Technology, communication, and collaboration are the heart of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates’ success.
In an increasingly global economic environment, growth often includes global expansion. While the rapid improvement of communication technologies has enabled people to communicate quickly and effortlessly with others around the world, such technology has not stopped firms, as some predicted, from opening and expanding international offices. Instead of replacing physical presence in other countries, technology has been used to improve communication between the international offices of global firms like ours. Technology allows Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates to function as one fluid entity despite the physical separation of our offices and lets us offer a 24-hour office without working around the clock in any one location. This is a boon to our architects and clients alike — they can reach a KPF designer any time of day to share ideas or discuss projects.
Our operational strategy, our organization, and even our new 42nd Street office are all the products of a firm-wide design process. Like any KPF design, our approach to the architecture of our own firm began with dialogue in order to ensure that every goal was identified and addressed. Our operational and organizational systems are strengthened by innovative technologies and change subtly with every new project. This evolution helps the firm achieve its fundamental goals, which remain unchanged themselves.
KPF began in 1976 with a shared vision by A. Eugene Kohn, William Pedersen, and Sheldon Fox to create and execute outstanding designs in order to make a real contribution to the built environment. Since that time, the firm has grown from its three founding architects to more than 500 in six international offices. KPF’s architects hail from 43 countries, speak more than 30 languages, and give the firm a vast set of skills. Drawing on the individual talents its employees, KPF discovers new ways to combine its strengths with every project. Essential to these discoveries is a firm-wide understanding of the importance of collaboration.
Since its founding, KPF has invested time and resources in making collaboration work, emphasizing technology and firm organization that enable people to communicate and share ideas. Today, our firm-wide approach to design emphasizes collaboration among designers, managers and technical staff in our different offices.
The result is a large, geographically dispersed practice that operates as one firm. Just as the individuals Kohn, Pedersen, and Fox were able to accomplish a great deal by pooling their strengths, KPF New York, KPF London, KPF Shanghai, KPF Hong Kong, KPF Seoul, and KPF Abu Dhabi are able to achieve great things by combining their skills.
Our collaborative process helps the firm take advantage of its international presence by encouraging dialogue among architects based in the New York head office and those based nearer to the site. KPF is based on a hub-and-spoke paradigm, with design centered in New York and architects moving among offices. This allows us to take advantage of our human capital, building our practice and moving our culture forward. The legacy of KPF permeates throughout, resulting in a global office. This efficient use of resources creates an intuitive and collaborative network.
Consequently, KPF’s designs are informed not only by architects who periodically visit the location of a site but also by those who live there. Such presence lends itself to familiarity with the daily life, needs, and culture that influence each project. It also enables us to become well versed in local building practices and materials. Beneficial from both an economic and an ecological standpoint, such knowledge is essential to the execution of efficient, safe, and sustainable buildings. Such familiarity also improves value and makes the firm more cost effective when sourcing materials because architects understand the availability and quality of materials.
Of course, presence near the site is helpful for project management as well. Even when a project site is not in the same city as an overseas office, it is helpful to have management support from a nearby KPF office near the site in addition to the talent in New York.
What is less obvious is how our international offices can improve the sustainability of our practice. It is more environmentally sound to have a permanent presence in a place of work because it reduces the environmental costs of transportation and the waste of materials used to establish a temporary work space. Throughout every project, KPF promotes high-performance design that maximizes energy conservation, environmental comfort, and material efficiency while minimizing waste and environmental impact during the construction process.
In addition, KPF’s international offices improve our implementation of climatic regionalism — tailoring of designs to highly specific climatic conditions. Architects who work near their home have opportunities to observe and experience the environment in which they are building and to learn from local design practices.
One of the greatest benefits of KPF’s international presence is the opportunity it gives our architects to meet, work, and socialize with clients, engineers, peers, and other consultants. Our architects learn from these interactions, and our projects benefit from this collaboration. What’s more, KPF has actively contributed its knowledge and insights to its clients around the world. The firm’s presence in Shanghai, for example, allows the Shanghai staff to meet with consultants and clients in that city, but it also provides opportunities for staff in other KPF offices to share in the Shanghai experience. An architect might easily run into a consultant or a client at a restaurant, the theater, or the Shanghai Expo. Over the years, such shared experiences have led to unique partnerships and to some of our most valued relationships. Continuity is essential to the development and maintenance of these relationships.
Our philosophy is rooted in the belief that success is the result of continuous global collaboration and dialogue. The KPF creative process stresses exchange of ideas within the firm as well as between the firm and the client thoughout the development of a project. The result is a comparative process that ensures the client’s needs and desires are addressed over the life of a project. A similar sentiment is central to the manner in which we weave buildings into the environmental fabric. Each building has its own personality yet promotes a dialogue with its surroundings. Informed by the human scale, our buildings aim to make an important contribution to the environment in which they are situated and to provide an uplifting backdrop for daily life.
Michael Greene is a principal of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, having been with the firm for 25 years and worked on projects in the United States and overseas. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects and the 2010 Nominating Committee for the AIA New York Chapter. In addition, he has been a guest speaker on topics such as smart growth for the Urban Land Institute and architectural practice in the global market at the 2010 AIA National Convention.