Launch Slideshow

thinking & making

el dorado forges ahead with hands-on design.

thinking & making

el dorado forges ahead with hands-on design.

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    The firm added rainscreen-clad veritcal circulation area and rooftop sunroom to this adaptive reuse home with a ground-floor restaurant. The new wood elements provide a strong contrast to the existing brick.

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    The new wood elements provide a strong contrast to the existing brick.

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    The firm added a rainscreen-clad vertical circulation area and rooftop sunroom to this adaptive reuse home with a ground-floor restaurant.

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    Kenny Johnson

    The five principals at el dorado—David Dowell, Douglas Stockman, Jamie Darnell, Dan Maginn, and Josh Shelton—gather in the doorway of their steel workshop in Kansas City, Mo.

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    The concrete structure of 5 Delaware Lofts, a 2005 condo project with 12 residential units and one retail unit in Kansas City, Mo., conveys an impression of solidity and permanence. Pared-down detailing – a favorite el dorado strategy – provides an elegan

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    Work by el dorado often uses translucent surfaces, such as the channel glass at this custom house in Kansas City, Mo., to diffuse and soften natural light.

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    el dorado

    Green roofs top an unbuilt courtyard housing project designed for a competition. "We're doing more competitions as a way to get outside ourselves a little bit," says principal David Dowell.

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    el dorado

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    The Holbrook Loft features exposed wood ceilings and an el dorado-made staircase of glass and steel.

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    Deep overhangs shelter outdoor spaces during sudden Midwestern rainstorms.

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    It's housed inside the W Lofts, a Kansas City, Mo., adaptive reuse project also designed by the firm.

The “shared language of details” mentioned by Maginn varies according to project type. For the most part, el dorado is a generalist firm that designs everything from residences to restaurants to storage facilities. Adaptive reuse of Kansas City's downtown turn-of-the-century buildings made up much of the firm's early work—and still constitutes a significant part of its repertoire. “What's fun about adaptive reuse is that it inherently is a really green thing to do,” Stockman says. “You're finding new ways to inject vibrancy into buildings whose past use is no longer relevant. It's fun trying to understand what the building has to offer.” He and the other principals and staffers like to position new pieces in ways that highlight the existing parts of a structure. And they look for ways to offer private outdoor spaces to residents, who are often moving into the city from the suburbs and are used to having their own yards and gardens.

collective thought

The firm's adaptive reuse work has led to commissions for new multifamily buildings, usually surrounded by a built context that it addresses in a thorough but abstract fashion. “Our new infill respects the neighborhood in terms of form, scale, materiality, and use,” Stockman says. Other design tenets the group holds dear include keeping floor plans as straightforward as possible, using constraints as a springboard for innovation, and bringing artists in to collaborate when appropriate. “They're in tune with the idea of using the profession of an artist as they would use engineers or anyone else,” says James Woodfill, a Kansas City artist who often teams with el dorado. The five principals even agree on the kinds of details they'll frequently use, from translucent surfaces for borrowing light to a built-in they've dubbed a “fatty”—a wide storage cabinet accessed from both sides.

One of the firm's biggest strengths is its ability to keep reassessing itself and its work. “They're all about the whole thinking/making thing,” says Fayetteville, Ark.-based architect Marlon Blackwell, AIA, who has known el dorado's principals for years. “They'll think it and they'll make it, and they'll rethink it and make it again.” They've also developed a studio “constitution” that evolves from year to year as a document against which the partners and staff can measure priorities and performance. “Pushing a shared language forward, design or otherwise, requires a critical evaluation of what works well and what is no longer working,” Shelton says.

This desire to continue evolving has spurred el dorado to start pursuing work on regional and national levels as well. But no matter how far they end up going (both metaphorically and literally), they'll always come back to the workshop. Though the task of fabricating items for clients falls mostly to staff members now, the principals still use the shop to work on their own personal metalworking projects. Says Maginn, with typical el dorado frankness: “Making something slaps you in the face and tells you to keep the design simple.”

vital statistics

principals: Dan Maginn, AIA, LEED AP; Jamie Darnell, AIA, LEED AP; Douglas Stockman; David Dowell; and Josh Shelton

location: Kansas City, Mo.

number of employees: 16

years in business: 12

current projects: Aron/Levin Residence, Fairway, Kan.; Rivermarket Townhomes, Kansas City, Mo.; Vehicle Impound Facility, Kansas City, Mo.

education: The University of Kansas; Kansas State University; Kansas City Art Institute; Washington University in St. Louis; Tulane University; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and University of California, Berkeley