3 April, 2018 | Art, Crossroads, Culture

Prominent Kansas City muralist Sike Style completes work in two Helix projects

Phil Shafer, also known as Sike Style, is a graphic artist and muralist who has worked with clients ranging from local institutions like the Kansas City Royals, to cultural events and corporate clients like Middle of the Map Festival and Valorem Consulting. Phil’s upbringing in Brooklyn during the golden era of graffiti and hip-hop culture had a profound impact on his life as an artist and helped define the roots of his style.

“Public art is important to me because it allows me to give back to the community through my talents. My goal is to transform bland or vandalized surfaces into murals that uplift and inspire the neighborhood residents,” Phil says of his work, which can be found all over the streets of Kansas City (literally).

Helix has had the pleasure of collaborating with him on a few of our recent projects.

The City Gym location that recently opened inside of the renovated Pickwick building features a large welcoming vibrant hand-painted mural. The piece depicts the historic facade of Pickwick and bus – reminiscent of the former bus depot that the building is known for. He completed four additional murals onsite: one in the spin class room, one located in the parking garage on a historic brick wall and two directional signage pieces in the stairwell.

The Tropicana Paleteria inside the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Health Education Building features Phil’s work throughout the entire space. This was the first time Phil designed a mural digitally, printed it on high grade wallpaper and installed the work on location. His work brings a vibrancy to any space it inhabits, and we love seeing his work come to life inside these Helix projects. See more of his work on his website, or follow him on instagram @sikestyle.

Photography courtesy of Sike Style Industries.

28 March, 2018 | Academic, Awards, Multi-family

Two Helix Clients Honored at Kansas City Business Journal’s Capstone Awards

Across Helix’s diverse portfolio of work there is a common thread – creating spaces that have a positive impact on our community. Two projects that exemplify this approach will be recognized this evening at the Kansas City Business Journal’s Capstone Awards ceremony. The Capstone Awards celebrate projects that have demonstrated excellence in commercial real estate development over the past year.

Our clients at the University of Kansas Medical Center and Gold Crown Properties will be recognized for the new Health Education Building and redevelopment of the historic Pickwick Plaza, respectively. We are honored to work alongside both of these organizations to bring these impactful projects to life.


Health Education Building – Community Impact Category

The new Health Education Building redefines health science education at the University of Kansas Medical Center and has national implications for interprofessional and interdisciplinary team learning. Serving students within the KU Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professions, the building is the center of student life. The 170,000-square-feet structure includes a simulation center and flexible, state-of-the-art learning space to support new models of teaching. Technology-enhanced environments for experiential learning include: large learning studios, active classrooms, a medical simulation center, clinical skills labs, student lounges and study rooms.

Prominently located on the corner of 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard, the building creates an iconic new gateway to campus designed through a partnership between Helix Architecture + Design and CO Architects. The large cantilevered glass cube highlights the medical simulation and clinical skills floors as the heart of the building, the essence of the medical education process. The design is inspired by key facets of the building’s purpose: connectivity, identity, a sustainable environment, and transparency.


East 9 at Pickwick Plaza – Multifamily Category

The Pickwick Plaza Hotel, built in 1930, was a downtown KC landmark and frequent retreat of President Harry S Truman. The massive 360,000-square-foot historic structure sat vacant and dilapidated for decades before Gold Crown Properties led the stunning transformation into one of downtown Kansas City’s most iconic mixed-use developments. Renamed East 9 at Pickwick Plaza, the structure now houses 260 apartment units, retail/commercial space, attached parking garage, fitness center, indoor saltwater pool, a stunning 2-story lobby, business center and private event rooms.

Using a detailed model created from historic documents, the Helix design team developed a plan for adaptively re-using  with minimal changes to the historic character-defining features. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designed in accordance with National Park Service guidelines in order to receive historic tax credits.
Reactivating retail space on three sides of the building at street level has brought pedestrian activity to the street, while re-establishing the historic complex as a mixed-use destination.

The redevelopment of the building has received praise from city officials and developers from around the country. “This is the most amazing adaptive re-use I have ever seen,” said Jeffrey Weingart, vice president of UC Fund of Boston, an investor in the project. “We’ve done about $10 billion worth of real estate investment around the country, and this is, without question, magnificent. It’s hard to imagine what was here before.”

Congratulations to our clients and the teams of architects, designers, engineers, craftsmen and contractors that helped make each of these projects a reality.

You can see the full list of 2018 Capstone Award winners on the Kansas City Business Journal’s website.

Two Helix projects receive recognition for Historic Preservation

This week we celebrated the recognition of two deserving projects for their work in historic preservation. The Historic Kansas City Annual Preservation Awards and Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation’s 2018 Statewide Honor Awards both took place this week. Our clients Copaken Brooks, 3D Development and Gold Crown Properties were among those honored for their reinvestment in significant Kansas City landmark buildings. On Wednesday at the Historic Kansas City Preservation Awards, East 9 at Pickwick Plaza received excellence awards in Best Adaptive Re-Use and Neighborhood Stabilization, while the Corrigan Building renovation received a merit award in Best Adaptive Reuse. This morning, the East 9 at Pickwick Plaza received a Preserve Missouri Award from Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation.

Preserving these monumental buildings retains an important piece of Kansas City’s history while positioning them for use by future generations. It was a honor to work alongside the leaders at each of these organizations to breathe new life into these historic structures. Helix was also fortunate to have worked with the talented team at Rosin Preservation for both of these clients. A persistent advocate for preservation, these projects benefited greatly from Rosin’s expertise and guidance.

Corrigan Building

The Corrigan Building was built in 1921 and is the tallest office tower in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District. The Gateway Station Post Office historically anchored the first floor while the famous dressmaker, Donnelly Garment Company, occupied the upper floors. Since the time of its construction, the ten-story Corrigan Building has stood out in its setting, surrounded by low and mid-rise commercial and industrial buildings. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, the building suffered from low occupancy and a slow decline when larger trends shifted development towards the suburbs after World War II.

Spurred by construction of the Kansas City streetcar line, a joint venture between Copaken Brooks and 3D Development renovated the building into new offices with street level restaurant and retail space. Thoughtful design transformed the historic industrial spaces while retaining and reusing the building’s character-defining features to enhance the new uses. The building’s open floorplates morphed easily into communal and flexible office space for multi-floor and single-floor tenants, including the international co-working leader, WeWork. The rehab replaced non-historic windows with new windows that matched the multi-light industrial design of the original windows, which provide generous daylighting for interior spaces. New rooftop tenant amenity spaces took advantage of the historic elevator penthouse to capture views of downtown and the surrounding area.  

Photography: WeWork

The developers identified an appropriate use that revitalized a significant building in the Crossroads district, ensuring its continued use and creating synergy with the emerging streetcar transportation corridor. Fully leased at completion, the project successfully retained the exterior appearance and creatively used the historically open floorplates to create a catalyst for additional development in the Crossroads Arts District.

In addition to renovating the existing 123,000-sq,-ft. structure, Helix is designing 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 with Class A office space on the second and third floors. An event space will be added on the rooftop to serve building tenants.

East 9 at Pickwick Plaza

The historic Pickwick Plaza, built in 1930, is a landmark of downtown Kansas City and an early example of a mixed-use urban center. The massive 360,000 square-foot complex occupies three-quarters of a city block on the eastern edge of Kansas City’s business district.  The array of uses housed by the complex made it a destination in downtown Kansas City. These uses included offices, a hotel, a parking garage, a regional bus terminal, ground-level retail storefronts, a restaurant, and a radio studio. The hotel was famously a frequent retreat of President Harry S. Truman during the 1950’s. Shortly after the bus terminal and office block closed, the hotel was re-configured into low-income housing in 1972. It was later closed and abandoned as well. The historic structure sat vacant and dilapidated for many years before Gold Crown Properties began their decade-long effort to rehabilitate the historic complex in 2008.

Using a detailed model created from historic documents, the adaptive re-use converted the building into 260 apartment units with minimal changes to the historic character-defining features. Special care was given to retain the Art Deco styling on the exterior, to install historically appropriate windows, and to restore the iconic clocktower that rises above the bus terminal. An intrusive mezzanine was removed, allowing the project to recapture the historic two-story height of the lobby and to refurbish the high quality original finishes (terrazzo floors, marble columns, and plaster details on walls and ceilings). Reactivating retail space on three sides of the building at street level has brought pedestrian activity to the street, while reestablishing the historic complex as a mixed-use destination.

The developers overcame significant obstacles, including the Great Recession of 2008, on their nearly ten-year journey to bring this grand building back to life. In 2010, Gold Crown Properties bought the hotel, which had been Section 8 housing through the 1990s, and bus terminal, of which had been vacant for 60 years. It took another five years to acquire the property’s separately-owned north tower and garage before construction could begin. In addition to addressing the deteriorated condition of the complex, the developers faced challenges financing the extended project. Combining local incentives with federal and state historic tax credits helped bring the $66 million rehab project to its successful completion. The rehabilitated mixed-use building is fully occupied and providing a catalyst for revitalization in the eastern portion of downtown Kansas City.

Both of these projects stem from early leaders in Kansas City’s rich development history. Thanks to the investment of our clients, people will continue to experience their beauty, craftsmanship and iconic presence in our community for years to come. 

Photography by Bob Greenspan, unless otherwise noted.

Smart City Design Forum with Ashley Hand of CityFi

We are living in an era that is exhibiting tremendous growth and change in technology innovation. Here in Kansas City, we witnessed the conversation on “smart cities” shift from a concept to reality. In 2015, the City of Kansas City, Missouri formalized a $15.7 million project, resulting in the nation’s most comprehensive Smart City to date, a smart corridor that follows the 2 mile-long streetcar route.

As Kansas City continues to be recognized as an early adopter of smart city technologies, we at Helix are committed to being on the forefront of how this affects our city and work as designers. Earlier this month we had the pleasure of hearing from national smart cities expert Ashley Z. Hand at our bi-monthly Design Forum, to explore the impact of smart city concepts in design.

An architect by education, Ashley is co-founder of CityFi, an advisory group of global thought leaders in the transportation, technology, government and finance sectors. She recently served as the Transportation Technology Strategist for the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation and was previously appointed by Mayor Sly James where she developed our local Smart City Initiative as the first Chief Innovation Officer of the City of Kansas City, Missouri.

Ashley shared her insights on three key questions.

What is a Smart City?

The British Standards Institute (BSI) defines a smart city as “the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.” This, for example, could include smart street-level sensors like we’ve seen in Kansas City. These sensors are strategically located devices that relay real-time information for use to monitor infrastructure service levels. Sensors can track information such as air quality, light levels, activity and temperature (source).

Dreaming about the future of technology in cities is nothing new. These two magazine covers are 100 years apart, however the themes are strikingly similar. Cities must of course adapt to change, but the pace of technological innovation in recent decades is presenting a new challenge. We’ve seen this exhibited as the public sector addresses new tech-enabled business models in the private sector such, as AirBnb, Zipcar, Uber.

Is Kansas City a Smart City?

Image Credit: Meridian Kiosks.

Kansas City continues to be recognized for making data informed decisions. The City’s policy on open data (all data collected is available online publicly) has increased public trust and transparency. Subsequently, their open data policy encourages a local entrepreneurial spirit. The growing network of data collected by our Smart City infrastructure serves as a living lab for Cisco, Think Big Partners and other private companies. The applications and benefits are limitless.

Kansas City has developed and implemented one of the nation’s most comprehensive and innovative smart city plans. It has been collecting data in the public right-of-way that could be useful to improve city services and our experience downtown. But there is still a lot of opportunity ahead to utilize this powerful infrastructure to the best of its potential as it will be critical to operationalize this data to make a difference.

What is the role of a designer in a Smart City?

Designers have a responsibility to harness technology to make decisions in a people-first way. We as architects have an incredible perspective and advantage when it comes to asking “what’s next?” for smart cities. We already exercise a ‘people first’ philosophy to our work.

“We must define what we want for the future of our cities. Don’t let the technology happen to you.” -Ashley Z. Hand

Image credit Bicycle Dutch.

One example of designing for the human experience is the use of the Dutch Intersection in Chicago. Paris was able to use existing collected street level sensor data to prove that pedestrian usage in urban areas was high enough to make a change towards intersections designed not just for cars, but for pedestrian and bike use. Existing data can be a catalyst for necessary change, and a concrete way to better balance the skeptics.

And finally, we must be proponents for good design. Connected infrastructure can be beautiful.  As designers, we should not only care about design for technology capturing devices and infrastructure (an industry that is heavily led by programmers, civic leaders, technologists and manufacturers) but also be advocates for how quality design can enhance the user experience.

We were energized by Ashley’s contagious passion for bettering our city and the people that inhabit it. For more of her insights, you can follow Ashley on Twitter.

20 March, 2018 | Design, In Progress, Renovation, Workplace

New McCownGordon Construction headquarters will transform prominent corner in downtown Kansas City

McCownGordon Construction turned the first ceremonial shovel of dirt on the firm’s new downtown headquarters at 850 Main Street in downtown Kansas City this afternoon. Mayor Sly James, City Manager Troy Schulte and Kansas City Economic Development Council President, Bob Langenkamp joined McCownGordon leadership in expressing their enthusiasm for the project and its impact on downtown Kansas City.

The firm purchased the former Catholic Charities building at 850 Main in 2017 and has been working with Helix Architecture + Design, to design the new office space. Said Cherafat, “We are very intentional in how we grow and how we serve our clients and care for our associates and partners.  Our mission is to enhance the journey we are all on together so, as we outgrew our existing building, we looked for space that gave us much more room to grow, as well as a design that would embody our culture and our commitment to our Core Values of Integrity, Performance and Relationships. 850 Main and the design which Helix created for us does both.”

According to Gordon, the location, in the heart of downtown, was a primary factor in the firm’s decision to purchase 850 Main. “Since the beginning, McCownGordon has been committed to Kansas City. When it came time to find a larger home, there was no question that we would remain downtown.”  The firm moved to its current location of 422 Admiral Blvd in 2005, renovating the building, built in 1919, which housed Kansas City’s first Ford automobile dealership.

Erika Moody, principal for Helix, points to the design created for 850 Main as a truly transformational renovation. “When it is complete, this project will reinvigorate the corner of 9th and Main and be a prominent architectural addition along the streetcar line. The transparency of the design concept showcases an open, modern workplace while engaging those inside the building with the activities surrounding the structure.” The renovated building will include state-of-the-art amenities, including a comprehensive technology package, fitness center with yoga studio, expanded conference and collaboration spaces and a rooftop patio. “Our team worked closely with McCownGordon’s team to design a space that truly reflected their culture and their commitment to growth and opportunity,” added Moody.

(l to r) McCownGordon Construction’s chairman of the board, Brett Gordon and chief executive officer Ramin Cherafat speak to the crowd at the corner of 9th and Main in downtown Kansas City, MO to celebrate the company’s groundbreaking at 850 Main.

City manager, Troy Schulte, Jackson County Executive Frank White, McCownGordon chairman of the board Brett Gordon, Kansas City Mayor Sly James, McCownGordon chief executive officer Ramin Cherafat and Councilman Scott Taylor celebrated a groundbreaking for McCownGordon’s new corporate headquarters at 850 Main in downtown Kansas City, MO.

McCownGordon’s Chris Hampton operated a jackhammer to break ground on the firm’s renovation of 850 Main in downtown Kansas City, MO. When complete in early 2019, the building will house the growing construction management firm. Looking on (l to r) is City Manager Troy Schulte, KCEDC president Bob Langenkamp, McCownGordon chief executive Ramin Cherafat, Jackson County Executive Frank White and McCownGordon chairman of the board, Brett Gordon. Photos by Bob Greenspan.

Nancy Whitworth, vice president of strategic services for McCownGordon points to the many downtown amenities such as streetcar adjacency, a covered parking garage and proximity to the Power & Light District as an exciting component of the new office location.  “We strive to deliver the best building experience in all that we do,” said Whitworth. “That includes providing our associates with the best experience as members of our team. The location of 850 Main and its relationship to the excitement and growth of downtown Kansas City is an employee benefit that we are proud to deliver.”

The project is expected to take ten months to complete with the firm moving to the new location in early 2019.

15 March, 2018 | Hospitality, Renovation

Coffee + Cocktails for the Adventurous Spirit

Helix’s experience with hospitality design has provided the opportunity to work on some hidden gems throughout Kansas City. One of the latest to open is Nomads Coffee + Cocktails along 39th Street’s restaurant row.

Formerly the home of dive bar D.B. Cooper’s, the new Nomad’s Coffee + Cocktails was completely transformed by a local couple whose love of adventurous travel inspired the name and decor. A new wall of floor-to-ceiling windows make the warm wood tones and deep blue walls seem simultaneously bright and cozy.

Feast Magazine shared their take on the renovated space in their review of the new establishment:

“Now, the space has been entirely re-imagined as Nomads, a sleek coffee and cocktail bar with big windows, bright light and even cheese plates…The only familiar aspects from Nomads’ former dive days are the small ramp that leads you inside and a bar, which is in the same location as the last. But that’s where similarities end. The drop ceilings are gone, which makes the space feel considerably larger, and the walls are painted a cool, deep blue. Large-format adventure and travel photography follows the nomad theme, while floor-to-ceiling windows, which can be partially opened during periods of good weather, let light pour into this prime 39th Street location. A bar with eight seats lines the street-facing windows, and a tufted bench occupies the east wall where D.B.’s booths once sat. The rest of the space is filled with small wooden two-tops, ideal for sipping coffee or a glass of wine and working during the day.”

Nomads was the vision of husband-and-wife team Dr. Andrew Park and Dr. Megha Ramaswamy. Both Park and Ramaswamy are doctors at the University of Kansas Medical Center, just a few steps away. The Nomads name comes from the couple’s love of travel and photos featuring some of their trips line the walls. We loved working side-by-side with this entrepreneurial duo to bring their vision for the space to life.

The whole Helix team popped in for happy hour soon after the opening and can attest to the facts that the cocktails are as lovely and thoughtfully crafted as the space itself.

Photography by Bob Greenspan.

27 February, 2018 | Academic, Art, Community

Meaningful Artwork at KUMC Draws Inspiration From History

As part of the new Health Education Building, the University of Kansas Medical Center commissioned art pieces for the space, asking artists to draw inspiration from their Clendening History of Medicine Library. The library is one of the nation’s finest collections of rare, historical medical books, as well as an extensive collection of monographs and periodicals in the history of medicine, medical humanities and biomedical ethics. Six artists were selected for works in the building.

The ground level corridor on the southside of the building was an incredible opportunity for artwork, spanning a remarkable 125 feet. The hallway features Des Emplastres et Des Compresses, by artist Marcie Miller Gross. Marcie was inspired by the distinct, elegant forms of the compresses, plasters and bandages illustrated in Cours d’operations de chirurgie, a rare surgical manual found in the library. The shapes were informed by the specific types of incisions made by the surgeon and evoke the topography of the body. These elemental forms are familiar, abstract and poetic in their simplicity.

CAPTION: Reference: Dionis, Pierre. Cours d’operations de chirurgie: demonstrees au Jardin royal. Paris, Chez Laurent D’Houry, rue saint Severin, au St Esprit, vi-s-vis la rue Zacharie: 1707. Held at the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center.

Creating this series for the university held great meaning for Marcie. Her father received his medical degree from the university in 1948 and was a professor of surgery at KU until 1973. Marcie’s husband, Helix principal Bryan Gross, was the senior project architect on the building and spent three years on the Health Education Building.

Marcie’s work has been exhibited in institutions and galleries throughout the Midwest and internationally and is held in public and private collections. She has lived in Kansas City since receiving her Master of Fine Arts at Cranbrook Academy of Art and Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Kansas. Photography by E.G. Schempf.

26 February, 2018 | Historic Renovation, Renovation, Workplace

Kansas City Crossroads: Taylor Building History + Renovation

The Taylor Building renovation was completed ten years ago. This turn-of-the-century dry goods building was built in 1902 by Root & Siemens. With the majority of its original exterior features intact and in good condition, the building retains a high degree of historical integrity. Today, the building is home to creative agency Bishop McCann, an industry leader in producing meetings, incentive programs and events worldwide.  

Using boutique hotels as inspiration for the design, the historic building was modernized while adhering to the national Parks Services standards for historic renovations. A sleek and modern elliptical staircase was inserted into the center of the “lobby” space, becoming the counterpoint to the rough masonry shell. Private offices, meeting spaces and a large communal gathering space spiral off the stair, now the social center point for this highly successful and fast-growing company. A 20 ft. chandelier was custom designed to further accentuate the hospitality aesthetic, and a deck was added to the rooftop to accommodate a resort-like meeting destination.

Bishop McCann has now become an event space in itself, hosting community events and celebrity guests. Michelle Obama chose this space for her headquarters during the 2008 presidential campaign.

15 February, 2018 | Helix People, Recognition

New Helix Promotion

We are pleased to announce Kate Hulsen, Helix’s director of marketing and business development, was recently elevated to principal. In her role, she leads the execution and oversight of all marketing and business development initiatives across the firm’s core markets.

Over the course of her career, she has worked exclusively for architectural firms, cultivating a deep understanding of the profession and Kansas City. Since joining Helix in 2015, Kate has become a valuable asset to the team. Her drive and extensive knowledge of the local business community have helped our firm secure highly competitive pursuits, such as the Kansas City Art Institute student housing project, DEG Headquarters and Missouri State Hill Hall renovation.

Kate graduated from the Kansas City’s Chamber of Commerce Centurion’s Leadership Program in 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Public Administration from the University of Missouri – Columbia.

We asked her a few questions to help you get to know her a bit more.

What led you to a career in architecture?

I have been around the architecture industry my whole life – my dad is an architect in St. Louis. He owns a small firm there where I worked in various capacities for as long as I can remember. I did everything from collating specs as a small child (back before printers could do that for you – when each page was individually typed and photocopied!) to answering phones in high school and eventually, handling accounting systems when I was in college. Although I studied marketing in college, I love working around all of the creative personalities that exist in a design firm.


What brought you to Helix?

I have a deep love of old, historic buildings. As long as I’ve been in Kansas City, I’ve known about the work that Helix does revitalizing them. It is one of the things that drew me to the position here. It is really incredible to see new life brought into old, neglected structures. Getting to learn the stories behind these buildings and watch the transformation from design through construction is pretty incredible. I also really value the firm’s commitment to only do work that has a positive impact on the community, as well as the extensive community involvement of the firm and firm leaders.   


What do you love most about your job?

Getting a behind the scenes look at projects that are transforming our city. Since the majority of Helix’s work is in Kansas City, I get to see the impact our projects have all around us.  


Do you have any hobbies?

I love to travel. My husband and I have been working our way through the National Parks since we met. We are taking our little one on a road-trip through Germany and Austria this spring – fingers crossed we survive the international flight with a one year old!


What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Betty Rae’s s’mores ice cream

Congratulations Kate!

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