David Dowell, AIA, graciously cites el dorado’s home base of Kansas City, Mo., as a major factor in the firm’s success. “It’s been a very stable, supportive market,” he says, noting that the area’s variable weather and relatively modest budgets have taught him and co-principals Dan Maginn, AIA, Josh Shelton, AIA, and Douglas Stockman much about cost-effective, climate-appropriate design. Those skills have served them well over the past 15 years, helping them gain commissions for private houses, adaptive reuse buildings, and a host of other project types.

The company is known for fabricating architectural details in its own metal shop, and has started doing design/build projects in addition to architecture-only work. The firm also has delved into affordable housing, which dovetails nicely with its background in market-rate multifamily.

To date, el dorado’s sensitive, site-specific designs have gained it regional and national acclaim. The Architectural League of New York chose the firm as one of its “Emerging Voices” for 2008—the same year the American Institute of Architects’ Kansas City chapter named it Firm of the Year. But the principals aren’t letting the attention go to their heads; they still treat each job with intensity and good humor. “Regardless of the scale or type of housing, I think we approach the project with the same level of enthusiasm,” Stockman says.

What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?

Douglas Stockman: Constantly rethinking how dwellings can work.

David Dowell: Getting to know our clients really well. And/or their children and extended family.

What is the most frustrating aspect?

DS: Clients or developers who are not open-minded.

DD: The reality of how much things cost and most people’s sense that, somehow, this reality need not apply to them. Also, certain trends, like repurposed shipping containers as houses, always have potential and a place. I can’t begin to tell you how many clients, friends and family have been shocked to learn that such an approach is: 1) not always cost-effective and 2) possibly more complex than simple in terms of construction.

What is your mission statement or firm goal?

DS & DD: Officially it is: “We don’t have a mission statement.” Not to be flippant, but mission statements are often like metaphors. They create an illusion of understanding or focus. We’re not fond of illusions. Our rallying call is, “Do good work.” Sounds like, “Go west, young man.” Only for architects. Wait! That’s a metaphor.

What is the most indispensable tool in your office?

DS & DD: Collective fun-making and humor. And the steel shop.

What software does your firm use?

DS & DD: Vectorworks, Revit, Form Z, Rhino, SketchUp, InDesign, Basecamp (for good team collaboration), pencils and pens.

Who is your ideal client?

DS & DD: Someone who is curious and does not start the design process with a pre-determined outcome in mind. Someone who asks unexpected questions and who is willing to accept the answers.

What is your favorite building?

DS: Salk Institute (building), Piazza del Campo in Siena (place).

DD: I like the Pantheon. And the Eames House. In Kansas City, the Bloch Building... and Liberty Memorial, the National WWI Museum. Both are exceptionally beautiful at night. Your readers should come see them.

If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire? DS: All other three eldo partners, collaborating.

DD: Yikes! Is money an issue? If no, then John Pawson (my wife would like this answer). Maybe Sou Fujimoto (my wife wouldn’t understand this answer). If yes, I’d hold a limited, by-invitation-only international competition and only invite my partners. But they’d have to do it on a trade-for-services basis.