A mid-century modern with a "this-century" landscape

With FORWARD design:architecture, we have had the privilege of working on the redesign of a William Wurster ranch from the 1950's. Chris and his crew have cleverly expanded the footprint of the original home and meticulously obsessed over every interior detail. The renovation is a resounding success and is a delicate interpretation of what it takes to modernize a mid-century modern residence.

You can flip through magazine pages, thumb design books, and scroll through an endless sea of online images to see amazing examples of mid-century modern buildings, furniture, and objects. This style has re-emerged to be wildly popular for the last 10 to 15 years, with bloggers, retro re-sellers, designers, movies, marketers, TV dramas, and stay-at-home moms all tapping into the design stylings and sensibilities of the era. It's easy for furniture aficionados or architecture critics to identify a George Nelson desk or Richard Neutra house. Is it as easy to differentiate types of modern landscapes?    

what about the landscape?

It's tempting to consider modern landscape architecture as a popular design style that has exploded within the last couple of decades. But, modern design for the landscape actually pre-dated the "mid-century modern" classification of the '40-'60s. Well-known landscape architects like Garrett Eckbo, Dan Kiley, and James Rose rebelled against the neo-classical design, conventions and theories of the time (20'-30s). They were influenced by modernist architectural ideals of simplicity, function, scale, and unity. Modern landscape architecture gained prominence from these early landscape architects and others that collaborated and followed, like Tommy Church, Lawrence Halprin, and others. 

Most of the post-war housing boom hatched a host of ranch and split-level homes, tract communities built by builders and developers eager to meet the suburban demand. Aside from the landscapes designed by notable landscape architects, like those mentioned above, many post-war homes didn't have a thoughtfully-designed landscape. It was common to find street trees, a foundation hedge, and a slab of concrete in the back for a patio. Obviously there were exceptions, but builders seemingly "decorated" houses instead of creating outdoor spaces and experiences.  

a "this-century modern" landscape

As with most projects we work on here at PLAID collaborative, we research precedents, grapple with historical context, and study the architecture style of the buildings that often populate sites. The Wurster renovation was an opportunity to study previous mid-century landscapes and the work of influential designers in order to shape our understanding of what this landscape could be, and become. We established lines in the landscape with horizontal walls, steps, and long strips of plants. We raised the level of the back yard to create a flatter, usable terrace. We created entry and gathering areas with simple planes of bluestone and ipe. We controlled views with the strategic placement of fences and evergreen screens. We enhanced the night experience with an understated fire pit and accent lighting throughout.

We don't know if there is a clear definition of a "mid-century modern landscape" as there is with modern homes from this time period. What we do know, though, is that we created a modern landscape suitable for a modern, iconic architectural style. Although we were influenced by history and all of the titans of design before us, we think we created a "this-century modern landscape" with influences from mid-century masterpieces. We'd like to think our design is probably best appreciated while sitting in an Eames rocker, listening to Miles Davis with an Old Fashioned in hand.


Our new home

We have moved to east Brookside...a bigger space with more daylight and white walls to pin-up project work. If you are in the neighborhood, come by and say hello!

601 E. 63rd Street


Kansas City, MO 64110

Photo Aug 01, 10 28 26 AM.jpg

What makes a great client?

A few years ago I was dining with Bob, a friend and principal with a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm - one of the top in the US. Bob said, “You know Rick, what I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t achieve a great project without a great client.” I responded, ”Surely, given the ‘level’ of your projects, all of your clients are great?” He said, “Not exactly…while most have been great, an exciting project locale, dynamic program, and ample budget don’t always ensure a great client.” In our ensuing discussion, we compared notes on some of our clients, and discussed the traits of a great client. 

Clients typically possess a few common characteristics that the designer must understand if a truly successful collaboration is to be achieved:

  • Most clients aren’t involved with design/construction projects as part of their job…it’s a new frontier for them. The designer must be cognizant of this reality, and be thoughtful, and even educational, in their approach.
  • Projects require time, energy, and emotional investment, and can take considerable time away from the client’s daily routine. The design process must efficiently utilize the client’s valuable time.
  • Most clients aren’t trained in design, so the designer must express concepts and supporting information in a clear and logical fashion. 

Bob and I agreed that a great client… 

  • Is genuinely excited about collaborating with the project team to achieve something special;
  • Devotes the required time and energy; 
  • Understands that a successful project is dependent upon their thoughtful and timely input throughout the process; 
  • Trusts the design team, and appreciates their skill and commitment; and
  • Knows that a project requires foresight and vision. While short-term results are important, it’s often more about achieving long-term results that successfully serve companies and communities well into the future.

PLAID has been blessed with many great clients over the years, and we want to mention a few. We’ve collaborated with The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on the development of the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park for almost 30 years. Their staff is talented and enthusiastic, and committed to making their institution a wonderful and iconic place for Kansas City. 

A newer client, the City of Lenexa, exhibited the foresight to develop a centrally-located mixed-use civic center that integrates a pedestrian-friendly plan with a distinct design motif. Lenexa Civic Center (designed by PGAV and PLAID) will serve as a dynamic community hub and support Lenexa’s westward growth. 

The City of Raymore collaborated with the design team (DRAW and PLAID) to create Centerview, a new ‘civic building within a park.’ Currently under construction. Centerview embodies the City’s goals for community image, service, and sustainability, and will support a range of civic events and celebrations.

We greatly value all of our clients and collaborators (past, present, and future), and wish you a successful and prosperous 2017!    

Multi-Improvements for Multi-Family

Apartment complexes developed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s are present in many suburban communities. In their time, they were attractive and desirable living options. Fast-forward to today…age and minimal maintenance have taken a toll on many of these developments…they’re now a bit ‘long in the tooth.’ Vacancies are up, lease rates are down, and community perception is greatly eroded.  

Sundance Bay is a Salt Lake City-based real estate company that specializes in the acquisition, renovation, and management of multi-family housing developments. Their goals are to improve the communities in which they work while generating favorable returns on their investments. PLAID has collaborated with Sundance, and three outstanding Kansas City-based architects (el dorado, Gould Evans, and DRAW), on three local renovation projects

For each project, the architect provided design solutions that dramatically enhanced the visual character and curb appeal of the buildings, and improved the condition and function of the apartment units and interior spaces. Concurrently, PLAID prepared a series of recommendations for site improvements that upgraded the overall campus, enhanced outdoor spaces, and created dynamic outdoor clubhouse environments. 

Sundance saw potential where others saw problems. Their vision and investment, combined with the design team’s innovative thinking, resulted in three multi-family housing developments that are now up-to-date, in demand, and an asset to their communities. 

Old & New

We are not historians, archivists, or seekers of the next buried time capsule...but we kind of wish we were...

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Courtyard & Crops

PLAID collaborated with Bayer CropScience to upgrade their Administration Building courtyard. The design solution features a range of attractive, functional, and sustainable improvements that will result in a thoughtful and attractive outdoor space, and support both daily use and special events.

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The Glass Labyrinth

The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art's description of Robert Morris' Glass Labyrinth: In form and material this labyrinth is a departure from the more familiar circular and rectangular labyrinths of old. Triangulated and constructed of glass plate walls capped with bronze, it speaks to the present in the language of modern architecture and design–streamlined, dynamic, transparent, and elegant.

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