Imagine you have a thriving firm that offers you aesthetic and intellectual challenges on a regular basis. Your undertakings have ranged from institutional and retail work to residential projects—well received and highly regarded. Say you’re just about to celebrate a milestone anniversary. Now imagine that you want to shake things up. How do you do it? How does it all shake out? How do your clients, stakeholders and employees respond?
For Grant Kirkpatrick and Erik Evens, those hypotheticals recently became a reality. The Los Angeles–based pair have rethought their firm, KAA Design Group, and launched two separate studios—Kirkpatrick Architects and Evens Architects. The evolution occurred over the course of nearly two years, the outgrowth of a serious evaluation of how best to serve both their own interests and the goals and desires of their clients.
As Kirkpatrick puts it, “We both have become more interested in coming from our true core competencies.” In Evens case, it means projects with a classical look still adapted to the realities of modern living, while Kirkpatrick’s own focus is on “the warm contemporary arena,” he notes.
At the same time, and through years of experience, the architects had discovered that their clients tended to come to them with a set of design expectations already in place. “Our clients want someone who is a fire breather for what they want to do,” says Kirkpatrick. “The more we can immerse ourselves in a certain window of this business, the better our clients are being served.
After a bit of shock, the decision has been roundly supported on all sides. (Although a bit of convincing was needed initially for some. “I did get asked if we were breaking up,” says Kirkpatrick.) Within the firm, the ramifications of the transition are still being worked out. “A few key people ran up the flag one way or the other,” reports Evens. “Others are taking their time making their decision. We want them to land in a place that they feel strongly about. It will evolve in the next year or so.”
Despite the separation into two studios, says Kirkpatrick, “Fundamentally, we both believe in the same approach to good architecture—they follow the same script. We just travel different roads to get there.” The transition has also given both Evens and Kirkpatrick a new lease on their architectural lives. “We’ve never been more energized professionally,” Evens notes.