Creative Thinking

May 31, 2005
WINNER: Cerner Corporate Campus, Kansas City, MO

The analysts at Hoover’s Online say Cerner Corp. “provides the IV that pumps information through a healthcare organization’s computer network”; namely a management platform that combines clinical, financial, and administrative information management applications, including tools for managing electronic medical records, patient care, and health information access.

Cerner boasts a leading role in transforming the healthcare information technology arena, but at the turn of the 21st century, officials at the North Kansas City, MO-based company realized their world headquarters didn’t quite match up to the company’s position as leading player in the field. The headquarters needed a transformation.

Since November 1981, Cerner has occupied space in an office park setting. The company first leased about 5,000 square feet on the sixth floor of one of the buildings.

Cerner grew so much over the next 13 years that the company purchased the six-building office park in June 1994 for $25 million and began to convert the 88-acre property into a headquarters campus, immediately adding a seventh building - the Associate Center - by 1995. This building houses a fitness center, a Montessori childcare and learning center, and meeting space.

“As we rolled into 2000, we really recognized that we would be competing with strong companies worldwide and that we needed to establish a visual - as well as an operating - presence on our campus,” says Cerner Vice Chairman Cliff Illig. “As a company, we have a big vision and mission; and we needed a pretty strong physical presence to crystallize that.”

The company frequently hosts both current and potential clients at the headquarters, and company officials recognized the image conveyed by the “unremarkable campus headquarters.” They realized it needed a new, world-class look, feel, and functionality.

“The buildings were shelter,” says Tony Rohr, design principal at Gould Evans, the Kansas City architectural firm that oversaw the Cerner Corporate Campus transformation. “They kept the rain off, they kept the light out - but they did not make a statement in any way. The campus was beautiful, but the buildings were not inspiring. Cerner wanted to make its mark.”

Despite a lack of “wow factor,” the campus buildings were structurally sound and performed well over time. They were, however, in need of a modernization to better accommodate current technologies, provide more appropriate physical flexibility for team configuration, and accommodate worker comfort and ergonomic preferences at contemporary standards.

Cerner leaders considered building a new campus, but decided that reinvestment in the existing campus was more fiscally responsible and the most logistically feasible choice. They turned to Gould Evans to help them make the transformation.

A team from Cerner and Gould Evans worked to develop a master plan for the office park’s entire 88 acres, developing what Illig calls a “style, a vocabulary for the project.”

“We wanted to shift it to be a campus environment,” he says, noting that at the start of the project, the Kansas City headquarters housed about 1,000 employees. That number has more than tripled to nearly 3,500, and the master plan seeks to accommodate close to 8,000 workers when fully built out into areas not yet developed, Illig says.

The showpiece and cornerstone of this master plan is the new World Headquarters Building, dubbed “Transformation Place.”

The new 123,205-square-foot building links two existing Cerner buildings and serves as the corporate front door. The most notable feature is a large spire rising out of a curved glass-and-stainless-steel-encased reception space at the building’s front entrance. It marks the campus center.

“The spire itself is one of the few things we’ve done that isn’t primarily functional,” Illig says. “It’s an icon designed around two fundamental coding structures.”

Both Illig and Rohr explain that the 188-foot spire represents the double helix of the DNA molecule, while the stainless steel panels wrapping around it are marked with binary code perforations. Together they symbolize the fusion of the body and technology - in other words, Cerner’s mission as a healthcare information technology leader.

“It is technology’s code engaged with the human code,” Rohr explains. “It represents an embodiment of Cerner’s attributes that drove the vocabulary for the entire project.”

The new headquarters facility features a 500-seat dining facility, a 162-seat auditorium, an experience theater, an outdoor amphitheater, an exterior-terraced commons area, and additional office space. The new building links two existing office buildings, both of which were reclad floor-by-floor while the buildings were in use.

One of the reclad office buildings features a renovated Vision Center on the second floor that provides guest and client orientation, allowing Cerner greater capacity for hosting clients and guests. Only the second floor of the building was renovated. Corporate and leadership offices on that floor were relocated temporarily for 2.5 weeks so the Vision Center could be completed.

“There certainly were challenges with adding on and designing a project that had high expectations when the context we were working with was less than memorable,” Rohr says. “We called the existing buildings unremarkable, but our goal was to create something remarkable and memorable with them and between them. We learned [that] you don’t have to tear something down to do it. It comes down to really thinking creatively.”

Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

The Modernization Team ■ Architect (entry submitter): Gould Evans ■ Owner: Cerner Corp. ■ Developer: Cerner Properties Inc. ■ Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: Lankford & Associates ■ Structural Engineer: Page McNaghten Associates ■ Sheet Metal Fabricators: A2MG Inc. ■ Products Used ■ Doors/Storefronts: EFCO ■ Facade: EFCO; Mankato Kasota Stone ■ Floorcoverings: Interface ■ Furniture: Benchmark; Bernhardt Design; Haworth; Keilhauer; Nucraft ■ Hardware: LCN; Sargent; Von Duprin ■ Lighting: Color Kinetics; Edison Price; ETC; Leviton; Precision Electronics; Sistemalux; Sterner ■ Paint: ICI ■ Roofing: Performance Roof Systems ■ Signage: Rowmark ■ Walls/Partitions: Haworth

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