Drive around Bloomington and you’re sure to be struck by the city’s many eye-catching buildings—among them the new Fairview Elementary School on West 8th Street, the Washington Row apartments on North Washington, and the South Dunn Street development in the Bryan Park neighborhood.

The style and attention to detail that make these buildings stand out is the work of Kirkwood Design Studio, a local architecture and planning firm determined to raise the bar for architectural design in Bloomington.

“We’re committed to changing people’s expectations for what the community can look like and not settling for lowest-cost, shabby buildings,” says the firm’s owner, Mary Krupinski.

Kirkwood Design Studio began in 1998 as a small, two-person shop in a ramshackle warren of rooms in the OddFellows Building on East Kirkwood. Within a year, the firm began work on The Omega building on North Walnut—the first new downtown development in several years—and grew to seven employees.

From the beginning, Krupinski says, the company has fostered an open, collegial atmosphere. “We deliberately included the word ‘studio’ in the name because we wanted to create the kind of workplace where people shared ideas, where one comment could spark a new direction and inspire collaboration.”

A string of notable projects has established Kirkwood Design Studio as one of the most respected architecture firms in the state. Its award-winning design of The Stone Age Institute is especially noteworthy. Built in 2003 on 30 wooded acres north of town, the building features a stone tower entrance designed in the style of a broch—a circular, thick-walled, Iron Age coastal fortress native to Scotland and Wales.

“We wanted to use stone in a reflective sense that harkened back to ancient structures,” Krupinski says. “The broch is an organizing element that sets the tone for the entire structure.” The stone entryway leads to a museum gallery and two-story vaulted library lined with bookshelves on top of which sit prehistoric human skulls.

Alongside its design prowess, Kirkwood Design Studio is unusual in the male-dominated world of architecture: The firm is not only owned by a woman, but of its seven employees, six are women. “It’s unusual in architecture,” Krupinski says. “I don’t know of any other firm like ours in this regard.”

For all its accomplishments, Kirkwood Design Studio, now located at 113 E. 6th St., still strives to grow and improve. Says Krupinski, “We’re regularly competing with the best firms in the state and working hard to be the jewel of a design firm we set out to be.”