Revolutions in digital tools and technology are rapidly changing the landscape of many different industries across the globe. One of the latest innovations in digital technology is the widespread use of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Two Ankrom Moisan architects, Michael Great and Ramin Rezvani – Director of Design Strategy and Senior Project Designer, respectively – have recently begun to incorporate AI software into their design process, receiving encouraging results.
Before the advent of Artificial Intelligence software, precedent images sourced from Pinterest or similar could be used to establish the initial aesthetic direction of a project. Because not every feature of an image would be relevant for a certain project, these images were often cropped and/or collaged together, leading to unnecessary confusion if clients became attached to specific features in precedent images that were never intended to be a part of the final design. AI-generated images have the potential to circumvent that issue, providing inspiration imagery that is specific to a particular place, project, client and design.
Example of an AI-generated precedent image.
Recently, Michael and Ramin have been using AI to create precedent imagery for their projects. In their experience, renderings created by AI software such as Midjourney assist in streamlining the design process and ensuring that clients are on the same page as designers when it comes to project design and direction.
For many, Artificial Intelligence still represents an enigmatic, complicated technology of the future, reserved for the plots of science fiction movies. However, recent developments in technology have made AI and its uses more widespread and accessible than ever. To explain how AI can be utilized to generate unique outcomes and facilitate a cohesive design language for a project, Michael and Ramin sat down to answer some questions about how Midjourney is integrated into the projects they work on and to dispel common misconceptions about the technology.
Michael and Ramin together in the Portland office.
Q: When did you begin incorporating AI into your approach to project design? Why was this something you decided to do?
Our adoption of AI software has aligned with the technology’s continual improvement. Initially when we started experimenting with architectural imagery, it was giving us broad stroke building concept imagery. These were by no means a “design” but it got Ramin and I thinking, ‘Oh, this technology might be evolving to a place where we could utilize it more in the design process, let’s trial this a bit and see what we can get out of it.’
Part of my interest there is that historically architects have used precedent imagery to describe things that don’t exist yet, or to get clients aligned to what the design intent might be? Language doesn’t often get us to a full understanding. So, I think architects have always used imagery, whether that’s precedent imagery or rough sketches to just get alignment about the direction of a project aesthetically. Both Ramin and I have always thought it was strange that in this process you are often using existing buildings to convey new ideas. I think the advantage of using Midjourney and AI is that we can accomplish the same general task of conceptual alignment but show clients unique imagery that is specific to their project, place and aesthetic.
We just started playing around with Midjourney when it came out. It was really exciting and interesting, and we had no idea what it was, or what it could do, or how powerful it was the first couple of times we were testing it out. Then we tried to make it do something specific, and that’s where it started getting fascinating, because it’s potentially a huge shortcut for certain things- especially with generating concept imagery.
We kind of hit a wall with a project where we wanted to be able to quickly visually convey something that didn’t exist. We had some loose ideas influenced by some projects that only exist at a completely different scale than what we were looking at. We thought ‘let’s see if we can figure out how to combine all of these ideas and generate imagery to illustrate to the client where we are going with this.’ Through that process, getting imagery close to what we were trying to do was mind-blowing.
Final project design renders created by Michael and Ramin that were influenced by AI imagery.
Q: Ramin, you’ve said that AI is “like a paintbrush or any creative tool, you just need to figure out how to use it,” and Michael, that “it’s a language. You have to learn it, just like any software.” How did you both go about learning to use these tools, and how long did it take you to learn the language, so-to-speak?
I don’t know how far we actually are on that journey, and I think we have a long way to go. There are a ton of resources out there, though, in terms of helping you learn the language through prompt editing. But this is moving so fast that there is now software that will do your prompts for you. You can just add in a few descriptive words, and it’ll fill in the rest, writing it in the way that the AI software wants to see it. Every time you use it, the more you use it, you learn something about what the output is. The more trial and error you go through, the faster you get at getting to an image you can use.
You have to think differently about the words you are using to get the imagery desired. It’s a shift in how you think since you have to use fewer words to get your idea across. You must be specific and pointed while still giving the software enough information. From that standpoint, I feel like the faster you can get your mind into that mode of thinking, the better off you will be as AI continues to develop, because the premise of utilizing language to direct output will only accelerate from here.
What we all have to adapt to and learn is how to use language to describe what we want machines to do. But even that is probably a couple years from being obsolete. There seems to be an updated version of Midjourney every month that’s substantially better than the last. Even since we last talked, they’ve come out with reverse-prompt capability. So instead of putting a text prompt and getting an image, you can do the opposite, dropping in an image and getting a prompt. By doing so you can start to understand the language in reverse because you’re dropping in an image and the AI is telling you what it sees in text.
I’ve been using it a lot, trying to figure out how to create very specific imagery. Like Michael said, it’s a lot of trial and error. To be able to get usable images, it has definitely required a shift in the way that I think due to the way that the prompts work. I’ve been approaching it almost like a science experiment, changing the prompts slightly with each iteration to see what I get back visually with each update. But also, it’s not like you can master it because it’s changing so rapidly. The next versions will likely have a completely different interface, so the way that you write prompts will likely change too.
Q: Can you walk me through the typical steps of using Midjourney to create precedent imagery?
The process right now that we’ve been utilizing is that we’re trying to plug it in to an existing process. On a lot of our projects, we start by charette-ing and brainstorming, trying to develop a cohesive concept. AI software like Midjourney increases the speed at which we can reach solutions, because we’re not all going in different design directions.
What we’ve tried to do initially is take the guiding design principles for a project and feed those words into the AI to see what kind of visual representation it would create with our initial thoughts. So again, trying to accelerate the process a bit and get to visuals through words that we’ve already talked about or discussed to create alignment on design direction. As the technology evolves, there will be other ways for us to utilize it, maybe in final renderings, for instance. But right now, I think coming up with precedent imagery is the best use of it.
Visual breakdown of how guiding design principles and text prompts are used to generate new precedent imagery renderings with AI software.
Q: [You’ve] said that clients often don’t know what to make of design renderings when they learn that they were created by AI. What are some common misconceptions or misunderstandings about Artificial Intelligence that you’ve encountered since you began using it?
The most common misconception that Ramin and I have run into is that the AI-created images are just precedent imagery pulled from the internet. You have to explain that it’s not a search engine, it’s not finding an existing image on the web. Often, I have to describe what it does in shorthand for people to understand it.
One of the things I noticed right away was people asking ‘doesn’t this take the creative process out of architecture now that you have this image designed by AI?’ At least for the time being, I don’t feel that way. As a design team, you still have to generate the foundational ideas and coax the AI to output something that aligns with your goals and vision. It’s a quick way to get the team on the same page and discover interesting emergent qualities from concept intersections that you may not have discovered on your own. In our current workflow AI produced visuals are intended to draw from and quickly study a whole bunch of different ideas to curate the most interesting aspects of each, based on what we asked the software to do.
Q: Do you have any fears surrounding the use of AI or the rate at which it is evolving, a la Terminator’s Skynet?
Like any new technology, it absolutely has the ability to be used in various ways. I mean, there’s no way around that. I think there’s many applications of AI that could be negative, primarily in terms of its ability to manipulate people. But in terms of what we do, there’s not much risk if you understand it’s just one tool out of many that we can use. It’s not like Midjourney will actually produce architecture. It produces ideas that a designer still has to understand, edit, and synthesize into a project’s end design.
It’s hard to tell right now what is going to change and how much it will change. I’m definitely concerned about it, not just for the field of architecture, but for humans. In general, I feel like no technology has advanced this quickly before and it will continue to accelerate. There are just so many unknowns but I’m sure we will quickly see AI implementation in daily life. I think that we’ll know a lot more in the next five years or so.
AI process design results, highlighting the Midjourney-generated concept renderings that Michael and Ramin synthesized and incorporated into the initial massing render for a project.
Q: With the rapid speed at which AI changes and evolves, how do you envision the future of AI as it relates to architecture? What about the future of architecture as it relates to AI?
I think that AI continues a theme that has remained consistent throughout the last 100 years in terms of how architecture utilizes technology. Usually, it’s used to speed up the design process. One thing about architecture that’s so different from a lot of other professions is that it still relies on artistry, but there’s always a ‘hurry-up’ type of attitude, we are often pushed to develop designs and drawings faster and faster because of project economics. So, we’re always looking for tools to speed up the process. In addition, architecture is a broad profession. There are people doing wildly different things in the profession their whole career, and I think that could get streamlined.
Outside of Midjourney, there’s a whole slew of AI implementations using other design and construction software that’s meant to speed up how fast we can produce a construction set with fewer people. I think inevitably, that’s where architecture has always gone. 100 years ago, it took 40 people in a room, drawing a set for a high-rise tower by hand. I think in the future, a 40-story tower can probably be designed and drawn by two people. Eventually, the industry will get to a point where one or two people can accomplish that same task in half the time it takes now.
I would say that right now, as designers, we are not spending enough time understanding the place, the people using the building, and the environment surrounding a project. We’re rushing through a lot of those elements to get projects built, so I think where you end up by incorporating AI into that process is more thoughtful buildings, because we don’t have to spend as much time crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. We can actually think about the project and the building rather than drawing it, and to me, that’s pretty exciting. Architecture can’t do anything but get better through this process. I don’t think anything gets worse. It just gets better.
In my mind, there’s no doubt that any areas of inefficiency in the architectural process right now, some of which will be resolved using AI. It’s going to accelerate and amplify the amount that an individual can do by themselves, so I think it’ll take fewer people to do the same amount of work.
I think it will allow us to study way more aspects of a project quickly and, like Michael said, make projects significantly better by understanding more of the site’s parameters. It feels like an amplification to me now, but who knows what will happen in six months?
AI-rendered precedent imagery from other projects.
Compared to other Pacific Northwest architecture firms, Ankrom Moisan is a pacesetter in terms of integrating Artificial Intelligence and other digital tools. Few competitors use AI, if at all. International firms, though, tend to use AI software for design-based research. However you cut it, the digital tools of imagined sci-fi futures are closer than it seems, and may, in fact, already be here. It’s a massive paradigm shift that will take some time to get used to, but the good news is that when the AI overlords take over, we will already know how to deal with them.
By Jack Cochran, Marketing Coordinator
High-Rise Living for a Diverse and Evolving Neighborhood
The SoMa district, home to the Ankrom Moisan San Francisco office, is a neighborhood perhaps best defined by transformation. Once an industrial district full of warehouses, a large influx of Filipino immigrants in the early to mid-century brought vibrant Filipino character to the area. This cultural heritage is visible throughout the neighborhood—street names such as Bonifacio, Rizal and Mabini honor Filipino national heroes. Filipino street art adorns the streets, from colorful murals to utility boxes decorated with the letters of the Filipino alphabet.
During the late-90s dot com boom, the ubiquitous warehouses of SoMa became desirable office spaces and it wasn’t long before the neighborhood was also filled with tech companies. Now, the vibrant Filipino cultural district shares space with the likes of Google, Facebook, and Salesforce. At the same time, a vast arts district featuring an array of museums and theatres has begun seeping into the neighborhood from the adjacent Theatre District. The result is a highly diverse neighborhood dense with offices, homes, businesses, and community.
Within this eclectic slice of the city, on 5th and Mission—just a block from our office—one of San Francisco’s largest new developments has just opened. Designed to become a cultural destination, the 5M development intends to serve as a sort of living room for the neighborhood. Covering 4-acres, the complex includes an office tower, a residential building, a cultural center and three small public parks.
The 5M development, and each building within it, posed a formidable design challenge. Serving as architect for The George, 5M’s residential tower, our team was tasked with designing a high-rise that would blend into a hard-to-define, ever-fluctuating neighborhood. As residents of the neighborhood ourselves, our design was guided by our familiarity with and appreciation for the surrounding community.
The George’s design responds to the evolving, eclectic nature of the neighborhood by embracing imperfection and celebrating the cycles of time and growth. The tower’s shifting façade, inspired by the colors of aging copper, acknowledges the beauty in the marks left by time, weather, and use. At the street level, heavily textured metal accentuates strategic areas of the base, transitioning from a warm orange to a muted green—reminiscent of ocean water and rust. At the upper floors, variegated colored panels add interest to the simple massing and draw visitors’ eyes slowly upward along the height of the 20-story building.
The design evolution of the George, from sketch to rendering to final product
Our design evokes authenticity and a sense of place, using site-specific materials like brick and weathered metal panels that also raise the neighborhood’s design bar. “We are deeply honored to contribute to the vitality and culture of the neighborhood we call home” says Travis Throckmorton, AM Managing Principal and Principal-in-Charge of the project.
by Mackenzie Gilstrap, Sr. Marketing Coordinator
The Principles of Cost Cutting
Q. What’s your top piece of advice for clients and the entire project team regarding cost efficient design?
A. The most important thing when you’re taking a hard look at cost-efficient design is building a strong, committed team. The owner can really help drive the ship by building a team that will support the goals that they’re advocating for. So, when they bring on a design team or a general contractor, it should be with a clear instruction that this project is prioritizing cost containment and you’ve been selected to help lead us in that direction.
Q. What impact does site selection have on project costs?
A. It can be huge. Some sites are quite simple. They’re flat, they’re unencumbered, they don’t have any nasty soil conditions, they don’t have any onerous zoning requirements. They don’t have a complicated design overlay. And then there are sites that are just the opposite. Maybe they have a lot of topography and require a subgrade system to get a buildable foundation for the building.
They might have really contaminated soil that requires a lot of upfront costs. If it’s in a historic district, there’s historic design overlays. Other design overlay districts require extra jurisdictional review. Anything that takes extra time, extra effort, extra coordination just creates extra work and stretches out the design schedule, which is going to cost the project more money at no significant benefit to the end-user or the developer.
Q. Is it possible to have elevated design while also reducing costs?
A. I know it sounds like it could be an oxymoron, but YES! We know we need to approach the project from a cost containment standpoint, and we want to have design at the forefront of every decision we make. It’s not cost containment first, design second; they should be parallel goals. We can still do excellent design and use those constraints around cost containment as a driving force for our creativity. How we can be creative within the constraints of cost containment – and letting that be our design challenge.
Q. What have you learned about designing efficient units in a way that prioritizes cost containment?
A. One of the biggest things is to design the units with as few variations as possible. We would minimize the number of unit types and then design each of those unit types as efficiently as possible. We also start by asking the question, How small can we make the unit and still make it livable and dignified and usable? The simple truth is square-footage costs money.
On Wy’East Plaza, we built a full-size one-bedroom mockup and loaded it with furniture and people and cabinets and asked, Is this too small? Okay, let’s move the wall out by 12” or 24”. How about now?
Once we felt like we’d found the lowest comfortable size by reducing the square footage we worked to put the whole building on a 24-inch module. This works really well with the scale of building materials. Then we worked to minimize inside and outside corners within the unit, each little moved saved. We tried to minimize the number of doors to reduce purchase and install time. so that there’s a door into the bedroom, a door to the bathroom and that’s it.
Q. How do materials and components factor in to cost cutting?
A. It’s important to work around standard material sizing from the industry so there’s not a lot of material waste and not a lot of cutting and fitting for the folks forming the concrete, the framing contractor, the drywall contractor, etc.
If everything’s designed around those material modules there’s less waste so they’re not having to buy as much overage. Then, you can take it more to the procurement level like, Are we buying materials that are locally sourced? Is the brick coming from Oregon versus Ohio? We look for those kinds of efficiencies wherever we can get them.
Q. Can you talk about leveraging the expertise of subcontractors. And how can their knowledge and experience help ensure design efficiency?
A. This is hugely impactful. How to do that is a trick that falls on a quality established general contractor, who has a lot of existing relationships with quality subcontractors. Those relationships can be leveraged to get subs to participate in the early design work not yet knowing whether they’ve won the bid.
Once you get the subcontractors engaged in the design process, then you start asking them, What would a building look like that has the most efficient plumbing system? What would a building look like that has the most efficient HVAC distribution system? If you could put your electrical room anywhere in the building to be the most efficient to install, and purchase equipment for, where would that be? If we do the roof this way is it more complicated than if we do it this way? What if you were king or queen for the day? And then you just listen. Really, nobody knows more about how buildings go together than the people who are on the job site doing the work, so it’s great if you can harness all that practical experience.
Q. What have you learned about setting a project up for successful approval during the design review process?
A. Well, one way to look at it is that we have to be humble designers. What I mean by that is if we design something and hope to get approval for it because it doesn’t exactly match the zoning or the design overlay requirements, and we’re going to have to ask for special compensation for a design move that we think is important but doesn’t match what’s allowed, then we’ve put another encumbrance on the project that’s going to cost time and money to resolve. So, we try to leverage our creative design abilities to do the best building we can within the existing set of approved design criteria. If we’re in a zone that has a particular set of design overlays, then we need to just work within those constraints and not try to use this project to flex our most impressive design edginess.
Click to read and download the Seven Principles of Cost Efficient Design, assembled in partnership with Walsh Construction and Reach Community Development.
Michael Bonn, Principal
New Code Increases Accessibility
At Ankrom Moisan, we work hard to ensure an equal experience for all users of the spaces we design. We explore how to push beyond the expected with accessibility features on projects like Wynne Watts Commons, and we welcome updated codes and standards to address the needs of our community. As the 2021 Building Code takes effect in each jurisdiction, the embedded 2017 A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities also takes effect. The new 2017 A117.1 provides significant updates to accessibility clearances based on a study of wheelchair users. The A117.1 is developed by the International Code Council (same authors as the International Building Code). Their challenge is to find the best design criteria for a wide range of abilities, from wheelchair users to standing persons with back problems to persons with low vision or hearing challenges. Ankrom Moisan has participated in their process as an “interested party” in one issue, kitchen outlets, and can attest to the countless hours that go into just one requirement.
At the Ronald McDonald House expansion we wanted to make all families staying for short or long stays be able to use all the amenities, including the common kitchens.
Overall impacts to projects by this change are modest, resulting in a few rooms being enlarged by a few inches. While the changes are minimal to buildings, they provide much higher levels of accessibility for impacted users. The most impactful updates are changes to the following requirements:
- In most cases, clear floor spaces grow from 30-inch by 48-inch to 30-inch by 52-inch.
- The turning circle that was a 60-inch “wedding cake” with knee and toe clearance all around is now a 67-inch cylinder with minimal knee and toe clearance.
When looking at a typical privately funded apartment building, the changes are minimal as long as they are understood at the start of the project. There are no changes to Type B units (except new exceptions for kitchens outlets were added), and for the Type A units, the kitchen, bathroom, and walk-in closet may grow a few inches. The trash chute access room will see the biggest change, growing up to 7” in both directions. The new code allows for rounding down for Accessible and Type A unit calculations and parking spaces. All these changes are minor when incorporated into the initial design of the building but could be very tricky late in the design process.
There are still some unknowns; If there are Accessible units in a project, they will now require windows to be fully accessible. While the height and clear floor space requirements are easy to meet, we are still searching for a window style and manufacturer that can meet the requirements that windows are operable without tight grasping and less than 5 pounds of pressure to open and lock/unlock.
Our work isn’t done; kitchen outlets were simplified in the corners where a range and refrigerator protrude past the counter with this code cycle, but we must wait for the next A117.1 cycle for kitchen outlets to no longer dictate kitchen design. Ankrom Moisan has been active, submitting code proposals to the State of Oregon, the City of Seattle, and to A117.1 to make kitchen outlets accessible with reasonable requirements.
At the Wynne Watts Commons the team provided universal design residential units that included cooktops that pull out and upper cabinets lower with the controls shown in the cabinet front.
Added complexity with new code change
From a designer’s perspective, the requirements of accessibility have grown exceptionally complex. For example, under the new A117.1, there are now different size clearances for new and existing as well as Type A and Type B units, and the definition of “existing” in the A117.1 does not match the definition in the building code. This adds to the already confusing accessibility requirements that require us to reference multiple documents for any given item (building code with unique amendments by jurisdiction, Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, etc.). Coupled with different interpretations from different experts and code officials it is no wonder why accessibility requirements feel a bit daunting to us and our clients. As an example, California does not adopt the A117.1 but rather chooses to write its own Chapter 11 of the building code with its own unique scoping and technical criteria. And that is just accessibility, our Architects are juggling fire life safety, energy code, constructability, and our client’s budget all while creating great places where communities thrive.
As a firm, we had a challenge to overcome; the new accessibility requirements do not apply to all our projects at the same time. Depending on where they are in the permitting process and the jurisdiction they are in, every project must determine when, and if, they are required to flip to the new code. While most of our projects will be using the new code by the end of 2023, many will still be under the old code for years to come. We had to develop Revit resources for our project teams that could work for both codes at the same time. Our Accessibility experts partnered with our BIM team to develop a system meeting these goals and requirements:
- It had to be as simple and easy to use as possible for our project teams.
- It had to be blatantly obvious, by a quick glance within Revit, what codes were being shown on any given project.
- It had to provide all the options now allowed by the standards and guide teams to pick the applicable option.
Our solution to this challenge was rolled out to our project teams in September 2022 and provided over 500 updated Revit families.
We have found so many nuances in the accessibility codes that it can be hard to make generic statements. We would love to talk to you about your specific project or topic. Please reach out to Cara Godwin at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about accessibility for your project.
by Cara Godwin, Senior Associate
Bringing Bigger Buildings to Smaller Jurisdictions
Over the last several years, more demand in smaller markets has resulted in increased proposals for larger scale developments. These jurisdictions have not previously had to review projects that utilize code criteria that are unique to larger building types.
From the construction permitting point of view, bigger buildings have different codes, and those codes have different interpretations from city to city, and sometimes reviewer to reviewer.
Jurisdictions are experts at the familiar but can often be resistant to the new. Given the role that building officials play in safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of their community, a conservative approach to new code criteria is a reasonably common practice.
Our experience in jurisdictions with more complex code usage can help clients understand the way others have successfully worked with designers to implement unfamiliar strategies in code compliance.
Our expertise in larger buildings in bigger markets can be valuable with code analysis and interpretation in smaller markets, both from the designer and reviewers’ points of view.
We have consistently seen that building official/fire marshal engagement prior to submittal is key. Meeting early and often minimizes unforeseen issues arising during plan check review. Our history of discussions/solutions from multiple jurisdictions allows for specific issues to be flagged and addressed with real-world applications that have been proven to be successful.
We have found that when discussing podium construction there are several key elements to consider within the wood-framed components that differ from applications that do not include a concrete podium. Here are a few key items to consider:
- Type III: A wood construction with two-hour rated exterior walls, from the inside and out.
When building height exceeds 70 ft., this construction type allows for building heights up to 85 ft., and requires non-combustible exterior wall construction, commonly achieved through the use of fire-retardant treated lumber. Cladding and its support elements must also be non-combustible above 40 ft. Critical considerations include close study of the highest occupiable floor level based on fire access set-up point. If the lowest point of fire access results in a dimension to the highest occupiable floor level that exceeds 75 ft., then high-rise criteria become applicable. Cost typically limits high-rise construction to projects which far exceed 75 ft. height. Designers must consider this cost impact, especially when contemplating occupied roof decks, which some jurisdictions will allow to exceed the 75 ft. height, while others will not.
Project Example – Hudson on Farmer (Farmer Arts), Tempe, AZ (Framing construction, completed building)
- Type V: A wood construction with one-hour rated exterior walls from the outside.
When construction does not exceed 70 ft. this construction type allows for reduced costs and more easily managed fire resistivity criteria. Building area is limited, and in many cases fire walls within the building are required to compartmentalize the structure. For multifamily buildings, corridors penetrate these walls requiring rated opening protection. Although these walls add cost, they provide an opportunity to reduce the number of stairwells when used as horizontal exits between building compartments. Designers must consider how, and when, to use the horizontal exit tool, ensuring that no more than half of the required exits from a floor level are provided by horizontal exits. Additionally, these opening assemblies can be provided via several options, including manufactured assemblies, and custom specified components. Designers must consider the comparative costs of the different approaches and the capacity of the project’s general contractor to manage the installation of the selected approach.
Project Example – Modera Northgate, Seattle, WA. (Final rendering, floor plan compartment diagram)
- Type I: Podium/basement non-combustible construction of one, two, or three levels can be provided as a podium for multiple stories of wood construction above.
The ability to allow for the wood frame construction type of the building above to penetrate the podium reduces costs when stairs are able to be built of wood. Exterior wall framing must be built of non-combustible framing, however, when using metal studs, exterior insulation is often required to meet energy code insulation values. Using fire-retardant treated lumber can be an effective tool in allowing for exterior sheathing and cladding planes to align across the podium level.
Project Example – Canopy (Shea Aurora) Phase II, Shoreline, WA (podium construction photo, final rendering)
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, being able to work from multiple points of view allows for specific concerns to be addressed, while looking to past successes for location-specific solutions.
by Don Sowieja, Principal AIA, NCARB
An Integrated Approach to Revolutionary Healthcare Design
Population health relies on more than simply treating sickness. Leading a healthcare shift to a value-based model whose viability depends on people maintaining their health, from a fee-for-service financial model, our client’s strategy embodies this pivot with a new healthcare center that integrates traditional clinical services with wellness facilities. The Providence Reed’s Crossing Wellness Center is a dynamic new healthcare facility that communicates warmth, healing, approachability — holistic architecture that sees people as more than patients. Community-oriented general fitness and wellness spaces act as bridges to more specialized functions like integrative health, dermatology, retail, physical therapy, imaging, women’s care, pediatrics, and more. Our design connects services with open, blended thoughtful architecture and interior design in an active urban environment.
Our hope: To help people get and stay healthy.
This radical new facility feels like it’s part of Main Street while feeling unlike anything else out there. To successfully integrate wellness with clinical services, we start by focusing on how to maximize operational benefits. Our design must communicate warmth and professionalism, relaxation with dynamic activity, aspiration, and inclusion. It’s not enough to simply combine traditional healthcare design with wellness. Our design concept must holistically communicate both. Because our client’s vision treats patients as complete people whose individual health is affected by diet, behavior, mental and emotional states, as well as physical abilities, our core interior design concept likewise promotes overall healthy living and wellbeing. Biophilic elements like natural light and exposed wood elements soothe visitors and decreases stress while they’re working out, learning about nutrition, or waiting to see their physician. Beautiful, integrated color palettes that fit each program will guide and orient people within the facility. Indoor/outdoor spaces further connect our design to its community and bioregion.
Our hope: A design that feels kinetic yet relaxing, empowering and healing, and completely revolutionary.
Go to the Providence Reed’s Crossing Wellness Center Project Page >>
Mass Timber: Harder Mechanical
A fifth-generation Portland family business, Harder Mechanical needed a new, modern headquarters to last them for another 80 years. Because reinvention tends to be part of their business—they gain expertise in the newest processes, be it mill work or high-tech manufacturing, and periodically transform themselves along the way—they were looking explicitly for an innovative showcase office.
Harder Mechanical building needed to stay rooted in the past while being built for the future. Because the owner is a mechanical and plumbing subcontractor and will self-perform their own scope, the Harder team became an integral part of the design process.
After learning who they are, how they view their work, and what they needed in a collaborative working session, our design encompasses a beautiful, durable brick building using renewable cross-laminated timber (CLT).
Their desire for an innovative approach—to not only the design but also the design process—led to an adapted integrated project delivery method. This allowed for close collaboration with Harder, the General Contractor, Swinerton, and their trade partners to achieve efficiencies and innovative construction methods that meet both design and construction goals.
The wish to showcase Harder’s own work and innovation led to exposed ceilings and exposed structure and mechanical systems. It is here where the Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) structural system became a central design element. Utilizing Swinerton’s expertise in this area, the CLT simultaneously provides environmental benefits both to the occupants and in broader terms, along with time and cost saving installation.
Externally, the company’s rich history combined with the historic neighborhood led to the selection of both a durable and beautiful dark brick facade reminiscent of the surrounding context. This traditional material paired with a contemporary aesthetic allows the building to become part of MLK’s future whilst respecting its past. The building will last for decades, aligning with and improving the Elliott neighborhood in a way that’s both timeless and exceedingly modern.
Wynne Watts Commons
It is undeniable that housing insecurity affects millions across the United States. Rents are up and homelessness is on the rise. There are many factors that lead to these crises, including high housing costs relative to income, poor housing quality, unstable neighborhoods, or even health concerns and peripheral medical challenges and costs. Add to that the encompassing environmental impacts of climate change and a driving need to design and build more sustainably; we are faced with the need to take a more holistic approach to housing and accessibility to address our growing concern for the wellbeing of our communities.
We partnered with Albertina Kerr, an organization dedicated to supporting people experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), mental health challenges, and other social barriers, to design the largest affordable and accessible housing project in the PNW. This joint project became one of the largest Zero Energy affordable housing projects in the U.S.
This four-story, 150-unit complex features 30 accessible units designed to provide adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, earning 30% or less than the average median income, a place to live independently. Three units are available to families needing temporary housing and the remaining units are reserved for low wage direct service providers. This project showcases innovative technologies and design features readily available today to achieve better health outcomes for residents, minimal overall carbon emissions, and significant savings on energy bills. Energy-efficient features include a 660 KWh PV Array that will produce 727 MW-hours of electricity annually, enough renewable energy to fully operate the building with no utility cost to residents.
Albertina Kerr’s in-house staff were consulted to help inform the direction of features that are most useful to the residents. Smart-home integrations enhance safety and useability, and pull-out cook tops and mechanized upper cabinets help residents manage daily tasks. Thoughtfully integrated accessibility features include room darkening shades, RGB controllable lighting for chromatherapy mood management, and acoustically enhanced wall, floor, and ceiling construction that gives residents control of their space to prevent overstimulation.
Wynne Watts Commons is a huge step forward for sustainable and inclusive quality housing for some of the most vulnerable in our community.
by Mackenzie Gilstrap, Sr. Marketing Coordinator
Employee Spotlight: Jennifer Sobieraj Sanin
Empathetic, balanced, and calm—three words you’ll hear from Jennifer Sobieraj Sanin’s team if you ask them to describe her leadership style.
This month we’re excited to be spotlighting Jen, an architect and Managing Design Principal in our Seattle office. In her eleven years with AM, Jen has come to stand out as a female role model in architecture due to her unwavering advocacy for her teams, and for women in particular.
Jen approaches her leadership position with the intention to empower others. She creates an environment conducive to growth by “letting others get creative and do their best work,” as one of her colleagues has noted, “while at the same time staying engaged and providing feedback that guides the project in the right direction and helps you grow as a designer.”
We asked Jen to share her advice for emerging professionals in the industry. Here’s what she told us:
1. Be an advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions and ask for opportunities.
2. Find your mentor—someone who will offer guidance and stand up for you when you need it. Check in with them regularly.
3. Don’t change yourself to fit into a higher-level role. There is room for you to become a leader while doing what you love and are good at. A great leadership role will be flexible enough to match your skills and passions.
by Mackenzie Gilstrap, Sr. Marketing Coordinator
Employee Spotlight: Ryan Miyahira
Ankrom Moisan Managing Principal Ryan Miyahira recently hosted AM’s second annual Pickathon, a video showcase of the firm’s many talented musicians.
We chatted with Ryan, who is a talented musician himself, to hear more about the inspiration behind AM Pickathon, an event he not only hosts but also created and produces.
Q. What’s your musical background and how did Pickathon come about?
A. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. I had a band in high school and another in college, playing mostly 80s indie music. After college, my wife, Lara, and I started a band called the Hip Replacements. We cover old r&b and soul music. We’ve performed at several Ankrom Moisan Christmas parties and still play the occasional bar gig.
One of my favorite things to do is to go see live music. During the pandemic, we watched a lot of streaming concerts and I thought it would be fun to do an Ankrom version. I’ve had the chance to play music with other AM employees so I knew that we had a lot of musical talent in the firm. I wanted to show off those hidden talents in a fun way.
Q. How long have you been with AM and what has motivated you to stay?
A. I’ve been with AM for 22 years. Back in 2000 when I was looking for a job, the most important thing to me was to find the coolest group of people. I was looking for creative, hardworking, and fun people that wanted to do their best, but were also easygoing enough to have a good time while doing it. That’s how I landed at AM. I’ve noticed that it seems to perpetuate itself—a group of good people is like a magnet that attracts more good people. That’s what has motivated me to stay for so long.
I also appreciate that it’s been a very supportive and fun environment where you can make your own way. There’s so much room for passion and exploration at AM. If you have an idea, like hosting a Pickathon, and the drive to do it then the firm will support it.
by Mackenzie Gilstrap, Sr. Marketing Coordinator
Our incredible in-house visualization team is testing out some VR upgrades! Virtual reality has proven to be a valuable design tool for our teams so we’re expanding our capabilities with new equipment. Soon, we’ll have upgraded VR stations in each of our three offices.
So, how do we use VR?
VR allows our designers to get a true sense for the scale and feel of a space as they are designing it—adding efficiency and improving end results. For instance, virtually walking through a unit during the programming stage helps inform early layout and square footage decisions so that costly last-minute changes can be avoided and the resulting unit design will better meet pricing expectations.
It also helps our interior designers to visualize details previously left to the imagination such as how flooring patterns would look repeated on large scales or how the placement of a lighting fixture might affect the overall feel of a space. Getting these small details right leads to a more cohesive and intentional end-product.
By providing our clients the opportunity to experience different design variations within their projects, we can aid their decision-making processes. While designing Olympic Tower, a luxury senior-living high-rise in Seattle, we gave our client, Transforming Age, the opportunity to tour the building two years before the project even broke ground. After using VR to experience the tower’s premier amenity, a performance hall, the client realized the scale was not what they had imagined. As a result, we increased the ceiling height, changed the dimensions of the stage and adjusted the lighting. VR helped convey the nuances of the design so the client could make informed decisions on where to allocate resources, and they didn’t have to experience any surprises during construction.
by Mackenzie Gilstrap, Sr. Marketing Coordinator
Mass Timber: Skylight
Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District is poised to transform its character and vibrancy. Designed to capture and elevate the essence of this historic industrial area, the 115,000 sq. ft. Skylight is our refined rendition of the modern office for creative technology and design professions. The structure is a mix of concrete, hybrid wood trusses, and steel, but the Nail-Laminated Timber (NLT) floor panels are the material binding the whole building together – offering both style and function.
We designed Skylight as two offices bridged by core and amenity spaces, like the wings and body of a butterfly. Our team used structural materials that unite the separate spaces with a raw, edgy, but down-to-earth aesthetic that appeals to creative office users. Exposed mass timber and hybrid wood trusses support a bright, open, and warm office environment. These natural elements contrast with cool concrete, steel framing, and visible architectural joints, adding visual activity and energy to the interior. An array of skylights at the heart of the building brings natural light to otherwise unaccessible spaces.
Use of NLT at Skylight also serves functional goals of our creative office design. The texture of this material has acoustic benefits for the space and exposing the natural finishes removed the added cost of applied interior finishes. We also coordinated with the MEP engineers and subcontractors to hide unattractive parts of typical office systems neatly beneath a raised floor, maximizing exposure to the beautiful natural wood and open space. Supporting mass timber with innovative, long-spanning hybrid trusses also allowed us to create a more flexible and unobstructed layout for existing and future tenants of the office building. Skylight used this method to reduce layout obstructions while maximizing versatility through 35’-40′ spans and only a single row of columns breaking up a 70’-80′ floor plates. To achieve this literal stretch from traditional 20’-25′ mass timber grids, our team designed an innovative, double glulam truss.
This project fired us up about new mass timber applications. While NLT is not as cutting edge as Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) panels – a mass timber technology exciting the industry today – Skylight helped us explore and apply the full potential of NLT to establish a new standard for this evolving neighborhood. Its success relied on strong collaboration between the design, development, construction, and engineering team members, who include Turner Construction, DCI Engineers, Glumac, Shapiro Didway, Mackenzie, and Potestio Studio.
Employee Spotlight: Lori Kellow
Lori Kellow, Ankrom Moisan’s longest standing employee, has been with the firm since 1985. After a nearly 37-year tenure, Lori has a uniquely broad perspective on the architecture industry and Ankrom Moisan’s place within it. We recently sat down with Lori to hear her insights. Lori touches on what the industry was like for women in the ’80s and how technology has changed the design process.
Q. What is the biggest industry change you’ve seen since you started working at AM?
A. Technology, absolutely. In just the past few decades the standard design process has shifted from primarily utilizing manual tools, such as hand-drafting equipment, to being almost entirely computer-based. To research and draw using technology is so powerful. I remember when we had to visit the library and flip through physical binders, the Sweet catalogues, to find products to specify. Now all this information is right at our fingertips and efficiency has just soared because of it.
Q. What has motivated you to work at AM for 37 years?
A. In the mid-80s it was still very difficult for women, especially in architecture, to get a seat at the table. At Ankrom Moisan it was different, leadership showed me from day one that my opinions and ideas were valued. I’ve always been treated with respect and paid commensurate to my skills.
It was within 3 years at the firm, in 1988, that I was promoted to Principal, becoming the first woman in a leadership role. In the many years since, I have not lost that feeling of being valued and the sense of opportunity. I believe that if you have passion and drive, there are not many roadblocks to growth and success at Ankrom Moisan.
Q. What is your advice for professionals beginning their careers in the architecture and design industry?
A. Explore. I am a firm believer that you must try as much as you possibly can in order to find your passion. I spent years working on diverse project types and taking on varying roles. Eventually I discovered my passion for social service healthcare projects. I find a great deal of fulfillment in creating places that help people heal. Through exploration, I’ve also realized I am especially adept at big-picture thinking and I prefer to do schematic design work. I’m fortunate enough to work with a firm that has allowed me the freedom to explore and provided the opportunity to tailor my role to match my strengths and passions.
by Mackenzie Gilstrap, Sr. Marketing Coordinator
In pursuit of the best solutions, we create opportunities for collaboration.
After all this time meeting and sharing ideas through screens, we are thrilled to be able to collaborate in-person again.
Designers from our Portland office got together recently for a charrette at the pin-up wall—sharing design concept ideas for our on boards project, Fairfield Burnside. Through discussion of neighborhood context and influences, the team began generating a diverse scheme of building concepts for this upcoming 8-story mixed-use development.
by Mackenzie Gilstrap, Sr. Marketing Coordinator
Mass Timber: The Standard at Seattle
With study spaces for every occasion, social areas, luxurious amenities, and ground floor retail just blocks from campus, The Standard at Seattle’s two high-rise and one mid-rise buildings will welcome students and locals. We took guidance from our client, Landmark Properties, one of the nation’s largest student housing developers, and inspiration from the neighborhood’s eclectic character to design student housing that fosters a community away from home.
In the mid-rise, Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) construction will allow us to achieve higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible, with greater efficiency, durability, and beauty – three key reasons why we champion mass timber. Using mass timber from the Pacific Northwest also reduces the building’s carbon footprint. Wood on the exterior around the entry draws on the beautiful CLT inside and serves as a beacon for people arriving from the nearby train station. Since exposed mass timber is uncommon in Seattle student housing, we were excited to have the perfect opportunity to use this functional and stylish material at The Standard.
Standing at 26 stories, the two high-rise buildings will be amongst the tallest in the University District upon completion in 2023. Our design team used colors and materials to create a conversation between The Standard’s trio of buildings and its eclectic neighborhood. They conceptualized the high-rises as one form, pulled apart to reveal dark blue interior panels that shift in color as the sun hits the surfaces at different angles. The throughway with ground floor retail and afternoon sunlight will be a relaxing destination for the community. With gold details, the throughway is like a yellow brick road to the mid-rise building.
Amenities housed in the high-rise, but accessible to all residents, include a swimming pool, sauna/steam room, and rock climbing wall. All of these options will be easily accessible via a skybridge between the high-rises. The offerings caters towards providing residents as much choice as possible without having to travel far, a feature that our student housing experts know today’s young people desire. The interior design mixes natural elements with refined playfulness and warmth to keep the design appropriate for the city’s urban, tech-forward, and multi-cultural university students.
Mass Timber: 38 Davis
At 38 Davis, work and home is integrated through mass timber. Located in the heart of Portland’s Old Town Chinatown District, this building was the first ground-up construction to occur in the district in over a decade. One of the world’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) v4 certified developments, the building was designed with software guided fans and operable windows rather then relying solely on an HVAC supported air conditioning and heat recovery system. A testament to our commitment to sustainability, the 124,000 sq. ft. headquarters also features a greywater reclamation system and green roof that treats water and removes contaminants on site.
The six-story, mixed-use timber-framed building, which is home to our Portland headquarters, combines office, residential, and retail spaces. Expressing raw craft with care, the mass timber used in 38 Davis is more than warm and honest-it’s structurally sound and sustainable, lowering the building’s overall carbon footprint.
Utilizing a historic method of a traditional 3×4 tongue-in-groove floor panel system, the building features locally sourced Douglas fir timber beams and exposed columns, which can be seen from the inside as the beams come together in an energetic display of raw materials and craftsmanship that mirrors the work we do. This post-and-beam system allowed our team to create larger interior spaces, high ceilings, and large window openings, achieving our vision of a background “warehouse” space overlaid with a tech-forward workplace that is all parts beautiful and utilitarian, yet historic and comfortable.
As you enter the building, you flow through the ground floor communal thru lobby connecting entries along SW Davis and the semi-private mid-block courtyard with a custom backlit metal art was designed to represent the flow of the Willamette River as it moves through downtown Portland. In the lobby, reclaimed wood wraps the threshold to shared elevators guiding visitors from retail on the ground floor to office space on the second through fourth floors, and workforce housing on floors five and six.
We believe that diversity and sustainability are of paramount importance to the vitality of our lives, neighborhoods, and cities. Designing from an owner’s position, we seized the opportunity to create a vibrant, mixed-use development where we can live, work, and learn alongside local community members. The communal lobby, elevator, rooftop, bike storage, locker room and gym area create dynamic interactions between our staff, building residents, and University of Oregon students. A unique, inter-use greywater reclamation system filters runoff shower water from the upper residential floors and uses it to flush the toilet’s of the offices below, saving an estimated 202,800 gallons of water annually.
Employee Spotlight: Keith Larson
Did you know Ankrom Moisan has an in-house model maker?
Meet Keith Larson. While he’s been working as a professional modeler since the 1990s, his craft started as a kid playing with LEGO sets. To say he is detail-oriented is an understatement.
From making props on movie sets to creating 1/32” scale replicas of commercial airliners, Keith has an incredible portfolio from which he draws inspiration. Although his career has taken him through a broad spectrum of industries, his love for architecture and design has continued to bring him back to this world.
Since starting with Ankrom Moisan in 2016, Keith has collaborated with our project teams on models small and large, simple and complex. With such a diversity in markets and locations, every project brings something unique to the workbench.
When we asked our in-house model maker Keith Larson to share his current projects, Sandy Health Center was top of mind. The 1/16” scale finished type model includes scale people—a first for Keith’s work at the firm. Filled with details, the steep pitched roof was a particular challenge. Cutting the individual angles by hand and seamlessly assembling each piece was a personal triumph.
Keith worked very closely with the architecture team to ensure each detail was correct. The finished model represents a 9,500 sq. ft. facility that consolidates primary care, behavioral health, and dental services into one location. Following the Sandy Design Guidelines, the final architecture is a modern take on a rustic aesthetic.
🎬: Ankrom Moisan
Insights from the Advancing Mass Timber Construction Conference
Mass timber technology continues to develop rapidly as more and more projects seek to implement this beautiful, sustainable, and durable material. Our firm’s subject matter expert in this field, architecture senior associate Benjamin Stinson, attended the Advancing Mass Timber Construction Conference earlier this month. After participating in workshops, lectures, case studies, and more, Benjamin shared some of his key learnings and how they will influencer our projects.
Q: Why did you choose to attend this conference?
A: Mass Timber is an expanding construction technology solution in our industry and we need to stay ahead of the progress in both code and implementation strategies so we can best serve our clients that are interested in pursuing this great option. Mass Timber is also a construction strategy capable of providing the most substantive environmental impact that our industry has seen possibly ever. The use of Mass Timber at scale could take a huge bite out of the carbon debt we have built up and need to rectify in the coming years, so it is our responsibility to make it as easy a choice for our clients as possible by knowing as much as we can.
Q: Which conference session had the biggest impact on you?
A: Eric Corey Freed of CannonDesign gave an inspiring presentation about sustainability in design that moved me to want to do more to pursue sustainability with our clients, even when it may not be their first project priority. There is a social responsibility we face to make changes in our industry, and I think we need to do our best to make saying no to those changes in a project as difficult as we can.
I also saw a few great presentations about the Ascent Project, which is a 25 story residential project in Milwaukee, WI that includes 19 stories of mass timber. This project started before developments in the 2021 IBC new Type IV construction types that allow taller mass timber buildings and had to work through a lot of challenges to bring it to market. Even with those challenges, the developers were able to make it a beautiful, viable project. With our strong background in housing, there should be nothing stopping Ankrom Moisan from working with our clients to make mass timber housing projects a reality.
Q: What was something unexpected that you learned at the conference?
A: I had previously heard hints, but I learned that there is a proposal (G147) coming up for a vote that would open projects in the IV-B construction type up to 12 stories to allow 100% exposure in ceilings for the next code update. Exposure of the wood is often critical to bringing mass timber to projects, so opening this up for taller buildings will help our ability to present this as an option to clients. Fingers crossed that the vote goes through, and we can use this as a basis to get more exposed timber in our buildings.
Q: How will your learnings apply to your current projects (if at all)?
A: As Ankrom Moisan’s Mass Timber research lead, I am involved in mass timber discussions for multiple projects. What I learned at this conference will come to bear for a lot of our work currently considering mass timber for their schematic design. We are particularly focused on how this can become part of our broad scope of residential projects and how to bring more exposed timber to the living environment.
Q: So, what’s next for mass timber?
A: A key set of innovations that goes hand in hand with mass timber is prefabrication. Mass timber is systemically a prefabricated set of components and integrating prefabrication concepts into the construction process seems like a critical milestone in moving this construction strategy to scale. Constructing a building with prefabricated components can pose a significantly different process for contractors and partners, and streamlining is critical to making mass timber a viable solution. Change can be hard (and potentially expensive), but the more we know about the mass timber process, the more we can help our partners learn this great, new innovative structural solution and bring more buildings to market that make you feel as good being inside as you do being outside, standing among the trees.
Designing for Comfort
Our homes should be comfortable, should rejuvenate us, and they can make or break our capacity for resiliency. Designing for comfort goes far beyond material or FF&E decisions to include communal space, biophilic design, sensitivity to place and culture and history, even flexible spaces that adapt to fit each residents’ individual conceptions of home and relaxation.
Download Comfort now.
Fitness is Integral to Wellness
The connections between exercise and overall wellness are well established—but how can we, as designers, create senior communities that encourage healthy movement for people of all physical abilities? How can we design fitness into residents’ everyday lives? These design insights reflect our solutions over decades’ worth of projects.
Download Fitness now.
Balancing Elements of Design with Light in Mind
With access to natural daylight, we’re sharper and happier during the day, we sleep better at night, and we recovery faster when we’re sick. To properly daylight indoor spaces, designers must balance glazing, climate, solar and thermal gain, external views, nighttime darkness, and many more interdependent factors—far more than simply adding extra windows.
Download Light now.
Vitality in the Village
Understanding the connection between a well-designed community and people’s overall resilience and health, our campus master plan for Mary’s Woods encourages residents to socialize with each other in a large-scale, pedestrian-centered village environment.
Download example here.
Approaching Air Quality Holistically
Fresh air and wellness are intrinsically connected. With ready access to fresh air, people are more alert, physically healthier, able to heal quicker, happier, and more relaxed. And indoors, constantly refreshed air is far safer than stale or poorly filtered air. Our insights explore how designing for fresh air is part of designing for resiliency in senior communities.
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We conduct site feasibility studies for our clients, which are divided into three tiers. From Tier 1 to Tier 3, each tier deals with increasing amounts of information and concurrent time to prepare. Ask us how we can conduct a site feasibility study customized for you.
Download our Tier 2 Example to see what types of information are included in a Tier 2 package.
Accommodation Around Dining
Sharing meals is essential to people’s social and emotional wellness. Our insights support safer communal meals in senior living campuses that can adapt to social distancing requirements. Spatial redundancies—multiple dining venues, for example—and operational flexibilities—like easily rearranged seating—enable safer, more diverse, and more resilient food services.
Download Nourishment now.
Apartment Innovation Insights
After interviewing hundreds of apartment residents, we distilled their responses and refined our observations into practical design insights.
Here are opportunities to evolve apartment design in a way that meets people’s changing needs: by focusing on many sought-after features that designers often remove when pursuing value engineering.
Download the Apartment Innovation Survey Insights now.
Download our latest lookbook on urban high-rise design.
Design for Living: Mid-Rise
Download our inspiring 2020 lookbook on mid-rise living.
Apartment Innovation Survey
Our survey, conducted from May 28 through June 17, 2020, yielded over 400 responses and 1,635 written comments about apartment living today.
We’ve compiled our raw data into this research brief, a useful reference that supports our more refined design insights.