Kansas City was blessed with two significant architectural design innovation breakthrough project in the last third of the 20th century, with both coming from the same architectural tree—the firm of Kivett and Myers.

One design innovation was Kauffman Stadium (nee Royals Stadium) and its fraternal twin at the Truman Sports Complex, Arrowhead Stadium, set the standard for modern sports design. The Kansas City firms attached to Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium made Kansas City ground zero for architectural design innovation in sports stadiums, ballparks, and arenas. Hardly a major sports stadium or arena gets built globally without a Kansas City architecture firm being involved or being the benchmark against which other firms are judged.

Source: Kansas City Aviation Department

The other architectural design innovation breakthrough was Kansas City International Airport (KCI). After it opened (also in the early ‘70s), it became the model for airports from Dallas to Germany to France to South America. Kansas City International Airport was designed on a “drive to your gate” concept that allowed departing local passengers to have as little as a 75 foot walk from the vehicle depositing them on the terminal curb to the entrance to the airport jet way.

As a result, if you live in Kansas City, you love Kansas City International Airport. If, on the other hand, you have connected through Kansas City, you probably hate it. With the advent of enhanced security, what was once an architectural design innovation is now a struggle if you have to change planes—much less, airlines–or to find any amenities if you have to layover.

When Innovation Outlives Itself

In the case of the sports stadiums, when they began to show their age and fell behind the amenities offered at newer sports stadiums, the voters and the Kansas City sports teams decided to invest more than $500 million and update. But they stayed true to the original design innovation breakthrough concept.

Kansas City International Airport, however, faces a more difficult decision. Many Kansas City locals still love it, but it has too many buildings (and too many gates), an increasingly outmoded security system for passengers and baggage, significant environmental issues, and a challenge to offer the conveniences out-of-town flyers expect.

What KCI does have is the visionaries who built it in the first place being willing to call for another architectural design innovation, saying, “Do something different.”

At a roundtable discussion on KCI, Past, Present and Future, Bob Berkebile lead designer for KCI, and Hanan Kivett, nephew of Clarence Kivett and a former architect with Kivett and Myers during the construction of KCI, both said it was time for the city to move on.

Berkebile challenged the architects of the city to come up with something even better, even more innovative, “It’s a new opportunity to celebrate Kansas City.”

Looking Ahead for Another Innovation Breakthrough

That is likely the mark of a true innovator, someone who does not live in the past, but recognizes when it is necessary to search for the next defining innovation. – Barrett Sydnor

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4 Responses to “When a Design Innovation Breakthrough Outlives Itself”

  1. Eric says:

    As a resident of the Kansas City area, I strongly disagree with the premise of this article. Kansas City International (KCI) airport is one of the ten most popular airports in the United States with business travelers, Check
    http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-best-airports-in-america-2010-2?op=1. KCI is not a hub for any airline, which means it has low fares, and is usually a travelers beginning and end point – and not a transfer point. We are the 32nd largest airport in the US, and #76 in ticket prices!

    Having read propaganda for years about how this fast, efficient, and inexpensive airport needs to be redesigned and rebuilt, I think the driver is profits for the airport operators, airlines, etc. – not the needs of KC and other air travelers.

    • JD says:

      How can you say that it is a popular airport. I fly all over the nation and kci is the biggest piece of shit airport there is. KC should be embarrassed. Old, run down, dirty, ineffeciant, obsolete. Tear it down to attract more business or at least make this miserable town at least look like it gives a damn.

      • Eric says:

        Is it fun to be rude and anonymous? To answer your question ‘how can you say that (sic) it is a popular airport”, just read the citation I provided in my comments. Business travelers gave only ten airports in the US the top score for overall satisfaction, and Kansas City International was one of them!

        “J.D. Power and Associates took a nationwide survey to determine the best and worst airports in the country. Passengers were polled on 27 specific attributes to evaluate six factors: Accessibility, Check-in, Security, Terminal, Food & Retail, and Baggage Claim.”

        No. 6: Kansas City International (MCI) (Best among medium airports.)Overall Satisfaction: 5
        Accessibility: 5
        Check-In: 5
        Security: 5
        Terminal: 5
        Food & Retail Services: 2
        Baggage Claim: 5

  2. Barrett Sydnor says:

    I was largely in agreement with you before I attended that session. But what I learned is that the current airport is straining at the seams–and beyond–in ways that aren’t visible to the passenger. Future airline consolidation and likely changes in security requirements will make this design even more obsolete.
    If was really striking when the man who designed KCI said he recognized it was time do better.
    The challenge for Kansas City is to come up with another visionary design that does meet the need for airline travelers.