The story behind an eye-catching building on the Paseo

The Zahner headquarters building at Ninth and Paseo/Photo by Jeremey Theron Kirby

Described by its designers as a “cloud wall,” the Zahner Headquarters at Ninth and Paseo in downtown Kansas City makes an impression.

It’s impossible to not take a second look at the building’s undulating facade of metal ribs that stretches up toward the sky, and that’s exactly the point, says Ryan Sutton, spokesperson for the Zahner Company, an internationally renowned metal engineering and design firm that’s based in Kansas City.

“It is meant to showcase the unique capabilities of Zahner and inspire our internal resources as well as the local community beyond our walls,” Sutton says of the building. “I feel like we’ve achieved that.”

The cloud wall was inspired by the patterns in sand dunes and was built in 2011 as part of the century-old company’s expansion. Zahner’s headquarters is housed on this land along with a manufacturing facility.

“It is not only meant to be a beautiful façade, but you can see the undulations of the metal from the inside, which is quite inspiring for our talented workforce,” Sutton says. Natural light filters into the interior through the steel ribs, and the curvy outdoor-facing walls hide a massive open workspace where Zahner engineers and manufactures.

The facade allows the interior steel-beamed substructure to be seen, illustrating how this framework supports what’s happening on the exterior—both important parts of Zahner’s work—“revealing the beauty of the engineering behind it,” as Sutton puts it.

The “cloud wall” was designed by Crawford Architects of Kansas City and features ZEPPS assemblies, Zahner’s patented process used to create custom curving surfaces. It’s a prefab building system that includes the design-engineering, manufacturing and installation of metal facades to streamline complex structural forms. 

Zahner was founded in 1897 by Andrew Zahner as Eagle Cornice Works.

The company was known for its decorative cornice work and repair and, later, metalwork ranging from industrial kitchens to buildings. Zahner’s great-grandson L. William Zahner III became president in the late 1980s and is credited with transforming the company from a regional sheet-metal contractor to an award-winning international metal design firm that works with artists and architects to help bring their visions to fruition.

Zahner, which is now in the business of turning metal into art, has amassed a portfolio of iconic structures across the globe, such as the Frank Gehry-designed MoPop Museum in Seattle and the Petersen Car Museum in Los Angeles.

Although the company now has an international footprint, dozens of buildings and works of art can be found in the greater Kansas City area and credited to Zahner, such as the Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts and the Bartle Hall Sky Stations.

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