Building a Legacy: Robert Outland, MOA Architecture

Robert Outland

Words by Stephanie Darling

Architect Robert Outland, AIA, AICAE, LEED, AP, is a cultural interpreter, with a penchant for designing spaces that deliver to clients a perfect fit of the tangible, functional and emotional.

Since Outland and former partner Kiyoshi Murata founded MOA Architecture in 1981, the firm has built an award-winning, distinctly diverse design portfolio with projects ranging from glass-wrapped corporate towers and high-tech data centers to buildings that personify the shapes, symbols and natural environment so valued in Native American cultures.

“Great architecture is a collaboration of listening, design and execution. Bob, and MOA, excel at all three,” says Les Wells, AIA, NCARB, president of The Wells Partnership, a long-time Outland business associate and fellow community service advocate.

Davita dusk

The DaVita building features a light-filled design with “jaw-dropping” views of the Front Range. Courtesy Frank Ooms Photography

Through the decades, Outland and his team have built a business that offers a full range of architectural services from its Denver, and Casper and Laramie, Wyoming, offices. Reflecting the firm’s devout belief in ongoing professional development, 75 percent of its technical staff is LEED certified, with the ultimate goal set at 100 percent.

Outland, who reflects with a smile on the giant technological leaps his profession has made since the days of a “parallel bar and a box of pencils,” is retiring at the end of 2016. He passes the baton to some 40 fellow MOA design professionals who are committed to Outland’s business legacy – a long-standing internal culture that fosters architectural exploration and excellence; engaged discourse and collaboration; staff mentoring and advancement; and a community service ideal considered so important that it is built into the firm’s business model.

“Bob’s always had the desire to use our profession for positive change. The idea of socially relevant architecture has been near and dear to his heart since he began his career 46 years ago and, as a firm, we continue to focus on projects that allow us to do that,” says MOA President Barry Koury, AIA, LEED AP. “Our work centers are creating spaces in which people work, play, learn and heal.”

Evergreen Lake House

Evergreen Lake House, designed by MOA

Outland’s inherent appreciation for people and how they need and want to interact within the built environment has led MOA to fascinating projects launched from collaborative, unconventional thinking. For example, as director of Native American architecture, one of MOA’s core specialty areas, Outland has directed projects that speak to a special community. He has a particular affinity for tribal issues – he is himself an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, the third largest tribe in the United States.

MOA’s carefully considered design of circular shapes, commonly respected symbols and earth-sky relationships handily won the firm the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center’s Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Facility project, which went on to win design awards. Another building, a senior living center on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Community in South Dakota, is shaped like a medicine wheel, which symbolizes all creation and life cycles.

Outland’s zeal for interpreting clients’ highly individualized visions into real buildings, and his knack for fostering a team of technically talented, progressive thinkers, paved the road for MOA’s 35 successful years, despite numerous economic potholes in the business climate along the way. Buffeted by an oil bust soon after the firm opened in 1981, Outland quickly learned how to be nimble, tuning his business to the times.

“Bob’s idea that creative, collaborative thinking will make us better tomorrow than we are today has certainly paid off many times, especially in the recession of 2007,” Koury explains. “Other firms were downsizing their staff, but Bob challenged MOA’s leadership to think and behave differently than other firms, and even as we ourselves had in previous recessions. That resulted in making investments in our future, such as expanding the business into Wyoming and into other markets such as health care and making major hardware and software investments, to improve efficiency and client interface.”

Bottom line: MOA posted year-over-year revenue growth through the recession and, though yet another big investment in a design competition, tasted the sweetest success of all: winning the job to design the Denver world headquarters of DaVita Inc., a Fortune 500 kidney care service provider.

As client, DaVita was intensely focused on building a complex that boldly captured its vital, village-based company culture. MOA, having honed its reputation under Outland for creating spaces to do just that, created a light-filled design that maximizes inspiration and positive energy, framed by jaw-dropping views of the Front Range. The building leaves the indelible impression of a thriving business, committed to the health and welfare of its internal and external customers.

“Bob and I have worked together on at least 10 projects since the early 1980s. I think DaVita was our most significant collaboration. It was a true labor of love,” says TWP’s Les Wells, who also worked on the project. “MOA was an exceptional partner in working with the owner and contractor to create a significant architectural landmark on the Denver skyline. MOA exceeded every metric set for the project.”

Because of the operational and philosophical framework Outland created, MOA will continue to design projects that create meaningful, functional spaces where people can live, work, play, learn or heal.

“Bob set MOA up what he called a ‘legacy firm,’ meaning it would always welcome and cultivate new leadership over time. His core values – integrity, teamwork, providing opportunities for the next generation, a fundamental belief in ongoing professional development, the idea that you leave the company better than you found it – are ingrained in our culture,” Koury says.

moa future leaders

MOA future leaders include, from left to right, Eric Vogel, Jere Eggleston, Brian Konczak, Barry Koury and Jack Mousseau. Not pictured is Kevin Sullivan. Courtesy Laura Mahony Photography

As Outland himself notes, “I feel very comfortable stepping away from the firm knowing that it’s in good hands, with people who have through the years grown into MOA leadership positions. They have embraced the values and will continue the direction that Kiyoshi and I started on 35 years ago.”

MOA will flourish, even as Outland passes the baton. And that’s just how he planned it. \\

Featured in the September 2016 issue of Building Dialogue

Edited by Building Dialogue