Anticipate the future: This stands as a defining principle for Kansas City, Mo.’s BNIM. Over its 40-year history, Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell has amassed a diverse portfolio of regional and national projects, winning more than 350 awards for design, planning, and leadership. Two national AIA presidents—as well as six local chapter presidents—have come from within its ranks. During the late 1980s and 1990s, members of the firm were catalysts in the formation of the AIA’s Committee on the Environment (COTE) and the U.S. Green Building Council, plus LEED and other sustainability standards.

With 17 LEED Platinum projects, one of the first-ever living buildings to its name, and its efforts to create the first carbon-neutral communities and campuses in the world, BNIM continues to innovate, pushing boundaries with a sustainable, integrated approach that embraces the concept of regenerative design. Here’s a look at some of the firm’s milestones of this century so far, and where it’s headed next.

David & Lucile Packard Foundation Sustainability Report and Matrix, Los Altos, Calif., 2001

“What if?” BNIM’s leaders asked their clients at the Packard Foundation this question. What if building performance could go well beyond LEED, with zero negative impact on the environment, while setting a completely new standard for energy efficiency?

Created during the goal-setting process for the foundation’s proposed new headquarters, the Sustainability Report and Matrix examines six levels of design—from Market Building to LEED Platinum and beyond—offering a more holistic understanding of land, water, and energy consumption. Equally important, this new tool outlined the broader implications of each design scenario, including the source of materials and environmental and societal costs, as well as the impact of a building over the next 100 years.

BNIM’s Packard Matrix presented a compelling case for new green building technologies and laid the groundwork for the Living Building concept (the Living Building Challenge was launched in 2006). “We wanted to move beyond energy efficiency, to look at biodiversity and human health and productivity and, ultimately, the idea of a living system that would restore the environment,” recalls Bob Berkebile, FAIA.

Bannister Federal Complex, Kansas City, Mo., 2004

BNIM’s dynamic renovation transformed two bays of this dark WWII-era warehouse into a colorful, light-filled work environment for the Federal Supply Service (FSS). A new atrium and skylights introduce daylight into the 18,000-square-foot regional office, and individual work areas benefit from an underfloor air-displacement system to improve comfort. Today, the FSS reports dramatic productivity gains among employees since opening the office, with an 80 percent reduction in back orders and 60 percent faster fulfillment of new orders.

BNIM’s long tradition of adaptive reuse extends from the St. Louis Old Post Office (1983) to Kansas City’s Folly Theater (1974–2000) and Union Station (1999) and the corporate offices of Kansas City Power & Light (2009), a LEED Gold interior renovation where energy performance improved by more than 40 percent. “We try to identify what’s really important: what represents the cultural memory of a building or group of buildings,” notes Steve McDowell, FAIA. “Only then do we look for ways to integrate high performance and contemporary sustainable thinking within that historic fabric.”

Lewis and Clark State Office Building, Jefferson City, Mo., 2005

Reminiscent of the limestone bluffs overlooking the Missouri River, this 120,000-square-foot headquarters for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources serves as a green building prototype for the state to showcase a wide array of affordable, replicable design strategies. Despite a restrictive state budget, already two years out of date when the project launched, extensive team collaboration elevated the building from LEED Gold to LEED Platinum.

At Lewis and Clark, BNIM used an integrated design process to achieve high building performance levels—a process that typically relies on input from all stakeholders, including consultants, contractors, clients, and even nontraditional participants such as botanists and artists, to guide design decisions. The firm reinforces this practice on every project.

“We know now that you can’t achieve true sustainable design without bringing everyone to the table, by listening to their voices early,” says Laura Lesniewski, AIA. “No one knows as much as everyone.”

Greensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Master Plan, Greensburg, Kan., 2008

In the aftermath of an F-5 tornado that leveled 90 percent of their rural Kansas town, the citizens of Greensburg rethought their streets, schools, homes, and businesses as a model green community. The BNIM-led sustainable comprehensive master plan and Main Street Streetscape draw on innovative stormwater management, material use, and energy-efficiency measures. The firm’s contributions also include a new LEED Platinum K–12 school for the city, an AIA COTE award winner this year.

Revitalizing communities affected by disaster is a fundamental tenet of BNIM’s planning work. After assisting with the relocation of two Mississippi River towns following the Great Flood of 1993, its sustainable disaster-response and recovery efforts extended from New Orleans (2005) to Haiti (2010), Nashville (2010), and now the flood-prone city of Fargo, N.D.

“By engaging the entire community in a collaborative dialogue, they were able to create their own vision, to generate unique opportunities for change they never knew were possible,” Berkebile says.

Omega Center for Sustainable Living, Rhinebeck, N.Y., 2009

As a design statement on water—understanding, reclaiming, treating, and using it wisely—the Omega Center succeeds powerfully. BNIM incorporated an Eco Machine for primary treatment of wastewater, as well as a water garden and constructed wetland. Housed within a 6,200-square-foot building, this biological system serves as a vital teaching tool to educate Omega visitors on water issues. The facility received both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certification.

Beyond Omega, BNIM continues to press for next-generation practices within the profession—accelerating the adoption of net-zero architecture, whole systems and citywide planning, and regenerative design thinking.

“We need to take responsibility for figuring how to achieve these remarkable feats in energy and water performance, as well as considering economics, nature, and the overall well-being of the people who are going to use these buildings and places,” McDowell says. “As designers, we can redefine our practice and lead that change.”