Doing More Outdoors: Jonathon Kemnitzer of KEM STUDIO on connecting people to nature through design
"Any time we’re connecting people to nature and people to each other, that’s the most powerful space we can create."
-Jonathon Kemnitzer, IDSA, Co-founder and Principal of KEM STUDIO
KEM STUDIO is an award winning design firm that fuses architecture and industrial design.
Based in Kansas City, Missouri, KEM STUDIO is an award-winning design firm that fuses architecture and industrial design, a combination that’s a natural extension of their underlying design philosophy: Better Design, Better Living. The company is all about making design more approachable, livable and present in people’s everyday lives, a perspective that inspired Landscape Forms to collaborate with KEM STUDIO in creating the innovative Upfit adaptive outdoor structure system. We spoke with Jonathon Kemnitzer, co-founder and principal of KEM STUDIO, to hear his views on the increasing relevance of activating outdoor spaces and profound and exciting role Upfit can play in this trend.
To Kemnitzer, a multidisciplinary approach and diverse talent pool are what enables his firm to create such exceptional and sought-after design experiences. "Since we’re structured in this unique way of being both architects and industrial designers, from the outset we think about the whole space—indoor, outdoor, and all the things’ people will interact with throughout the space,” he says. "And in considering the combination of all those aspects, we’re able to increase people’s wellbeing, making life better through holistic, well-thought-out and purposeful design.”
The company is all about making design more approachable, livable and present in people’s everyday lives, a perspective that inspired Landscape Forms to collaborate with KEM STUDIO.
The designer describes his work as constantly informed by "close observation of everyday life and the way people interact with space and objects,” and he’s currently observing that better activation and utilization of outdoor spaces is paramount. "There’s been a huge flip, especially taking into account our reflections on COVID, but even beyond that, there’s currently a huge motivation to take the indoors and its defining activities out,” says Kemnitzer.
"Take restaurants, for example, where today the most sought-after space is the outdoor seating. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, I only see it becoming more acute. That’s the climate we’re now working in,” says Kemnitzer. "So how do we create outdoor spaces for working, learning, playing or interacting with one another—with the added benefit of a connection to nature—that are equally or more effective than their indoor counterparts? If we do this well, it’s a win for everybody.”
Upfit’s unique adaptability and features have made it very popular among top landscape architects, architects, and designers.
The vision Kemnitzer describes closely aligns with Landscape Forms’ founding focus and provided a powerful point of collaboration between the two companies. “Our company was founded on the belief that being outdoors is not just enjoyable, but an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and overall personal wellbeing,” says Landscape Forms Chief Creative Officer, Kirt Martin. “Every day is a new opportunity to experience the benefits of being outdoors, and our goal is to use design to make these experiences more frequent, enjoyable and unique.”
"However, it’s important to create spaces in which people feel comfortable, where they feel in control of their environment,” Martin adds. “For me, Upfit is the ultimate embodiment of this balance.”
Upfit is an adaptive structure system that provides unique new tools to create tailored destinations in existing and underutilized outdoor spaces. It defines space, bringing the familiarity and functionality of indoors out. Offering great versatility, Upfit becomes work spaces, classrooms, dining areas and meeting hubs – fully powered, lit and with all the amenities people need to comfortably and productively connect outdoors.
Upfit is an adaptive structure system that provides unique new tools to create tailored destinations in existing and underutilized outdoor spaces.
Of course, designing for the outdoors and finding new ways to transition the indoors out is not without its unique challenges. "The outdoors is not as controlled an environment as the indoors is and designing for the outdoors requires a lot more structural effort and concern than designing for the indoors,” says Kemnitzer. “You have to think, ‘What if a deluge of rain comes down? How does the TV still work? How does that whiteboard still function and exist? How does the whole structure not blow away?’ These are obvious challenges, and then are more nuanced ones—like considering the path of the sun, understanding how that influences shade and comfort, and figuring out how to accommodate that in your design.”
Subtle, sympathetic design is key to Upfit’s ability to activate outdoor spaces wherever and in whatever architectural context they may be. "Upfit was intentionally designed so that it could either recede or come out aesthetically, and the details in it are what makes that distinction happen,” describes Kemnitzer. "Design-wise, there’s not a lot of extravagance or complexity—it’s basically 90° corners, a few of which we’ve softened to get some highlights, to make it comfortable and to make it pop. Those are the subtle details that make it sing."
Offering great versatility, Upfit becomes work spaces, classrooms, dining areas and meeting hubs – fully powered, lit and with all the amenities people need to comfortably and productively connect outdoors.
In addition to its aesthetics, Upfit’s functional versatility is what makes the system such a compelling, universal outdoor solution. "As we’re thinking about these outdoor spaces, we’re thinking ‘What are the things that are going to be happening here? Are we doing a presentation? Are we serving cocktails here? Are we watching a game together? What are the experiences that we want people to have, and then, what are the design considerations needed to make it all flow?’" Kemnitzer says of the Upfit design process. "That’s what makes Upfit so great—if you don’t want to work there, that’s fine. If you don’t want technology or power, that’s fine too. But it’s all possible. Seating, tables, benches, storage, dividing and sliding panels, roof systems, a place to make a cocktail—it’s all possible, and that’s what’s important."
"We’re super excited about Upfit,” Kemnitzer adds. “The possibilities for what it can be are endless, and that’s the coolest part about it. It allows designers to take the groundwork of it, build upon it, and make it something unique and cool for whatever they need it to do."
Upfit’s functional versatility is what makes the system such a compelling, universal outdoor solution.
Upfit’s unique adaptability and features have made it very popular among top landscape architects, architects, and designers. “It has become one of the most successful solutions we've launched,” says Landscape Forms’ Martin. “And with that success has come a lot of engagement with our customers in the form of new ideas and requests. We're continuing to build on the success of Upfit, inspired by real-world applications and the powerful opportunity to enable even more new and unique outdoor experiences.”