A Diversity of Expertise

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

From the beginning, KDG has been a relationship-based architecture firm. Rather than develop an area of specialty around a specific type of architectural project, Dan Keiser and his team responded to the unique needs of each client. The result was an incredible diversity of strengths unusually early in the firm’s history.

Of course, developing that level of project diversity brought significant challenges, especially for a small firm. “We had to become experts very quickly,” Dan remembers, laughing. Each project type—churches, commercial spaces, medical offices, etc.—brought specific nuances, not only in creative design and problem solving, but also in terms of the zoning and code requirements unique to each project.

Looking back, Dan says, that diversity has become KDG’s greatest strength. Unexpectedly, that diversity plays a large part in KDG’s successful track record with mission-minded projects.

Fitting the Pieces Together

“As a building,” Dan says, “a church is nothing more than a collection of a bunch of mixed-use spaces. A lobby, an auditorium, classroom and nursery spaces, athletic and multi-purpose event spaces, the list goes on.” The ability to design all these spaces for their unique purpose, in keeping with the church’s overall mission and plan for growth, is a natural outgrowth of the diverse strengths KDG developed early in its career.

However, mission-minded projects brought their own learning curve, as well. Dan remembers a church project from ten years ago, early in KDG’s professional journey, that presented a multi-faceted challenge in the form of a daycare facility. From the

“We realized that we need to be an assembly of professionals that are multi-disciplined so we can react and respond and serve these clients.”

When you look at childcare, for instance, there are all kinds of requirements—the code perspective based on the ages occupying the space. There’s daycare and there’s preschool—those bring two nuances of code requirements based on wording alone. So we had to dig in with the client to understand all their specific needs. For example, one major consideration was whether the space was meant for children’s education, or simply for childcare. It may seem like an insignificant difference, but the expressed purpose of the space determines a lot about architectural requirements. Building codes stipulate that an all-ages childcare space have direct access to the outside, so that infants can be evacuated immediately in an emergency situation. An education space signifies children at a certain age level, which requires evacuation access.

Walking the journey of exploration with the client often means asking questions that other architecture firms wouldn’t. Rather than simply take a directive, Dan digs in with the client to understand their intentions for the space, and how well their plans for the space truly align with that intention. “When a client comes and says, ‘We need a preschool,’ my approach is always, ‘That’s fantastic—tell me about it.’ That helps me see the essentials, the pieces that fit together. Then we try to educate and advise based on that. Just the wording can send us in a direction we don’t intend to go, so we had to be really careful about fully understanding fully the intent of the client.”

The Coffee Shop Solution

A great example of this exploration journey happens with a church design feature that has come into prominence in recent years: the church coffee shop. Once these casual gathering spaces began to pop up in the lobbies of large churches, before long, every church decided they needed one. But rather than simply take the project and begin retrofitting a lobby space, Dan led with his personalized, exploratory approach.

“We would try to understand what that ‘coffee shop’ concept meant to people. There’s a variety of things the coffee shop is trying to provide to their customers—I can go into Starbucks, get a coffee and leave, or I can hang out there half the day. So we asked church leaders, what are you trying to do? Are you trying to get people to hang out and fellowship in this space, or are you trying to move them through?”

Asking these questions prevented myriad problems that would have been created by simply copying the concept as they’d seen it done before. Addressing these problems is where KDG’s diverse strengths come into full effect.

KDG’s experience in commercial/retail projects underscores the importance of branding, point of sale and workflow in a church coffee shop design. “Do people self-serve or are they being served? Is food being offered and if so, is it being prepared on site? Is it open during the week or just during service times? All these things affect how that space functions in the greater mission.”

For issues around where to place the coffee shop within the existing space, Dan and his team consulted the layout and design of their local airport terminal. “How quickly do we need to vacate the building and the parking lot to prepare for the next service coming in? How does traffic flow through the main ‘boulevard’ that enters the building? You’ve got people running down that highway to make it to church—having a place to stop and hang out in the middle of that space stops the flow of traffic.”

KDG channels their diversity of expertise into creating a diversity of function within the spaces they design. Particularly for churches, Dan says, it’s essential that spaces have multiple function—“they should be able to use that coffee shop room for team leadership or volunteer training during the week, but it becomes the cafe on the weekends. It’s not just sitting with its doors locked all week long—the church gets use out of it all week. Real estate is expensive, so if we can get these things to multi-function, and be excellent in all areas, we can serve our clients well. It’s a challenge, but it can be achieved.”

Case Study: 514 Church

A recent consult with 514 Church in New Albany, Ohio provided a perfect example of how to reconcile a church’s desires and needs around a coffee shop building project. The existing lobby serves as the intersection between two main avenues of entry. “We came into a little bit of a conflict,” Dan says. “We need to move people, but we still want to give opportunity for people to gather. Through collaborative design, we came up with a scenario where that can work.”

KDG’s design places the coffee shop at the corner of this intersection. Glass walls create visual continuity and showcase the space while still offering structural guidance between those who want to keep moving and those who want to stop and have a conversation. The actual coffee is provided in a side niche of the new space, making it possible to simply pick up coffee and keep moving, or to meander from there into the soft seating and communal environment of the gathering space.

“This provided a solution where the church could get the best of both worlds—they could still turn over, convey parents on their way to pick up children and leave—but still accommodate the scenarios where people want to fellowship and catch up.”

“Trying to understand that church’s environment tells us how to accomplish their unique goals,” Dan continues. “We really pursue dialogue to understand the main objectives they’re trying to achieve with their project idea. There’s no one way to do it well—it just depends on that church, that client, and what they want that project to achieve. It becomes very conversational and collaborative, understanding the ramifications of their desires.”

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