BNIM built its business on designing greener buildings. But the pioneering Kansas City, Missouri, firm is now casting its gaze beyond the building. The latest version of BNIM’s evolving methodology is perhaps its most dramatic pivot since 1989, when co-founder Bob Berkebile and other principals unveiled the Critical Planet Rescue initiative (CPR) at that year’s AIA conference.

“As a profession we’ve learned how to solve most design and technical challenges,” said CEO Steve McDowell. “We have a much better idea of what to do than 25 years ago. But the reality is, you wouldn’t go to the trouble to make a building if it wasn’t for humans. We need to now redirect our efforts toward humanity.”

BNIM’s more anthropocentric Human Purposed High Performance Integrated Design grew out of its intuitive-scientific-experiential method, or ISE. The “science” part was crucial to that process, as BNIM worked with engineering firms to measure and refine building performance. The company’s mantra of “innovation, then replication,” means that once an efficiency technique is developed, it gets used again and again, like the precast insulated concrete that, when layered with terra cotta, stops thermal bridging cold. With its toolkit BNIM is able to shave 30 to 40 percent off most clients’ existing energy demands.

Increasingly, BNIM’s clients are asking for “transformational change” of their entire built environment. Their “human purposed” design process is a response to that. “Sometimes a building isn’t the answer, and we’re comfortable saying that,” said McDowell.

Among BNIM’s 78 employees (up 15 percent from a year ago) are landscape architects, interior designers, architects, and graphic designers. “The expectation when you’re here is that you’re going to contribute no matter what level you’re at,” said James Pfeiffer, project architect and designer. “People thinking strategically about a whole host of things. That’s a big difference between BNIM then and BNIM now. We’re multidisciplinary.”

McCain Auditorium, Kansas State
Manhattan, Kansas

McCain Auditorium is a great place to see symphonies and Larry the Cable Guy perform. But it lacked versatility, something K-State needs as it aims to become a high-profile research institution. BNIM added a cozy symposium space to the second floor of the 44-year-old public presentation space, which is made of native stone, and attached a glass-encased pre-event space that will make McCain shine at night.


University of Missouri School of Medicine
Columbia, Missouri

Ten years ago, Missouri’s med school shook up its pedagogy, assigning students to pods no larger than 12 per faculty member, rotating quarterly, emphasizing problem solving and focus on the patient. BNIM’s challenge: Design the new instructional building around this method. Like its 2013 fishbowl at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Bloch Business School, BNIM designed the MU space with generous open floors, “where every space is a learning space,” said McDowell. The top two floors will consist of “learning studios” where pods of students share with each other through interactive tools.

Library Renewal Project, Georgia Tech
Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia Tech took advantage of a failing physical plant to reimagine what a university library can be in the interactive age. Library usage is up 50 percent since 2004, yet in that time checkouts of books have fallen by 60 percent. With visioning help from students, BNIM proposed a radical redo that moves nearly all of the stacks offsite, creating open, collaborative, interdisciplinary working spaces for students. “Libraries are neutral ground,” said McDowell. “Architecture students, for instance, won’t go to the engineering school. But they will go to the library.”


NextRail KC
Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City’s car culture and political dysfunction have kept it lagging behind other mid-sized cities on public transportation. “Only 19 percent of the people in the metro can get from their house to work and back in less than three hours using mass transit,” said Vincent Gauthier, BNIM’s director of planning. With a two-mile starter streetcar line underway, the city turned to BNIM to lead the public engagement process and oversee four engineering firms working on the corridors. Public engagement is a hallmark of BNIM’s work from its disaster recovery practice, which has helped citizens of Springfield, Massachusetts, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and tiny Greensburg, Kansas, turn tragedy into triumph.