Dimensional Innovations recently completed work on an impressive brand experience for the Dairy Farmers of America’s new world headquarters building in Kansas City, Kansas, designed by HOK.
Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) is a milk and milk-derived products marketing cooperative based in Kansas that sells to wholesale buyers in the United States and overseas and represents about 30 percent of the nationwide market. They are also the Kansas City region’s largest private company. DFA had been experiencing growth in their business, which fostered a desire for a standalone custom designed, branded and built world headquarters office space that would provide additional amenities while communicating their organizational story.
DFA employed architects HOK to design an airy, glass-enclosed three-story office building to house their headquarters. In terms of brand implementation and expression, DFA had very clear goals from the outset of the project; they wanted to convey the journey of milk from the source on the farm, to the table of consumers in an aesthetically appealing and tactile way. The design needed to both set them apart in the industry and to be relatable and accessible to all, from international executive clients to member farmers, visitors and staff.
“They wanted to tell a farm-to-table story that would resonate with everyone from international clients to local dairy farmers to their employees without heavy reliance on flat graphic treatments,” remembers Rick Smith, executive creative director at Dimensional Innovations (DI), a local Kansas City design and fabrication firm. The design and build parts of their business function independently, but do many projects in tandem. DI was brought into the fold of the project when DFA began interviewing design firms for the brand experience part of the project because of their local reputation.
DI commenced their work with research into the identity of the DFA, from their work, to performing a deep dive into their core product, milk. The design team visited a local dairy farm to view the process of milk production firsthand. A by-product of their research was an expanded focus on the tactile experience: the deeper the team delved, the more they were drawn to textures like the wood of the barn, blades of grass and the feel of a bottle of milk in hand. “Most people don’t know just how much work it takes to produce that carton of milk,” remarks Smith. “It’s incredible and there are a vast amount of products that use dairy as an ingredient.”
Their investigation did not end at the farm, though; the team did audits of competitive companies, their brands and their buildings. The client team was involved, hands-on and helpful in the ideation process, which aided the DI team in quickly reaching the essence of the DFA brand story. The project developed with a very collaborative, collegial atmosphere between the client, HOK and DI teams; they shared ideas, models, renderings and coordinated their materials palettes.
Let it Flow
The DI team faced a (literally) big challenge from the client: create a totally integrated and seamless “wow moment” for the lobby of the building. Their solution: a realistic looking, 29-foot-tall, floor-to-ceiling sculpture of flowing milk, unofficially dubbed the “milk wall.”
When performing visual research for the sculpture, the team learned a lot about the viscosity of milk—by pouring it over and over—studying the forms, taking photos, sketching and talking about what they were seeing with the client team. “You’d be amazed how long it took to get that form just right,” remarks Smith. “It took hundreds of forms throughout the conceptual process. It was more of a wall at one point, more flat, more rounded. Eventually we got to the essence of it.”
Part of the solution was simply kismet; there was a structural beam that they could cover and use to support the sculpture, which shifted the sculpture to a more curvilinear, three-dimensional form. The concept becomes very apparent in the form—milk is the lifeblood that flows through the business and the structure on which it was built on.
Once the design team got the go-ahead from the client, they were faced with their next set of challenges from what to build it from, to how to make it look seamless, to how to not spend half the budget on this one piece. The seamless aesthetic was a dual push from both the creative and client side, but it required thinking outside of the norm for the production team. “The biggest challenge was that we needed to minimize the time installing onsite because of the space,” recounts Jordan Dean, DI’s art department lead. “It required a lot of extra work, but was completely worth it.”
Fabrication of the sculpture took six weeks to complete. To start, a DI engineer created a 3-D model of the sculpture, converting the mass into 11-inch-thick flats of foam, which were cut by router. The art department team then puzzled them together on the shop floor, gluing, prepping and sanding them before coating the sculpture with a polyuria coating, prepping and painting it with a glossy finish. The gloss finish revealed imperfections, which led to the team sourcing new materials and methods to achieve the perfect, seamless look.
The enormous sculpture that took up an entire flatbed trailer was chain-hoisted into the space. It was a daunting task, but went off completely as planned. Initially, the top of the milk wall was to come shy of the ceiling by six inches, but after installation, DFA asked for a modification—they wanted it to touch the ceiling, furthering the seamless look. The DI team responded to the request, building a paint booth around it, hand-sculpting the addition, painting, priming and coating onsite.
It Starts Here
The milk wall sculpture is the grand-opening to the finished space, that artfully combines rustic and modern, with white as the apropos dominant color. The interior design elements pay homage to life on the farm and the production of milk, utilizing upholsteries like plaid and cowhide. The strength of the space, though, is how the physical space tells the story of dairy production from farm to table in subtle, yet noticeable ways throughout. Artistic feature walls were employed to showcase aspects of DFA’s business, from a barn board and grass wall, to milk bottle caps to steel pipes representing the cooperatives’ numerous milk processing plants.
As visitors pass the milk wall sculpture, they encounter a grass wall with a video element that introduces DFA and the work they do, while starting the story of milk at the very beginning. The next area is the milk bar, where guests and employees can sample different milk products and the cafeteria. The building also houses a gym, family rooms adjacent to the main stair, multipurpose rooms and meeting rooms.
The glass-enclosed meeting rooms and open areas continued the journey of milk through creative installations. In the meeting rooms, resin-cast objects create texture and interest. One room is fitted with ice cream scoops, another features cheese graters, a third displays cow tags and a fourth is bedecked with milk bottles—all of which appear to be coming out of the wall’s surface—an effect achieved through much labor, paint and bondo.
A genuine dairy-pipe-fitted wall proclaims “let it flow,” another open wall fitted with hundreds of acrylic discs gives the impressions of bubbles in “fresh” milk and one entitled “yum” incorporates 500 milk caps into a radial pattern. These installations, in conjunction with some large graphic prints, not only convey a narrative, they anchor employee cubicle workspaces and support a consistent and clear message to both clients and employees, setting the stage for their company culture.
The solution achieved by the HOK and DI teams for the DFA headquarters has been well received. “This building is a testament to our family farmers and the sustainable practices they employ on their dairies each and every day,” remarks another Rick Smith, the president and CEO of DFA. “We intentionally designed it to use more natural materials like reclaimed woods, concretes and metals – so there’s a welcoming feel, while still being very modern and fully equipped for how the world works today. It’s not a typical corporate office space, but it absolutely functions like one.”
“We think this new headquarters will play a key role in helping us attract and also retain high-quality talent, which will help ensure DFA’s continued growth and success,” adds Monica Massey, senior vice president and chief of staff for DFA. “Our goal is to be an employer of choice in Kansas City, and this building and all its amenities reflects that commitment to focus on employee satisfaction.”
For DI, the experience was also a positive one all-around. “The DFA project achieves an intertwining of branding design, building and interior design into one. There is no start and stop—it all looks seamless and that’s a successful project for us,” beams Smith. “I’m most proud of how we moved the needle for DFA and defined a new way to move that needle.” The firm has seen a recent uptick in projects from both large and small corporate clients focusing on both the internal employee experience and the client experience inside their office as they become aware of the importance of these experiences to their businesses. Says Smith, “It’s a great show-stopping piece that creates an immediate sense of place and drives the conversation around the brand story.”
Project Name: Dairy Farmers of America World Headquarters
Client: Dairy Farmers of America
Location: Kansas City, Kansas
Open Date: May 2017
Project Area: 110,000 sq ft
Project Budget: $1,500,000
Experiential Graphic Design: Dimensional Innovations
Design Team: Rick Smith (executive creative director), Lyndee Trost (senior designer), Quentin Langfitt (senior designer), Chris Riebschlager (lead software developer)
Fabrication/Digital Integration: Dimensional Innovations
Collaborators: VanTrust Real Estate LLC, JE Dunn Construction
Photos: Alex Grigsby/Dimensional Innovations, Michael Robinson