1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. AIA elevates MSR Design principal Paul Mellblom into its College of Fellows

    The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has announced that it has elevated 102 members to the AIA College of Fellows, including MSR Design principal Paul C.N. Mellblom, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C. The honor is awarded to members who have made significant contributions to the architecture profession. The fellowship program elevates architects who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession and made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level. Only three percent of AIA members have this distinction.

    One of four AIA Minnesota members elevated to fellowship this year, Paul was nominated under Object Five, recognizing architects who have made notable contributions to the public through alternative careers or volunteer work with organizations not directly connected to the built environment. Paul’s focus on historically underserved people has improved lives in dozens of neighborhoods through tenacious, consistent leadership in volunteer service—and by bringing design excellence to nonprofit and pro bono clients.

    In his letter nominating Paul for elevation to the AIA College of Fellows, Alliiance principal Thomas Hysell, FAIA, states, “Paul has challenged himself and others to deal proactively with issues of inequity through his practice and, even more so, in his volunteer leadership—especially in the design of affordable housing.” Thomas continues, “Through Paul’s admirable and extensive efforts, he has brought the best of what our profession has to offer to the greater community. He is truly a citizen architect.”

    The fifth MSR Design principal to be elevated to the AIA College of Fellows, Paul joins the firm’s other AIA fellows: founders Thomas Meyer, FAIA, Jeffrey Scherer, FAIA, and Garth Rockcastle, FAIA, and former firm president Jack Poling, FAIA.

    This year’s Jury of Fellows included chair Nancy Rogo Trainer, FAIA, Drexel University; Mary Johnston, FAIA, Johnston Architects, LLC; Rebecca Lewis, FAIA, DSGW Architects; Steven Spurlock, FAIA, Quinn Evans Architects; RK Stewart, FAIA, RK Stewart Consultants; Allison Williams, FAIA, AGWms_studio; and Anna Wu, FAIA, University of North Carolina.

  4. MSR Design becomes the first Minnesota architecture firm to attain a Just 2.0 label

    As part of MSR Design’s focus on sustainability, equity, and designing for generative impacts, we are participating in ILFI’s Just 2.0 label disclosure tool program. A nutrition label for socially just and equitable organizations, Just provides a transparency platform for organizations to disclose their operations, including how they treat their employees and where they make financial and community investments. Through the Just program, ILFI calls for all organizations to accept social responsibility by publicly declaring and showcasing their social justice and equity policies and practices.

    “Continual improvement is something we strive for in every part of our practice,” says MSR Design CEO Traci Lesneski. “The Just 2.0 program offered an opportunity for us to step back and critically assess how we’re doing and to identify areas where we organically do the right thing but with intention could have more meaningful impact.”

    Currently, MSR Design is the only Minnesota architecture firm and one of two organizations located in the state to have a Just 2.0 label. Participating in the program helps us nurture a culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. It also provides a compliance pathway and credit toward Living Building Challenge (LBC) petal certification of our new 510 Marquette studio space, which we applied for in December 2020, pursuing the materials, equity, and beauty petals.

    “Considering the improvements to the Just label with version 2.0, in combination with our pursuit of LBC petal certification for our new office space, we decided it was the right time to enroll in the program,” says MSR Design CFO Doug Franzwa. He continues, “We embrace the transparency of the label. The spirit of the program aligns well with the value we place on equity and being good stewards of our community.”

    The Just label documents our level of performance in six different areas: diversity and inclusion, equity, employee health, employee benefits, stewardship, and purchasing and supply chain. We have achieved the highest score (level 4) in several subcategories. For example, in the engagement subcategory under diversity and inclusion, a level 4 score requires that at least 70% of employees are engaged, based on a firm engagement survey. MSR Design exceeded this goal with an 80% engagement score. In the equity area, we achieved a level 4 score in three subcategories: full-time employment, pay-scale equity, and gender pay equity. For employee health, we scored a level 4 for well-being, and for stewardship, we achieved a level 4 for charitable giving by exceeding the goal of donating 3% of our net profits to charitable organizations.

    Doug states, “I’m particularly proud of MSR Design’s high rankings in the equity and employee health categories. And I look forward to using our current label as a benchmark to continuously improve upon in future renewals of the label.” Given the transparency of the Just label and biannual renewal requirement, the program provides a clear path for continual growth with clear metrics and goals to meet and measure our progress. The process has helped us develop an intentional path toward social justice, equity, and inclusive design that we can share with the world.

    “The label isn’t an end-game—it’s an ongoing process,” Traci adds. “It’s gratifying to know that MSR Design is the first Minnesota firm in our profession to have a Just 2.0 label. We were the first Minnesota firm to sign onto the AIA 2030 Challenge in 2007. Both programs are about accountability and transparency, and we are proud to lead by example.”


  5. MSR Design’s 510 Marquette studio wins an AIA Minnesota Honor Award

    AIA Minnesota has honored seven projects with 2020 AIA Minnesota Honor Awards, including MSR Design’s 510 Marquette studio. Announced at the AIA Minnesota Virtual Awards Celebration, the Honor Awards recognize outstanding built projects by AIA Minnesota members that practice professionally in Minnesota. New this year, the program evaluated submissions according to the AIA Framework for Design Excellence, in alignment with the national AIA Architecture Awards.

    The 30th project in the firm’s history to receive an AIA Minnesota Honor Award, the 510 Marquette studio is designed to leave as small an impact on the environment as possible with a focus human health and well-being. Located on the second floor of a downtown Minneapolis building constructed in 1925, MSR Design’s studio builds on irregular traces of the past and simple lines introduced by the design transformation. Equitable access to daylight and amenities drives the spatial organization, with a central black box that contains acoustically private spaces for focus and collaboration. The project also features an enhanced HVAC system designed for occupant health and comfort, which meets industry recommendations for pandemic-ready spaces. The design team designed the project to achieve Living Building Challenge (LBC) petal certification for the materials, beauty, and equity petals (certification is currently pending).

    The AIA Minnesota Honor Awards jury lauded the MSR Design 510 Marquette studio in the categories of Design for Energy, Design for Well-Being, Design for Resources, and Design for Change. According to AIA Minnesota, “The jury was impressed by this ultra-sustainable workplace . . . and felt it was a great example of sustainable corporate design.” The jurors’ comments during the AIA Minnesota Virtual Awards Celebration can be heard here.

    Three internationally renowned architects (Andrea Love, AIA, principal with Payette; Patricia Rhee, FAIA, partner with Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects; and Barry Alan Yoakum, FAIA, principal with Archimania) evaluated 59 projects for this year’s AIA Minnesota Honor Awards program.

  6. MSR Design announces two new associates

    Emilie Kopp, Associate AIA
    “Emilie is becoming an influential designer in the firm, taking on complicated projects and getting involved in our pro bono and affordable housing work. As a member of the AIA Minnesota Culture Change Initiative Committee and ambassador for MSR Design’s initiatives around equity, diversity, and inclusion, she focuses on ensuring that our projects benefit the individual residents and neighborhoods they are designed for. I truly enjoy working with Emilie. She challenges us to do better in our work, she’s creative, and she has a very good design sensibility. She is a positive, delightful colleague, and I am thrilled that she is part of MSR Design.”
    —Paul Mellblom, Principal, MSR Design

    Lauren Gardner
    “A passionate and talented designer, Lauren has played an essential role in developing MSR Design’s healthy materials initiative. Her enthusiasm for responsible design that positively impacts our lives is infectious, and her contributions extend beyond project work and our practice. Lauren is currently associate vice president of advocacy for the IIDA Northland Chapter and an active participant in other local nonprofit organizations. We are delighted to have Lauren be an important part of MSR Design and congratulate her on her promotion to associate.”
    —Dagmara Larsen, Principal, MSR Design

  7. MSR Design promotes Kristilyn Vercruysse to senior associate

    MSR Design is pleased to announce the promotion of Kristilyn Vercruysse, AIA, LEED AP, to senior associate. MSR Design CEO and principal Traci Lesneski, CID, IIDA, LEED AP, Associate AIA, states, “As natural leaders, MSR Design senior associates contribute not only to individual projects, but also to the success of our practice. Kristilyn has deep passion for the making of architecture and dedication to honing her craft and the processes that improve our project work. This passion and her ability to shepherd a project to success—by every definition—inspire confidence in our teams and clients.”

    For Kristilyn, the best projects combine her two passions: rehabilitating existing buildings and creating designs that support and anticipate the needs of the ever-evolving library. She has served as project manager or project architect for a wide mix of award-winning projects, including the transformation of the Tulsa City-County Central Library, winner of an American Institute of Architects (AIA)/American Library Association (ALA) Library Building Award, and the Urban Outfitters Corporate Campus in Philadelphia’s historic Navy Yard, winner of a national AIA Honor Award, among other national honors.

    “Kristilyn is one of those leaders who diligently moves all aspects of her work forward to great outcomes,” says MSR Design principal Matthew Kruntorád. He continues, “She combines intense professionalism with an engaging and bright personality. Kristilyn’s gift of listening perceptively and translating what she has heard into quality work benefits MSR Design, our clients, and the world around us.”

    “Over the course of 15 years, MSR Design’s dedicated, inspiring team of designers and the innovative projects we have worked on together have helped me grow tremendously,” states Kristilyn. “I am excited and honored to be able to contribute to firm leadership as a senior associate and look forward to continuing to advance forward-thinking design together to make a more equitable world.”

    “While tenacious in her pursuit of excellence, Kristilyn brings innate joy and good cheer to every interaction,” says Traci. “She’s an absolute pleasure to work with. I am so proud and pleased to welcome her as a new MSR Design senior associate.”

  8. MSR Design principal Dagmara Larsen receives AIA Minnesota Young Architects Award

    One of three architects to receive an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Minnesota Young Architects Award, MSR Design principal Dagmara Larsen, AIA, 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 jury celebrated her excellence in design and strong voice in library and higher education design, which has a significant impact on communities, and her role as a firm leader. The AIA Minnesota awards program honors individuals who have shown exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the profession within the first 10 years of being licensed to practice architecture.

    Promoted to MSR Design firm principal last year, 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).

    This year’s winners of the AIA Minnesota Young Architects Award (including Jennifer Christiaansen, AIA, and Daniel Yudchitz, AIA, as well as Dagmara) have demonstrated deep commitment to public service, advancement of the profession, and design that improves communities and user experiences, all of which align directly with AIA Minnesota’s core values and the future of the architecture profession. The recipients will be recognized at the annual AIA Minnesota Awards Celebration in December.


    Learn more about the award.


  9. Sensory library design: responding to a pandemic’s impact on built environments

    Read full article.

    As the world works toward establishing the new normal, we must also turn our attention to the next normal. Interventions in the built environment—where we spend over 90% of our day in the best of times—are necessary to ensure healthy public and staff spaces in both the short- and long-term. Using a building engages the five primary senses—touch, sight, smell and taste (through breathing the air), and hearing. Each of these engagements with a building is impacted by COVID-19.

    Library buildings are social equalizers and critical nodes of community connectivity. Today’s libraries offer a wide range of resources and services dedicated to fostering learning, curiosity, and discovery in all the literacies required to thrive. Open to all community members (academic or municipal), library buildings must support users in a full range of activities, from solitary, focused work to large meetings and social gatherings—and everything between. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, many discussions about library design centered around human interaction: increasing space for community gathering and collaboration; creating spaces that promote exploration through hands-on learning; supporting learning about health and nutrition through community kitchens; housing tools and physical items as an extension of the sharing economy; and bringing staff members together in collaborative, flexible workrooms.

    We still need these things to happen. Humans are inherently social and need one another to flourish and thrive. The built environment brings us together to connect with other community members. Erik Klinenberg writes in his book Palaces for the People that, “social cohesion develops through repeated human interaction and joint participation in shared projects.” The world’s complex problems (e.g., pandemics, racism, food insecurity, global warming, and homelessness) require systems thinking to solve. Shared spaces such as libraries provide spaces to practice the bridging skills needed to work across political lines, cultures, and countries. Talent is distributed equally, but access and opportunity are not. The pandemic has magnified inequality. We need the built environment and especially spaces that are open to everyone. Libraries are connective tissue in fractured communities, offering places where relationships can develop, and people learn to deal with difference, density, and diversity.

    Yet the risks associated with gathering in public places while the pandemic is still ongoing are real. We have quickly gotten used to meeting online. In lieu of in-person programming, libraries have pivoted to online programming and podcasts. Curbside and remote holds pickup services have reinstated much-needed access to resources and entertainment. Even some volunteering at the library has moved online. These necessary adaptations and extensions of service do not, however, replace the real need to be in proximity to others and feel part of a community, even if only to be alone together.

    As libraries plan to reopen their buildings, the onslaught of information about how to do so safely can be overwhelming. The opportunity lies in supporting health and well-being, while allaying fears associated with returning to buildings used by many. Considering our senses and how we interact with one another offers a helpful organization of the many issues and options.

    What We Touch
    We are familiar with the repeated urging of public health experts, medical professionals, and the CDC to avoid touching our faces and wash our hands frequently and properly. Yet libraries are by nature high-touch environments with shared resources, which has implications for how we design for safe use of library buildings.

    What We See
    Actual and perceived cleanliness will be important for the health and well-being of visitors and staff. Views to nature can help with focus and peace of mind. What we see impacts our comfort level in a shared public place.

    What We Breathe
    COVID-19 spreads most easily through droplets released when we talk, cough, sneeze, and sing, which has implications for the air we breathe in public buildings. Adjustments to HVAC systems are critical.

    What We Hear
    Acoustics are always a key consideration for library buildings. Library users expect to successfully engage in a wide range of activities, from solitary and quiet to highly interactive (and potentially noisy) ones. The pandemic may exacerbate user expectations around acoustics.

    How We Interact
    New behaviors will be required to keep the public safe as we reactivate public spaces. People will need visual cues to ingrain these behavioral changes. Library interiors will need to support physical distancing and be responsive and flexible.

    Read the full article here, or request a copy:

    About the Author
    Traci Engel Lesneski, CID, IIDA, LEED AP, ASSOCIATE AIA
    CEO and principal of MSR Design, Traci focuses on design for libraries and learning. She promotes an integrated design approach—equally valuing human well-being, building performance, aesthetics, and delight. Recent building projects Traci has led include the award-winning VCAM building—a 24/7 visual culture, arts, and media creative hub for Haverford College in Pennsylvania—and Missoula’s new library and culture house (opening in summer 2020 in Montana). Traci regularly contributes articles to library publications and lectures nationally and internationally about the built environment’s role in fostering well-being, promoting learning, and creating inclusive and cohesive communities. Traci is chair of the American Library Association’s Architecture for Public Libraries Committee and a member of IFLA’s Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee.

  10. Message for racial justice

    As Minnesotans and, beyond that, as human beings, we are heartbroken by the brutal killing of George Floyd. We honor him and the countless other Black lives lost so cruelly and senselessly. We condemn all forms of racism and social injustice. Change is long overdue—more than 400 years overdue. MSR Design commits to listening to, learning from, and supporting the communities that suffer as a result of racism so that we can accelerate real and sustained societal transformations.

    As AIA Minnesota’s “Broken” statement articulates, “Before rebuilding, the architecture community must join with others in rethinking, reimagining, and redesigning what’s next.” In a call for solidarity against racial injustice, National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) president Kimberly Dowdell declares, “We must all leverage our positions of privilege to help our most vulnerable citizens, neighbors, and colleagues strive for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I urge you to consider what’s happening right now as an American problem that we must all face together.”

    We wholeheartedly agree with Kimberly Dowdell. “As architects,” she states, “we are professionally responsible for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” In response, we have pledged to donate $115,000 in design services through a 50% match in paid time to encourage our staff to volunteer their planning and design skills to organizations that assist and empower communities in need. This pro bono effort aligns with MSR Design’s overall commitment to designing truly inclusive buildings for entire communities to do our part to build a more just world and eliminate racial inequity. 

    Organizations to Support

    Black Lives Matter

    Black Visions Collective

    Campaign Zero

    Friends of the Hennepin County Library Local Library Equity Fund

    Lake Street Council | We Love Lake Street

    Neighbors United Funding Collaborative for Midway and Union Park

    Project for Pride in Living

    West Broadway Business and Area Coalition (WBC) in partnership with Northside Funders Group