KANSAS CITY POLICE HEADQUARTERS
RENOVATION & EXPANSION

DESIGN TEAM INTERVIEW

 
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                           PRINCIPAL IN CHARGE / REEVES WIEDEMAN

                           PRINCIPAL IN CHARGE / REEVES WIEDEMAN

                           PROJECT MANAGER  /  MIKE HEULE

                           PROJECT MANAGER  /  MIKE HEULE

                             PROJECT DESIGNER / MARK NEIBLING

                             PROJECT DESIGNER / MARK NEIBLING


 

PROJECT OF THE YEAR
We recently sat down with the project team responsible for the Project of the Year from this year's AIA Design Excellence Awards. Principal in Charge, Reeves Wiedeman; Project Manager, Mike Heule; and Project Designer, Mark Neibling all were gracious enough to chat with us and share some more information about the KCPD Headquarters Renovation & Expansion. . 

 
 

Give me a quick overview of the project and some of the initial scope and ideas:
Mark / When the project started, KCPD thought this would be a refresh of a couple of floors. As we got into the project we quickly realized the building's mechanical systems were totally past their useful lifespan. ADA was also a problem throughout the building. It was determined that a total renovation was necessary. In order to solve the bigger functional issues we had to find a place for new vertical circulation and building systems. We explored multiple locations for a new core within the existing building, but they didn’t lend themselves to a phased renovation, which was necessary for the building to remain functional.  Ultimately we landed on the solution of creating an exterior vertical circulation tower. We built the vertical core first so they were accessible throughout the renovation. We then took two floors offline at a time, renovated those, tied them into the new external core and then brought them back online. The biggest design opportunity became the community room stepping outside of the existing building footprint.  It was on the 5th floor before and it was very hard to access so moving it down to grade made it much more accessible to the public. 

 

What are the programmatic components of the new addition? 
Mark / Just the community room, restrooms, building systems and vertical circulation. A key piece of the design became the idea of communicating with the civic lawn across the street through a covered front porch.  The ceiling element started to help us achieve that. The jury talked about how our team took a simple scope and turned into something impactful and that really was the goal the entire time. . 

Did the simplicity of the program make it easier or more difficult to design? 
Mark / That made it easier. The program was well defined so it became easy to see what the solution needed to be; it provided clarity

 
 

What was the timeframe of the project? 
Mike / We started design work in 2011 and design lasted about a year. There was a predesign study with full programming for the police department and different core options as well during that time.  The building formally opened in early 2015.

Tell me some about the story behind the design?
Mark / We explored a lot of different options for the ceiling. We eventually patterned it from details within the existing building - you can see that motif in jail bars on the 8th floor windows, over the front entry, inside in metal duct work, and heating covers.  We selected concrete because this city has a great history of concrete work. It is a monumental material and this building was deserving of its use. Using that detail did a lot of good things for us – it allowed us to conceal the lighting and speakers and it also acts as an acoustic diffuser.  In order to make the concrete structure go from interior to exterior we developed a custom thermally broken slab which was a pretty cool process.  Kathy Hagan, our structural engineer, was really critical to making that happen..

 
 

Tell me about your design process?  You found this ornamental element that eventually became the ceiling, but how did you get there?  Was the ceiling something else at some point?
Mike /  We had the form figured out early on – it was just a matter of figuring out what that horizontal bar wanted to be.  As we worked through the different options it became clear that this design’s connection back to the ornament on the existing building was the key.

Mark / I have about 100 sketchup models and renderings of different concepts for the ceiling. At one point it was just a 3-foot thick bar in place for the ceiling; we didn’t know what it wanted to be. We had a design discussion in the office to look at it and brought everyone in to get feedback. Once we landed on the pattern detail we did a full scale mockup in our office, hung it up at 23 feet and brought the client in to get their feedback as well. 

 

 
 

The community room is an amazing space - knowing that often times budgets can impact how great a space can be, did you guys run into issues with budget impacting the design of this space?
Mark / With the client, we made a conscious decision to invest in the space we felt would have the greatest impact and it was immediately clear that was the community room.  Having a community face and presence at grade was important for the KCPD.  Like all projects though it was a balancing act.

The renovation has underfloor air distribution – how did you make that work with the existing floor heights and core?
Mark / We weighed the options – there is a low floor-to-floor height.  It never had air conditioning or ductwork.  We looked at doing bulkheads and main distribution with branch ducts but we lost too much ceiling height. We made the underfloor system work with a 12" plenum. The floor ramps down at the existing core to tie in with the existing elevator stops.  As far as the historic preservation, most of the elements we were preserving were in the elevator lobby so this allowed us to keep those elements while creating a dynamic contrast between the new and the old.

 
 

What is your favorite detail on the building?  Besides the ceiling...
Mark / There are a lot of little moments that happen…if you come off the second floor in the existing building there is a small balcony that gives you a great view of the new community room and you can actually reach up and touch the ceiling.  Also, the site work looks really seamless but it was quite complex to bring a lot of pieces together to make the project successful and bring ADA accessibility to the police headquarters for the first time in the building’s history.

Mike / Another nice detail I like is the new external vertical core element and the break between the new core and the existing building. The existing façade has been preserved and the glazing allows you to see the existing building as you’re passing between the core and the existing building. 

From the exterior the building has a great presence during the day, but at night it transforms into something truly spectacular – was this part of the story you wanted to tell all along or did it emerge throughout the process? 
Mark / The lighting design was absolutely intentional.  We knew we had this alley to the north we had to light and then the plaza needed site lighting and we knew we didn’t want pole lights.  So, we immediately began to start looking at how to make some element of the design be able to provide great interior lighting and site lighting. It became clear pretty quickly that the ceiling could do that for us. 

 
 
 

How did the public art installation impact the design – was it part of the process early on or did it emerge later?   When did you start working with the artist. 
Mark / It was during design development when the city put out the solicitation for artists.  We sent out plans and renderings with the solicitation, and we identified a few key locations we thought would be good for art.  Rob Ley, the artist, thankfully selected our preferred location – it really is like a gallery wall to the public and visible to the public day and night, which makes total sense for public art. And, it’s a great transition moment between the existing building and the new space that helps break down the volumes. 
Did you have to beef up the structure to handle the art?
Mark / Yes, we put unistrut into the concrete pour and Rob was able to come out and bolt the piece right into the structure. It was a really seamless process and turned out great!

Video of Rob Ley's Art Installation Production.  
Great project photographs on his website as well at:  http://rob-ley.com/Formidable

 
 

Tell me about the green roof and the reason for the space? 
Mark / It’s actually a break area for the police officers – we learned on the project that if the police are out on the street or somewhere eating lunch they often get questions and never get a true 'break'.  This provides them a place to get outside, get some fresh air, and have a true private break area. 

 
 

What was the most fun aspect of the project? 
Mark / Pillars had a session in the building in the community room and I was there to help give a tour to that group.  While I was there I saw someone from the police department come in and show off the space.  The guy they touring came in and gave a big ‘Whoa’.  It was really cool to see how proud the department is of the space.

What do you feel made the project successful?    
Mark / A great project team.  That includes the owners group, our team in the office, and really everyone involved.  It was easy because we had clearly defined roles and clear decision makers.

How did you celebrate the Project of the Year Honor? 
All /  Champagne!
Mark / We went to Gilhouly’s – that’s a traditional hangout for us. 
Mike / Helix buys tickets to anybody in the office that wants to go to Design Awards, so when we win it makes for a pretty exciting celebration! 
Mark /  JE Dunn, the contractor for the project, also sent over champagne and donuts the next week which gave us an opportunity to celebrate with our coworkers that couldn’t be at Design Awards.  

Enormous thanks to Reeves, Mike, & Mark for chatting with us and sharing a bit of insight into this great project!
All photos and drawings courtesy of Michael Robinson Photography and Helix.

 

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