A church steeple presiding over a flower-filled park, a town square bustling with shoppers, and, in the background, the lonesome whistle of a train: These images evoke a bygone era. Kansas City Southern, a transportation company founded in 1887 and based in Kansas City, MO, has recently returned to its railroad roots. Its newly constructed headquarters reinforces the company’s history and relates to Kansas City’s rich past.
As the country grew, so did Kansas City Southern. In the 1990s, the company’s operations greatly expanded and departments were scattered in several facilities. Present-day, the new headquarters facility needed to consolidate people and services, as well as reflect the company’s move from a financial institution back to its primary transportation mission. “By 1999, it became evident that our company, Kansas City Industries, was going through a change. We decided when that split took place we should have our own headquarters,” says Mike Haverty, chairman, president, CEO, Kansas City Southern.
The company worked with Kansas City, MO-based developer and building owner Broadway Square Partners to select a site in Cathedral Square that suited its corporate needs and demonstrated the company’s loyalty to downtown Kansas City’s revitalization. Combined architectural team BNIM/CDFM2, Kansas City, MO, was brought in for shell design, tenant interior design, and contract administration; MC Lioness Realty Group LLC, Kansas City, MO, provided project management; and J.E. Dunn Construction, Kansas City, MO, provided general contracting services. Many members of the building team had worked together in the past and were able to draw on these experiences to ensure good communication and teamwork.
As a tenant, Kansas City Southern had very strong views on the style and presence of the new facility. “Our instructions to the architects were that we wanted a very modern headquarters, but one that when you looked at it you could tell that it was the home of a railroad,” says Haverty. The company insisted on the latest amenities in a nostalgic building that harkened back to the company’s long history in the region. “It was a spec office building, but it was really a build-to-suit,” says Peter Sloan, RA, RCID, project architect, CDFM2, Kansas City, MO.
Marrying images of turn-of-the century technology with responsive, flexible workspaces presented many challenges. Moreover, the new facility was built over a four-level underground parking structure, which provides parking for the employees as well as the public. Situated near the historic residential district of Quality Hill, the new headquarters is bracketed by two stately cathedrals.
Mirroring the grand and gracefully traditional architecture of train stations, the headquarters features arched Palladian windows, cherry wood finishes, prepatinaed exterior copper accents, and granite and terra cotta tile flooring. Limestone accents and Quality Hill bricks complement the neighboring churches and residential buildings.
Along with the traditional trappings, the facility’s interior exceeds all of the tenants’ needs. The architectural teams researched Kansas City Southern’s work habits so the building’s layout could take advantage of greater efficiencies by consolidating departments. “There was a lot of work done to find out … the right [layout] and where each person should go,” says Sloan. Careful collaboration and scheduling allowed the project to be completed on time and on budget.
“From a developer’s perspective this is a very marketable building,” says John Yacos, vice president, development, MC Lioness Realty Group LLC, Kansas City, MO. The facility operation team collaborated with the building team to make sure the structure could be easily and cost-effectively maintained. An open office plan allows plenty of natural light to flood the workspaces.
One of the challenges of the project was that five fountains with extensive landscaping were constructed above the underground garage. “That’s 40,000 square feet of landscape space, rainfall, and water from fountains that we have to make sure gets drained out,” says Chris Paris, project manager, J.E. Dunn Construction Co., Kansas City, MO. The landscaping visually connects the nearby cathedrals.
While a prominent six-story clock tower on the company headquarters is reminiscent of grand old train stations, generous landscaping, replete with indigenous plants, encircles the train shed plaza deck and gives the lush site a mall appearance. A newly refurbished 1928 Pullman sleeper car resides on-site to serve as an intimate gathering place – and an elegant reminder of the company’s past. “There were several challenges here, and bringing in a train was a good one. We were able to design a lot of the constructionability and scheduling issues into the design of the building by working with the engineers,” says Tom Turner, J.E. Dunn general superintendent.
Inside, the connection to history continues, with museum cases that display Kansas City Southern artifacts. Old photographs, a pocket watch, fine bone china, and even a conductor’s hat once hidden in storage are now proudly shown in the facility’s Grand Hall. “The Grand Hall gives us the opportunity to display our rich history of all the years Kansas City Southern has been in Kansas City,” says Doug Banks, director, joint facilities and contracts, Kansas City Southern.
At the same time, the surrounding community has embraced the facility. The Grand Hall – complete with catering kitchen and accompanying lofty train shed – has welcomed many events. “It has become the No. 1 meeting venue in Kansas City,” says Haverty.
In a rapidly changing world, trains still hold a mystery and charm that no other transportation technology can touch. By relying on this mystique, the Kansas City Southern headquarters is a tribute to an innovative past and a classic interpretation of a forward-thinking facility.Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.