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February 2009
Diversified Design
By Janet Kropinak
   Fueled by a desire for independence, hands-on involvement with clients and financial security, Tyke Jenkins and Joddy Peer combined their vision and talent in 1978 to form Jenkins-Peer Architects. At 36 and 35 respectively, the ambitious duo set out to make their mark on Charlotte and to redefine “architectural firm” in their own terms.

     From their office in Charlotte’s historic Tryon Plaza, a building they are currently renovating in the heart of Center City, Jenkins and Peer proudly tell the story of the firm they’ve created, the role it’s played in shaping Charlotte’s growth, and the team they’ve assembled to carry its legacy forward.

     It was their aligned vision and complementary backgrounds that helped Jenkins-Peer get off the ground running. Both N.C. State graduates, Jenkins had a strong background in development while Peer had a focus on corporate and institutional design.

     This combination created the diverse platform for the firm’s practice. Jenkins-Peer has designed projects throughout the Southeast including classrooms, science and research facilities, performing arts centers, libraries, office/retail, industrial/warehouse, multifamily residential and places of worship.

 

Strategic Transitions

     Both Jenkins and Peer chose Charlotte as the best location to grow an architectural firm, recognizing the city’s exponential growth and great potential.

As the firm grew in size and reputation, the partners also had the foresight to develop an ownership transition plan. Although not a common practice in architectural firms, it offered a significant advantage in hiring and recruiting talent.

     Peer explains, “Architects are always bumping against the ceiling. We were looking to create a pathway for professional growth and an opportunity to share in the firm’s future.”

     “We constantly strive to hire people with great potential,” chimes in Jenkins as he glances across the table at the firm’s newest partners, Ben Benson and Victor Jones. The two will take ownership of the firm under the terms of a five-year transition plan which was implemented in 2006.

     Similar to Jenkins and Peer, Benson and Jones are North Carolina-bred N.C. State graduates, however spent time with New York City firms after college; experience that Peer says has benefited the firm.

     Benson reflects back to what drew him to Jenkins-Peer nearly 15 years ago. “I found the work at Jenkins-Peer to be most in line with what I wanted to be doing,” he explains. “It felt like important work—work that was really making a difference.”

     A few years later, Jones joined the firm after an extensive search throughout North Carolina. “I was taken with the urban environment Jenkins-Peer offered,” he recalls. “I felt that there was a real mutual attraction between myself and the firm; it was a natural fit.”

     Jones continues: “Coming from New York City, Charlotte appealed to me because it’s truly a developer-friendly city and a place where you can thrive as a regional architect.”

 

Core Principles

     Jenkins-Peer focuses its business practice around the principles of quality and cost control, sustainable design, and diversification.

     Since the beginning, diversification has been a cornerstone of its practice, an approach they credit with helping them weather the current economic downturn.

     “We’ve created a balance that has allowed us to get through difficult times,” Peer says. This balance includes a mix of educational, corporate, cultural, residential and industrial projects.

     “A lot of our success is tied to our agility and our ability to adapt to the marketplace,” Jones adds. In addition to financial success, it also affords a rich work environment for architects and keeps the work interesting for everyone, including the founding principals.

     By delegating management responsibilities to senior members of the firm, Jenkins and Peer have been able to remain architects and are proud to say their job entails much more than office administration. “Our priority has always been to maintain the principals’ hands-on involvement,” says Peer.

     Jenkins-Peer is also proud of their commitment to sustainable design, a concept they have practiced since 1983, long before the U.S. Green Building Council developed their LEED design criteria.

     Today, Jenkins-Peer practices the entire spectrum of sustainable design opportunities—from site topography and building orientation, to sun angles and air circulation, to construction materials and methodology. Sustainability uses the natural environment to enhance the built environment, resulting in reduced operating costs over the life of the facility.

     Perhaps the most compelling feature, though, of the firm’s practice is their promise of delivering a quality product at an economical price.

     Jenkins clarifies: “It is quite simple—quality without value isn’t really much of a value.” Thus the firm implements flexible design in each of their projects, providing for a cost-efficient project now and in the future when renovations may be necessary.

 

Diversified Portfolio

     Since the firm’s inception, Jenkins-Peer has been helping colleges and universities create environments that stimulate learning, incorporate the latest technology, and provide on-going flexibility to meet the future’s changing needs.

     Their client list continues to grow and includes members of the North Carolina and South Carolina University Systems as well as private colleges and universities. The firm is currently active on projects for Central Piedmont Community College, Davidson College, N.C. State University, UNC Greensboro, UNC School of the Arts, and UNC Wilmington.

     Recently Jenkins-Peer completed a renovation of Davidson College’s Chambers Building, the school’s main academic facility, which required a complex phasing plan implemented over a three-year period.

     David Holthouser, director of facilities and engineering, remarks on Jenkins-Peer’s handling of the project: “I was most impressed by the design and construction team’s ability to devise four phases for the total project, allowing the college to maintain occupancy of the balance of the building during each phase. As Chambers Building is home to 75 percent of our faculty offices and academic classrooms, and we had few means of shifting those functions elsewhere even temporarily. It was fundamental to keep a majority of the facility in service throughout the project.”

     Another notable project was the renovation of the 82-year-old Frank Thompson Building at N.C. State.

     “Planning for the renovation of an aged but venerable building was a complex and difficult task,” explains Alex Miller, associate vice chancellor. “But Jenkins-Peer managed the process with great skill, ability and sensitivity. They preserved and respected the beauty and history of this wonderful building while designing spaces that will serve our needs in the future.”

     In addition to educational facilities, Jenkins-Peer has designed corporate offices, R&D centers and light manufacturing facilities for both Fortune 500 companies and prominent commercial developers. The 470,000-square-foot Venture Center complex on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus was the first public/private development in the Carolinas. This cooperative model is now being implemented on research campuses throughout the Carolinas and remains a strong component of Jenkins-Peer’s portfolio.

     Although residential work represents a smaller sector of their business, Jenkins-Peer understands that, while their design style may vary widely, the significance of “home” remains constant. Whether it’s a high-rise condominium or a family vacation home, student housing or senior living, they design places that people enjoy going home to.

     But for Jenkins-Peer Architects, one of the most rewarding areas of practice is their community and cultural projects, which connect to the spirit of our community in a variety of ways—through landmarks, libraries, museums, theaters, performance centers and places of worship.

     After the successful completion of the Mountain Island Branch Library, a 16,000-square-foot facility that reflects the community’s relationship with the natural environment, the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County asked the firm to consult on its 10-year facilities plan.

     Benson explains their role: “It’s interesting to be involved early-on in a project. An important aspect of our job is helping people plan for the future; this is part of our commitment to our clients.”

     One of the most exciting projects Jenkins-Peer currently has underway is with the Wachovia/Wells Fargo Corporate Investment Bank and the Wake Forest Babcock Graduate School of Management, which will share a 60,000-square-foot space on the third floor of the bank’s new 50-story Corporate Center.

     Jenkins-Peer is working with both organizations to create state-of-the-art offices, classrooms and conferencing spaces. This collaborative, interactive and flexible environment will enhance creative, innovative teaching and learning with unparalleled technology and design.

     The project has targeted LEED Gold certification as part of a larger initiative to make the Corporate Center the largest LEED Gold-certified building between New York City and Atlanta.

 

Design for the Client

     Amidst the economic slowdown, the partners of Jenkins-Peer feel fortunate to be here in the Queen City and remain dedicated to helping the city and the region through these hard times.

     With opportunities in other regions of the country more limited, Jenkins-Peer has witnessed a flood of firms competing for projects here in Charlotte and throughout the Carolinas. In spite of the increased competition, they remain optimistic and true to the design philosophy that has served as the firm’s foundation for over 30 years: design for the client.

     The firm has worked hard over the years to maintain a strong client focus, avoiding any identifiable “Jenkins-Peer style.”

     “One of the most important things for us to remember is that our job, first and foremost, is that we are designing for the client,” Jenkins affirms.

     Peer echoes his thoughts: “It’s our job to help them quantify their vision, and the only way to do that is to understand what the tangible goals of the project are and do all the necessary research before we go to the drawing table.”

     Davidson’s David Holthouser weighs in: “Jenkins Peer delivered premium service in their projects at Davidson College. They were very respectful of the existing campus’ architectural context, and designed projects for us that blend in and feel as if they have existed throughout time.”

     On what the future holds, Jenkins and Peer defer to their younger counterparts: “We plan to keep an emphasis on our core principles,” answers Benson. “And we’ll continue to work hard to find good talent and reward them accordingly because they are the ones who are fueling the company’s growth.”

     Jones chimes in: “We as a firm are committed to and invested in the Charlotte community and its future success.” He adds that the feedback received on a project and the contribution it makes to the community is what truly motivates any good architect.

     “Our strength as a team comes from our common vision and values,” Benson adds. “Our strengths are very complementary, creating a cohesive working team. We appreciate the expertise and value that each brings to the table and work together on everything.”

     Moving forward Jenkins-Peer will continue to offer total solutions to their clients, from planning to development and design, and vow to remain tenacious in a competitive market.

     “We will continue to build on our great client base,” comments Jones. “There’s nothing more rewarding than doggedly pursuing what’s in the best interest of your client and being appreciated for it.”

     And it appears this approach is paying off with their clients. Alex Miller weighs in: “It is with complete confidence that I can say any client would be fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Jenkins-Peer Architects.”

     In fact, when asked about a favorite project, the partners answer enthusiastically and almost in unison: “The next one!”

Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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