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SVPA celebrates 50 years of design


There are many keys to successful architecture, including performance, scalability and reliability, but for the architects and designers at SVPA Architects Inc. in West Des Moines, success starts with a good ear.

“Our methodology begins with listening and better understanding the needs of our client,” said Scott Hatfield, president of SVPA. “The actual design needs to reflect those needs, and it’s our job to help them visualize what they want to accomplish.”

As SVPA celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Hatfield said the company continues to thrive because its architects and designers subscribe to the theory that the client and user groups’ input is the most important element for a successful project. Without it, he said, SVPA would not have successfully completed more than 2,800 projects.

“We’ve been providing exemplary service to meet our clients’ goals and needs for 50 years,” Hatfield said. “Every project has different requirements and every owner has a unique set of needs and criteria.”

SVPA offers its clients a full range of architecture related services, including cost control, project programming, feasibility studies, project promotion, site analysis, building design, interior design, landscape architecture and project management. Eighty percent of the firm’s work comes from previous clients, and it generates $3 to $5 million in business volume each year.

“I think that speaks to our reputation and quality of work,” said Carolyn Mullenix, an architectural administrator who has been employed by SVPA for 15 years. “It’s pretty good.”

Over the years, SVPA has applied its talents to a variety of high-profile projects in Greater Des Moines. They include corporate offices for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Inc., National Travelers Life Co., Casey’s General Stores Inc., Hy-Vee Inc., the interior of Allied Insurance’s headquarters and Rain and Hail LLC, as well as Urbandale’s city offices and Regency West Office Park.

The firm also has an extensive history in providing design services for much smaller tenant improvements and interior design projects, including the ChildServe Center, First Baptist Church and Johnston Public Library, all in Johnston, as well as the Drake, West End and North End diners. In 2002, SVPA received the Charles H. Weitz Award for Excellence for its work on The Blood Center of Iowa in Des Moines.

“The next project is always the most important one,” said Hatfield. “I don’t know if any one project is better than another because each one has its respective challenges.”

Currently, Hatfield said, SVPA is working on several school projects, as well as designs for a few banks, a YMCA in Fort Madison and an aquatic and recreation center in Maquoketa. It is also designing a new office for the United Methodist Church Conference Center. “That one is unique because it’s a combination of functions for the conference center and office building while expressing the religious aspect of the Methodist church,” Hatfield said.   Like most businesses, Hatfield said, architecture firm’s are affected by the health of the economy and the cost of money. He said business for SVPA and other local architecture firms slowed following the terrorist attacks in 2001, but it is steadily improving this year.

To help improve the firm’s services, and ultimately its bottom line, Hatfield said SVPA will host a strategic planning process next month in which an advisory board and a nationally-known facilitator will evaluate its performance.

“Our focus is to better understand what we can do to improve our service,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about what we can learn about ourselves.”

Hatfield said that kind of self-discipline to learn and grow has helped SVPA thrive since Savage & Ver Ploeg was founded in 1953 by Robert Savage and Stanley Ver Ploeg. Initially, the practice focused on designing homes, churches and schools before it expanded its client base.

In the early 1960s, the firm designed Valley High School in West Des Moines, as well as its own office, originally located at 12th Street and Grand Avenue in that city. The building utilized sustainable design techniques like natural illumination and ventilation.

During that decade, Ver Ploeg served as chairman of the West Des Moines Plan and Zoning Commission. As a result of the new freeway and associated zoning changes in the 1970s, the firm designed one of the first commercial office parks built in Polk County, the Westridge Office Park in West Des Moines, consisting of three buildings. In 1978, the firm moved its offices there.

During the 1980s, the firm designed the Regency West Office Park for Mid-America Group Ltd. With more than 667,000 square feet in eight buildings, it remains the largest singly-owned and managed office park in Polk County, Hatfield said.

As the practice evolved, the firm’s structure and name changed in 1987 to Savage-Ver Ploeg & Associates Inc. That’s when Donald Snedden, Steven Gray, Glenn Vondra, Russell Ver Ploeg and Hatfield became part owners and senior associates. In 2001, the firm adopted its current moniker when it added Vitus Bering, vice president and chief financial officer, to serve alongside Hatfield, Gray and Vondra as the firm’s principals.

During the late 1980s and through the 1990s, Hatfield followed in the shoes of co-founding partner Ver Ploeg, serving as chairman of the West Des Moines Plan & Zoning Commission. During that period, SVPA designed several projects that were built utilizing a negotiated fast-track delivery system with design/mechanical and electrical subcontractors and partnering. The company designed and moved into its current offices at 1466 28th St. in West Des Moines in 1997. That year, SVPA designed LakePointe Office Park, which garnered a design award for its energy efficiency from the Iowa Blue Flame Gas Association. And in 1998, it designed a building for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Inc., the firm’s largest single commission.

“We’ve gone through a lot of transitions,” said Hatfield, who joined the practice in 1985. “There are three generations of architects who have worked here. An exciting part of the business is mentoring and watching the successes of the next generation.”

Hatfield said though computer technology continues to define the architectural profession, so too, does teamwork, which is why the firm adopted “TEAM” (Together Everyone Achieves More) as its slogan.

Teamwork, Hatfield said, among the firm’s 20 employees helps the practice better serve their clients. Even though he’s spent nearly 20 years at SVPA, Hatfield said he never grows tired of helping people design their dream building.

“It’s fun to see things take shape from the beginning to completion and the client’s involvement and reaction along the way,” Hatfield said. “It’s very rewarding work.”


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