MSR Design is making an impact on its clients and the overall state of the architecture industry in Minneapolis.
THE PRINCIPLES AND EMPLOYEES at MSR Design in Minneapolis are dedicated to building a foundation for the future – for MSR itself as well as the marketplace as a whole. According to principal Paul C.N. Mellblom, MSR Design aims to deliver structures that exceed customer demands, creating repeat clients for the business as well as improving the overall reputation of the building industry.
“Internally, we often talk about the goal to provide a great customer experience with our aspirations of creating buildings that surpass client expectations on many levels,” Mellblom says. “We are very fortunate to have very long, established relationships with many of our clients. We have a high rate of repeat and referred clients – even in the project types that normally do not engender people doing multiple buildings over their work life.”
MSR – short for Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle Ltd.– Design was founded in the early 1980s. The three founders – Tom Meyer, Jeff Scherer and Garth Rockcastle – had a clear focus on design excellence and bringing that sensibility to every project in the office, according to Mellblom.
The philosophy has worked, if the countless awards MSR Design has earned are any indication. The company has won over 130 regional, state and national design awards for a variety of project types including housing, affordable housing, municipal libraries, corporate buildings, nature centers and academic arts facilities.
“The three founding partners along with the five second-generation partners still practice with that ethos today – as does our incredibly talented staff,” Mellblom says.
MSR Design has been working with the University of Minnesota’s College of Design to tie academic research to architecture on an intentional basis. According to Mellblom, MSR has staff working on developing better tools and processes that relate academic research to the applied side of design, advancing how the industry can design and build better buildings.
“We have had MSR staff and [University of] Minnesota graduate students working together on methods to measure overall project energy efficiency successes and how to improve them; better tools for designers to readily understand the quantitative and qualitative impact of different design strategies related to natural daylighting and glazing selection; and the impact of materials we select on the inherent health of people in our buildings,” Mellblom says.
MSR also has been working with a partnership of Parsons School of Design and Healthy Building Network (HBN) to pilot tools they are developing to help designers select healthier materials. According to Mellblom, Parsons and HBN are creating and refining a tool called the Avoided Hazards Index (AHI), which is a database of known toxins in commonly used building materials organized so designers know what is in the products they select and can make informed choices.
“The goal is to have the necessary hard data to understand the health benefit of the materials we specify,” Mellblom says. “The cool outcome of this research is that the AHI will give designers the quantity of hazardous chemicals they avoided putting into buildings by making well-informed selections.”
Mellblom says this database is a step forward for the design and construction community to bring the same level of scrutiny and advancement of creating healthy living environments in much the same way the industry handles energy and water efficiency.
“This information and other like efforts have the potential for us to reduce the negative effects of spending the vast majority of our lives inside buildings – maybe even finding ways to make our time spent indoors a rejuvenating and health-positive experience for the masses,” Mellblom says.
Putting its sustainable and green design methods into practice, MSR Design recently completed the Rose, a high-performance, cold-climate, mixed affordable and market-rate housing development in Minneapolis. The Rose provides 90 new apartments that will save residents approximately 72 percent on their utility bills.
According to Mellblom, the project used the Living Building Challenge as a framework to reduce the building’s impact on the environment.
This called for reducing energy, infiltrating 90 percent of stormwater on-site, creating healthy living environments through better material selection, and preserving a dedicated outdoor air system that filters air for the building five times before it is delivered to the apartments.
“And we did this in a building that is beautiful [and] provides extensive site amenities for use by the entire neighborhood,” Mellblom says.
Like most sustainable initiatives, construction of the Rose did cost considerably more – 25 percent – than traditional buildings in the region. However, Mellblom believes it is worth it.
“Now, that 25 percent is a lot, but much of it was, we believe, a premium paid for pioneering an unconventional approach to the building’s design,” Mellblom says.
Despite having earned a number of awards already for its work, MSR has its sights set on one big prize – the coveted national firm of the year honor from the American Institute of Architects. Mellblom says the award would be a great way to honor the people who have helped make MSR Design what it is today.
“That would be very cool – and a great witness to the very fine group of people I work with every single day,” Mellblom says.