1. MSR Design’s Future Home

    Beginning in 1985 as a student intern to now, as president of MSR, I have a unique and lengthy perspective on the firm’s history and the spaces we’ve occupied. Tom Meyers’ retrospective portrays where we’ve been. I am excited about where we’re going.

    MSR has evolved dramatically in the last decade. Once led solely by its three founders, the firm is now led by a new generation of leaders who are eager to simultaneously ensure that the firm stays true to the essence of who we are and adapts to the profession’s ever-increasing demands. We must continually evolve in order to thrive and meet our strategic goal of being the leading design firm that achieves inspiring, generative impacts across the board on every project by 2026. Accordingly, we have designed our new space to inspire that evolution.

    We arrived at the decision to leave our current space within the Mill City Museum complex only after an extensive search for a new space. Casting a wide net, considering nearly 100 locations and visiting dozens, we focused on urbanized areas of Minneapolis in search of a flexible, work environment that would support our goals for continuous improvement. Key factors that weighed into our decision include the innate ability of the space to serve our needs, sustainable characteristics of the space, neighborhood and neighbors, amenities, access to transportation, safety, and the very subjective question: Does it feel right for MSR? Our search ultimately led us to 510 Marquette Avenue South in downtown Minneapolis.

    Constructed in 1925, 510 Marquette served as the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank until 1974 when it was expanded vertically and adapted into office space. The second floor of the building will become MSR Design’s fourth home this November. This large open space will give us room to expand and continue to explore new ways of working. Flexible spaces supporting all types of collaboration, focused work and design discovery, virtual reality labs, and 3D printers have replaced the traditional architectural studio characterized by rows of drafting tables. Our new space overlooks the Nicollet Mall Light Rail Station and a very vibrant neighborhood.

    As to be expected during the process of an architecture firm designing its own space, opinions abounded with endless possibilities and high internal interest. To manage the process, we set up separate groups, including a client team, design team, move management team, and technology team.

    The design gathers people around the perimeter near large windows overlooking the street. Abundant flexible support and working spaces on the interior, located close to the workstations, will allow staff to work efficiently and effectively. And the space will be beautiful. The design builds on what exists in the space: irregular and interesting traces of past travertine floors; old brick walls and piers at the exterior juxtaposed with the clean lines of the exterior curtain wall. Exposing the existing structure and elements housed in the ceiling, the design layers new onto the old and blends the two into a beautiful balance that reflects the rough and smooth realities of a dynamic studio.

    We have designed the new space to achieve Living Building Challenge (LBC) petal certification for the materials, beauty, and equity petals. The LBC certification program is the most rigorous program designed to ensure that buildings give back to the environment and society. The project is on track to become the first LBC petal certified space in Minnesota. This ambitious pursuit exemplifies our commitment to realizing our strategic goal to push the boundaries of design and performance and to demonstrate that buildings and architectural spaces can give back. And our new space will give back.

    So, I’m finding it hard to wait three more months to move into MSR Design’s fourth home. But I’m absolutely certain it will be well worth the wait.

  2. Retrospective of MSR Design Locations

    “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”

    Winston Churchill

    People are shaped by their buildings. For architects, this shaping goes both ways, involving an exchange of influences between where one is in life emotionally and where one is physically. The same dynamic holds true for organizations including architectural practices.    


    In a foreshadowing of future connections to the Minneapolis milling history, the first architectural office I worked in was located in the Alfred Pillsbury Mansion. The family had long since moved to the suburbs, the once upscale neighborhood had declined, and the firm leaders bought the house at a bargain price. I worked in an upstairs bedroom where we lit the fireplace on chilly days and conferenced in the grand dining room. With long hair and wide ties, I felt at one with the times in this space. The elegant space bolstered my confidence as it must have the Pillsbury family, while its transformation from home of old money elite to progressive architectural office fostered a sense of rebellion appropriate for the times. 


    I started my own practice in a small bedroom in my 100-year-old house. As an introvert, I thought the solitude and company of my cats (as well as the free space) would be an ideal place to start. I soon learned that I needed the energy and interactions of people around me, and that convenience, practicality, and economy are insufficient to make a great place to work.


    I connected with architect and riverfront pioneer, Peter Hall, who had living space and an office of five people in the Washburn Crosby Mill Complex. We were the only occupants within the 300,000 square-foot mothballed, flour mill complex. The structure offered floor after floor of ghostly quiet among hundreds of wooden chutes, pulleys, and machines that once shook the structure and produced a million barrels of flour a day. A white patina of flour dust covered everything and filtered the sunlight that come through the windows in the stone walls. Out the windows was the Mississippi River and its only once natural waterfall. It was magnificent architecture that offered a sensual experience of space, history, light, material, structure, order, and abandonment. It opened me to a world of existing buildings and possibilities beyond the conventions of modern architecture.


    I found a 500 square-foot storefront at the edge of downtown where artists were joining manufacturers and wholesalers in the massive brick and heavy timber warehouses. Here, Garth Rockcastle, Jeff Scherer, and I formed Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. In contrast to the solitude of the abandoned riverfront mill, this location offered a dynamic community of creative people and lively businesses. Behind us in the same building was the New French Cafe, where artists and business leaders dined together. We contributed to and benefited from the creative energy of our immediate neighborhood. Over time, we accreted into every available corner of the New French building. I met Martha, my wife, in the building.


    It was time to move to a bigger space. Three blocks away, we found the perfect little brick warehouse to buy. As had become a strength of our practice, here we could explore the relationship of the muscular existing building with the dynamics of post post-modern ideas. The relationship between old and new, flexibility, movable walls, raw materials, and openness shaped the space. The whole office centered around a two-story, sky lit space lined with books, material samples, and photos of our work.  The office reflected who we were becoming as a mature office.


    Again, we outgrew our space, this time coinciding with the commission to design the Mill City Museum complex—the flour mill where I once shared an office with Peter Hall. Sadly, the mill had suffered severe fire damage with little but the stone shell remaining. We bought the top two floors of the building, which has served as a catalyst to a new urban neighborhood that has developed around us. Here, we enjoy one of the best views in the city of the riverfront, and the building has become a signature of our identity, helping bring us exciting adaptive reuse work around the country.  


    Once again it is time to move, this time in an effort led by the next generation of MSR leaders. Located in the heart of downtown, the new space is a quiet eddy of daylight surrounded by the flow of streets, light rail, and skyways. MSR will relocate this fall. How will the new space shape MSR? I am excited to find out.        

  3. MSR Design elevates Dagmara Larsen to principal.

    We are pleased to announce the promotion of Dagmara Larsen, AIA, LEED AP, to principal. MSR Design president Jack Poling, FAIA, LEED AP, states, “Dagmara joined our firm in January 2005 and since then has demonstrated inspired design leadership coupled with tenacious project stewardship, a willingness to listen, and continuous growth.” He adds, “She has consciously expanded her efforts to bring new opportunities to the firm, making it an easy decision to have her join us as a principal.”

    Offering a truly international perspective, Dagmara is a native of Poland and has worked in Europe, South America, and the United States. She has served as project manager and project designer for a wide range of projects, including libraries, academic facilities, office buildings, and private residences. Our clients and peers have recognized Dagmara’s ability to simultaneously balance a project’s programmatic needs, aesthetics, and sustainable drivers through various awards, including an AIA/ALA Library Building Award, an AIA CAE Education Facility Design Award of Excellence, an ALA/IIDA Library Interior Design Award, multiple AIA Minnesota Honor Awards, and a Young Architect Award from the Association of Polish Architects.

    MSR principal Traci Engel Lesneski, CID, IIDA, LEED AP, Associate AIA, remarks, “Dagmara has been key to the design excellence and success of several of our firm’s signature projects. She has helped many of our staff improve as designers in their own right through her mentorship and leadership. She is expert at marrying the technical and performative aspects of architecture with beauty and inspiration. On top of all that, Dagmara’s spirit and energy help our staff and clients see possibility. Her leadership will help guide MSR to ever greater places.”

    Dagmara enthusiastically remarks, “I am delighted to become a principal of MSR, joining a group of excellent partners who are leading a firm, founded on design excellence, to achieve inspiring, generative outcomes on every project. MSR’s team of talented and passionate people make me excited for the future.”

    Speaking personally, Jack says, “I could not be more thrilled to have Dagmara become a principal. I know that her talent and drive will help propel us to achieve the lofty ambitions we have for the firm, and I welcome her as my partner.”

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.


  9. 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.

  10. 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.