Architecture & Design

‘All boats rise’ at architectural firm

TowerPinkster said healthy economy has allowed firm to add and strengthen services, diversify reach.

October 27, 2017
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When TowerPinkster opened in 1953 with six employees, it focused on health care projects. As the economy has dipped and peaked, the architectural firm has diversified to reach more sectors.

With offices in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, the firm now has 112 West Michigan employees. Its 2016 gross billings were $18.5 million, up from $12 million in 2015.

Bjorn Green, president and CEO, said when the economy is strong, the firm’s clients in the health care, K-12, higher education, government and commercial sectors are able to invest more in capital improvement projects.

“It’s been across-the-board growth,” he said.

This summer, the firm expanded its downtown Grand Rapids office at 4 E. Fulton St.; built out the first floor; hired 10 members in various departments; and added a structural engineering department in addition to its mechanical and electrical engineering, interior design, landscape architecture, master planning and general architecture services.

TowerPinkster’s commercial business has been growing the fastest, Green said.

“Commercial is a bit of a wide band of different types of projects, from mixed-use to true retail to corporate office to financial projects for banks. We’ve grown that market sector over the last decade or so,” he said. “The other four have been growing, as well. We try to raise all boats.”

The firm has increased the size of its interior design team to support demand for renovations.

“We’re finding more interior renovation projects to do, like Greenleaf Trust,” Green said.

Green said post-recession, capital investments are on the upswing at several West Michigan colleges and universities.

He called the $32-million science building under construction at Aquinas College an “exciting” project for TowerPinkster.

“They are going to increase the size of their science program and facility to have a 21st-century delivery of science,” he said. “We worked on their campus master plan back in 2015, and the outgrowth of that was the chapel that opened (recently) and the improvements to the college entry. Now, the science building is underway.”

Health care also has seen a rebound in development, he said.

“Health care took a dip when the federal government started getting more involved in the delivery model and … the hospitals had to invest in electronic infrastructure to convert records,” he said.

“Now, it’s resurging. For us, it’s been more outpatient-related projects, rather than inpatient,” such as the Spectrum Health Rockford Ambulatory Center in Rockford, Green said.

TowerPinkster also is working on Grand Rapids Public Schools’ City High/Middle School and Union High School; the state of Michigan DMVA New Veterans Housing project; Byron Center Public Schools districtwide improvements; and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport security checkpoint and marketplace.

On the sustainability front, Green said companies are looking to “move beyond LEED,” or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, toward a more basic approach.

“We have some clients moving away from the certification because (they) just want buildings to be sustainable. Another certification that’s popular is the Energy Star rating. But some clients are more interested in the dollars and cents rather than the actual rating of the building,” he said.

He cited a recent project at Western Michigan University.

“We converted the old East Hall building into Heritage Hall Alumni Center. It was their oldest building on campus. When it was dormant — only heated to make sure the pipes didn’t freeze — it was using the most energy for its size of any building on campus. Now, it’s the lowest consumer of energy on their entire campus.”

Although the building did secure LEED Platinum certification, Green said the university’s main focus was on the outcome, rather than the certification.

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