility was a key priority from the beginning for this young company. Their workspace features an open, free-address office environment, along with a limited number of private offices. Free addressing is attractive to tech talent, but also allows the company to save on real estate expenses by housing more people in their space. By choosing a free address approach, Valorem offers employees the freedom to work wherever they would like within the space without spending money on workstations that are vacant much of the day. This provides the adaptability they need for continued growth, while getting the greatest value out of every square foot.

Throughout the building, there are a variety of spaces for collaboration, socializing and focused, quiet work that team members can choose from throughout the day. Lockers in the back allow employees to stow their coats and bags easily.  And employees are able to personalize the space. At Valorem, we added a wall for staff to write-on.

Another key component was helping them communicate and celebrate their brand while connecting to creative culture of the Crossroads Arts District. We used the Valorem logo as a jumping off place, incorporating green and blue throughout the space. One visual representation of this is a large, focal felt well, which was made by local fabricator, Hinge Woodworks. Building upon their location in the heart of Kansas City’s arts community, Valorem partnered with  local artist Phil Shafer (known as Sike Style) to paint a mural in each of their renovations. This has become a recognizable component of their workspace and were such a hit that Valorem hired Sike to do a mural in their Seattle office.

While these solutions are eye-catching and aligned with their company culture, they are also cost-effective. The felt wall pulls triple duty, offering visual interest, providing an acoustic treatment and acting as a partial room divider for workstations.

Throughout our work with Valorem, there were considerations specific to their industry and nature of their business. For example, they needed space for huge screens at workstations, and their conference rooms required substantially more technology than most. To provide a desirable work environment for developers and non-technical staff, some spaces are dark to support heavy computer work, while others have lots of bright, natural light.

When it comes to supporting a company’s growth, organizations should consider flexibility and ways incorporate their culture into their space. Valorem is evidence that a one-size fits all approach isn’t effective.

Photography by Michael Robinson.


5 Ways Universities Can Start Preparing for the Future Now

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In April, Miranda Groth attended the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) 2017 North Central Symposium. The one-day program featured information on creating successful, long-range plans that go beyond the traditional silos. The event’s speakers covered a wide-range of topics, but one theme emerged – preparation is key. Below, we’re sharing five ways universities and colleges can stay ahead of the curve.

1: An emergency plan should cover more than the expected. However, creating one is no simple feat. Consider how you’ll respond in a crisis if your entire community is affected. For example, will your facility become a triage or medical emergency location? Can generators power your facilities if substations are down? If student housing is impacted, what will you do? Ask the hard questions and put solid protocols in place.

2: Taking action on emissions can start sooner than you think. Facilities are seeing a reduction in maintenance costs by using environmental data differently. Instead of reviewing it after the fact, they are anticipating issues and fixing them before they take place. Start by assessing the accuracy of the data. Compare it to peer institutions. Then, set a new, 2020 goal and begin working towards it.

3: Colleges and universities are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist and technologies that have yet to be created. There is a shift towards asynchronous learning with digital tools. There is also a move from hardware to software. Providing project based learning opportunities is the focus. New trends, like gamification, information ubiquity, disintermediation, tangible computing and virtualized classrooms are all examples of how colleges and university are placing a greater emphasis on tech.

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4: The road to funding projects is long and changing. Start now. Cuts in state funding for higher education have caused institutions to start looking at other methods for funding their capital projects. Two, Helix clients, Jim Modig of the University of Kansas and Bob Simmons of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, shared their journey in securing funds on a SCUP panel. Many entities are moving to new funding models, as state dollars become harder to obtain. While donors are still an option, P3 arrangements with private developers are becoming more commonplace.

5: Classroom design is taking its cue from the office. Students need spaces to apply the knowledge they’re learning. Rooms are beginning to model the workforce with more flexibility and areas for teamwork. Because the market continues to evolve, beta testing for faculty to play with a room and see what needs improvement is a key step in both renovations and ongoing evaluation of the spaces available.


9 May, 2017 | Helix People, Leadership, Press

Helix Adds New Talent to the Executive Team

Several years ago, the Helix executive team met to discuss what was next for the firm. They discussed a wide range of options, floating new ideas by one another. Then, big things started to happen.

The first step was announced in August of last year. We merged with the talented designers and architects at Blackbird Design Studio. We knew we were on the right track when we were named AIA Kansas City’s Firm of the Year in December. Now, we’re continuing that growth by adding a respected, local architect as a new partner.

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We’re pleased to announce Doug Stockman, a former founding principal of El Dorado, Inc., will be joining Helix. Doug brings over 23 years of design experience to the firm. Over the course of his career, he’s accumulated an expansive portfolio with work not only in Kansas City, but also throughout the Midwest.

I wanted to be part of a group comprised of thought provoking leaders and designers focused on elevating the human experience through architecture. I have known the leaders of Helix for many years and have the greatest respect for their work within the community. The decision to join Helix was easy,” said Doug Stockman, Principal, Helix.

His background and extensive portfolio complement ours. Doug has been recognized nationally by the American Institute of Architects for his design of the Girls Scouts’ Camp Prairie Schooner Trail Center. In the last decade, his work has primarily focused on mixed-use projects within the urban context. Most of which are multi-family apartments with retail and workplace as a component of the overall project. Ongoing projects nearing completion include new fabrication labs at Kansas State University’s College of Architecture, Planning and Design, as well as a new modular apartment building at 3435 Main Street in Kansas City, Missouri.

Active in the community, Doug has served on a variety of boards and committees: the Kansas City Free Health Clinic, Christmas in October, the MS Society, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas & Northwest Missouri. Since 1999, he has also served in numerous capacities for the Kansas City Downtown Council (DTC). He currently sits on the DTC’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors as Chairman and the Dean’s Advisory Council at Kansas State University’s College of Architecture, Planning & Design. He is also a board member of Planet Play.


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