34 Years Transforming the Student Experience: Principal Eric Moss Retires

May 27, 2021
Colby College, Alfond Commons
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Architect and Principal Eric Moss’ work has shown how architecture can elevate experience and embody mission. After a 34-year career at Ayers Saint Gross, Eric is retiring from the firm in June of 2021. As a respected architect and thought leader focused on higher education, he devoted his career to designing spaces that elevate the holistic student experience. Among his notable projects are new student housing villages at Emory University, Clemson University, the University of Virginia, Goucher College, the University of Delaware, and Virginia Commonwealth University. His other transformational projects include the Rams Head Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Alfond Commons at Colby College, and Whittle-Johnson and Pyon-Chen Halls at the University of Maryland, where he serves as a member of the Architecture and Landscape Review Board.

Ayers Saint Gross via Camden Yards

Eric’s path to Ayers Saint Gross began in the summer of 1986. Upon returning to the United States after a graduate year abroad in Florence, he worked for an architectural firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While attending a baseball game at Fenway Park, he became fascinated with the Green Monster’s remarkable height, a contextual response to the short distance between home plate and Lansdowne Street: the left-field wall had to be tall enough to make a homerun a challenge. His interest in the Green Monster’s site-specific impact was the genesis of his thesis, a distinctive baseball stadium responding to its context. Around the same time, Eric learned the Baltimore Orioles were looking at sites for a new baseball stadium. He visited the city and saw the B&O Warehouse, a massive 1,116-foot brick structure near the Inner Harbor, on one of the more than 20 potential sites. Preserving the warehouse and incorporating it into the new stadium became the focus of his thesis and eventual move to Baltimore to pursue a career at Ayers Saint Gross.

In the July 8, 1993 The Baltimore Sun article “Unsung heroes of Camden Yards,” Edward Gunts wrote, “One of the first real hints of what a Camden Yards ballpark might look like came from Eric Moss, a Syracuse University student who designed one in 1987 for his…architecture thesis. The scale model he brought to town after graduation presented an alluring vision of a ballpark that opens up to the city, providing sweeping views of the downtown skyline. In many ways it presaged the current ballpark, down to the curved seating bowl and recycled warehouse behind right field.”

Impact on Higher Education and Student Life

Eric’s creative vision and thoughtful design approach has endured in all his work. As Ayers Saint Gross grew and shifted its focus to higher education planning and design in the 1990s, Eric dedicated his career to designing student life and academic buildings—with a particular focus on transforming the student housing experience on campuses. He immersed himself in the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I), the preeminent organization supporting the on-campus residential experience. He saw an opportunity to elevate the student experience by shifting the paradigm of student housing design from a dormitory, a place for sleep, to a residence hall, a place where students can live, learn, and thrive in a supportive community. His design philosophy focused on connecting people to each other and to an institution at as many scales as possible, creating a richness of experience that leads to lifelong engagement and success. His projects realize mission in built form.

A Vision for the Future

As Eric moves forward into his well-deserved retirement, his impact is long-lasting. Over the past several decades, Eric has cultivated and worked side-by-side with a passionate team of interdisciplinary designers (architects, landscape architects, interior designers, graphic designers, and planners) who have collaborated with clients to program, plan, and design more than 185,000 beds and a range of vibrant academic and student life spaces on campuses around the world. That team includes individuals from all three Ayers Saint Gross offices in Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Tempe, including Alice Brooks, Linnea Kessler-Gowell, Michelle Kollmann, Dennis Lynch, Cooper Melton, Eric Zahn, Eric Zobrist, and many others who share his philosophy of mission-driven design. Eric has been a colleague, mentor, and friend to many and will remain a trusted advisor for years to come.

Gunts, E. (1993, July 8). Unsung heroes of Camden Yards. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1993-07-08-1993189053-story.html

Spaces for Reflection

May 25, 2021
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Understanding the impact of mental health and wellness, colleges and universities are implementing new strategies to better serve their students, faculty, and staff. Well-being is multifaceted and can have many different influences depending on the needs of the individual and community served. It is having effective means to deal with stress, it is feeling accepted on campus, it is inextricably tied to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Most importantly, it is recognizing the importance of belonging.

This is a big topic and eschews simple answers, but it begins with institutions and partners recognizing the importance of the discussion, and continues with implementation in the physical world. There’s no universal solution, so designers must resist preconceived notions and actively pursue holistic designs that reflect the unique needs of the project and shared values of the team and community at every scale.

Arizona State University has a broad mission of inclusion as part of student success. As evidenced by its Charter: “ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.” Inclusivity is a vital piece of their mission. At the heart of campus, the university seeks to ensure that there is a place for everyone and that all are supported. A goal of Ayers Saint Gross, in all our work, is to translate mission into the built environment. The Hayden Library Reinvention presented an incredible opportunity to tie all these elements together.

Serving more than 70,000 on-campus students, and receiving close to 2 million visitors annually, Hayden Library is open to students, faculty, staff, and the public, providing vital support to the community. The Hayden Library Reinvention incorporates gender-inclusive restrooms, wellness and lactation rooms, an interfaith reflection space, and an ablution room to better serve its diverse users. Providing these spaces in a landmark building within the campus core is the built implication of a cultural shift toward equity and inclusion.

The interfaith reflection space is open to all and is an important example of how everything in the Hayden Library is designed to create a comfortable and supportive environment. The team sought to push beyond what has been done with similar space in the past. It was vital that the room was not just a room with a window and that nothing about the room was an afterthought – this is a programmed and well-designed space in a prominent location. Users do not need to force another space into this role and the room aids the goal of normalizing that stress and anxiety are major issues and that it’s okay to need to pause and refocus.

There is a high level of intention in the design. The team engaged extensively with ASU stakeholders to get a deep understanding of the mission before progressing with the programming. The design team looked for how to ensure that the location of the space made sense, was accessible, and was visible. This space is a priority, and its location in the building needed to reflect that. Throughout the building, layered thresholds transition to the interior of the building. Traditionally enclosed programs break out and open into each other, blending use and ownership, and creating opportunities for cross-pollination. So here, the rooms have access to view and natural light. The space is proportioned and sized for groups and individuals. The colors are rich, but tonal and calming. The light is filtered from the circulation space, controllable at the windows, and dimmable within the rooms. The design meets the acoustic goals for the space and maximizes the control occupants have on their immediate environment. All of this is to further connect people and place to protect and improve physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.

The interfaith reflection space has an intentional proximity to other wellness functions in the library. It is located at a primary entrance and stair, to be most convenient to students traveling between classes in and around the library. It is paired with a small market and open hospitality areas for making and eating a meal, studying, and socializing, along with other wellness related programing. These are active and well-traveled spaces. This sets up the space to be seen and used. It also establishes a sense of place and theme for the area as people traverse the building. It is also adjacent to an ablution room and wellness rooms. Reinforcing the need for everyone to be welcome and supported, this is again specifically designed to provide a comfortable place for people to perform their daily practices, meeting their needs where they are.

While visibility and ensuring that this space was as celebrated as the rest was important, when seeking a place of meditation and reflection, privacy may be the priority. The room features several private enclosures for this purpose. The diversity and versatility that characterizes the other spaces in the building is extended here as well.

Solutions that prioritize human health and well-being are larger than their project boundary and engage the broader community in building wellness and resilience. It is important to engage the community in a dialogue to consider the opportunities and impact around encouraging healthy lifestyle, increasing occupant comfort, being welcoming and inclusive, connecting people with place, and the environment, and reducing negative impacts or barriers to wellness, throughout the design process and through implementation. Hayden Library Reinvention is a testament to the importance and value of welcoming and supporting every individual, to foster their success within and beyond the institution.

Green Week 2021: Celebrating Sustainability Accomplishments

April 28, 2021
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Last week was an incredibly special week at Ayers Saint Gross with so much to celebrate:

On Earth Day, the AIA announced this year’s COTE Top Ten Award winners and we are ecstatic to see the Arizona State University Hayden Library Reinvention recognized with this prestigious award. The reinvention of Hayden Library was a unique opportunity to transform a place for books into a place for people while preserving the project’s historic legacy. The precision of the design was inspired by critical and analytical discourse, a respect for past wisdom, a mind to future potential, and our belief that we have an obligation to leave places better than we found them. We offer a special thanks to all of our project collaborators especially our incredible client, Arizona State University, and our teammates Affiliated Engineers and Holder Construction. This project would not have been a success without their unwavering support and dedication.

Sustainability at Ayers Saint Gross has always recognized the careful balance between the unique needs of people and ecological systems with the economic realities inherent in each of our projects. Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are integral to the way we develop our projects, operate our practice, and develop future talent in the design industry’s pipelines. Completing our first Just Disclosure in 2019 was a critical step on our journey to becoming a more inclusive practice because it helped us quantify our commitment to equity in addition to following our instincts about doing what is right. We have recently renewed our Just Disclosure and are honored to be recognized as the first Just Organization of the Year and reaffirm our commitment to keep going – there is no sustainability without social justice.

Last, but certainly not least, we recognized the top-performing projects under design in 2020 with our in-house Carrot Awards. Sustainable design is sometimes oversimplified as a “carrots and sticks” process, in which carrots are incentives that inspire great design and sticks are cumbersome requirements design teams have to meet. We believe sustainable design is great design and we recognize our top performers each year with Carrot Awards to inspire healthy competition within ourselves to progress toward our goal of reducing the embodied and operational carbon of our entire design portfolio 50% by 2030.

Reducing embodied and operational carbon emissions starts with great planning and space analytics work that prioritizes renovation, renewal, and revised space metrics. This year we’re pleased to celebrate Northern Kentucky University. The space analysis completed by our team helped the planning process to elevate spaces to their highest and best uses which ultimately empowered a significant emphasis on renovation, renewal, and modest additions in lieu of tearing buildings down to begin again. The overall strategy will help preserve embodied carbon while improving operational performance.

In Architecture and Interiors, we use our most recent AIA2030 reporting data to identify which whole building project had the greatest reduction in predicted energy use intensity and which interior project had the greatest reduction in lighting power density. Reductions in these metrics help to reduce the operational carbon emissions of our projects by reducing energy consumption.

This year we’re proud to celebrate the Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center at the Missouri Botanical Garden as our whole building award winner. Currently under construction, this project is anticipated to have a 51% reduction in energy use intensity compared to baseline and will feature a rooftop photovoltaic array. The project is also pursuing a LEED Gold certification. We’re also pleased to recognize the interior renovation of Kent State University’s Cunningham Integrated Science Building. This renewal project is anticipated to reduce lighting power density by 40% from baseline. Together these projects, and so many like them across our practice, are helping to reduce the operational carbon impact of buildings for years to come.

Beyond reductions in embodied and operational carbon emissions, there are opportunities to sequester carbon in the landscapes our firm designs. Each year we look to celebrate the landscape design that stores the greatest amount of carbon annually as we understand that biodiverse landscapes have a critical role to play in the fight against climate change. This year we’re happy to announce the landscape we’re designing for Howard Community College’s Math and Athletics Complex will store approximately 240 metric tons of CO2 annually; that’s equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of driving over 600,000 miles in an average passenger vehicle. Through a combination of native and adapted planting and a limited use of intensively mown turf grass, the project will productively manage stormwater while providing a welcoming environment.

The Carrot Award winner from our Graphic Design studio reiterates the importance of inclusion in our firm’s definition of sustainability. Our work on the Bowie State University Signage & Wayfinding project instantly developed a campus landmark that inspires campus pride and community connectivity. Developing signage and wayfinding signage also empowered both new and returning campus users in easily accessing Bowie State’s facilities.

Courtesy of Bowie State University

Congratulations to all our winners. I already can’t wait to see what’s in store for our firm in the next year and the meaningful ways in which we’ll continue advancing toward our goals.

Green Week 2021: Learning Sessions Elevate Our Design

April 26, 2021
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Last week Ayers Saint Gross celebrated its ninth annual Green Week with six learning sessions to elevate sustainability literacy within our staff, advance high-performance design for our clients, and celebrate our sustainability achievements over the last year.

On Monday we welcomed Lincoln Smith of Forested Creative Ecology and learned more about forest gardening methods that can produce nutritious food for people and restore thriving ecosystems. Importantly, we learned about when in the succession of a forest ecosystem the most carbon is sequestered–this is highly relevant to our firm’s goal to reduce the embodied and operational carbon of our design portfolio 50% by 2030.

We continued to learn more about carbon on Tuesday with a presentation by Jacob Knowles and Turan Karakus from BR+A and Alejandra Menchaca from Thornton Tomasetti who provided insight about the embodied carbon of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Life Cycle Analysis and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) on such systems are in short supply in our industry as we quickly work to reduce the embodied carbon of building envelope and structural systems, but this presentation highlighted that in buildings with significant system designs, such as laboratory facilities, the systems represent a significant source of embodied carbon. We’ll be advocating in the future that manufacturers increase their transparency and publish EPDs on a broader variety of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

Wednesday saw us learning from Ricca Design Studios about electrifying commercial kitchens, and the environmental, operational, and economical benefits of doing so. Going beyond the most visible components of a kitchen space, Kerri Fitzgerald and Greg Boguniewicz pointed out the wellness and equity improvements in improving air quality—a change inherent in removing the emissions from gas appliances.

On Thursday we had a double-header. Our lunchtime session featured our Sustainability Director, Allison Wilson, providing updates on our firm’s most recent AIA2030 Commitment report and the highest performing projects of the last year. We’ll be featuring those projects in an upcoming blog post. In the afternoon we hosted David Lehrer of UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment (CBE) for a research and design forum. David outlined the insights that can be gleaned from 20 years of CBE occupant survey data and how that information can influence current and future design projects.

On Friday we rounded out the week’s activities with an in-house presentation by yours truly and Chris Hazel. We shared updates with our colleagues about the whole building life cycle assessments we’ve completed in-house, as well as the analytical tools we’re using to support data-driven design decisions.

The week engaged over 90 members of the Ayers Saint Gross team through its learning sessions and awarded a total of 369 continuing education hours that support our team in staying current. We can’t wait to put this knowledge to use and to continue to improve.

Post-Pandemic Campus Design Insights

April 15, 2021
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As part of their reporting on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education campuses, The Chronicle of Higher Education reached out to Shannon Dowling, Luanne Greene, and Dennis Lynch for their expertise. In the recent article, “The Pandemic May Have Permanently Altered Campuses. Here’s How,” they share their insights on the ways the pandemic has accelerated trends, what changes may be long-term, and how institutions are rethinking academic, office, and student life spaces to better serve the student population in the future.

Read the article here.

Announcing 2021 Promotions

March 30, 2021
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As a resilient, employee-owned design firm, Ayers Saint Gross is always looking toward the future. We embrace change, overcome obstacles, and grow together.

Challenges inspire us to learn and innovate. Ayers Saint Gross thrived in 2020 because project teams found new ways to remain collaborative while working from home, and thought leaders guided our clients through complexity with confidence. These are accomplishments made possible by people — by individuals contributing and giving their all for one another. We saw the dynamism and strength of our employees as people were forced out of their comfort zones and as individuals rose to the occasion.

We are dedicated to being interdisciplinary and ensuring that diverse and unique skillsets are supported. This is how we get stronger and add value for our clients.

The following quotes are a sampling of words written in support of colleagues’ promotions, offered entirely to recognize and uplift others.


On Bold Vision:

“She demonstrates a high level of passion and commitment to shaping the future. She has gained the trust of teammates and clients and is deeply committed to excellence and pushing forward.”

“She is a super professional, unshakable, responsible leader who truly understands where we are and where are are going. She perseveres and always faces challenges head-on with a solution-oriented mind.”


On Client Service:
“They have demonstrated a sincere commitment to ensuring that each project results in an excellent outcome for the client, and consistently goes above and beyond to see the work to completion. They excel at connecting with clients, who represent a diverse mix of institutions.”

“Her engagement with clients is superb, and they look to her for advice and guidance. She has set a high bar for others to follow. Her dedication is a tremendous asset.”


On Leadership:
“He excels in design at every scale and serves as a mentor for others. His projects are award winning, and he always leaves an indelible mark. He continues to inspire us all and elevates every project he touches.”

“She has shown herself to be one of the strongest staff I have worked with. She shows a great work ethic, goes above and beyond regularly to take on additional tasks, and has an eagerness to grow and the ability to ever expand her knowledge.”


On the Interdisciplinary Spirit of the Firm:
“I have been extremely impressed with her work ethic, to work across all disciplines seamlessly (and effortlessly), and her own desire for growth and firm-wide knowledge-all in the spirit of making the firm better.”

“He has shown the ability to work at multiple levels, from planning to building. He has risen to be a true leader across all areas.”

“Their ability to manage multiple tasks and projects has shown her organization and drive. They jump into any task or project with enthusiasm and professionalism and has consistently receives praise. This attitude shows their one firm mentality and their constant desire to provide value.”


These promotions are not solely a reward for past work, but a vote of confidence for what they are going to do next. As we celebrate these individuals, we’re excited to discover what the future holds.

Principals
Alice Brooks
Tim Burkett
Sally Chinnis
Jon Eaton
Katy Hunchar
Jessica Leonard
Dan McKelvey
Glenn Neighbors
Kirsten Owings
Dana Perzynski
Amelle Schultz
Lindsay Story

Associate Principals
Jon Catania
Katarina Carlin
Amy Cuddy
Michelle Moseley
Greg Overkamp
Tarek Saleh
Jasmine Shah
Laura White
Eric Zahn

Senior Associates
Gintas Civinskas
Aaryne Elias
Scott Fundling
Kevin Jones
Nathan Korkki
Kirby Long
Daniel Lucenti
Jeff Phang
Sam Polinik
Corey Rothermel

Associates
Greta Arnold
J.J. Cao
Jeff Cheek
Sophie Habib
Chris Hazel
Amanda Hodgson
Angi Kwak
Paul Lancaster
Mike McGrain
Monica Retzke
Tim Shook
Tim Stapleton
Brittany Tasho
Evan Todtz
Greer Wendling

Mentorship Leaders

February 10, 2021
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In addition to being leaders on their design teams, many Ayers Saint Gross employees devote themselves to mentorship groups. We are happy to celebrate some of their leadership successes and the causes they support here.

At the beginning of the new year Beresford Pratt stepped into the role of Communications Director and Editor in Chief of “Connection,” the publication of the AIA National Young Architects Forum (YAF). This comes on the heels of a successful two-year term as a Young Architect Regional Director for the YAF.

The YAF is one of three membership groups in the AIA and focuses specifically on Architects and designers who have been licensed for fewer than ten years. With a mission-driven goal of promoting leadership, mentorship, and fellowship, the forum allows members to explore issues that emerging professionals are passionate about, and provides a valuable platform for them to help shape the industry in real-time.

One of Beresford’s greatest accomplishments as a Young Architect Regional Director was authoring and leading the effort for a toolkit on “how to start/grow an emerging professionals committee”.

“This toolkit examines how to start and grow an emerging professional program. We interviewed 8 chapters across the nation, getting a wide breadth of chapter sizes and locations. We were able to gain great insight into how chapters operate and what made them successful.  I was excited to hear we even had international interest from as far away as Singapore to help build their program.”

“Connection” is the YAF’s most outward facing communication tool, and it plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between local and national issues while creating discourse on the most demanding current topics.

“This past year has been a year like no other, and emerging professionals have been striving to tackle some big challenges within our profession, from climate action, practice innovation, and JEDI. One of the most dynamic tools we use to communicate is “Connection,” produced by emerging professionals with practical takeaways.”

While his new role may have a more national focus, we are proud to share Beresford’s recent article highlighting some of the local pipeline initiative work he and others at Ayers Saint Gross have championed. These initiatives exposed more students to the possibilities of a career in design at Beechfield Elementary School as well as mentorship in design with the Baltimore Design School.

Beresford currently sits on the board of the Baltimore chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects and is a key force in continuing Ayers Saint Gross’s relationship with United Way–he sits on the Emerging Leaders United council. He has recently joined the board of the Baltimore Design School.


Allison Wilson is the 2020 – 2021 Chair for the ACE Mentor Program of America’s Austin affiliate Board of Directors.

ACE provides opportunities for high school students to get an inside look at the architecture, construction, and engineering professions and future careers of which they might not otherwise be aware. The program includes approximately sixteen weeks of mentoring, field trips, and team-based project development.

Within their project teams, students identify what aspects of the design process are of greatest interest and cultivate both industry-specific design skills, such as how to read and document floor plans and construction budgets as well as transferrable skills like collaboration, negotiation, and public speaking.

Allison served as a mentor from 2016 – 2017 and was recognized as Mentor of the Year by her students before joining the board to not just deliver the program but help design it.

“I got involved with ACE to help students better navigate their professional ambitions. As a high school senior, I was handed a list of every accredited school of architecture in the United States and my parents and I had to figure out the various program types and applications ourselves, which was overwhelming. Chairing the board allows me to empower future architects, engineers, and contractors with information that allows them to make better informed decisions about their futures.”

While the past year has certainly had challenges, under Allison’s leadership the program successfully continued.

“We pivoted our whole program to a fully remote experience in 10 days. We have continued to meet every Thursday, just like always. Sessions in Spring 2020 were recorded and we cut together the student videos with support from Lost Note Productions to one final presentation that we showed during our live streamed party. Now, moving forward, we know we can do this and how.” The program hosted a mini-series in Fall 2020 and began its Spring 2021 program on February 4.


Principal Stephen Wright, AIA, was elected President of the Washington Architectural Foundation (WAF). Founded by the American Institute of Architects DC, the WAF focuses on outward-facing initiatives. This includes mentorships, public outreach, and community-oriented programs to open the world of design to a broader number of people. As a mission, the Washington Architectural Foundation is dedicated to educating and engaging the greater DC community, focusing on students, teachers, professionals, and the public to demonstrate the transformative power of architecture.

“This is our chance to get people excited about design and the world around them. Especially in a city like Washington DC, there are so many buildings to wonder ‘what does this mean?’ and ‘how did it get there?’ But it is most rewarding to focus on the next generation. We bring architecture to schools, and show opportunities exist that students may not even be aware of. We encourage people to think bigger, and I love to help raise the discourse in design.”


Read more about Ayers Saint Gross employees work outside of the office:

Amber Wendland Joins the Neighborhood Design Center Board of Directors
Elevating Design and Research Outside of the Office

Awards: 2020 in Review

December 17, 2020
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2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. While these challenges are never far from our minds, as the year draws to a close, we look too for moments of celebration. This year, Ayers Saint Gross projects were honored with more than 27 design awards, including 11 from the AIA and 4 from the ASLA. As a multidisciplinary design firm, it is a tremendous honor to be recognized for work that thoughtfully integrates all our disciplines – architecture, landscape architecture, interiors, planning, space analytics, and graphic design – to create holistic and sustainable environments that provide long-term value for our clients. Additionally, a number projects were recognized for multiple awards, both in this year and as multi-year winners.

We extend these honors to our incredible clients and collaborators who are vital to the success of each project.

Selected Awards

Washington College Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall
AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Grand Design Award
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Merit Award for Institutional Architecture
AIA Chesapeake Bay Excellence in Design Honor Award for Non-Residential New Construction and Sustainability Award

Enoch Pratt Free Library
AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Award and Michael F. Trostel, FAIA Award for Historic Preservation
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Award – Citation for Institutional Architecture
Daily Record Excellence in Construction and Real Estate Award
Preservation Maryland Preservation Artisan Award
Baltimore Heritage Preservation Award

Arizona State University Hayden Library Reinvention
AIA Western Mountain Region Design Excellence – Citation Award for Historic Rehabilitation – Built
Architect’s Newspaper Best of Design Awards – Editor’s Pick in the Institutional Libraries Category

Colby College Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons
AIA Maryland AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Award – Citation for Institutional Architecture
AIA Arizona Design Award for Interiors

Providence Innovation District Master Plan and Point225
AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Merit Award for Urban Design and Master Planning

Washington University in St. Louis Bryan Hall
AIA St. Louis Design Merit Award

Bancroft Elementary School
USGBC National Capital Region Innovative Project of the Year – New Construction, Schools

Clemson University Douthit Hills Student Community
AIA Columbia (SC) Design Award – Merit Award

University of North Texas Interdisciplinary Research & Education Building (IREB)
IIDA Southwest Pride Award Design Excellence in Higher Education

Staying Authentic in a Virtual World

December 4, 2020
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Engagement is at the core of Ayers Saint Gross’s practice. It is foundational to all our interactions, and built on listening, understanding, and sharing. Our engagement practices have long been a hybrid of face-to-face interactions and digital methods, but as our ways of working and living have adapted to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, our digital methods have expanded to include new technologies. This is a shift our team has made thoughtfully to ensure the client-focused nature of our engagement doesn’t change. We produced this video highlighting aspects of our virtual engagement process:

For much of my career, I’ve spent a great deal of time with people, engaging clients face-to-face and forging relationships. One thing the pandemic has reinforced is the importance of those relationships as an irreplaceable piece of how we work. So how do we nurture relationships when we can’t be together in person? Having a mastery of the tools mentioned in the video is a must, but equally important is maintaining the authenticity and energy that comes from face-to-face meetings. We often say that planning is a process as much as it is a product. Much of that process is creating a series of experiences across multiple forums to ensure all voices are heard and all ideas are shared.

Here are some of my lessons learned for more effective virtual engagement:

Shorter meetings work better. Traditionally, in-person workshops can be multi-day experiences. There is a great deal of value in being in the same room, spending time getting to the heart of problem-solving for a specific project.  With virtual engagement, it is often better to have multiple, shorter work sessions. These more frequent touchpoints still center around personal connections, but are more workable and realistic with the virtual format. Where longer meetings are a must, including different forms of engagement throughout keeps people focused and actively participating in the meeting.

Take a second to breathe. It is important with digital collaboration to create some space once you or someone else is done speaking. Though a virtual meeting can still be very exciting and invigorating, you can’t chime in directly after someone in quite the same way you can in face-to-face interaction.

Preparation is key. Think through the agenda and how people will engage with the tools. If the tool is something they haven’t used before, send a tutorial ahead of time. Spend time at the beginning of the meeting to orient people. The best virtual engagement sessions take the best from face-to-face interaction and elevate the experience with digital tools. Be sure to give people space to express themselves and if there is a large group consider using breakout sessions for portions of a meeting. This helps keep everyone involved authentically. I have also really come to value chat features to have more people participate and document their thoughts alongside verbal conversation. And of course, we all need to laugh at ourselves from time to time. Even with all the preparation in the world, glitches will occur, life will intervene, any number of things may happen. Remember: we’re all human and we’re all learning.

We are excited to continue experimenting with and elevating virtual engagement practices. Beyond the pandemic, we envision many long-term benefits including reducing our carbon footprint, reaching broader stakeholder groups, and adding workable, accessible touchpoints to our processes. We look forward to continuing to learn and collaborate with you.

Jessica Leonard is an associate principal in the planning and architecture groups. Contact Jessica.

Driving Building Performance With Data

October 14, 2020
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This post is a collaboration between Rishika Shrivastava and Chris Hazel.

Ayers Saint Gross has long embraced sustainability as a vital component of good design and we believe the more research we perform and the more data we collect, the greater our ability to achieve ambitious sustainability goals and design more beautiful and functional buildings for our clients. We have focused our thinking about building performance into two categories: embodied carbon and operational carbon.

Embodied Carbon

We utilize Whole Building Life Cycle Assessments (WBLCA) to investigate the impact and opportunities of construction materials and products to achieve our embodied carbon reduction goals. WBLCA looks at the environmental impacts of building materials (including global warming potential) over their entire life cycle—from extraction and manufacturing through the landfill or recycling plant. 

We are calculating the embodied carbon of completed projects to identify which components or life cycle stages are the largest contributors to environmental impact, and will leverage this information to inform even stronger design processes in the future.

One project we’ve completed a WBLCA on is the Hayden Library Reinvention. By renovating existing buildings in lieu of tearing them down and constructing with new materials, we avoid the embodied carbon of new construction altogether. WBLCA was conducted to quantify how much embodied carbon was preserved by maintaining 95% of the building’s existing opaque envelope and structural system and how much additional embodied carbon was invested to make the building useful for the next 50+ years. Our analysis revealed 9000 MT of CO2e was preserved in the renovation while only another 550 MT of CO2e were spent. This example illustrates how building renovation or reuse can greatly reduce construction’s embodied carbon impact.

Structural systems and building envelopes tend to be significant sources of embodied carbon. For Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, we found that we could substantially reduce environmental impact by focusing on the materials chosen for curtainwall systems because of aluminum’s high embodied carbon. Similarly, focusing on thermal insulation also helped us reduce embodied carbon because some types of foam insulation, including expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS), and polyisocyanurate or spray foam insulation, have blowing agents with massive global warming potential. Specifying insulation materials with lesser embodied carbon can be helpful in reducing impact. 

Reducing embodied carbon in construction requires collaboration between designers, builders, structural engineers, and manufacturers across the building sector. WBLCA during the various design stages can be helpful in making choices between various building structural systems, assemblies, and products. We look forward to continued engagement with our partners to reach our embodied carbon reduction goals.

Operational Carbon 

While embodied carbon has more recently come to the forefront of sustainability discussions in the AEC industry, operational carbon (which occurs during the in-use phase of a building) has been the primary focus of sustainability thinking over the last several decades. Our thinking on operational carbon has continuously evolved and we are developing in-house digital tools and processes for measuring operational carbon throughout the design process so that we can produce buildings that function better, cost less to operate, are better for our planet, and are better aligned with our clients’ sustainability goals.

To reduce operational carbon in buildings, Ayers Saint Gross has been developing a process of iterative performance analysis throughout design. From early-stage climate analysis to understand site factors such as temperature, humidity, and solar access, to whole building energy models, we rely on thoroughly tested analysis tools and robust data to predict how buildings will perform prior to starting construction.

One of our most versatile methods for understanding building performance is known as “shoebox analysis.” By taking a simple, repeating element of the building (e.g., a single structural bay), we can run quick analyses on a small area but learn a lot about a large area of the building design.

We use this type of analysis to quickly learn about holistic effects of small design changes. For example, we can create a model with a small window and a large window in a repeated office module or student housing unit and compare how the variation in window size affects daylight access, outdoor view access, solar heat gain, thermal comfort, glare potential, and expected energy usage intensity (EUI). Since these models are small, we can run analyses in a fraction of the time of larger models and extrapolate the results to how a whole building is likely to perform.

The shoebox analysis is part of a larger toolkit developed by Ayers Saint Gross to evaluate expected building performance. These tools allow us to better study occupant comfort by visualizing more analytical and sensorial aspects of a building such as daylight access and thermal comfort. These tools provide a fast, reliable way for our design teams to optimize a building, saving owners money in both first costs and operational costs.

We’re excited to continue advancing strategies toward carbon neutrality. The tools we’re leveraging to optimize embodied carbon investments and reduce operational carbon will help us in aligning the people, programs, and places we serve to champion environmental stewardship, healthy living, and positive social and economic outcomes for all.

How Signage Optimizes High-Performance Buildings

October 13, 2020
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As more high performance design methods, materials, and systems are implemented in the built environment, it’s important not to forget that we as the human occupants of buildings still play a big role in their impact. Understanding occupant activities–the way people experience and use a structure over its lifespan–is key to maximizing the long-term value of any project and is a crucial part of creating effective designs.

Thoughtful signage can inform, inspire, and ultimately bolster a building’s long-term success, ensuring that high-performance elements remain front and center for users throughout a project’s lifecycle. Ayers Saint Gross encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between our architecture and graphic design studios to create building-specific interior illustrations. Here are two examples from our portfolio that illustrate how signage can reinforce sustainable design choices and create more successful buildings.

Trippe Hall at Penn State Behrend

Penn State University has a robust sustainability mission to “comprehensively integrate sustainability into the University’s core fabric of research, teaching, outreach, and operations that will transform students, faculty, and staff into competent sustainability leaders capable of carrying out our vision for the future.” However, overall efforts can sometimes be difficult to implement at individual campuses.

For a residence hall at Penn State Behrend, sustainability signage had two major benefits: it earned LEED points via an Integrated Education Innovation Credit, and it helped align the Behrend campus’ sustainable efforts to the university’s mission. With increased mission awareness, Penn State students hopefully feel individually empowered and connected to each other by their sustainable actions. 

To highlight Trippe Hall’s high-performance elements, we designed a system of 26 unique interior signs that call attention to sustainable features throughout the building.

Of course, simply putting stats on signs is usually not enough to engage users. A didactic approach isn’t fun or memorable. So our design team created slightly cheeky copy and graphics, and used a relatively scaled-down size for the interior sustainability signage. The small, strategically placed signs are a fun discovery when a user adjusts shades in the lounge or does laundry. The interdisciplinary collaboration among our interiors, sustainability, and graphic design studios, and our in-house writing staff, resulted in a custom system that is memorable and inspires action.  

We also created a 43.5’ x 9’ vinyl wall graphic in the bike storage area, which is an exterior space in the notch of the building. The large, bright graphic provides desired lightness to the otherwise dark space as well. Included on the graphic are “stickers” that list destinations around campus and their bikeable distances, encouraging the use of bikes over vehicular travel.

Bancroft Elementary School

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) modernizations target LEED Gold certification and incorporate sustainability signage. The goal of including sustainability signage is to educate students on the benefits of sustainability and encourage environmental literacy and awareness.

As a part of the renovation and addition to Bancroft Elementary, sustainability signage was included as a part of a larger custom signage and wayfinding system. Originally proposed as a six-sign system installed throughout the school, our design evolved into one large graphic in a highly visible location at a scale appropriate for an elementary school audience. While small-scale signs with an element of surprise and discovery work well for college students, elementary-age students have short attention spans and multiple signs diluted the overall message. Additionally, since Bancroft students are usually confined to grade-level corridors, chances of all the students seeing all signs were limited.

Ultimately, we designed a 12’ x 10’ graphic for wall spaces on either side of the doors leading to a playground along a main corridor. Colorful graphics and statistics combined with kid-friendly messages in English and Spanish align with the school’s bilingual curriculum.

Both Trippe Hall and Bancroft Elementary demonstrate a heartening trend toward displaying sustainability information and inspiring a building’s users to take action.

Elevating Design and Research
Outside of the Office

October 9, 2020
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As an employee-owned firm, our people are our greatest strength. Even in the most challenging times, they exhibit expertise and leadership in their fields. October is Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) month, and a great time to celebrate the incredible work that employees are doing to elevate design and research in addition to providing great client service.


Architect Shannon Dowling was awarded a Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) fellowship. The SCUP Fellows program “supports members of the SCUP community seeking to carry out research that will benefit the integrated planning community and establish an accelerated path to an exceptional future.” Recipients are supported in their research by the organization and present at the national conference.

Over the next year, Shannon will study how colleges and universities can plan and design diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environments that embody those values in physical space and provide campus planners and facility designers with a set of metrics with which to assess physical space. The results of this study will help inform how to manifest these values on campus.

“Through the research, I hope to create a roadmap for architects and campus planners to address these issues in a way that is meaningful, authentic and creates a more inclusive and student-centered campus environment through thoughtful, informed, and provocative integrated planning.”

The project will use a case-study methodology, and Shannon will be analyzing the mission, vision, values, and most recent strategic and master plans for three different universities, looking for measurable physical goals relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through interviews with the University Architects and Campus Planners at each institution and comparisons of their plans and progress to peer institutions, she will look for patterns of successful ideas, designs, and campus interventions.

In the spring of 2021, Shannon will lead a workshop with interior design students, giving them a voice in the project and another avenue to share what’s been learned.

See the SCUP page for more details.


Melonee Quintanilla, a student intern working in the architecture practice group, won the 2020 AIA Maryland Excellence in Design Award for Graduate Student, Beginning Design. Her design “Lightbox,” was a vision for the renovation of the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation Building.

“I chose to do a renovation instead of demolishing and starting over for sustainability reasons, but I also wanted to preserve the existing sense of place in the building. The school has a lot of built-in memories, but there was room for improvement. The design goal was to uplift and share the architecture program with others and get more people exposed and involved in the practice. I also wanted to ensure that the landscape improved existing issues and presented a learning opportunity.”

The jury commented:

A thoughtful and well executed project. It received high marks in design excellence for literally elevating the architectural program on campus and incorporating a bioswale to deal with flooding issues. It was a very smart design move to put a light, glass-filled addition above the existing brick building, signaling the department’s activity to the university community and increasing the transparency of the architectural field.


Abby Thomas, with assistance from Connor Price and Mike McGrain, all from the landscape architecture practice group, had a concept selected for the Design for Distancing competition. This initiative by the City of Baltimore, the Baltimore Development Corporation, the Neighborhood Design Center, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public health set about looking for designs to reconfigure public space to safely patronize small business during the COVID-19 Pandemic. There were 162 total submissions, 10 of which were chosen for the design guidelines book. These designs will be implemented in some small business districts in and around Baltimore, and offer solutions that could be taken up nationwide.

The chosen design, “ParKIT” is a mobile kiosk designed to hold the key items for creating a pop-up park (the kiosk itself can then be used for any number of vending or service functions).

ParKIT and the other winners design briefs are here.

See page 48 for ParKIT from Ayers Saint Gross.