Designs on Des Moines
Saturday, January 23, 2010 7:00 AM
William Anderson has left his mark across the city, including the design for the renovation of the Greater Des Moines Partnership offices. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Business is slow, the winter days are dim, but at least one Iowa architectural firm is looking on the sunny side.
Neumann Monson Architects P.C. in Iowa City, one of the state's largest design firms, has teamed up with Greater Des Moines architect William Anderson to open a local office.
The partnership has been 15 years in the making, with Neumann Monson first trying to recruit Anderson when he was designing or planning some of Greater Des Moines' signature projects while working for Brooks Borg Skiles Architecture Engineering LLP, another design heavyweight.
"We needed a kindred spirit," said Kevin Monson, Neumann Monson president.
Anderson has left his mark from the Iowa Capitol Complex and East Village to Jordan Creek Town Center, with a prominent presence downtown. While with Brooks Borg Skiles, he was the partner in charge of design for the EMC Insurance Group Inc. building.
He is quick to note that when Neumann Monson first contacted him in the 1990s, Brooks Borg Skiles also was involved in high-profile projects in eastern Iowa, particularly in the company's back yard.
"I suspect (Monson) was interested in eliminating some of the competition," Anderson said. "We were getting a lot of work at the University of Iowa, and Kevin was trying to build his firm up."
A green home in Iowa City
Neumann Monson was founded in 1977 in Iowa City and now has 37 architects on staff. The company has designed a bulging portfolio of buildings that gained or are in the process of receiving the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, with 18 projects certified or in the process of gaining various levels of LEED certification.
Monson said the firm wants all of its designers to achieve the building council's LEED-accredited professional status, with 90 percent currently carrying the designation.
Neumann Monson's headquarters boasts the only LEED certification among the state's design firms, according to current green building council records, and it designed the first structure in the state to achieve the LEED platinum rating, the highest level of sustainable design under the LEED rating system. The LEED ratings recognize various levels of sustainable design, construction and maintenance and operation, with platinum being the highest certification, followed by gold, silver and certified.
Monson said his firm designed the state's first green roof, first green public school, first green municipal building and first green interior, part of its own LEED Gold certified headquarters in Iowa City. The Neumann Monson-designed ACT Operation Center in Iowa City was the first LEED platinum data center in the state and the country, Monson said.
"We're not promoting that every project should be LEED certified, but it does bring a lot of rigor to the design process," he said.
Anderson's commitment to designing sustainable structures was a quality that drew Neumann Monson's attention.
"He fits our goals and our vision for architecture," Monson said. "We're pretty simple. Our vision is to create innovate design solutions that provide for an exciting, productive and sustainable world."
All together now
Anderson said that he was attracted to Neumann Monson in part because of the collaborative approach it takes to design, assigning one team to follow a project from beginning to end and including builders and subcontractors in the process.
"Why not get everybody enthused? You have a much better project in the end, and going sustainable now it's even more important that the builder is involved in the process," Anderson said.
Not all firms, especially larger firms, take that approach, although it is something that Anderson said he has promoted throughout his 35-year career.
"I'd like to think that the majority of firms do it that way, but as you get bigger and bigger there are more challenges to control the quality of what you are doing," he said.
Anderson's handiwork can be seen in the overall design of Western Gateway Park, tenant remodels at Jordan Creek Town Center, as well as the EMC building downtown, a project that he talks about with enthusiasm because it allowed him and Brooks Borg Skiles to work with a client that was dedicated to building a sustainable structure.
"EMC wanted a 100-year building, and that presents some interesting challenges," Anderson said. "We did a lot of research in terms of what kinds of products do we use, what kinds of systems do we use that are not only sustainable but that last a long time."
In fact, Anderson speaks with a great deal of pride about his 17 years at Brooks Borg Skiles, even though he left the firm in 2001 to strike out on his own.
"I wanted to continue to focus on design excellence, and I thought I could do more of that on my own," Anderson said.
In 2005, he teamed up with other partners to form Substance Architecture LLC and left that company in 2008, again to look for new opportunities.
Neumann Monson can become a long-time player because of its approach to building client relationships and the quality of its work, Anderson said.
"With the economy the way it is, there's just not a lot of work out there right now," Anderson said. "It'll take some time for people to get to know the Neumann Monson name and when things break, we want the Neumann Monson name to be on everybody's lists."
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