Design-Build Team Profile
The NextHaus Alliance
chicagoland powerhouse team discusses the benefits of working together
The NextHaus Alliance is a team of Chicagoland architecture, construction, design and technology firms committed to building sustainable and resilient homes. Thanks to their individual specialties, the residences they create are resilient, cost-effective, energy-efficient and embrace state-of-the-art technologies. While based in Chicago, the NextHaus Alliance is capable of project work throughout the United States.
NextHaus Alliance is the brainchild of architect Nathan Kipnis, FAIA. His firm, Kipnis Architecture + Planning, based in Evanston, IL, is recognized as Chicago’s premier award-winning sustainable architectural practice. Nathan’s design philosophy of High Design/Low CarbonTM guides the firm’s principal core belief that design excellence need not be sacrificed for the principles of sustainability.
“The goal behind NextHaus Alliance was to bring together an amazing group of collaborative design-build professionals and share my vision that luxury homes should be superbly designed, are sustainable AND are resilient. We feel that it is paramount that resilient design, the ability for the home to handle natural or man-made disasters and be able to quickly recover, be integrally incorporated into the home’s design. The specific sustainable and resilient strategies that will be deployed are based on the home’s location, the anticipated changes in the local climate, the client’s distinct needs and the project budget.”
We recently sat down with members of the Alliance to get their input on how they came to join Nathan and how they view their role in being a part of this unique design-build team.
Technology Designer So let’s begin with Nathan. It is understood that a team approach is incredibly convenient for prospective clients. From a time-saving perspective, the client can sit down with one team and conduct one interview to determine if the fit is right. We think this approach is becoming the standard in the luxury residential sector. And not only can you save prospective clients time by presenting a unified, one-stop-shop approach, but you also bring a shared philosophy and commitment to each project. Talk to us about that shared vision approach you’ve established at NextHaus Alliance.
Nathan Kipnis First and foremost, our goal is to design spaces that are client specific, energy and resource efficient, and healthy places to live and work, all the while being mindful of the budget. We thoroughly explore appropriate options to ensure that the design meets both the client’s exacting expectations and our high standards. As part of the design process, we review multiple schemes to foster productive and creative discussions. By providing a wide range of design options at the beginning stages of the project, we can explore various unique possibilities and then confidently select the one that works best for the client.
TD As I understand it, the Alliance is not just limited to new builds, correct?
NK That’s correct. Modern or traditional, new or rehab – we love the challenge of tightly integrating high performance and resilient aspects into each of these home types.
To me, deciphering the aesthetic rationale of why a certain location has historically responded to the local climate, culture and available materials to spawn a specific architectural vernacular design for their homes is fascinating. And then to figure out how to take those influences and see how they can best be adapted for changing regional climatic conditions, and marrying them with current technological advances is the big challenge. Knowing that we are creating high-performance, resiliently-designed homes with exceptionally low-carbon footprints provides peace of mind. That NextHaus homes are also luxurious makes it all the more worth the effort.
And as NextHaus continues to grow, we are not limiting ourselves to any specific geographic area. In today’s mobile world, we’re able to work with clients across the country. Granted, depending on the location, a local landscape firm might need to become involved for long-term maintenance. And while we would partner with a local builder, we would have NextHaus Alliance member and builder Larry Berliant act as a consultant on the project. Our team is capable of working across the country.
TD Let me bring in some of the other Alliance members and talk about how this whole thing came together. Larry, as a builder, how did you come to the Alliance?
Larry Berliant Well I’m really the new kid on the block. I’ve known Nathan for many years and we’ve talked extensively about resilient building. In fact, I’ve gotten to know most of the group through the PowerHouse group here in Chicagoland, which is a group of design-build professionals that also includes realtors. Through that association, I then recently became a member of NextHaus Alliance.
A majority of my work is in remodel and restorations. One-hundred-year-old homes on the North Shore. Those kinds of projects. So I’ve been interested in learning and understanding how to bring sustainability and resilient principles to my clients and NextHaus is that vehicle and the design team I’ve chosen to be a part of because of our shared values and philosophies regarding design-build.
TD Janet, tell us about how you came to be a part of the Alliance.
Jannet McCann I have known Nathan for many years. I have found his work to be excellent and his commitment to sustainable and resilient design to be inspiring. The most successful projects I have been part of are those where the interior design is integrated into the overall design of the house, from the very beginning of the project. I am excited to play a major role in the development of a home that will define and enhance the lives of the people that live there.
The team that Nathan has assembled is very much like a sports team. Everyone is working towards the same goal of winning. We define winning as creating a beautiful home that fulfills the client’s program requirements, a project done on time and on budget. We are mindful and respectful of each other’s roles and responsibilities. The client never has to serve as a referee in the middle of different points of view.
TD Bob, from a landscape architect’s point of view, what attracted you to the Alliance?
Bob Hursthouse When I first talked with Nathan I was excited to participate with a team of progressive professionals who were all striving and learning together about how to build fabulous homes that are resilient and environmentally smart. This is the future. And we’re able to do it now.
For the homeowner, a comprehensive design-build team allows for seamless integration of the whole construction process. The team not only knows what was drawn but the why behind it. All of the details are planned for, with each team member knowing their part of the project. This provides the client with the most complete, thorough and cost-effective way to build their home.
TD And, Joe, as the technology designer, how did you come to be part of the group?
Joe Barrett I was invited into the Alliance by Nathan after Nathan sat in on a continuing education course (CEU) I presented — Supporting Green Lifestyles with Technology Systems. As we began to get to know one another, we both came to the realization that the skill set Barrett’s Technology brings to the table to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency would mesh perfectly with his sustainable and resilient design concepts.
TD How does being a part of a design-build team impact your company directly? Bob, from a landscape architect’s point of view, give us your thoughts.
BH Building a custom home is a series of steps; architecture, engineering, construction, technology, landscape design, and interior design. Too often those steps are isolated in silos, with the client having to navigate through the project step-by-step. On many projects we are brought in at the end of the project. At that point, we as landscape architects can only respond to decisions that others have already made. Often we find that the home could have been sited in a better location or existing trees were not protected and have now been compromised. A score of other opportunities may have been missed. With our comprehensive team approach we bring our skills to the client on the front end of the project, where the best decisions are made.
JB Barrett’s Technology Solutions began life decades ago as Barrett’s TV. We’re one of those old-time Audio Video retailers that successfully embraced new technologies and evolved into the world of advanced smart home technologies. For us and as it pertains to our worldview, we realize that technology touches every square inch of the modern estate. And towards that end, our people are constantly involved with continuing education and advancing the art of our processes and procedures. We try to keep our design-build partners up to speed on the latest technologies that impact their professions.
JM If the architect, interior designer and landscape designer have been involved together from the beginning of the project, each design discipline understands when alternate design solutions need to be created and are willing to work together to the mutual benefit of all concerned. Solutions are easily developed.
The relationship between the architect, general contractor and technology designer is another team that when in harmony, the project automatically goes smoother. All interpretation is handled in the design phase and not in the construction phase. That all adds up to saving me time and, of course, money! Being a part of a design-build team with shared values and philosophies increases my reach and exposure, so it is all a win-win from my point of view.
LB I have been a part of design-build teams for many years. It’s always the best way, in my opinion, to work. You are able to present a complete roadmap to the homeowner, laying out costs and benefits to keep within budget and really take a close look at what is going to work best for the client. There is also the advantage of pooling resources and a knowledge base where you get an understanding of where roles overlap and responsibilities overlap, so nothing slips through the cracks.
For our NextHaus Alliance, that translates into a team with the same sustainability mindset. The goal is to offset the cost of employing a dedicated design-build team with the added value we bring to the table, so the client achieves their immediate goals, with a look at long-term savings in energy usage and everything else entailed in a resilient sustainable home.
TD Final thoughts?
JB For us as a company, NextHaus is a great opportunity to work with like-minded business owners who are committed to the luxury residential design-build industry. To have a seat at the table in the design and build of these homes was also our chance to take a leadership position and further our own conservation efforts.
All of the members of the Alliance over time have contributed to a collaborative working environment. At the end of the day, we serve the needs of our clients and deliver a concierge-level process that is personalized, efficient and results-oriented.
LB My clients are able to afford the type of work we’re doing, so that is a luxury in and of itself. But we need to be educators and explain the necessity of going green as it pertains to restorations and new builds. We have to be the driving force in selling our clients on the benefits to society at large towards sustainable and resilient design. And to be perfectly honest, we don’t know everything today. Certainly, there is more for the group to digest when you look at bringing together energy management, automation and control, and all of the other technologies and products that are coming to the marketplace.
BH We love highly collaborative teams and the design-build model of home building. NextHaus adds the environmental factor to that equation, where we are adding best practices for sustainable, resilient residential development. For my company, we are the outside part of the team. As the landscape architects and contractors, we help with siting the home, grading, drainage, rainwater harvesting, creation of outdoor living spaces, fabulous gardens, ongoing maintenance and special features geared around the family’s wants and needs.
At the end of the day, an enlightened, forward-thinking design -build team is in the best interests of the client, as well as the individual team members.