Andy Kinslow on Reshaping Tulsa’s Skyline

By Ioana Neamt, Associate Editor Tulsa has battled tornadoes repeatedly throughout its history, and a local architectural firm is proposing to incorporate that elemental part of the city’s identity in its skyline. Kinslow Keith & Todd has already garnered considerable attention by proposing the Tulsa Tornado Tower, a twisting, cone-like structure up to 300 feet [...]

Tulsa has battled tornadoes repeatedly throughout its history, and a local architectural firm is proposing to incorporate that elemental part of the city’s identity in its skyline.

Andy Kinslow, founder & president of Kinslow Keith & Todd. The firm is proposing the “Tulsa Tornado Tower.”

Kinslow Keith & Todd has already garnered considerable attention by proposing the Tulsa Tornado Tower, a twisting, cone-like structure up to 300 feet tall that would be the home of the Oklahoma Weather Museum and Research Center.

Before construction can start, many crucial steps await, such as decisions about the tower’s size and location and a commitment from a developer. But Andy Kinslow, who founded KKT in 1989, recently offered CPE a glimpse into how the design was created. A graduate of the University of Arkansas’ architecture program, Kinslow serves on the advisory committee for the university’s Fay Jones College of Architecture and is a former chair of the Tulsa Preservation Commission.

Q. How did you first get into architecture, and what drew you to the field?

A. My interest in architecture started when I was in the third grade. My parents built the house that I grew up in at that time. My father drew the plans, and we did some of the construction ourselves. I then had teachers that encouraged me in that journey. I played a lot with Legos, Lincoln Logs, to build structures for the electric train and Matchbox cars.  We also had a large sandbox in our yard, and I remember building tunnels and buildings using sand, rocks, bark and sticks.

Q. When did the idea of a tornado-like skyscraper first take shape? How did you come up with such a concept?

A. We were responding to the request from Tulsa People Magazine to re-envision a building in downtown Tulsa. We wanted to do something that would make people talk about architecture and (demonstrate) that it does not have to be a box. We originally started with a revolving restaurant on top of a tower. In looking at ways to skin the tower, the swirling look of a tornado was born.

The concept of the Oklahoma Weather Museum & Research Center was born out of giving the tornado shape a reason to be.

Rendering of the Tulsa Tornado Tower, proposed by Kinslow Keith & Todd.

What better way to attract people to a Weather Museum than by making the building reflect what is inside? Remember, we were making this all up as a concept, with no input from the magazine or others.

Q. How far into the design process are you? What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered while working on this project?

A. We are currently only in the concept phase. We have been looking at different sites from the original. The new sites would allow for a larger diameter floor plate and for more development around the building.

Q. How do you think this new tower would fit within the Tulsa skyline? Is the market open to innovative designs such as this one?

A. The feedback that we have received has been very positive about the (impact on) the skyline. Tulsa has always embraced new styles of architecture, from Art Deco and the International Style to more modern architecture. With the construction of One Technology Center, designed by HOK, and the BOK Center, designed by Cesar Pelli, Tulsa is adding modern architecture to the skyline.

As of today, there have been articles about the Tulsa Tornado Tower in publications in 45 countries around the world, including Architectural Record, GQ Italy, Daily Mail UK, Gawker, and The Huffington Post.

Q. How has this proposal been received so far? Have any developers or tenants manifested interest in the project?

A. The project has been received in a very positive way. Most people think that it could have a very positive economic impact for Tulsa. I have had meetings with banks, developers, contractors, leasing and management companies that are interested in the building. We have also been contacted by someone interested in the revolving restaurant branding.

Q. What is your take on the current pace of development in Tulsa? In your opinion, would it qualify as a promising real estate market?

A. Tulsa has always maintained a slow, steady pace for development. We have not experienced the dramatic ups and downs of some markets. Class A office space is 90-plus percent occupied in the CBD, and other B- and C-Class buildings are also approaching full occupancy. Many of the older buildings are being converted to residential, which removes them from the office market. New construction is currently underway in the retail, multifamily, office and healthcare markets.

Cutaway view of the Tulsa Tornado Tower.

Q. What other projects is the firm currently working on in the Tulsa area?

A. A 196,000 square-foot corporate headquarters for Unit Corp.; Palace Apartments, a conversion of a 10-story office building to residential; several new schools in Tulsa and the surrounding area; a new Children’s Hospital in Bethany; renovation of the 32-story University Club Tower; a major addition to the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges.

Recently completed projects are Melton Truck Lines Corporate Headquarters, (decorative pylons on) I-44 and the First Oklahoma Bank corporate headquarters (in Jenks).

Q. What’s next for Kinslow Keith & Todd? What are the company’s goals?

A. Our main goal is to maintain the diverse client base that we currently have. We feel that this will help us survive the bumps in the road with the economy. We currently have in-house architecture, interior design, structural engineering and civil engineering, and offer a full range of services to clients in early childhood education, K-12 education, higher education, healthcare, oil and gas, trucking, casino, retail and banking, as well as interior architecture and interior design and space planning for tenant build-out.