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An Interview with the Project Designer

by Andrew Hergert

El dorado inc. is an innovative architecture firm located in the Crossroads District of Kansas City, Missouri. We've been delivering functional, sustainable and radically pragmatic projects since 1996.

How did you first get started in architecture? Has it been a life-long passion?

I knew I was interested in architecture from a very young age. I was always fascinated by buildings. They made me question things like ‘who decided to remodel this old synagogue into a music school?’. Then you go to school and what you end up doing is totally different from the idea you had of the occupation.

Can you give a quick overview of your career so far?

I graduated from the University of Kansas four years ago. I worked at another local architecture firm for a few years. I’ve been at El Dorado for about a year now. I was able to do an exchange semester in Stuttgart, Germany while at KU. I later went back for an internship in northern Germany. I’m currently working with some German clients, so knowing the language and culture has been valuable.

When you went from being a student to a professional, were there any unexpected challenges?

When you’re a student, everything is a theoretical problem. In the professional world, you have time constraints, budget constraints, and sometimes building constraints where some ideas you have just aren’t possible to fabricate. But, you do get to experience your projects actually getting built when you are a professional.

What is the architectural style here at El Dorado?

The partners call their style pragmatic. They have a 90/10 rule for projects. 90% is going to be an established, developed, practical idea to bring to the client. The other 10% is room to bring something extraordinary to the project.

Girl Scouts Building
Exterior Door
Wiloughby Design Barn

Starting with an idea in 2-dimensions, how do you translate that to 3-dimensions, and eventually to something that will be interactive on such a large scale?

Architects love to get out and experience places. It could be a building or a courtyard, any environmental space. You get to think about how this works in 3-dimensions and get a feel for the space. We also love to collect samples of materials and imagine what this particular wood or tile would look like large-scale. Then, of course, later in a project we have 3-d models that can get pretty realistic.

Who are your favorite architects?

Shier Ban, he plays with simplicity and complexity with material and structure. RCR is a firm from Spain that I really like. They do interesting things with light. Light is something that architects really love to play with. Also Peter Zumthor, he created a chapel in Germany that is a simple concrete structure. He built a wooden structure inside that was set on fire after the concrete set. It left imprints in the concrete that create this amazing texture.

90% is bringing an established, developed, practical idea to the client. The other 10% is room to bring something extraordinary to the project.

What trend or movement is prevalent in architecture at the moment?

The computer is playing a major role. There is parametric software now, where you can take the smallest object and just move it ever so slightly. You can do something like create undulations in a brick wall and see how it would look immediately. At the same time, there are undercurrents in architecture that are radiating back emphasizing material and experience.

Do you feel that there’s always something now you have to learn to keep current with your industry?

I think everybody is always learning in our profession. There’s always a new software or method. It’s great having co-workers because they will often have an experience you can learn from, and vice versa.

Blvd Brewing Company

What is your general process when starting a job?

We have developed a cyclical process. It starts with marketing. We bring our past portfolio to show them what is possible. Then we sit down with the client and decide what the goals and ideas are. Then there is a schematic phase where we make physical models and digital models, getting feedback from the client along the way. Then it goes to the contractors for actual fabrication, and we oversee that process. Then it comes back to marketing again, when we go to document our finished building with photos.

Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on?

The project I’m working on now is actually my favorite. It’s called the Highlander Accelerator. It is a community center for a neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska. It is built on a hill with a retaining wall. You see the community center and parking area from one side, and it will look less imposing from the other side because of the way it sits on the hill. It will have some pretty diverse uses. There will be a soul-food restaurant, a greenhouse and a community college.  
One tenant is developing a system of aquaculture and hydroponics there. He’ll be able to teach people these sustainable methods for growing food. He also plans on demonstrating how to cook some of the food that will be produced there. This community is a food desert, with people not having access to a lot of fresh foods. So these will be some important skills to cultivate. █

Highlander Accelerator
Architects love to get out and experience places. It could be a building or a courtyard, any environmental space.