1. 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.

    Learn more and register here.


  2. 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.”


  3. 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.

  4. 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.”

  5. 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.”

  6. 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.

  7. 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.”

  8. MSR Design becomes a WBENC-Certified Women’s Business Enterprise

    The Women’s Business Development Center-Midwest (WBDC-Midwest), a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), has certified MSR Design as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE). WBENC is the nation’s largest third-party certifier of businesses owned and operated by women. To be certified by WBENC, women owners must have at least 51% ownership, unrestricted control of the business, a demonstrated management of day-to-day operations, and a proportionate investment of capital or expertise. The meticulous certification process involves an in-depth review of the business and site inspection. WBENC has validated that MSR Design is 62% owned, controlled, managed, and led by women.

    “According to the AIA Firm Survey Report 2020, only 21% of firm leaders in the architecture profession in the United States are women. We are proud of the evolution of our practice, which was founded by three men and is now majority women-owned and led,” says MSR Design CEO Traci Engel Lesneski, CID, LEED AP, Associate AIA. “Women make up half our staff. We received the highest Just label score (4 out of 4) on gender pay equity. As a practice focused on creating inspiring, sustainable, human-centric places, we understand that incorporating diverse perspectives into our projects brings value to our clients and their communities. This certification demonstrates our full commitment to this approach.”

    WBENC-Certified WBEs gain access to a vast network of support, including targeted business opportunities, increased visibility in corporate and government supply chains, education and development programs to spur growth and increase capacity, and networking and mentorship opportunities.

    MSR Design principal Paul Mellblom, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, states, “I am thrilled that we are now a WBENC-Certified WBE. This accomplishment reflects our firm’s current and future leadership, especially the success of our CEO and president Traci Engel Lesneski, who has worked tirelessly to bring excellence to everything she touches.”

    “When those shaping the built environment better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and diverse perspectives are incorporated into design, everyone benefits,” explains Traci. “We are committed to leading the change in our profession and, in the process, building more just and equitable communities.”

  9. MSR Design’s 510 Marquette studio becomes the first Minnesota project to achieve Living Building Challenge Petal Certification

    MSR Design’s 510 Marquette studio project has earned Living Building Challenge (LBC) 3.1 Petal Certification through the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) for the materials, equity, and beauty petals. The first project in Minnesota to receive LBC Petal Certification, the studio is designed to leave as small an impact on the environment as possible and to support human health and well-being. A rigorous green building certification program and sustainable design framework that visualizes the ideal for the built environment, LBC is organized into seven performance areas called petals. Each petal is further sub-divided into imperatives, which address specific issues through detailed requirements. All of the LBC certifications are based on 12 months of actual performance, rather than design predictions.

    Describing the design process guiding the project, MSR Design project manager and senior associate Rhys MacPherson says, “Our new studio home represents new collaborative ways of thinking, a deeper level of commitment to human health and well-being, and an interconnected village approach to innovation and imagining a new future for all of us.”

    Materials Petal
    Achieving the materials petal required meeting the ILFI Red List free, embodied carbon footprint, responsible industry advocacy, living economy sourcing, and net positive waste imperatives, among others. The materials palette builds on existing elements in the space: traces of historic travertine floors, brick walls and piers along the exterior, and fireproofing-clad columns and ceiling structure. To reduce the carbon footprint, the design team created a minimal palette of intervening materials. In the year leading up to the project, we developed a new set of materials library entry criteria and developed a guide to share our goals with product reps. Using the Red List and other expert guidance, our entry criteria guide, which can be requested on our Generative Impacts web page, requires  that all products on our shelves carry transparency documentation and are free of Red List chemicals.

    Equity Petal
    Examples of the imperatives required to meet for the equity petal include human scale + humane places, universal access to nature + place, equitable investment, and Just organization participation. Equitable access to daylight and amenities drives the spatial organization, with a central black box that contains acoustically private spaces for focus and collaboration. MSR Design is the only Minnesota architecture firm to have a Just 2.0 label. Participating in the program helps us nurture a culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.

    Beauty Petal
    Examples of the required beauty petal imperatives include beauty + spirit and inspiration + education. As with MSR Design’s other transformative adaptive reuse projects, the studio’s beauty arises from an authentic continuity between the space’s history and future. We commissioned an art installation for the front area of the studio. The selected artist Alexandra Peyton-Levine found inspiration in the materials story of the space, harvesting construction waste to interweave with dried flowers and foliage for her biophilic sculpture.

    “In the design of our new studio, we sought to demonstrate that design excellence is both performative and beautiful,” says MSR Design CEO Traci Lesneski. “Achieving petal certification for our own workplace represents our firm’s commitment to creating a just, sustainable world through our practice and projects and the leadership we seek to exemplify in our profession.”

    Check out the full case study on the ILFI website here.

  10. MSR Design principal Dagmara Larsen wins national AIA Young Architects Award

    One of 20 architects across the country (and one of only two Minnesota architects) to receive a national American Institute of Architects (AIA) Young Architects Award this year, MSR Design principal Dagmara Larsen, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is being recognized for her commitment to designing equitable, sustainable, and human-centric, award-winning projects for a wide range of organizations and individual clients.  The AIA Young Architects Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.

    Promoted to MSR Design firm principal in 2019, Dagmara champions an integrated design approach on every project. She believes that an architect needs to evaluate each project through different lenses in order to bridge aspirational, programmatic, and performative goals as part of the design solution. An example of this holistic approach in her work includes the transformation of Madison Public Library’s Central Library in Madison, Wisconsin (certified LEED Gold). Dagmara is committed to design excellence and achieving project success in terms identified by individual users, as exemplified in the Tulsa City-County Library Central Library renovation project, winner of an AIA/ALA Library Building Award, and Haverford College Visual Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) Building, winner of an AIA CAE Education Facility Design Award of Excellence and AIA Minnesota Honor Award.

    In her letter nominating Dagmara for the AIA Young Architects Award, AIA Minnesota president Karen Lu, AIA, NOMA, states “Over the past several years, Dagmara has become well known in our community as a champion for design excellence, particularly in the form of regenerative and inclusive design.” Karen continues, “Dagmara leads by example in her day-to-day practice, her professional work, and her many volunteer commitments.”

    This year’s jury included John Castellana, FAIA, TMP Architecture, Inc., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Frances Halsband, FAIA, Kliment Halsband Architects, New York, New York; Peter Kuttner, FAIA , CambridgeSeven, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA, Stanley Love-Stanley, Atlanta, Georgia; Ryan McEnroe, AIA, Quinn Evans, Washington, DC; and Chris-Annmarie Spencer, AIA, NOMA, Wheeler Kearns Architects, Chicago, Illinois. The award recipients will be recognized at the annual AIA Conference on Architecture in June.