1. Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center wins AIA COTE Top Ten Award

    The University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s new Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center has been selected to receive a 2019 COTE Top Ten Award. Given annually by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE), the COTE Top Ten is the architecture industry’s best-known awards program for sustainable design excellence. Each year, AIA recognizes ten design projects that have expertly integrated design excellence with cutting-edge performance in several key areas. Winning projects must demonstrate alignment with COTE’s rigorous criteria for ten measures: design for integration, design for community, design for ecology, design for water, design for economy, design for energy, design for wellness, design for resources, design for change, and design for discovery. The five-member jury evaluates each project submission based on a cross-section of the ten metrics, balanced with a holistic approach to design.

    The seventh Minnesota project to win a COTE Top Ten Award (out of 230 awarded projects in the program’s 23-year history), the Tashjian Bee and Pollinator Discovery Center provides interactive learning opportunities about the lives of bees and other pollinators, their agricultural and ecological importance, the essential ways human lives intersect with theirs, and the alarming decline in the health of pollinator populations. Located on a previously abandoned historic farm site within the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the bee center is the first building on a new campus focused on sustainable farm-to-table education. The design connects each interior program space to demonstration pollinator gardens, beehives, and future food production plots outdoors.

    The design team combined passive design strategies with a robust envelope, radiant systems, a geothermal field, and photovoltaics to deliver thermal comfort and energy performance in a challenging Minnesota climate. The project is designed to be net-zero with the future expansion of the roof-mounted, 1-kW photovoltaic solar array. One hundred percent of the stormwater is managed on site, and on-site wetlands supply irrigation for the demonstration gardens’ native plantings.

    The AIA COTE Top Ten Awards jury stated, “This project shows what you can accomplish, not with fancy tools, but by using intuitive design practices.”

    The design team collaborated on a year of post-occupancy research and analyzed real-world performance through three interrelated lenses: people, space, and systems. The bee center fully embodies its program’s urgent call for conversation and invitation to visitors to deepen their understanding of, and connection to, the natural world around them.

    Learn more about the COTE Top Ten and our winning submission.

  2. Louisville Free Public Library South Central Regional Library wins AIA/ALA Library Building Award

    Designed by MSR Design, in partnership with the Louisville firm JRA Architects, Louisville Free Public Library’s new South Central Regional Library is one of six library projects to be honored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and American Library Association (ALA) with an AIA/ALA Library Building Award. Cosponsored by AIA and ALA’s Library Leadership and Management Association, the award honors the best in library architecture and design. Forward-thinking library design elements include larger gathering spaces to support the needs of the community and sustainable features to conserve water and energy. The South Central Regional Library showcases both of these aspects and more.

    The South Central Regional Library is the second regional library to be built as part of Louisville Free Public Library’s ambitious 12-year master plan (developed by MSR Design). The new facility brings library service to 160,000 customers in a previously underserved neighborhood. By delicately inserting the building into a grove of trees, the project stands out in a region of Kentucky where clearcutting sites is standard practice. Tree preservation, daylight harvesting, and energy conservation served as guiding principles for the design. Extending the building outside through exterior reading and gathering spaces in the landscape creates a library in the trees. Mirroring this strategy, large spans of windows capture inspiring views to the light-dappled leaves that envelope the site.

    The library’s innovative program encourages interaction and engagement for people of all ages and backgrounds in lieu of simple transaction. Concentrating staff-only areas within focus-oriented, shared spaces made room for more public areas within the building. The design creates a series of volumes in a single open space to ensure flexibility for short-term adjustments and adaptability for long-term changes. This flexible, responsive organization will allow the library to continue to meet the community’s needs well into the future. Key spaces include a teens’ area, a makerspace called “the collider” that houses the library’s innovative artist-in-residence program, and a flex studio for hands-on activities that combine learning and application. The new library serves as an ideal venue for community events and innovative programming, which has resulted in the library issuing 2,818 new library cards in the first six months of operation. Certified LEED-NC v. 3 Gold, the library exceeds the 2030 Challenge energy reduction goal by 10% through passive and active design strategies, such as performing solar studies and EUI analysis and incorporating a geothermal system on the site to minimize heating and cooling loads.

    Learn more about the AIA/ALA Library Building Awards.

  3. AIA elevates MSR president Jack Poling into its College of Fellows.

    The honor is awarded to members who have made significant contributions to the architecture profession. The fellowship program was developed to elevate those architects who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession and have made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level. Nominated in the category of education, research, literature, and practice, Jack has made career-long contributions to the practice of architecture through his firm management, administration, and project management work, as well as his commitment to design excellence.

    It is one thing for a firm to have a gifted design architect such as Jack. It is quite another for this same person to be the managing principal, president, and CEO since 2004. This unique combination is precisely why the firm has continued a long tradition of heightened design excellence on all projects. The public libraries Jack has designed have improved countless lives. He has focused his career on creating transformative places that push the boundaries of library science, anchor communities, and inspire intellectual curiosity and wonder.

    In his letter nominating Jack for elevation to the AIA College of Fellows, retired MSR principal Jeffrey Scherer, FAIA, states, “Jack is a humble, quiet and steady leader. . . . His steady, respectful, and knowledgeable leadership has cemented his respect in the communities he has served and within the firm. Under his leadership, the firm works with clients across the United States that respect the role of great design.”

    This year’s seven-member Jury of Fellows included Chair Mary P. Cox, FAIA, Virginia Commonwealth University; Peter Bardwell, FAIA, BAREDWELL+associates, LLC; Mary A. Burke, FAIA, Burke Design & Architecture PLLC; Philip Castillo, FAIA, Jahn; Mary Johnston, FAIA, Johnston Architects, LLC; Paul Mankins, FAIA, substance architecture; and Nancy Rogo Trainer, FAIA, Drexel University.

    Read more.

  4. MSR Design announces new associates

    “Brooke has brought a very creative and thoughtful approach to a wide range of projects. Her talent transcends project type, benefits our firm broadly, and has a significantly positive impact on our work and on our clients. In addition to a very deep talent, Brooke demonstrates a thoroughness and attention to detail. We congratulate Brooke as a new firm associate and look forward to her continued growth and contributions.”
    —Jack Poling, Principal

    “Caitlin is a talented designer with the ability to contribute from concept to detail. Her dedication to design quality makes her a sought-out and valued team member. Caitlin and also makes MSR as a whole better by ensuring our product library contains only healthy and sustainable materials. All of our projects and clients benefit from this critical work. We are pleased to honor Caitlin’s contributions to MSR by making her an associate.”
    —Traci Engel Lesneski, Principal

    “Jerry is a talented architect that I enjoy working with. He is thoughtful and creative; able to bring forward award winning projects at varying scales with both frugal and generous budgets. Jerry has the talent to be able to find beauty and design opportunities in every circumstance.”
    —Paul Mellblom, Principal

    “Jeryl has been entrusted with a leadership role on one of our most distinctive and complex projects – Mill 19 at Hazelwood Green in Pittsburgh. He has more than been up to the challenge through design, construction documents, and construction site administration. His talent, experience and dedication has been central to its success. We are very pleased to acknowledge Jeryl’s importance to our firm by honoring him as an associate.”
    —Thomas Meyer, Principal

    “Susan brings to MSR a keen sense of how complex things come together and has started a research initiative that will advance our work and the industry as whole. She has a unique ability to connect with clients, understand their needs, and win their trust with ease.”
    —Matthew Kruntorad, Principal

  5. Haverford College’s new VCAM building is one of four projects to win an AIA Minnesota Honor Award

    AIA Minnesota has honored four projects with 2018 AIA Minnesota Honor Awards, including Haverford College’s new Visual Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) building, designed by MSR. The awards were announced at the A’18 MN Minnesota Conference on Architecture on Thursday, November 15th. The Honor Awards recognize outstanding architecture and urban design by AIA Minnesota members and member firms. The VCAM building is the only non-Minnesota project to have received an AIA Minnesota Honor Award this year.

    A highly flexible, 24/7 learning environment of intersecting spaces, the VCAM building is designed for interpreting and making visual media. The project involved repurposing a neglected 1900 gym, while honoring the building’s legacy. The design preserves the old gym’s strong, fundamental geometry as a single volume encircled by the existing suspended running track, while inserting a new three-story box that houses stacked functions of making, editing, and viewing. The old serves as a container for the new, creating continuity between Haverford’s rich history and its future, focused on an inventive academic agenda. The project is currently registered for LEED-NC v3 Gold certification.

    79 projects were submitted for the 2018 AIA Minnesota Honor Awards program and evaluated in five categories: architecture; interiors; renovation and restoration; and urban design and master planning. Three internationally-renowned architects evaluated the submissions for their degree of design invention, attention to detail, advancement of sustainable design, and other factors. The 2018 Honor Awards jury included Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, Distinguished Professor and E. Fay Jones Chair in Architecture at the Fay Jones Scholl of Architecture at the University of Arkansas; Allison Grace Williams, FAIA, founder of AGWms_studio and adjunct lecturer at Stanford University in California; and Kim Yao, AIA, principal of Architecture Research Office in New York City. Recipients will receive their awards at the annual AIA Minnesota Awards Dinner on December 7th at International Market Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    Learn more about this year’s AIA Minnesota Honor Awards program here.


  6. What I learned with WUFI modeling software

    Architects spend a lot of time trying to understand thermal and moisture performance of building assemblies and the likelihood that temperature and moisture variables might add up to catastrophe. This year, MSR sponsored a six-week research project in which I looked at integrating thermal and moisture simulation into our design process workflow. Conclusions? Given the complexity involved in a simulation approach and the fact that the tools involved are “engineer-friendly” at best, this approach may not be needed on every project. However, in some cases, thermal and moisture modeling may be beneficial even without deep expertise, as long as you understand the limitations.

    Read more about the process and managing expectations in my guest blog post on the website.

  7. Places of inclusion: there’s still work for us to do

    MSR principal Traci Engel Lesneski was recently interviewed by Leonard Novy as part of the Goethe Institut’s “Future Libraries” series of articles and interviews that shed light on challenges and trends facing libraries, as well as examples of success for the future of the library. The interview uncovers the need to go beyond merely talking about diversity and inclusion within libraries to ensure that the future of the library is welcoming for all.

    Asked about what it takes to design an inclusive library, Traci states, “The health of any ecosystem relies on biodiversity. Likewise, the health of a community, and of a library as a reflection of its community, depends on its capacity for diversity. Libraries serve a wide variety of people. As facilities housing inclusive organizations, they should be designed to support as broad a cross-section of people as possible. People experience buildings differently, depending on their own cultural, social, economic, and physical circumstances, yet many buildings are designed to accommodate a narrow slice of the human population. In some cases, inequity is being constructed into the built environment. . . . Creating an inclusive building requires an inclusive process.”

    Read more here.

  8. Welcome to all: design’s role in creating an inclusive, safe, and beloved community destination

    MSR principal Traci Engel Lesneski recently presented a paper entitled “Welcome to All: Design’s Role in Creating an Inclusive, Safe, and Beloved Community Destination” at the 2018 International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library Information Congress (WLIC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The theme for this year’s WLIC was “transforming libraries, transforming societies.” Traci uses the renovation and expansion of the Madison Central Library as a case study to illustrate how a public library, city, community, and design team worked together to create a library environment that is welcoming to all.

    Paper Abstract: “As places that serve all, public libraries often find themselves at the forefront of serving community members who are experiencing some combination of homelessness, mental illness, joblessness, or social dislocation. Libraries are responding creatively by expanding or adapting services to address these needs more effectively. At times these efforts alienate other community members who are uncomfortable, or feel threatened by, sharing space with the community’s so-called ‘undesirables.’ How can a library building become a place that not only serves everyone, but also feels welcoming to everyone? The building design process and the design itself can serve as powerful tools for creating a comfortable, safe, relevant destination for the entire community. This paper uses the renovation and addition project for Madison Public Library’s Central Library (Wisconsin, United States) as a case study. Through extensive community outreach, focus groups with local social service providers, and design critiques by members of local law enforcement, the design team identified several ways the reimagined building could address comfort, safety, and troubling behaviors. The resulting inclusive library building provides on-site assistance for those in need. In the words of a long-term Madison Public Library administrator, ‘MSR turned our library from a fear-based program to a hope-based program.’”

    Read more here.

  9. Process to product: inclusive libraries by design

    MSR principal Traci Engel Lesneski recently presented a paper entitled “Process to Product: Inclusive Libraries by Design” at the 2018 International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library Information Congress (WLIC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The theme for this year’s WLIC was “transforming libraries, transforming societies.” Focusing on the need for an inclusive design process in order to create an inclusive library building, Traci states, “It is crucial to find ways to obtain input from the people who rarely participate in public meetings, especially underserved or vulnerable communities.”

    Paper Abstract: “People experience buildings differently, depending on their personal cultural, social, economic, and physical circumstances; yet many buildings are designed to accommodate only a narrow slice of the human population. In some cases, inequity is being constructed into the built environment. Awareness of potential barriers to use when considering the built environment can make the difference between places that support inclusion and ones that do not welcome all users. Foundational to creating inclusive buildings is the design process itself. No one person can embody all perspectives. Creating an inclusive building requires an inclusive process. This paper demonstrates how process, flexibility, and choice can be powerful tools in the quest for equitable library buildings.”

    Read more here.

  10. MSR at the 2018 ILFI unConference: Part 2

    The Living Future Unconference (LF18) is always simultaneously awesome and hard. On one hand, it’s amazing to see case studies of projects with high aspirations for sustainable design—actual built projects that are net zero energy and net zero water made out of nontoxic, sustainably sourced and manufactured materials. Amazing!

    Then again: A number of architecture firms have signed this thing called the AIA 2030 Commitment. Buildings are responsible for 40% of US carbon emissions. These firms have committed to reducing the energy usage in our new buildings by 70% compared to the baseline for each building typology we work on, and by 80% starting in 2020. But the average energy use reduction across project types, among firms reporting their progress is less than a 50% reduction. The hard truth is that we, as an industry, are not meeting this goal.

    The distress in the room at this year’s LF18 2030 Challenge report-out was palpable. Designers who care deeply about doing their part to reduce carbon emissions are distraught that we are not succeeding.

    Over the course of the four days of sessions and workshops, I kept wondering why we can’t routinely deliver buildings that meet the 2030 Challenge. We know how to do it technically; we’ve done it before. The equipment is tested. The products are off the shelf. The data is out there showing that this stuff works. Combined with ambitious design thinking on the part of ourselves and our clients, astonishing (but also quietly balanced, aesthetically perfect) things are possible. We want to be doing this work. Why is it so difficult to make a 70% reduction a reality?

    In my mind, the barriers boil down to two major factors, underscored by the case study projects shared at LF18.

    1. Energy and water aren’t expensive yet, and codes don’t require extreme efficiency. This fact is tough for designers and clients alike at the moment. It means the right choice is currently not the incentivized or required choice. It means naysayers do not have to work hard to argue against best practices when the payback period for a given strategy is decades.
    2. The other major, big picture factor is the urgent need for committed collaborators.


    Collaborators meaning consultants. A great mechanical or structural engineer is fundamental to the delivery of a high performance project. When the engineer is not on board with the spirit of a high performance project, the architect and client will simply never know what could have been possible.

    Collaborators meaning general contractors and subcontractors. Sustainability and health goals in buildings can fly or die at the hands of the general contractors and subcontractors who physically build the project. How can the builders be empowered to own their sphere of influence when it comes to making a sustainable project happen? How can we better support collaborators who are already performing their trades in more sustainable ways, or those who want to do better?

    Collaborators meaning clients. Designers may have the technical expertise to deliver net zero energy and water and the knowledge base to specify healthy materials, but we can go only so far if the client is not 100% on board.

    We can’t change #1 (but we can keep talking about it) for the moment.

    Item #2, however, should be our top priority. We are always looking for good collaborators. Going where others have not gone before takes guts. If you are this collaborator, we want to talk to you. I’d love for next year’s 2030 Challenge reporting out to be different. Let’s hit that 70% reduction target. Or better yet, let’s strive for all of our projects to embody the conservation ethic of net zero. We want to do this work.