HOME MATTERS: Michael Hampton, left to right, Blaine Whisenhunt, Tyler Hellweg and Cody Danastasio stand in Danastasio’s Arkifex-designed home.
Business Spotlight: ‘Ozark Modernism’
Almost three years in, three college friends and an influential professor are building Arkifex Studios LLC into an increasingly well-known firm rooted in the Ozarks.
Through an approach they call Ozark modernism, the work by Drury University architecture graduates Cody Danastasio, Michael Hampton and Tyler Hellweg, as well as Blaine Whisenhunt, an art history and sculpture professor at the school, has an identifiable theme: It fits in with the setting of the Ozarks while showcasing modernism.
An Arkifex Studios project may use native trees or local limestone to help shape the structure. Designed by the firm, Danastasio’s east Springfield home in Pearson Creek surrounded by the forested beauty of the Ozarks is a prime example. Wood panels mix with steel and concrete to form the exterior, and inside, a clean look is expounded by copious natural light.
“There are certain things that are going to be your watermark, whether you realize it or not,” Danastasio says.
The business partners work from the conceptual phase up, meaning the final look of the project is secondary to the process itself. The owners say they visit each construction site to understand how the building can fit organically into its space.
“Our specialty is our design process,” Danastasio says. “It’s very investigative. If we’re designing a house for a doctor, we ask him how he lives. If we’re designing him an office, we ask him how he works.”
Arkifex Studios’ portfolio includes Pyramid Foods’ natural foods concept Ruby’s Market, downtown’s Lost Signal Brewing Co., the clubhouse of tourist attraction-themed miniature golf course Getaway Golf, and a steady stream of residences.
Lost Signal owner Tyler Hoke says Arkifex Studios’ Ozark modernism approach was a drawing factor in choosing the firm to design the infill of the brewpub that opened at 610 W. College St. in February. Design work included exposed brick and concrete, a burnt wood look and visibility of the brewery’s tanks.
“I like that style,” Hoke said. “That’s what I was going for – modernism while keeping things rustic.”
Launched in August 2014, Arkifex Studios has grown to encompass 80 completed projects split between commercial and residential jobs. ArkfiexStudios.com showcases a residence in Highland Springs, a 2,500-square-foot home with “Zen aesthetics” in Springfield and a single-family house dubbed the Belk residence in the Springfield-Rogersville area.
The name is a portmanteau of Ozark and the Latin word artifex for artisan or craftsman.
With no other employees, the owner-operated firm can take on eight to 10 projects at a time. Declining to disclose revenues, the owners say sales rose 25 percent last year.
Recalling the early days, Hellweg’s description is fittingly Ozarkian.
“An architecture firm is kind of like a piece of compost. At first it’s nothing, but then you let it bake in the sun for a while,” he says. “You let all the worms crawl through it and digest it and secrete it, and the next thing you know, the nitrates start to present themselves as it hits its stride.”
Smiling, Danastasio adds, “And then you start growing plants with it. Tyler is the king of analogies.”
Whisenhunt keeps the team focused using his teaching skills.
“It’s about taking risks,” Hellweg says. “Instead of trying to be the Michael Jordan of architecture, Blaine is good about challenging us to be the Evel Knievel of architecture instead.”
Whisenhunt says the principals focus first on an idea before moving forward.
“If you do it the other way around, you’re chasing the product before you go through the process,” he says. “You’re chasing a stylistic brand instead of embracing a process that will yield an outcome that’s more embedded in the process.”
Danastasio says the firm is careful about its project selections. Upcoming jobs include Tie & Timber Beer Co., work for Good Samaritan Boys Ranch, two southeast Springfield homes and a few early-stage housing complexes.
“When we sit down with the client, we’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing us to decide whether they’re right for the method, because if they’re not, we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” he says.