May 16, 2024


by Carol Rickard-Brideau

Sustaining Success: How Flexibility and Adaptability Fuel Longevity

A thing that’s flexible and adaptable to change is something that has longevity.

In the complex tapestry of nature, survival is not solely about strength or cunning; it’s about flexibility and adaptability. Across ecosystems, the success of plants and animals in nature is intricately linked to their ability to adapt and evolve in response to environmental challenges. This adaptability is a form of future-proofing—a hallmark of evolution—shaping the diversity and resilience of life on Earth. 

Architects, engineers, and designers also prioritize these principles of flexibility and adaptability. We push for lasting success through our ability to evolve, consistently adapting our designs and strategies. We anticipate and adjust to changing needs, conditions, and technologies, addressing present and future issues as opportunities for our clients and communities. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a small business owner, or a corporate leader, embracing adaptability and agility provides a clear path to sustained success and prosperity in a constantly changing world.


As we celebrate Little’s 60th anniversary, we reflect on our own flexibility and adaptability, principles woven into the fabric of our firm by our founders—Bill Little, Ed McMahan, and Phil Kuttner. They created a nimble company that embraces diversity in all forms, mirroring the resilience found in nature. Just as nature’s survivors thrive by adapting to changing landscapes, Little has flourished over six decades by anticipating evolving client needs and responding to shifting conditions. 

Bold agendas require the courage to reimagine and reinvent business practices. By creating practices focused on deep expertise in specific project types, Bill and Ed built an enduring company model that survives today, emphasizing excellence, an entrepreneurial mindset, and a constant push to elevate our service in ways our clients never would have imagined coming from a design firm.

Bill and Ed had a humility that kept our work squarely focused on our clients, always seeking ways to help them reach their business goals by asking, “What’s in it for the other person?” This principle became central to our company culture. In 1982, in his characteristic style, Bill again sought to reimagine the company by appointing a talented young designer as CEO—a position Phil Kuttner held over the next 40 years.


Little’s quest for excellence was magnified and finely honed by Phil. His leadership steered us to “Results Beyond Architecture,” which became our brand promise, elevating specialized areas of expertise like sustainability, digital visualization, and brand experience strategies, each of which allowed our clients to weave their different business cultures into their spaces, in the way that every fingerprint is singular and unique. 

Results Beyond Architecture is based on the concept that the buildings and spaces we design must function in a way that helps our clients deliver on their business goals, giving them a competitive edge. To future-proof our designs, we need a forward-thinking mindset, transdisciplinary collaboration, and a readiness to embrace innovation and experimentation. 

More than just lip service, emphasis and capital are put behind developing thought leadership that extends the research and knowledge of our practices and people, expanding into what we call ReThink, where our practices do a deep R&D dive into an evolving aspect of a project type to directly benefit our clients and their work. This drive for thought leadership also exists at the individual level, where twice a year, team members are awarded grants to explore specific areas in depth, with support and resources from the company.

All of these studies have value to our clients, with some recognized nationally and internationally for their innovation and worth: 

  • Our research and development of Immersive LearningScapes for K-12 students became the learning standard for multiple clients—including public, charter, independent, and faith-based schools—because of the groundbreaking ideas about learning, teaching, and the combination of spaces that together make a landscape for different learning modalities.  
  • A higher ed residence hall building in a drought-stricken area that harvests water from moisture in the air through a permeable building skin and roof system.
  • An urban building with interchangeable multi-story component “cartridges” for major exterior components that facilitate rapid replacement of entire building floors with new, cutting-edge technologies.
  • Recently named as a finalist on Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas list, a children’s hospice facility that seamlessly created a joyful atmosphere with a sense of sacredness, creating a bright and uplifting space that acknowledges and compassionately supports the gravity of the patient’s condition. 


As we look ahead to see how we’ll need to adapt to the conditions in front of us, especially those currently out of view, we’re clear-eyed in seeing that the serious issues facing us will require furthering that bold agenda. Massive existential issues significantly impact our world right now—from climate change and the depletion of natural resources to the need to repair damaged communities. We acknowledge our responsibility to tackle each of these problems and the resulting impacts that come with them.

Phil guided us in helping us place our responsibility to our clients, communities, and the world front and center through regenerative design. Regeneration goes beyond environmental sustainability to embrace the simple idea that what and how we build can be positive for people and the planet—restoring our social and environmental ecosystems rather than depleting them.

A regenerative design approach focuses on not only doing less harm but also doing good—creating energy-efficient buildings and interior environments that promote the health and well-being of the people who live or work in them while preserving and conserving water resources. The result of regeneration contributes positively to individuals, the environment, and the overall health of the surrounding community, driving commerce and prosperity.

Another aspect of regeneration lies in designing for longevity. Instead of following short-term trends, Little focuses on the timeless principles of design that transcend typical boundaries. By incorporating durable materials, flexible layouts, and robust structural systems, our buildings can endure for generations, evolving gracefully with time.


In today’s complex world, clients expect a significant return on investment with their built environment projects. They seek ways to operate their facilities more efficiently and affordably, attract talent, and increase visibility, all while communicating their mission and vision through their spaces to foster a cohesive culture, enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of their work.

To meet this demand, we have developed a design process that unleashes the creativity embedded in our wildly diverse disciplines, yielding the kind of results that our clients seek. Similarly to integrative medicine, which brings together various specialists to look at the whole patient rather than examining one organ in isolation, Little’s Integrative Project Framework brings diverse disciplines to the table early in the design process to address all aspects of a project, helping to realize its full potential.  

This collaborative effort of professionals from various disciplines, such as architects, engineers, interior designers, smart building experts, landscape designers, and digital media specialists, results in a more comprehensive adaptive architecture solution, enabling buildings to accommodate evolving needs, technological advancements, and environmental conditions.

One compelling example of adaptive architecture is the concept of “responsive buildings” equipped with sensors, actuators, and intelligent systems that adjust their form and function in real time. From dynamic facades that optimize daylight penetration to interior spaces that adapt to occupancy patterns and climatic conditions, these structures embody adaptability, seamlessly integrating human needs with environmental responsiveness. From smart buildings equipped with IoT sensors and AI-driven automation to virtual reality and digital fabrication techniques that revolutionize the design process, technology in architecture and design is a catalyst for innovation.

Adaptive design extends beyond individual buildings to encompass entire urban ecosystems. Resilient cities emphasize the interconnectedness of infrastructure, mobility, and public space, promoting holistic approaches to urban planning that prioritize flexibility and adaptability. By fostering resilient urban systems, architects and designers contribute to cities that can withstand shocks and stresses while nurturing the well-being of their inhabitants, allowing them to flourish.

Investigating emerging technologies will make the design and execution of design much more efficient, unlocking new dimensions of design and freeing up designers to spend more time learning what clients need to keep evolving their businesses as they lean into their adaptable futures.


As we celebrate Little’s 60th anniversary, we pause to appreciate our ongoing commitment to flexibility and innovation established in our culture by our founders. Throughout our journey, we’ve evolved to meet the changing needs of our clients and the environment while maintaining our dedication to exceptional design and service. 

Flexibility and adaptability are transformative skills everyone, including businesses, can develop. Mastering these skills can lead to longevity and success. We’re experiencing it here at Little—and you can, too.

Here’s to sixty years of innovation and many more decades of creating inspiring and enriching spaces.


Carol Rickard-Brideau

Carol is a self-proclaimed foodie, is endlessly curious about how design affects humans, both psychologically and physically, and has a thing for gardens. She is also an architect and Chief Executive Officer at Little. Follow her on Twitter @WineDarkC.

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