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VOL. 11 | NO. 25 | Saturday, June 23, 2018

Looney Ricks Kiss: Memphis-Grown Urbanism Spurs World-Class Design


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Crosstown Concourse, a gem of mixed-use urbanism and historic redevelopment, has recently been honored with a spate of awards for its design and innovation. These include the grand prize at the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Charter Awards, and the 2018 TN Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award. Additionally, Crosstown received the 2018 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, the highest level of LEED certification available.

(From left) Mike Sullivan, Frank Ricks and Krissy Buck Flickinger, all principals at Looney Ricks Kiss. The architecture firm has won many awards this year, including the grand prize at the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Charter Awards. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

The team behind this award-winning design is Memphis-based architecture firm Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK), which has expanded nationally since its founding in the early 1980s. What some Memphians consider a household name due to its contribution to Harbor Town and design of the ballpark district Downtown is also responsible for projects such as The Gulch, a mixed-use LEED-certified community located on the border of Nashville’s business district, as well as the complete transformation of an 1,100-acre Navy base into the new urbanist center of Baldwin Park Village in Orlando, FL.

“We were just thinking we’ll try this for a while and see if it works,” says Frank Ricks, one of the firm’s three founding partners. More than 30 years later, the firm continues to take on projects ranging from commercial to residential and across all scales with a passion for projects that focus on how human beings interact with and within a space.

“We don’t chase projects, but we do try to get involved in projects that have some sort of catalytic component,” says Ricks. “What started out as just a ballpark became a mixed-use, urban-redevelopment strategy that had a pretty significant role in elevating Downtown in the following years,” he added, speaking of the 25-acre development around Toyota Plaza.

The “Better Together” vision of Crosstown Concourse and its green design pairs well with the firm’s focus on a holistic approach to projects, which has been a niche of theirs from the beginning.

“We inherently fell into placemaking because of the integration of all of our disciplines,” said Mike Sullivan, the principal partner for the firm’s studio in Baton Rouge, La. “For us, it’s utilizing all the aspects and talents of our firm so that we’re touching every level of detail on a project. We’re creating place; we’re not just doing a building.”

Sullivan also credits the firm’s “growing up” in Memphis and its culture of collaboration with its ability to reach beyond the Delta. “We’re not just Memphis, we have a much deeper bench,” says Sullivan. “People are surprised when they see the number of whole communities that we’ve master-planned and participated in,” he says.

One of the ways LRK has been able to deepen its bench geographically is due to the collaborative effort of both the people that come to work at the firm and the culture that’s a part of every LRK studio, according to Sullivan. “There’s a Memphis influence in every one of our offices,” he said.

“Creating that strong sense of place is something that LRK has been doing since day one,” said Krissy Flickinger, an LRK sustainability expert who was responsible for the LEED Platinum certification of Crosstown and other projects nationally.

Flickinger, who worked on both The Hotel Chisca and The Tennessee Brewery adaptive-reuse projects in Memphis, sees them as interesting to consumers because of their history. “People really are seeking out buildings with character, and those buildings have great stories behind them,” says Flickinger. “It really coincides with people and the architecture industry as well,” she adds, noting that employees are looking to work for companies that have a social equity and environmental responsibility bent.

“Did we do it or did it just happen to us,” says Ricks, describing how LRK developed a passion for making spaces good for people and the neighborhoods that surround them. “Every city, every neighborhood we work in, we’re learning about what people want and about the market,” he adds.

Crosstown Concourse, which holds the distinction of being the world’s largest LEED platinum building for historic adaptive reuse, is just one of the many large-scale projects benefiting from LRK’s integration of collaboration, innovation, and value creation in designing spaces. For Ricks, making places desirable and for a mixture of people are vital for building community.

“At the end of the day, it’s about what makes people want to be there,” says Ricks. “I feel like we’re not just drawing a building, we’re helping our clients decide what they want to do with the funds they have, and hopefully, we’re creating a better city, a better neighborhood, a better block.”

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