Posts by Amy Nash

  1. MSR Design director of sustainable practice Simona Fischer receives an AIA Minnesota Young Architects Award

    One of three architects to receive an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Minnesota Young Architects Award, MSR Design director of sustainable practice Simona Fischer, AIA, CPHC, is being recognized for her dedication to advancing sustainable architecture through design, education, research, and advocacy. Jurors noted her commitment to education and sustainable design, as well as her work in public policy, as outstanding contributions to the profession. The AIA Minnesota Young Architects Award honors individuals who, in the early stage of their architecture careers, have shown exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the profession. AIA Minnesota members who have been licensed to practice architecture less than 10 years are eligible for nomination.

    As MSR Design’s director of sustainable practice, a firm associate, and a registered architect, Simona is passionate about developing and implementing processes to integrate sustainable design seamlessly into the workflow of architectural practice and sharing what she learns with members of the profession and the public. In addition to her professional experience, she has presented at national conferences and served as a guest lecturer and research fellow at the University of Minnesota. Simona is a member of the Healthy Building Network HomeFree Champions advisory group, which works to build momentum in selecting healthier materials for affordable housing, and cochair of the AIA Minnesota Committee on the Environment (COTE).

    “It is critical that policymakers and the public become better informed about the principles and practical application of sustainable and resilient building design in the context of a changing world,” says Simona. “Sustainable design experts have a responsibility to share their knowledge with a broader audience through the avenues of public policy and beyond.”

    “Simona is a national expert in healthy materials and a valuable sustainable design leader for all architects and society,” states Richard Graves, AIA, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Building Research, in his letter nominating Simona for the award.

    This year’s winners (including Kyle Palzer, AIA, and David Wilson, AIA, along with Simona) demonstrated excellence across all criteria and leadership measures: design excellence, practice, education, service, and contributions to the profession. The diversity of their built projects and mentorship of the next generation of designers make them standout leaders in our state and the profession. This year’s Young Architects Award recipients will be recognized at the AIA Minnesota Awards Celebration on 2 December 2022.

  2. Missoula Public Library is the world’s best new public library

    The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and Danish software company Systematic have named the new downtown Missoula Public Library, designed by MSR Design with local Montana firm A&E Design, as this year’s Public Library of the Year. The first library in the United States to receive the award, Missoula Public Library offers its citizens a truly unique place where they can meet for play, learning, and experimentation. The magnificent natural surroundings that serve as a backdrop to the library are impressively reflected in its construction and interior. Serving a multifunctional role as a library and knowledge, learning, and community center, the building houses four other organizations to create a cultural hub for gathering, interacting, and innovating. Consequently, the library could not avoid catching the jury’s attention, and Missoula Public Library can now lay claim to being the world’s best new public library.

    “Missoula Public Library has it all,” says jury chair Jakob Guillois Lærkes. He continues, “The building stands out for its beautiful architecture that pays homage to the surrounding landscape, while functioning as a library with a wealth of offerings and possibilities, which also serves as a meeting place for the community. It’s a library that you would relish having in your own local area. It’s a library built for the future.”

    The Public Library of the Year award is presented each year by IFLA in collaboration with Systematic, which also sponsors the $5,000 prize awarded to the winner. This year, 20 libraries from 17 different countries were in the running for the recognition. In addition to Missoula Public Library, three other library projects were shortlisted. The announcement of Missoula Public Library as the winning library was made at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Dublin, Ireland, on July 26th.

    “We are delighted to be the recipients of this important award, which elevates the intersection of library service and architecture,” say Honore Bray (recently retired director of Missoula Public Library) and Traci Engel Lesneski (MSR Design CEO and principal in charge of the project). “Thank you to the jury for this honor, and congratulations to our fellow shortlisted libraries. It is inspiring to witness all the great work happening around the world.”

    Check out our video of the Missoula Public Library, created by Snack Media Group:


    Photo Above: (left to right) recently retired MPL library director Honore Bray, MSR Design CEO and principal Traci Lesneski, and IFLA president Barbara Lison. Photo credit: Julie Broch-Mikkelsen

  3. MSR Design elevates staff as part of an initiative to become a more nimble and transparent practice

    As part of a larger initiative to lead a more nimble and transparent architecture and interior design practice that generates opportunity and supports design excellence, MSR Design has elevated six staff members to newly created firm roles, including directors, discipline leads, and marketing and communications manager.

    Firm CEO and principal Traci Engel Lesneski, CID, LEED AP, Associate AIA, states, “At the heart of these promotions is support for individual and firm-wide growth and redoubled intentionality related to strengthening design, ensuring successful project outcomes, and enhancing our ability to serve clients.”

    The firm’s new directors will act as a common point of interaction between strategic practice-oriented initiatives. They will provide a bridge between the firm’s goals for the practice and individual expertise needed from the entire staff. Our new directors include:

    Brendan Gill Sapienza, AIA, CSI, CDT, LEED AP | Director of Technical Practice
    “Brendan has led technical research and development for many projects. As director of technical practice, he will continue to lead development of our technical expertise, focusing on technical research, documentation, and quality control of project deliverables. Brendan brings his extensive life experience to mentoring younger staff and shaping our culture.”—Dagmara Larsen, AIA, LEED AP | Principal

    Kate Michaud, AIA, LEED AP | Director of Project Delivery
    “Kate gains confidence with her clients and colleagues with ease. Her innate ability to see the big picture and move projects forward saves time so that project team members can focus on design excellence. This rare leadership trait is an inspiration to me personally, and I’m thankful for what it means for our work and clients.”—Matthew Kruntorád, AIA, LEED AP | Principal

    Simona Fischer, AIA, CPHC | Director of Sustainable Practice
    “Simona brings a true passion for sustainable design: enthusiasm, lived experience, and a willingness to step in and organize herself and others around things she believes in. She advocates deeply for sustainable design and connects people who can help others become more knowledgeable about sustainable design. Simona lives her values in her daily life.”—Paul Mellblom, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C | Principal

    Discipline Leads
    MSR Design’s new discipline leads will identify and advocate for ways of working that ensure an integrated practice and design excellence across all projects. Our new discipline leads include:

    Veronica McCracken, CID, IIDA | Interior Design Discipline Lead
    “Veronica has a keen sense of how to integrate interior design and architecture. Her ability to think spatially and articulate her thinking during the design process leads to the design of richer, more experiential spaces. This talent advances MSR Design values and encourages all of us to create places that people are deeply connected to.”—Matthew Kruntorád, AIA, LEED AP | Principal

    Tom Haller, RA | Architecture Discipline Lead
    “Tom has a deep passion for all aspects of the architectural profession—from concept design through construction. His vast interest in design tools and technical project execution has propelled many projects forward. We are excited to watch Tom’s energy and leadership shape MSR Design.”—Dagmara Larsen, AIA, LEED AP | Principal

    Marketing & Communications Manager
    Firm associate Amy Nash will serve as the firm’s new marketing and communications manager. Working closely with the firm’s principals and design staff, she will manage all marketing efforts, from developing and preparing proposals and other marketing materials to internal and external communications celebrating the firm’s work, achievements, initiatives, and goals.

    Amy Nash | Marketing & Communications Manager
    “I’ve worked with Amy for more than 20 years and have always found her to be highly precise and completely reliable in her work—which is top notch. She consistently presents our firm in the best light and is willing to help guide our successes in any way she can. I enjoy working with Amy and appreciate the poetry—literally and figuratively—she brings to our firm.”—Paul Mellblom, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C | Principal

    “We are grateful to work with these outstanding, talented individuals and excited about what these new roles will mean for our practice,” says Traci. She continues, “We are already seeing positive changes that will surely unlock latent potential across the firm.”

  4. MSR Design will host a mindful MATERIALS pop-up event on the theme of materials circularity

    If you are a manufacturer, architect, designer, contractor, end user/owner, educator, or anyone excited about envisioning a built environment that incorporates more sustainable materials, please join us for a mindful MATERIALS (mM) pop-up event in the MSR Design 510 Marquette studio on May 24th from 5 pm-8 pm CDT.

    mindful MATERIALS Inc. (mM) is dedicated to reducing, and ultimately reversing, the embodied impacts of the built environment through intentional collective material choices. mM furthers its mission through a global cross-sector hub of collaborators, who convene regularly to share learning and drive better decision-making around an industry-aligned common materials framework for health, sustainability, and resilience.

    Recent materials pledges have begun to align individual built environment stakeholder groups (from designers and contractors to manufacturers and owners) and inspire cross-functional collaboration to make sustainable materials the norm, not the exception. mM’s goal is to connect ideas, connect mindful materials with mindful practitioners, and connect the dots between intent and action related to materials.

    The Minneapolis mM pop-up event in MSR Design’s studio will focus on circularity. We invite you to join us in learning about the next steps on the road to building a common materials framework and why the industry is looking beyond single impact areas (e.g., carbon) to take a more holistic approach to materials sustainability. Local materials leaders will explore efforts to dive deeper into the topic of circularity. Beyond recycled content and recyclability, what does circularity mean for built environment stakeholders seeking to reduce their impact on buildings and environmental cycles? What are they doing to address the need for closed-loop waste streams? How can circularity be woven into other materials pledges?

    Panelists will include Simona Fischer, AIA, CPHC, an architect, sustainable materials expert, and associate with MSR Design; Pamela Francis, TRUE Advisor and VP of Schott Design + schottXchange; and Andrew Ellsworth, founder of zero-carbon commercial door company Doors Unhinged.


  5. Public architecture design specialist Jeffery Davis joins MSR Design as a senior associate

    MSR Design has hired 23-year architecture veteran Jeffery Davis, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, SEED AP, as the firm’s newest senior associate. He has been involved in the planning and design of more than five million square feet of public building space and more than six million square feet of higher educational facility space, with an emphasis on libraries and cultural arts centers. Jeff’s mantra “remember people” has led him to focus on expanding the positive impact buildings have on communities and the environment. As a SEED accredited professional, he has deep experience in public engagement, positively impacting underserved and culturally diverse communities across the western United States.

    “We are delighted to welcome Jeff to MSR Design,” says MSR Design CEO and president Traci Engel Lesneski, CID, LEED AP, Associate AIA. “His belief in architecture’s role in creating resilient and equitable communities aligns well with MSR Design’s values. Jeff’s hire extends our firm’s presence in the western region, a key area of growth for our practice.”

    Based in Utah, Jeff will help the firm build momentum in providing design services to the western states through his experience guiding public participatory processes, creating equitable design, and realizing ambitious sustainability goals (such as having served as project manager for the design of California’s first Living Building Challenge certified project).

    Regarding his new position, Jeff states, “The people I design for have always been at the forefront of my architectural journey. Joining a design firm so focused on changing and enriching lives gives me increased opportunities to remember that, at its core, the architecture we design is for people and their communities.” He continues, “I am excited to bring my library, cultural arts, and educational design expertise to MSR Design and the firm’s diverse clientele.”

    While senior principal at Architectural Nexus, Jeff led the firm’s library practice and contributed to the firm’s higher education and cultural facility design work. Key projects Jeff has led include Salt Lake City Public Library’s LEED Gold certified Glendale Branch Library (Salt Lake City, Utah); Salt Lake County Library’s AIA Utah Honor Award winning and LEED Gold certified Millcreek Community Center (Millcreek, Utah); the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Venue (Sacramento, California); the Northeast Stockton Library and Community Center (Stockton, California); and the Gillette College Education and Activities Center (Gillette, Wyoming). Higher education campuses he has provided design services for include the University of Utah, Utah State University, Brigham Young University, and Weber State University, among others.

    “Senior associates have ownership stake in our firm,” explains Traci. “In this leadership role, Jeff will contribute in many meaningful ways, including marketing our firm and leading projects.”


  6. City of Minneapolis Public Service Building wins an AIA Minnesota Honor Award

    AIA Minnesota has honored five projects with 2021 AIA Minnesota Honor Awards including the City of Minneapolis Public Service Building. Announced at the AIA Minnesota Virtual Awards Celebration, the Honor Awards recognize outstanding built projects by AIA Minnesota members who practice professionally in Minnesota. The jurors evaluated submissions according to the AIA Framework for Design Excellence in alignment with the national AIA Architecture Awards.

    A design collaboration between Henning Larsen and MSR Design, the new Public Service Building serves as the new face of public service for the City of Minneapolis. Bringing seven previously separated city departments and 1,100 employees together under one roof, the building offers a welcoming environment for the public and staff. The building completes the fourth face of Government Plaza to create a cohesive urban space. With the sleek glass exterior and lobby’s floor-to-ceiling glass, warm wood, and stone, it conveys a sense of openness, transparency, and public accessibility. Designed for resilience to last 75 to 100 years, the Public Service Building is a worthy companion to the adjacent historic City Hall. This new hub for positive change provides a physical infrastructure that better supports the city’s diversity and focus on civic engagement.

    The AIA Minnesota Honor Awards jury lauded the Minneapolis Public Service Building for outstanding achievement in the Framework for Design Excellence categories of integration, change, energy, equitable communities, and well-being. The jurors described the project as having “great variety in skin and surfaces—very elegant,” being “creatively done,” and “a great accomplishment for a public service building.”

    AIA Minnesota also awarded six projects with Framework for Design Excellence Commendations, including the Louisville Free Public Library North East Regional Library (designed by MSR Design and JRA Architects), which was recognized for excellence in design for equitable communities, and Norman Public Library Central (designed by MSR Design), which was recognized for excellence in design for integration.

    Three internationally renowned architects—Curtis Moody, FAIA, founder of Moody Nolan; Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, cofounder of Leers Weinzapfel Associates; and Mark Lee, chair of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and founding partner of Johnston Marklee—evaluated 58 projects for this year’s AIA Minnesota Honor Awards program.

  7. MSR Design promotes Emily Gross to associate

    In recognition of the promotion of MSR Design interior designer Emily Gross to associate, firm principal Matthew Kruntorad states, “The positive impacts of Emily’s work on our projects and the clients we serve are immeasurable. Her talent for conceptualizing how space and materials come together to create meaningful experiences is hard to match.” Matt continues, “Emily’s ability to balance the seriousness of our work with the joy of creativity enriches project teams with design excellence. Emily is a true designer and furthers MSR Design’s mission to great outcomes through her daily work. We are delighted to have Emily as part of MSR Design and congratulate her on promotion to associate.”

  8. Byoungjin Lee, AIA, LEED AP, becomes MSR Design’s newest senior associate

    MSR Design is pleased to announce the promotion of Byoungjin Lee, AIA, LEED AP, to senior associate. Firm CEO and principal Traci Engel Lesneski, CID, LEED AP, Associate AIA, states, “As natural leaders and firm owners, MSR Design senior associates contribute not only to individual projects, but also to the success of our practice through firm-wide initiatives and staff development. Byoungjin leads through his work. He is expert at integrating the art and science of architecture in service of creating inspiring places that support human well-being and delight.”

    Byoungjin integrates energy modeling and site considerations early in the design process to maximize energy efficiency and human comfort, as well as to reduce impacts on the environment. His previous experience as a construction manager in Seoul, Korea, gives him a balanced understanding of design and construction. Byoungjin has worked on more than 70 projects since joining MSR Design in 2004, including many of the firm’s key library projects, such as Louisville Free Public Library’s new South Central Regional Library (winner of an AIA/ALA Library Building Award), the transformation of Madison Public Library’s Central Library (named a Library Journal New Landmark Library), and the new Norman Public Library Central Library.

    “I am ecstatic about my new role at MSR Design, and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue working with this group of talented individuals,” says Byoungjin. “They have been a great inspiration for me to do my best during my tenure at MSR Design, and I am looking forward to continuing to work with them on many great projects and to contribute to the firm’s success.”

    “Byoungjin is a talented and driven architect who has been a key contributor to many of MSR Design’s flagship library projects,” states firm principal Dagmara Larsen, AIA, LEED AP. “His design leadership and technical experience propel design excellence and inspire everyone around him. We are so pleased to have Byoungjin share ownership of the firm.”

    “Byoungjin’s incredible work ethic and continual drive for design excellence permeate everything he touches,” says Traci. “His countless contributions have made our projects better, our design approach smarter, and our practice stronger. I’m delighted and proud to welcome Byoungjin as a new senior associate.”

  9. My Aha Moment: Connecting Health to How We Design

    As part of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Health Leaders Network, I was asked to write an essay responding to the question: When did you first realize that there is a connection between human health and the built environment? Was there a particular “aha” moment or project that you worked on? How did social or health equity play a role in your experience?

    In 2013, our firm was selected to work on The Rose, an affordable housing project in Minneapolis, Minnesota, using the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building Challenge (LBC) as an organizing framework. Along with the clients Aeon and Hope Community, we aspired for the project to become LBC certified. Due to cost and operational barriers, we ultimately realized that while we would not be able to achieve LBC certification for the project, we could use the LBC petals as a guideline. As we reviewed the individual petals, healthy materials, energy efficiency, and health and happiness easily rose to the top and guided our design.

    My “aha” moment occurred when I realized how little we knew then about the impact products we commonly specify for our buildings have on human health. Even today, knowledge about the chemicals we use regularly in construction is severely lacking, and products are grossly under-regulated.

    The following statistics from Rebecca Stamm, senior researcher at Healthy Building Network (HBN) (which are covered in the Healthy Building Network’s HomeFree Materials Matter free educational course) awakened me to the fact that we are potentially slowly poisoning ourselves through the products we put into our buildings. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical inventory lists approximately 86,000 chemicals registered for commercial use—including those used in consumer products. When introduced in 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) listed 62,000 chemicals assumed to be safe. Not tested or confirmed as safe, these chemicals were generally assumed to be safe.

    • Only a few hundred chemicals have been required to be tested by the EPA for human health impacts, which means only an estimated 1% of the known TSCA listed chemicals have been tested to prove or disprove causation of human health impacts.
    • Only nine chemicals or chemical groups have been partially restricted in use, including asbestos, formaldehyde, PCB’s (polychlorinated bisphenols), dioxin, CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons), hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, and radon.

    Those nine partially restricted chemicals or chemical groups comprise less than 0.01% of all known chemicals in the EPA inventory. That’s a rather small tally.

    Individual efforts, university research, and some municipalities and states have begun to slowly fill the chasm in knowledge and regulation of material chemicals. The Green Science Policy Institute has created an eye-opening video series that outlines the understood and unregulated threats to our health from specific classes of chemicals commonly used in construction materials and other consumer products (e.g., PFAS, antimicrobials, flame retardants, bisphenols, certain solvents, and certain metals).

    To reduce the potential for contacting harmful chemicals, MSR Design has worked diligently to actively address the threat of toxic chemicals in our projects by using ILFI’s Red List and Declare label program, as well as other tools to better understand what chemicals are in the products we specify. To help make sense of the myriad information out there about this topic, the firm created a simple screening system for our office’s materials library to remove products that do not comply with our standards for building product transparency and to vet product chemical composition. MSR Design’s Sustainable Materials Action Packet can be downloaded from our Generative Impacts page. We support ILFI’s work to create healthier and more sustainable affordable housing, Healthy Building Network’s policy advocacy for better regulation and awareness of what we build with, and the educational outreach provided by Parsons School of Design’s Healthy Materials Lab. As a result of our focus on materials health, our new 510 Marquette studio became the first constructed space in Minnesota to achieve LBC Petal certification, including for the materials petal.

    I firmly believe that we all benefit by designing and constructing healthier buildings. My hope is that we designers can one day soon quantify the quality-of-life improvements and even the potential extension to a person’s natural life span by better understanding the correlation between living, learning, working, and recreating and healthy environments, rather than accepting the status quo. With time, I am confident that we will find that a healthy built environment provides tangible improvements to life span, quality of life, and well-being.

  10. MSR Design Contributes to the Development of the Metropolis Climate Toolkit for Interior Design

    MSR Design is one of 13 design firms that participated in the Metropolis Sustainability Hackathon, a series of workshops with design experts that culminated in the Metropolis Climate Toolkit for Interior Design, which Metropolis launched on August 31st.

    With extreme weather events and wildfires raging around the world in 2021, the crisis is hitting closer to home than ever before. Pollution and environmental degradation take an inequitable toll. For example, as an outcome of segregation, redlining, and other discriminatory practices, according to a New York Times article by Linda Villarosa, Black Americans today are still 75% more likely to reside in neighborhoods and communities adjacent to manufacturing sites that produce hazardous waste. The climate crisis is both a health and equity issue. Interior designers have a special role to play in the fight to lower the amount of greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere and reduce the toxic chemistry we design into our spaces. The Metropolis Climate Toolkit for Interior Design provides a starting point for the interior design industry to make the right decisions and help avert climate catastrophe.

    Industry experts in design, construction, and manufacturing—including MSR Design interior designers Veronica McCracken, CID, Emily Gross, NCIDQ, and Lauren Gardner—participated in a three-month-long hackathon to identify where we can make the biggest difference with interior design. They helped define 20 key strategies where the industry can improve and evolve. Each strategy contains multiple suggestions and guidelines, with links to tools, resources, and further reading.

    “Coming together with experts from organizations across the country gave us a real sense of hope,” says Veronica. “It’s encouraging to know that interior designers are passionate about reversing climate change and conscious of the human health impacts of our designs, even though it can be daunting to tackle and apply to our practice. The Metropolis Climate Toolkit for Interior Design will guide all designers to make better choices and design with the Earth’s future in mind.”

    As a result of MSR Design contributing resources to the climate toolkit, Metropolis editor in chief Avinash Rajagopal interviewed MSR Design architect Simona Fischer, AIA, as part of the Metropolis ProductLIVE! marathon broadcast in June, during which she outlined MSR Design’s Sustainable Materials Action Packet and Sustainability Metrics Drawing Set Template. Created by MSR Design, these key resources are referenced throughout the climate toolkit, including as resources for low-carbon design and finding hotspots for carbon emissions, setting up a screening process for all materials and products, developing an internal rating system, on-boarding new team members and new employees, and sharing crucial information with peers and stakeholders.

    Simona states, “As architects, we only start making truly sustainable buildings after we become students of building materials; their life cycles; and who they touch, support, and shelter. The supply chains and effects on human health are messy and complex, but also tangible and real. It is crucial that designers take ownership of these impacts and find real solutions.”