Category Archives: Uncategorized

  1. 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.

  2. 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






  3. MSR Design COVID-19 response

    Clients and Colleagues:

    To do our part to curb the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and welfare of everyone in all of our communities, MSR Design has made the decision to institute the following policies as we continue to operate and serve our clients:

    1. Working remotely. Effective immediately, all staff will be working remotely, using technology to stay connected and productive.
    2. Travel. We have suspended all business-related travel until further notice and will hold meetings through an online platform.
    3. Conferences. All conference attendance has been suspended.
    4. Meetings. We are requesting that all meetings be held virtually. If that is not possible, we are limiting attendance to 10 people or less.

    For up-to-date information about COVID-19 and precautions we can all take, please visit the CDC website. We are taking these steps to practice social-distancing and do our part to flatten the curve.

    Be healthy, safe, and smart!

    Traci Engel Lesneski, CID, IIDA, LEED AP, Associate AIA
    CEO | Principal
    MSR Design

  4. Traci Engel Lesneski to lead architecture firm MSR Design as new CEO and president

    Effective immediately, Traci Engel LesneskI, CID, IIDA, LEED AP, Associate AIA, will assume the role of chief executive officer (CEO) and president of MSR Design. Following the retirement of the founders and recent move into a new studio, this leadership shift marks the beginning of the next chapter in the 39-year-old firm’s history. Jack Poling, FAIA, LEED AP, who has led the firm for 16 years, will continue his role as principal, now having more time to devote to leading design teams.

    Jack states, “I am very grateful that we have the right person at the right time to lead us forward. Traci has the design vision, temperament, and drive to help us achieve in the coming years more than we have in the past. I look forward to experiencing what I already know will be great things to come.”

    With 24 years at the firm, including 14 as principal and head of interiors, Traci promotes an integrated design approach—equally valuing human well-being, building performance, aesthetics, and delight. Her design leadership has resulted in more than 55 awards, including an AIA CAE Education Facility Design Award for Haverford College’s VCAM Building. 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.

    “It’s an exciting and challenging time for the architecture industry,” says Traci. “MSR Design is well positioned to thrive by advancing an alchemy of design leadership, client aspirations, and advocacy for the environment to create transformative outcomes with every project. I’m delighted to lead the firm into its next phase.”

    Founding principal emeritus, Tom Meyer, FAIA, states, “All of us are deeply grateful for the innate integrity and steady dedication Jack has brought to his stewardship of the firm. Now with unanimous support of MSR Design’s principals, Traci will assume overall leadership bringing her natural good cheer, grace, and articulate voice to the task. The firm is in good hands.”

    Given that only three women hold the top position within the world’s 100 largest architecture firms (according to a recent Dezeen survey), Traci’s leadership also represents a crucial milestone for women in the design profession.

  5. Tulsa City-County Library’s Central Library named a New Landmark Library by Library Journal

    The third Library Journal New Landmark Libraries roundup focused on public libraries has recognized the Tulsa City-County Library’s Central Library as one of its six winners. The series focuses on libraries that successfully work with their individual communities to inform building design. This year’s jurors included Eva Poole, executive director of Virginia Beach Public Library; Mar González Palacios, associate director of special collections for Yale University’s Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library; Misty Jones, director of San Diego Public Library; Matthew Bollerman, chief executive officer of Hauppauge Public Library; and Aude Jomini, senior associate with Pelli Clarke Pelli. Along with New Landmark Libraries project coordinator Emily Puckett Rodgers, they evaluated candidate projects based on five key criteria:
    1. Community engagement in design
    2. Sustainability
    3. Functionality
    4. Innovation
    5. Beauty and delight

    Describing the Tulsa City-County Library’s Central Library renovation, Emily Puckett Rodgers states, “A variety of design, programming, and infrastructure interventions, led by Traci Engel Lesneski at MSR Design, created a building that is exemplary in the field of generative design: The focus was to maximize the health and well-being of its occupants and to minimize the long-term effects of its operations on the environment.”

    The Tulsa City-County Library’s Central Library urban renewal project contributes to the revitalization of a second-tier city’s struggling downtown core by transforming a dated central library and inhospitable civic plaza into a prized community destination for active learning and creative engagement. Key features of the reimagined library include a revitalized civic plaza and new public garden for programming and community events; new parking garage with an enclosed two-story link to the library building; clear, secure entry sequence in which all ways of entering the library collect into one main lobby area; restored access to shade-giving balconies; full-service café; interactive education center for research and development of learning practices; makerspace with recording studio and flight simulators; destination children’s library with direct access to the garden; and a wide mix of spaces in which people can meet, collaborate, study, work, and play.

    Tulsa City-County Library CEO Kimberly Johnson explains, “We’ve adapted to the world around us and helped propel our community forward, further moderating inequities in areas such as access to information, educational achievement, and economic opportunity.”

  6. MSR Design announces five new associates

    Simona Fischer
    “Simona is truly inspiring in her ability to shape multiple dialogues within our firm, and in the greater professional sphere, around sustainability. She is passionate about the values of sustainability and equity, and she gets deeply involved leading efforts to make the world a better place for all. It fills me with pride to see her fiercely press us to always do more good in the world, in any way we can, through design.”
    —Paul Mellblom, Principal

    Ben Lewis
    “Ben has demonstrated exceptional design leadership on his projects and brings a wonderful rigor to his work. His insatiable curiosity and willingness to take on new project roles and test new design tools have been a huge benefit to our firm. In addition to a very deep talent, Ben demonstrates a thoroughness and attention to detail—all with a positive spirit and collegiality. We congratulate Ben as a new firm associate and look forward to his continued growth and contributions.”
    —Traci Lesneski, Principal

    Patrick Lynch
    “Patrick brings a thoughtful and deliberate perspective to design thinking, continuing an MSR design tradition rooted in an academic approach. This focus is exemplified by the connections he has made within academia, as well as the professional community. Patrick’s use of new technologies and traditional methods in design exploration positively influences design excellence within the office. I always enjoy discussing his ideas and the possibilities they inspire.”
    —Matthew Kruntorad

    Beth Roloff
    “Beth is a talented architect who elevates every project she is involved in. Both her positive attitude and her commitment to design excellence have been recognized and prized by our clients. A passionate and driven individual, Beth is also a delight to work with. Her dedication and attention to detail can be seen in every aspect of her work. We are very pleased to acknowledge Beth’s contribution and her importance to our firm by promoting her to an associate.”
    —Dagmara Larsen, Principal

    Jacklyn Vollema
    “Jacklyn has continually demonstrated a rigorous approach to our profession and a maturity beyond her years. She has taken on leadership roles on several projects and has led them with inspiring clarity and thoroughness. In addition to her excellent project stewardship, Jacklyn brings her very steady and pleasant personality to her work, adding to the joy of our office. I look forward to seeing her continued growth as an architect and the great work she will continue to bring to our projects.”
    —Jack Poling, Principal

  7. MSR Design promotes Kate Michaud to senior associate

    We are pleased to announce the promotion of Kate Michaud, AIA, LEED AP, to senior associate. MSR Design president Jack Poling, FAIA, LEED AP, states, “MSR senior associates are those who possess exceptional design and creative skills, have the ability to lead those designs through to fruition, and contribute more broadly to the success of our firm. Kate is fiercely dedicated to the firm and profession. She has led numerous very complex projects to success and has done so with a calmness and aplomb that inspire confidence in our project teams and clients.”

    Kate believes that everyone can benefit from good design and that buildings should positively impact their occupants and surrounding communities. As the recipient of the 2016 Scherer Travel Scholarship, she traveled to Bogota and Medellin, Colombia, to see firsthand how urban design has brought hope and increased opportunities for residents. Kate’s work has received numerous awards, including an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Chicago Distinguished Building Award.

    MSR principal Paul Mellblom, AIA, LEED AP, BD+C, adds, “I have had the great pleasure to work with Kate on multiple projects. She brought a rigor to each project that quickly convinced me that the project was in the right hands. Kate is both a talented designer and a good leader. How fortunate we all are to work with Kate.”

    “I firmly believe that good design can make a difference in people’s lives,” says Kate. She continues, “I have spent much of my career working on community-based projects, including libraries, affordable housing, and spaces for nonprofit organizations. MSR consists of dedicated, passionate designers who are invested in doing better for our communities and our environment. I’m thrilled to be part of this group and honored to be named a senior associate.”

    “Kate is a joy to work with, always steady, positive, and focused,” says Jack. “And she has an amazing sense of humor. I couldn’t be happier or prouder to welcome her as a new MSR senior associate.”

  8. 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.

  9. 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.        

  10. 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.”