Published on May 13th, 2016 | by UC&D Magazine0
Temples to Casinos
As it celebrates No. 40, Salt Lake-based FFKR Architects is proud of its diverse, enviable portfolio of past, recent and current projects, while maintaining a firm eye on the future.
A common thread among successful firms operating within the A/E/C industry is the ability to work on a diverse range of projects. Firms who pigeonhole themselves into one or two primary markets place themselves at financial risk if those markets suddenly go belly up.
A company like Salt Lake-based FFKR Architects offers up a shining example of how diverse an architectural firm can actually get, with 120 staff members (including 49 licensed architects, 16 interior designers, and 3 landscape architects) working among 14 in-house design studios and a portfolio of work that includes everything from a majestic, pristine religious temple to a state-of-the-art, stylish casino/resort, and virtually every project type imaginable in between.
That diversity has buoyed the long- time, highly respected design firm – celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – through the years, even as it maintains a sharp focus on the future. As a constant reminder of the firm’s illustrious past (and present), a large wall on the main floor lists in chronological order every significant project the firm has designed over the past four decades.
“We are very diverse by nature,” said Roger Jackson, FAIA, a Senior Principal who joined the firm in 1984 and has served as President since 2012. “(40) is a big, round number. The significance for me is the wall, and the depth and breadth of the projects we’ve done through the years. I love to see that wall, to walk people past it and have them say, ”Oh, you did that project? I love that project.” We can bring clients in and say ”Here’s your building, here’s your building, here’s your building”…new clients can say, ”wow, (this firm has) done this breadth of work…we can trust them.”
“We move in a lot of different circles,” added Jeff Fisher, AIA, the longest tenured Senior Principal who has been with FFKR for 39 years, and worked in the architecture profession since 1972. “It’s been a blessing for us because we can touch different sources of revenue. One of our punch lines is we can design anything, and everything in between, although, the world makes a certain necessity out of specializing these days.”
“There are firms that really try to focus on one market,” Jackson continued. “We had a management consultant come talk to us last year and he wanted us to specialize on one thing we do really well, and unload other clients and projects. And we all pushed back and said ‘no’. We can be specialists in healthcare, in LDS temples, in retail projects…and we can have these areas of expertise all under the big umbrella.”
“The variety is exhilarating,” Fisher said. “You see an architect working on this type of project and share thoughts on it, and then you go to a different studio and it’s a whole different building type.”
Because of the diversity of our work, our people get the opportunity to participate in a variety of projects; for example, a designer might start out in the healthcare studio, become immersed in that discipline, and then take their expertise to a different studio and discover a whole new exciting approach.
The firm has had a total of 25 principals in its 40-year history; five have retired, one passed away, and three other left for other firms. Of the 16 current Principals, six are Senior Principals, the other 10 are Junior.
“There is quite a significance of longevity among the six senior partners,” said Fisher, noting that each has been with the firm for over 30-plus years, with more than 200 years combined experience among the group.
Combining Two Firms into One
The genesis of FFKR Architects is both interesting and unique. According to Jackson and Fisher, In 1972 The Utah Governor’s Commission selected Robert A. Fowler Architects to design the new Salt Lake City Arts Center, and Symphony Hall. Frank Ferguson, a former employee whose firm, Enteleki Design had also sought the projects, sent Mr. Fowler a note of congratulations. Fowler Architects then invited Ferguson and his firm to collaborate on the projects. The project was so successful Robert A. Fowler Architects and Enteleki subsequently merged and became Fowler, Ferguson, Kingston, and Ruben Architects. (the firm was reorganized in 1984 as FFKR Architects).
Jeff Fisher joined the firm shortly thereafter, and other architects gradually were folded into the mix.
“I worked most closely with Joe Ruben and Ray Kingston,” said Fisher. “Joe was doing schools and got into retail projects. When we did the Skaggs Alpha Beta Corporate Headquarters at the International Center, that’s how I got into (the) grocery store (market).”
Of the four original partners, three are still alive (Joe Ruben died in January 1993 at age 57 from cancer), and Robert (Bob) Fowler and Frank Ferguson still come into the office from time to time. Jackson and Fisher say their former mentors are impressed with how well the firm is doing.
“They’re amazed we can handle it,” laughed Jackson.
“We try and pay appropriate homage to their legacy,” said Fisher. “We’re proud of the integrity we’ve brought to this industry. We have tried to treat people fairly. One of the things we’re really proud of here is the succession the original partners put into place. We’ve tried to emulate that with our newer people.”
The six senior partners currently own approximately 80% of firm’s stock, but transition plans are firmly in place for the next wave of senior principals.
“There are firms who struggle with the transition of ownership,” added Jackson. “Sometimes they die – we’ve seen two good (local) firms close their doors this year. They didn’t have a vision or plan for the future. Fowler set up a system that would…keep this thing going.”
“We’ve worked hard at not changing, maybe to our detriment,” said Fisher. “For the most part we treat our associates like we want to be treated. The ‘Big 4’ (the original founders) were a little autocratic – four very different people. We’ve developed something special as a result of getting along.”
Diverse Clients and Projects
FFKR’s 14 different studios illustrate its ability to design virtually any project type in any market – public, private, and everything in between. Having this type of diversity under one roof allows architects to bounce ideas off each other seamlessly. It also highlights that a firm can be diverse, yet be ‘specialists’ in a particular arena at the same time.
“We cross pollinate ideas all the time – that’s one of our great strengths,” said Jackson. “Our people that work on temples can help out with higher education projects. Things we have learned about the hospitality industry helps with multi- family projects. We’re all so visual and creative – to be able to share ideas in an open, collaborative environment is incredibly important to our entire firm.”
Clients appreciate that diversity, said Fisher, along with the fact that the firm considers every project to be as important as the next one.
Other long-time, clients over the years include the LDS Church, The Larry Miller Group, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the University of Utah, and Intermountain Healthcare.
Fisher said Miller was an interesting client to work for, one who was highly engaged and very thoughtful about the projects he was investing in. The Delta Center – completed in 1991 – stands as one of the firm’s most iconic projects, and ultimately led to the design of other sports facilities including the Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah. and the Stueckle Sky Center and Stadium Addition at Boise State University. The firm designed more than 65 projects for Miller over two-plus decades.
Besides Abravanel Hall, other prominent projects include the Provo City Center Temple (UC&D’s Most Outstanding Project of 2015), the SLCC Larry Miller campus, the Rio Tinto Regional Center (the first LEED Platinum building in Utah), the LDS Salt Lake Tabernacle Renovation, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the BYU-Idaho Center, the Salt Lake Hardware Building Renovation, and Olympus High School Replacement. Current significant designs on the FFKR Boards include the Health Sciences Transformation Project at the University of Utah and the Provo High School Replacement.