Two Global Firms Join to Revolutionize Cities as We Know Them

May 12, 2016, 2:06 PM UTC
Perkins + Will

Picture this: Urban condos that offer ride-sharing services instead of parking spots. A decommissioned city-center airport reimagined into a multi-use destination with restaurants, entertainment, residences, bike paths, rail lines, and generous greenspace. A Middle Eastern city redesigned to use buildings to channel breezes for pedestrians and provide shade at intersections. All of these advancements, thanks to two companies—Perkins + Will and Nelson\Nygaard, which announced their merger today in an exclusive to Fortune—are here now, not visions of tomorrow.

P+W is a global award-winning sustainable design and architecture firm. Nelson\Nygaard is an international firm known for its strategic solutions around transit services, traffic patterns, ride-share businesses, parking technologies and alternative-use zones. The partnership meets at the intersection of urban design and mobility, which in turn is literally shaping cities of the future.

“We think about physical design, and Nelson/Nygaard thinks about how people move through spaces,” says Perkins + Will CEO Phil Harrison. “More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. As urbanity and density increase, cities are asking themselves how to have the best, most vibrant areas to attract talent. Transportation is always an ingredient in those conversations, and with this merger, we are better equipped to engage in those conversations.”

Some recent and/or ongoing joint projects:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: A seven-acre hub collocates and interconnects the University of New Mexico with the city’s downtown to create a new-world research corridor powered by academia and private-sector businesses.
  • Midtown Atlanta and the BeltLine: A revitalized former railway system that is now an important example of how to upend traditional urban planning and attract a global crowd.
  • Miami MyLine: Similar to New York City’s the High Line; an obsolete transit system turned to aesthetic delight, with all the potential revenue that such new-use projects attract from developers, consumers, and institutions.
  • Edmonton, Alberta: The Canadian city’s shuttered Blatchford Field airport is now a forward-thinking model of how to combine living and working spaces so that innovators can attract talent at a low cost of business.
  • Abu Dhabi: One of largest joint projects to date, the two firms spent six years brainstorming a vision and capital plans for the city for the year 2030, and then regional plans for surrounding areas, from high-level bureaucratic strategies down to training local teams in urban planning and design. “We wrote a new street design for Abu Dhabi that is more sophisticated and progressive than anything in the U.S.,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, director of strategy, Nelson Nygaard. “And we helped them create a new transit system and building guidelines—not only sustainable but tailored to that unique climate and the culture of Abu Dhabi.”
  • Baton Rouge: One of the largest areas of growth for the newly combined firms is health district planning, encompassing hospitals, medical campuses and healthcare service centers. By developing a relationship between the local healthcare provider, the city, and the people, architects were able to establish a designated health destination addressing the city’s patterns for poor health as well as highlight what urban and transit design could do to change how residents access healthcare.


“We have the opportunity to think about the future of cities—not only autonomous vehicles and services, but other uses of technology, social media, delivery services, etc.,” said Tumlin. “We want to chase all that good—and also recognize the constants, like the physical needs of a human body and our tribal needs for a certain amount of social interaction to be happy. Cities can save the day—but only if we use tech to accentuate health and happiness rather than worsen it.”

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