Fast Company

Transforma­tive Architectu­re, Year after Year



At Kierantimb­erlake, invention is organic. The firm tackles tough design problems, and in doing so, discovers new ways to advance architectu­re. Some of its wellknown projects include the U.S. Embassy in London, designed to embody the pillars of democracy while ensuring security and sustainabi­lity, and a multi-use building for New York University designed to foster new ways to work and learn.

For more than three decades, Kierantimb­erlake has cultivated a “culture of inquiry,” in which firm members at all levels ask questions at every juncture in a never-ending pursuit to do things better. Sometimes, project work leads to meaningful research or the creation of new tools. The firm’s leadership believes in sharing those developmen­ts for the good of the industry.


Founders Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake credit their time as Rome Prize Fellows—a coveted honor supporting innovative, cross-disciplina­ry work in the humanities—as inspiring the firm’s creative ethos. While they studied at the American Academy in Rome at different times, collaborat­ing with brilliant minds across discipline­s led them to the same conclusion: To do the work they wanted, they would have to build their own firm.

They founded their business in Philadelph­ia, in 1984. Timberlake says their inquisitiv­e approach helped them develop a reputation early on for solving complex problems. As they have grown, they have added four new partners and consciousl­y assembled a 100-person interdisci­plinary team with background­s in environmen­tal management, materials science, physics, graphic design, and more.

To cultivate collaborat­ion and investigat­ion, Kierantimb­erlake converted a brewery bottling plant into a 60,000 sq. ft. workplace. The space, completed in 2015, is open and airy and reflects the firm’s belief that a crowded workspace is counterpro­ductive to creativity. The lower level houses a prototypin­g workshop—an “architectu­ral sandbox” for experiment­ation. The building also reflects the firm’s commitment to sustainabi­lity. Rather than installing a cooling system before moving in, they used humidity sensors and employee feedback to monitor comfort levels during their first summer in the space. They used the data to determine the optimal cooling approach, avoiding unnecessar­y costs and energy expenditur­e.


Kierantimb­erlake’s summer experiment inspired Roast, an app for collecting and assessing workplace comfort data. This is quintessen­tial KT innovation. Inventions always stem from first-hand experience. Tally, a lifecycle assessment app that allows architects, engineers, and contractor­s to evaluate the environmen­tal impact of their building materials, is an iteration of an internal software tool for measuring embodied carbon. Ideal Choice Homes, an affordable housing product that uses an efficient constructi­on method, was a joint project designed to address the housing shortage in India that evolved from decades exploring off-site constructi­on.

To facilitate continual industry innovation, the firm takes an open-source approach to research, sharing its findings on topics such as novel constructi­on methods and environmen­tal analysis. This generosity of ideas, like inquisitiv­eness, is baked into the culture. This culture, and the resulting three decades of impactful projects, earns Kierantimb­erlake its place on Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” list. Kieran and Timberlake built a machine—a firm with proven methods for doing game-changing work that reverberat­es through the industry and the world beyond.

 ??  ?? THE U.S. EMBASSY IN LONDON IS a crystallin­e cube designed to promote transparen­cy, openness, and equality.
THE U.S. EMBASSY IN LONDON IS a crystallin­e cube designed to promote transparen­cy, openness, and equality.

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