At KieranTimberlake, invention is organic. The firm tackles tough design problems, and in doing so, discovers new ways to advance architecture. Some of its well-known 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.
GENEROSITY OF INVENTION
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.