2016 AIACC Firm Award Recipient: KFA

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Whether the subject is how to hire an enthusiastic and motivated staff member; how to affect a community with design and renovation that does actually change someone’s life, so simply about what it takes to run a solid and successful 50-person firm, Killefer Flammang Architects is a go-to example—all attributes one would imagine an AIACC 2016 Firm Award recipient to possess.

In 1975, KFA launched with very humble beginnings, moving from garage to garage completing projects until the firm was planted an actual space of its own. Wade Killefer had never before worked at another firm, but his partner and wife, Barbara Flammang had. And both had very specific ideas about what the firm should be: a place of respect and talent. “We didn’t have any pre-conceived ideas, but knew we wanted to make a place we would want to work,” Killefer said. They learned quickly that people are most productive when they have autonomy. KFA Job Captain, Andrea Urmanita, can attest. “I was thrown into leadership of projects as it was assumed I’d rise to the occasion,” she said. “This work is challenging but working here is one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. To be in an environment where they trust you to take on leadership roles sets you up for even more challenges and further fulfillment.”

Urmanita has been with the firm for slightly more than two years, but this isn’t her first. And during this time within the field, she wasn’t sure this was the career path for her, but has since changed her mind. She takes California Supplemental Exam in May—and if she passes, KFA picks up the bill as is protocol.

“I hope every emerging professional has the opportunity to work at a firm like this,” Urmanita said. KFA supports their staff—and their mentoring process through the licensure path is just one example. They not only foot the bill for every ARE passed, but they have all the necessary study materials in-house for those needing them. This kind of support, along with the autonomy, have done nothing but positive things not only for Urmanita as an employee but for the clients as well. And, all 53 of the employees do rise. Perhaps because of the sense of ownership they feel within the community and the staff or perhaps because of Flammang’s inherent sense of one’s personality. Which is why she is in charge of all the hiring.

“Barbara’s instinctive ability to combine the right group of personalities in one office is what makes our office a great place to work. Barbara also makes it clear from day one that mutual respect for one another is critical. This is the backbone of our office family, and it’s why we work well together and with integrity,” Urmanita said. Killefer also agreed, “Barbara looks for interesting people first, and what kind of person they are next.” This initial screening has worked well for the thriving firm, as evidenced by these statistics:

  • 77% of eligible architectural staff is licensed
  • More than 30% of employees have been with firm 10 years or more
  • 60% of the architectural staff is female

And because KFA is a thriving environment for the employees that only translates to further contribution outward to the communities they serve. 3,436 affordable housing units, 904 of which can be found on Skid Row; 4,416 adaptive reuse units; 18 schools; Killefer himself served as the Board Chair on the Board of Lamp, a nonprofit which provides housing and serves those living on the street. KFA also boast a special City Re-Builder Award from Los Angeles AIA for pioneering design work. They designed the first three buildings under LA’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance in the Old Bank District. They have since completed 45 adaptive reuse projects.

The 2016 reviewing committee noted their long list of humanitarian projects combined with their firm culture and couldn’t help but be impressed. Important notes were how focused KFA was on social issues, how they encouraged a successful journey through licensure, and how a good work culture will do wonders to contribute to individual wellness and team building. It is no wonder the Los Angeles Business Journal voted this firm one of the 100 Best Places to Work in 2013.

This firm is proud of the work they do, the citizens they help, and the people they are. Of course, this sentence needs not be said if one simply looks at the photo they take every year. “People respond so positively to this photo,” Killefer said laughing with more than a hint of pride in his voice. The photo embodies all one could aspire to in a work family—cohesion, collaboration, enthusiasm and fun—all attributes which make it impossible to have a negative reaction. This photo is simply one reflection of all the good work this firm is accomplishing. Take a look at their submittal for more examples.

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Shannon Calder

Shannon Calder, a Sacramento-based writer, joined the AIACC in 2013. She is the author of, “Jack and Abigail Make a Compass,” a novel about people, birds, and orchids. She spends her days both on and off hours, looking for connection, which is a good hobby to have when linking the value of design to public perception.

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